Understanding Magstripes


Credit cards, gift cards, and hotel access key cards are some of the common items that use magnetic stripe technology. Magnetic stripes (or magstripes) are made up of millions of itty-bitty magnetic particles suspended in a film. This film is then applied to cards and magnetically encoded with data characters. Once it’s encoded, the card is ready to swipe!

Hico vs Loco

The ability of a magnetic material to withstand an external magnetic force is called coercivity. The coercivity of a magstripe is measured by a unit called an Oersted.

Hico is simply shorthand for HIgh COercivity. A hico mag is more resistant to the effects of a magnetic field, meaning it’s harder to erase the information that’s stored on it. Hico cards have a resistance of 2750 Oerstead.

Hico magstripes are important for applications that require you to keep information stored for a while. Credit/debit cards, gift cards, security access cards, and employee ID cards use hico technology.

As you’ve probably guessed, loco is an abbreviation of LOw COercivity. Loco cards have a much lower resistance of 300 Oersted. Loco magstripes are easily reprogrammed and designed for more temporary use, making them ideal for applications like hotel key cards and amusement park passes.

Hico magstripes are more expensive than loco due to their higher resistance.

What Kind of Information is Written on Magstripes?

Magstripes are composed of up to three tracks. Each track stores a specific amount of information.

Track 1 supports up to 76 alphanumeric data characters.

Track 2 supports up to 37 numeric only data characters.

Track 3 supports up to 104 numeric only data characters.

How Many Tracks Do I Need?

Most card applications require at least 2 tracks. Your Point of Sale provider can give you more specific information on the magstripe requirements for your gift cards.


References:  howstuffworks,  Magtek

Author: Chelsey H

I'm Chelsey, the Marketing Manager for Valerian Technologies: Integrated Card Solutions.