Printed plastic cards: jargon explained

The world of printed plastic cards is full of terminology. How many microns? Magentic stripe (uncoded or encoded)? Hi-Co or Lo-Co?

We do our best not to talk in jargon, preferring instead to ask our customers what they want their cards to do. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. Here’s a guide to the terminology you’ll come across when you’re ordering printed plastic cards:

Microns – not a being from another planet

The thickness of printed plastic cards is measured in microns rather than mm’s. A standard credit card measures 760 microns. The higher the microns, the thicker and better quality the card is.

The majority of cards you have in your wallet will be 760 microns, although some cards like discount cards or business cards can be thinner, often 680 or 420 microns.

Always check the microns of the printed plastic cards you’re ordering. That cheap price you found might be cheap because the cards aren’t very good quality.

Do you need a magnetic stripe?

Most people are familiar with ‘swiping’ their card for entry into the gym for example, to buy their lunch at work, take out library books or to gather loyalty points. This works because the ‘reader’ (gym turnstile for example) ‘reads’ the information held on the magnetic stripe on the back of your card and recognises you.

Whether or not you need a magnetic stripe on your printed plastic cards depends on the ‘reader’ and technology you’re using. They are often found on Membership cards, loyalty cards and ID cards.

If you order uncoded magstripe plastic cards, they will be sent for you to ‘match up’ with your system at your end. Or they can be supplied ready encoded, if you provide the relevant information to the card supplier.

HiCo or LoCo?

The next question you’ll be asked is whether you need HiCo (High-coercivity) or LoCo (Low-coercivity) magnetic stripe.

HiCo are typically black, whereas LoCo are typically brown. The difference lies in the level of security. As the name suggests, HiCo magstripes are more secure and stable. They are commonly used in situations where cards are frequently swiped and the need for security is higher (for example in accessing a building).

LoCo magstripes are fine in situations where security is less important, and the need for the card to hold information is temporary, for example on gift cards or hotel key cards.

As you’d expect, LoCo magstripes on printed plastic cards tend to be cheaper than HiCo ones. Which is best suited to you will depend on what you need the card to do and how long you need it to last. If durability and security is key, go with HiCo. If the cards are single use or are needed only temporarily, LoCo will be fine.

Other card options

You can also customise most printed plastic cards by including a signature panel, bar code or QR code, depending on what you want the card to do.

One other thing – check the inner core

Don’t just assume that the plastic cards are 100% plastic. Some printed plastic cards have a cardboard inner core, which results in a much lower quality card.  It impacts on colour definition and vibrancy – you’ll often see a border around the card where the cardboard ends, and they aren’t as durable.

If you need any help on ordering printed plastic cards, our friendly team are happy to answer any questions. Simply tell us what you want the cards to do and we’ll advise you.