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Magnetic Stripe or Barcode: Five Factors to Choosing a Data Option for Your Cards

When creating a card program, whether it be for a gift, membership or loyalty cards, etc., you must consider which option works within your existing point-of-sale (POS) platform.



Here are five factors to consider:

  1. Encoding

Encoding is the method in which varied data is placed onto a card. Data is either encoded on the tracks of a magnetic stripe and stored magnetically, or a barcode is used as a symbology font that interprets the data into a visual barcode with varied-width lines and spaces.

  1. Equipment and Software

Equipment and software are major factors in deciding which option is best for your business. Barcodes are read with a scanner, either handheld or built-in, which imports the unique barcode into a company’s POS. Magstripes are read by swiping the card through a magnetic card reader, the same ones used to process credit card transactions, and import the unique data into a company’s POS.

  1. Ease

In general, barcodes are easier to use, and can even be used by customers. For instance, if you’re using a self-service membership card, your customers can quickly scan their card during the checkout transaction. In contrast, magstripes need to be swiped by the cashier to collect necessary data.

  1. Security

One key factor in selecting the correct data option is security. Magnetic stripes are more secure because they are encoded and unseen, making it harder to duplicate and requiring an encoder. On the other hand, a barcode can easily be reproduced because the unique codes are seen visually on the card, and barcode interpretation programs are easy to come by.

    1. Durability

Another thing to keep in mind is possible damage to the card during standard usage. Barcodes can be damaged by getting scratched, or the numbers can be rubbed off and make it difficult for scanners to read. Conversely, magnetic stripes are more durable and can be used repeatedly for a much longer duration but also are susceptible to magnets erasing or corrupting the encoding.

So, you can see that there is no “full-proof” answer here, but there are pros and cons to each. Selecting a data option is dependent upon how you want data stored, which equipment/software you are using, ease of use, and the amount of security desired versus durability. Once you have determined what will work best for your business, you are ready to design your card!

Want to learn more about various data options? Check out our website with much more detail.

Ryan Murphy
Vice President
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Plastic Card Solutions: A Guide to Quality

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