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What is Magnetic Encoding?
Magnetic Encoding is a technology that has been around and worked very well for many years. Encoding works by using a magnetic head to write bits to a magnetic stripe. According to ISO standards there are three tracks on a magnetic stripe. The information is written to the stripe when either the card passes over the head or the head is moved over the card.
How many bits are written to the track is measured in BPI (Bits Per Inch). Track 1 and 3 are written at 210BPI and Track 2 is written at 75BPI. Each track is made up of four elements the Start Sentinel, Personalization Data, End Sentinel and LRC. The start sentinel is a character that tells the card reader that card data is to follow.
The personalization data is the personal information that the issuer places on the card. The personalization data includes things like name, account number and expiration date for example. The end sentinel tells the card reader that it has reached the end of the personalization data. The LRC (Longitudinal Redundancy Check) is a check digit that is used by the reader to verify that the information it has read is correct.
Each track has a specific number of characters that can be written to that track. The start sentinel, end sentinel and LRC are constant so the amount of data that a customer or issuer can enter is 76 for track 1, 37 for track 2 and 104 for track 3. The amount of “power” used to apply the magnetic bits to the card is measured in Oersted. This term is applied to both card stock and personalization equipment.
If you are using a higher oersted card you need to configure the personalization equipment to use more “power” to write to that card. Traditionally 300 oersted was used for most applications. The problem with this method is that the card is erased easily. Recently more customers are moving to a 2750 Oersted card. The 2750 Oersted card uses more “power” during the encoding process and therefore it is not as easily erased.
CR80 Marketing Services can personalize both 300 Oe or 2750 Oe magnetic stripe cards.
What is Proximity or Contactless Encoding?
Proximity Encoding is a technology that utilizes Radio Frequency (RF) technology to transmit data. The cards themselves do not hold and type of power source. The card is activated when it is put in close proximity to a reading or writing device. The reader/writer send out a signal, which powers up the antenna in the card and enables the two devices to communicate. The ISO standard 14443 for contactless smart cards mentions only two interface protocols (Type A and Type B). Type A cards use the MIFARE® communications methods. Type B is a protocol that is typically reserved for Microprocessor based smart cards. There is a third card type under ISO standard 15693. This third type of card is referred to as a vicinity cards and is used in long-range RFID applications. MIFARE® is the industry standard for contactless and dual interface smart card schemes. The platform offers a full range of compatible contactless smart card and reader ICs, as well as dual interface ICs that provide a secure link between the contactless and contact card markets. There are many applications for this technology. For example many companies use these cards for access control, parking, and mass transit applications.
What is Thermal Transfer Printing?
Thermal transfer printers are used to thermal print text, pictures, logos, artwork, or other color images on a plastic card. A monochrome printer functions by using heat to transfer a ribbon to the face of the card. Unlike color printers monochrome printer cannot print true grayscale Images. Instead the monochrome printer breaks up the density of the printed dots to create a shading effect. These printers are designed for printing text, barcodes and monochrome images. Photographs can be printed using the monochrome printer but because it cannot print true grayscale the images are of a very low quality.
What is Dye Sublimation Printing?
Dye Sublimation printers are used to thermal print text, pictures, logos, artwork, or other color images on a plastic card. Color printers are especially useful for cards requiring individual color images which vary from card to card (such as a photograph) or for low runs (i.e. less than 15,000 cards) where the cost of printing the same image is equal to or less than a custom pre-printed (lithographic) card. Color images are either applied to the front and/or back of a card and can be small to virtually the full card. Card cost and throughput are the major issues for buyers, even more important than the purchase price of the printer itself. Due to high consumable costs, there are a variety of ribbon configurations available. The actual ribbon used depends on the images being printed and the required throughput of the system.
The most typical method of printing a color image is to apply varying amounts of the three primary printing colors (yellow, magenta, and cyan) in three separate stages. For increased speed, some systems use three or more printers but most use a single print head. Since the card and print head must make a minimum of three passes, the ribbons are made with panels of color. These “dye sublimation” ribbons are unlike a monochrome graphics ribbon, as the amount of “ink” or dye transferred depends on the amount of heat applied by the print head. These different layers containing various amounts of dye combine to give the correct color mix. Colors and shades can be produced in this manner although black is actually a dark gray color and if used to make a barcode may not be read properly. Therefore, some ribbon configurations contain a true black (K resin) such as used in the monochrome printers. Lastly, the color image can be protected by a clear overlay. When applied, the clear overlay increases the resistance to abrasion/wear, reduces fading, and reduces “dye migration” -where the dye actually lifts off of the plastic card. Note that for each color including the protective clear layer, only 2 to 3 microns of material is actually placed on the card. Some systems can apply a lamination or thick overlay to the card.
A clear hologram is typically added to a plastic card for security purposes because it is difficult for the would-be counterfeiter to reproduce. Traditionally, the hologram is a custom designed for an end user and placed over specific printed areas of a card, such as a photograph or text, or over the entire card. In essence, the hologram is a layer of clear material with a special image embossed into it. When viewed with the appropriate light and angle, the image can appear as 3 dimensional, 2 dimensional with varying colors or both 2D & 3D. Holograms, like clear ribbons, can be applied using heated rollers or thermal print heads. A holographic layer can be used instead of clear to protect the color image, but is typically applied over the clear layer. This doubles the thickness of the protection layers to about 4 to 6 microns and helps reduce fade, dye migration and wear even further.
Holograms are available with a generic pattern or can be custom designed and made for the ultimate in security applications. Both are available through CR80 Marketing Services. A custom designed hologram will have a separate engineering charge (typically referred to as an origination fee) that depends on the complexity of the design (2D, 3D) and can exceed $10,000. A customer can provide artwork, (electronic or camera ready) or just an idea. A computer printout is generated first for the preliminary sign-off. Then a “shadow box” is created which is a small area of the design. This sample shows a customer what it will look like for the final sign-off before production. Typical lead-time for the whole process is 8 to 12 weeks.
What is Lamination?
Lamination is the process of using a set of heated rollers or a heated plate to activate the adhesive on patch material and then apply the patch to a card using heat and pressure. Depending on the card composition this process may cause the card to become bowed. In these cases a card “straightening” or “De-Bowing” mechanism is used. This mechanism simply flexes the card to remove the bow. Patch laminates are used to add an extra degree of security to cards. Unlike an overlay or print foil, which applies a protective layer to the card only a few microns thick, a patch laminate provides a .5mil or 1mil protective layer. This thicker layer provides superior abrasion resistance and extends card life. The patch material also provides superior chemical and UV resistance. Security features such as holograms, UV printing, Nano printing and Micro printing can also be built into the design of the patch material. In most cases the material is specific to the customer and will contain special security features. Because of the thickness of the patch material and that of the carrier material a print head cannot generate the heat needed to apply the patch material. The higher heat requirement is the reason why most manufacturers utilize a heated roller to apply the patch material. There are many variables involved with card lamination. In many cases the adhesive on the patch material may need to be tailored to match the card material.
What is a Smart Card?
Smart Card is an emerging technology which offers issuers increased security, the ability to perform offline transactions and the ability to produce multi-application cards. Smart Cards have been a confusing subject to most people because until recently there have been no set standards for Smart Card personalization or transaction processing. Out of necessity Europay, Master Card and Visa created EMVCO which intern developed the EMV standards. These standards define the protocols for talking to the card during transaction processing and personalization. It was decided in these specifications to introduce a new data field into the transaction data containing the Smart Card information. The field containing the smart card data is called DE55 (Data Element 55). As a result issuers now need to upgrade their processing networks to accept the data elements contained in DE55. If a network is DE55 compliant it is said to be “Full Grade”. If a network is only partially DE55 compliant it is said to be “Partial Grade”. In a full grade environment smart cards offer the issuer the capability to perform functions such as software updates, card block, application block and pin change remotely. The introduction of such advanced functions has increased the need for CMS (Card Management System) software. Now that issuers can dynamically do things like update software, block cards and etc. they need a software system capable of keeping track of software revisions and security features on their cards.
What is Laser Engraving?
The term "LASER" is an acronym, which stands for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation." Thus the laser is a device, which produces and amplifies light. A device that converts some form of energy (electrical, optical, chemical, etc.) into a narrow beam of light which is monochromatic (single pure color) and coherent (all waves in step with one another). Because of these properties laser light can be focused to an extremely small spot, which results in a very large power density, which produces a very high temperature. Lasers come in many different types, each with a different power level and wavelength (color). Some are so weak that you cannot feel the beam on your hand (i.e., supermarket scanners), while others might have an invisible beam that can burn a hole through a steel plate (large CO2 laser).
What is Embossing & Indenting?
Embossing is a technology that has been around for many years. The advantages to embossing are that it can be used to imprint forms and once a card is embossed it is very difficult to alter that embossing. Embossing is essentially the process of using a set of male and female dies to create raised letters on the surface of a plastic card. According to ISO specifications the height of the embossed characters must be between .016in and .019in from the face to the card. Embossing equipment can be purchased with special typefaces. The most common are OCR (used for embossing the account number) and Simplex or Gothic (used for embossing text such as name expiration date and etc). Special characters and typefaces are available for different countries and special applications.
Indenting is a similar technology to embossing. Instead of using a male and female die like embossing indenting uses a ribbon with a male die and a flat “anvil” die. When the character is struck the male die forces the indent ribbon into the card in the shape of that particular character. Meanwhile, the flat “anvil” die presses against the opposite side of the card to keep the plastic from being deformed. When the process is completed the indent is only evident from one side of the card and not the other. Indenting is a security feature and is available on either the front or the back of the card.
What is color Tipping or Topping?
Tipping or topping is the process of using a heated rubber pad to transfer color from a foil to embossed characters on the face of a card. The quality of tipping is dependant on many different variables. In personalization equipment there are machine adjustable parameters such as heat, pressure and dwell time (the time the pad stays against the card). There are also variables that are not equipment related. For instance the quality of the tipping is heavily dependant on the card material and the quality of the tipping foil used. Different colors and variations of tipping foils require different temperatures for application. The adjustment is usually done through a process of trial and error because the quality is dependant on the plastic used.
What is Activation Labeling?
Card Activation Labels are anti-mail fraud
devices used primarily in certain regions of North America. Their
purpose is to reduce the chance that plastic cards are stolen from
the mail system and used before the intended receiver even knows it
is missing. Labels are part of an anti fraud system which requires
the intended receiver to call a special number and provide
information which only they would know to activate the card. Labels
are applied on the front of a financial or retail card above the OCR
line to remind the owner to call the special number. The labels are
made to peel off easily after the card has been activated. Research
has shown that this activation system dramatically reduces the
amount of card theft. This system is only used in areas with high
theft due to the added expense. Since the labels instruct a
person to call a special number, the labels for each card type are
custom made. They are typically applied to a web (or backing
material) and wound on 3-inch cores in one of two orientations;
bottom-off-first (the bottom of the label is nearest the end of the
web thus comes off first) or top-off-first. The labels come in a
variety of sizes but are no greater than 3 inches long and 1 inch