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What is MICR Toner and what is Magnetic Ink?

Checks coded with MICR ink

Checks coded with MICR Toner

In 2018 alone, global payments fraud cost more than $24 billion. The need for security when conducting financial transactions is at an all-time high. The security associated with mobile shopping has increased at breakneck speed as items can be purchased at the touch of a button.

It is commonplace for a phone to scan your fingerprint or even perform a facial recognition scan to authorize a payment. It might look like it was ripped straight out of a 1970s sci-fi movie, but these authorization methods act as a much-needed extra security door.

In such a fast-paced world where nearly everything is rife with digital precautions and overt security options, you’d think our brick-and-mortar banking security would adapt just as quickly.

However, we still use a security process implemented in 1958, known as MICR, for all checks drawn in the United States.

No, this is not an ironic compliment, but a testament to the quality and effectiveness of the process itself. This highly effective security precaution has been used for over 60 years and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

What does MICR stand for?

MICR stands for Magnetic Ink Character Recognition, a technology used to enhance the security of personal and business documents.

Scanners equipped with MICR read heads can easily identify checks printed with magnetic ink. This enables secure, instant and highly accurate check processing.

Magnetic Ink Character Recognition has become so synonymous with financial transfers that the MICR line on checks is an industry standard set by the American Banking Association (ABA).

A Brief History of MICR Inks

In the early 1950s, bank tellers processed checks manually using Top Tab Key, or the “automated” Sort-A-Matic process. Unfortunately, both methods carry a high risk of human error. Thousands of dollars can be lost due to mispunching or placing checks in the wrong sorting slot. Even by the standards of the 1950s, these methods were slow and could be damaging to financial institutions if used incorrectly.

By the mid-1950s, the number of checks that were widely used and processed increased significantly.

The problem is clear at a glance and requires a solution that reduces the responsibility for human interaction.

Around that time, the Stanford Research Institute was working on their Electronic Records Accounting Method, also known as ERMA. Commissioned by Bank of America, the project sought to find a solution to the high volume of manual check processing. By September 1955, the same team had created Magnetic Ink Character Recognition as part of their ERMA program, with promising results.

After years of testing and perfecting, MICR has become a secure and revolutionary method that solves most of the problems associated with manual check processing. Magnetic Ink Character Recognition was so widely accepted and successful that by 1958, the American Banking Association recognized it as the standard that all future financial institutions should use.

MICR Check Feeder

How does magnetic ink work?

MICR ink bridges the gap between human and computer communication. Magnetic ink can be instantly read by computers through its hidden magnetic language, similar to a barcode. Additionally, MICR fonts resemble physical numeric characters that humans can easily read.

Underneath the surface of each character printed with MICR ink lies a magnetic code that cannot be read by the human eye. Magnetic inks contain iron oxide particles that become magnetic when printed.

When processed by a MICR reader, the machine deciphers the number based on its magnetism rather than what number characters it looks like on the outside.

Rather than interpreting the entire character as a whole, a MICR reader reads four separate magnetic charges to decode the corresponding digit being entered. Each character holds two positive and two negative magnetic charges along a linear orbit.

Think of the magnetic charge as a security door. Each character has four “gates”, each check is over 40 characters, and the check must pass flawlessly through more than 160 checkpoints to be processed.

If there is any discrepancy with the magnetic code, an alert is sent requiring the bank teller to manually check the check.

See how much you can save with HP ink cartridges.

What are MICR fonts?

Magnetic ink is used in conjunction with unique positive/negative charged fonts to add a layer of protected encryption. There are two types of MICR fonts accepted worldwide, E13-B and CMC-7.

The E13-B font is the standard MICR font used in North America and the rest of the world.

E13-B is used for the “MICR line” at the bottom of the check and contains important information such as account, routing, and check number.

E13-B contains ten numeric characters and four proprietary symbols representing Transit, Amount, On-Us, and Dash.

E13-B font

While the U.S. fully accepts the E13-B font, other countries around the world choose CMC-7, which is closer to the barcode.

CMC-7 font

CMC-7 is mainly used in South America and most of Europe and other countries around the world. The barcode feature allows for fewer errors when read by MICR scanners.

E13-B is often criticized for being too similar in shape and magnetism to the “5” and “2” characters. The magnetic wavelength of a misprinted “5” could easily be mistaken for a correct “2”, causing false red flags when processing checks.

Although CMC-7 is technically more accurate, it is often criticized for being difficult for the human eye to read due to its scattered nature within each character.

While the two fonts may have slight differences, they are both processed in the same way by the MICR reading technology.

When a check is processed, it must pass through the machine at a very precise speed. If it is processed too fast or too slow, it will not be read correctly. MICR reading technology rarely ends up with wrong notes as they are proven to be over 96% accurate when reading checks.

Why are MICR inks important today?

It’s normal to be skeptical of the security processes put in place in the late 50’s. Although magnetic ink character recognition was developed decades ago, today’s high-security version of MICR has been formed after more than 60 years of improvement and continuous breakthrough of its own protection limit.

Over the years, magnetic ink has become increasingly available to the public. Especially in this day and age, it is perfectly feasible to have a MICR printer for your business to keep your documents safe and legal.

TROY, manufacturer of MICR printers, has partnered with HP to bring affordable professional MICR printers and MICR toner cartridges to the public.

By owning a MICR printer, you can operate without any check inventory. You can keep your operations safe by printing only the checks to be generated and not pre-printed checks that can be filled illegally.

MICR printing is not specifically designed to make checks. While magnetic ink is primarily used in financial services, it is continuing to transform the medical industry and government.

MICR inks have recently been used to provide authenticity to documents such as medical prescriptions and vital records such as birth, marriage and death certificates. The high adhesion of the text to the paper also deters any would-be counterfeiters as MICR ink is not easily scratched or washed off without destroying the entire document itself. This additional encryption code prevents any fraudulent attempts or accidents within the respective domain.

Extremely difficult to replicate, MICR printing technology advances the field of security. It is still the number one safety precaution used in the modern printing age.

Are you looking for MICR printer ink?

If you’re looking for MICR toner, Hehua can help! These ink cartridges are used in specific applications such as check printing. Therefore, we may need to special order your toner cartridge. Contact our support team for assistance in selecting the right MICR toner for your printer.

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