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Magnetic Stripes on Cards

A Complete Guide to Magnetic Stripes on Plastic Gift Cards

PlasCards is a producer and manufacturer of magnetic stripe plastic cards, each order is created to the specification of the customer and their POS provider. It is the customer’s responsibility to provide us with accurate information. We can mail you sample test cards to help with the basic specs, such as the width and track encoded, but we cannot determine density or data to encode.

Here is how magstripe cards work for plastic cards, and what you need to know bedore ordering

There are 4 key pieces of information we need to process a plastic gift card order with a magnetic stripe. - If you are not sure, please ask your POS provider for this info.

  1. Width - (You can easily determine a width, once you know the 'Track')
  2. Density
  3. Track(s) to encode
  4. Data to encode

Magstripe Width -

There are several different widths of magnetic stripes: 1/2", 7/16”, 5/16”, 1/8” are the more common that we offer. We can determine this, simply by measuring the mag stripe with a ruler.

  1. 1/2” – This is our most common magstripe size. It contains 3 tracks to be encoded.
  2. 7/16” – Also a 3 track but just slightly thinner. The only benefit this holds over the 1/2”, is that it allows a little more printing space on the card because it is thinner. Other than that it works exactly the same as a 1/2”. We prefer the 1/2”.
  3. 5/16” – This is a 2 track mag stripe, track 1 and 2 only. Track 3 is rarely used, so if you need a larger print area on the card, the 5/16" magstripe is a good choice. Track 1 and track 2 work exactly the same here as on a 3 track stripe.
  4. 1/8” – This is a track 1 only stripe. It is very not common to use on a standard gift card.

Magstripe Density –

There are 4 common densities of mag stripe:
  1. 300oe - Low Coercivity, or in short: LoCo
  2. 600oe - Mid Coercivity, or in short: MidCo
  3. 2750oe - High Coercivity, or in short: HiCo
  4. 4000oe - Used for true credit cards
300oe and 600oe are commonly considered lo-co.
2750oe and 4000oe are commonly considered hi-co.
We offer the 300oe, 600oe and 2750oe. The 4000oe is typically reserved for true credit cards which we do not print.

OE density (oersted density) is the measurement of coercivity. This is a number representing the force it takes for another magnetic field to wipe the data encoded on the stripe to zero magnetism. So 4000oe is much harder to erase than a 300oe.

The Magstripe Color
As the density gets higher in number, the magnetic stripe generally gets darker. A 300oe is typically brown, and a 4000oe will be very dark, almost to the point of having a blackish red tint. This is very much a generalization and not 100% accurate all the time. The only real way to know the density is to have the card tested.

Track(s) to be encoded

As stated in the width section above, there can be up to 3 tracks. You can encode 1 – 3 tracks, although track 3 is very rarely used. This means you can encode more than one track. Typically if 2 tracks are encoded they are encoded with the same information. Below are the specs for each track.

Track 1: 79 characters (alphanumeric) 7 bit = 210 bit /in. - Encoding starts with % and ends with ? the common field separator is ^
Track 2: 40 characters (numeric only) 5 bit = 75 bits /in. - Encoding starts with ; and ends with ? the common field separator is =
Track 3: 107 characters (numeric only) 5 bits = 210 bits /in. Encoding starts with ; and ends with ? the common field separator is =
The starting and ending symbol is called a sentinel, so you may hear us ask for the “start sentinel” and “end sentinel”

Q: How can you determine if your gift card is encoded on track 1 or track 2?
A: A very simple way to figure out the track being used by your gift card, is to plug in a simple 'USB magnetic card reader' (you can buy those on Amazon for $15), open a simple notepad on your computer, and swipe your card, it will show the starting and ending sentinels as follows;

Track 1 will start with % and end with ?
Track 2 will start with ; and end with ?
This means that if you see any letters, or If it has ^, then it has to be encoded on track 1.

So, if your notepad shows any of this info on the swipe, it will tell you which track the encoding is on.

Data to encode

The data to be encoded, is determines based off the POS system the cards will be used with. - You will need to ask your POS provider for this data. We really cannot help in determining this.

There are 2 types of data: sequential and variable.

Sequential: All we need is a 'start number' and we will number up consecutively from that number.
Variable: This is random; the customer must provide a database with all the numbers to be used.

We do need to watch for prefixes and suffixes to be used. That is a leading or ending set of numbers/letters that stays constant. Please consult your POS provider about this.

Additional information:

What information is stored on a gift card magnetic stripe
Please understand that the actual gift cards do not have value - (this is a very common mistake). They only contain data that references to the customers POS database, much like an account number. The values are held in your POS software's database. All the gift cards ever has encoded on its magstripe is its number. And each gift card has a unique number.

What are magnetic stripe cards mostly used for?

  • Gift Cards – The most common use we offer, are customized gift cards. The magstripe allows our customers POS systems to encode data. This data is then used within the software to load or reload value onto the gift cards.
  • Hotel Key Cards – These cards are sold with non-encoded magstripes. Usually the hotel will encode the magnetic stripe once a guest checks in. The key card will then grant access only to the specified room lock.
  • Membership Loyalty Cards – As well as reward cards, they can have a variety of data encoded onto the magstripe, which mostly allows store owners to apply/redeem points or offer discounts, based on a customer’s loyalty or purchase history.

Hopefully this page provides a good resource to you, about plastic card magnetic stripe information. This can be very technical, so we tried to stay in the realm of what you need to know to place an order for magstripe gift cards. Please ask us if you have any additional questions.