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MICR Check Technology

The Value of MICR Check Technology

For more than sixty years, businesses have turned to MICR Technology for the consistency needd to ensure efficient and effective check processing. Today, MICR technology has become more valuable than ever before as organizations rely on MICR solutions for the high-quality, high performance and cost effective check and financial document printing they require. Most significantly, 21st century businesses depend on MICR technology for the security needed to combat the threat of check fraud in the digital age.

micr ink and toner

What is MICR

MICR-or Magnetic Ink Character Recognition--is a process in which documents are printed using magnetic ink or toner and special fonts (E-13B in North America) to create machine readable information for quick processing of paper based payments

The 65-character line of numbers and characters that make up the MICR line is printed in the area 0.625 inches from the bottom edge of a check. When positioned in the proper location, the characters printed in the MICR font allow check readers to scan the appropriate bank and customer account information to facilitate automated check clearing by financial institutions

MICR standards are set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which ensures standards for durability, unifomity, placement and font of MICR characters. Financial institutions, businesses, government agencies or other organizations who do not meet the MICR ANSI standards may be forced to pay additional fees and charges.

In addition to manufacturing, printing and issuing checks, MICR technology may also be used to print financial forms and related documents such as negotiable orders of withdrawal, bank control documents, credit card invoices, insurance payment booklets and direct mail or instant rebate coupons.

The Evolution of MICR

Prior to the mid 1940's checks were processed manually using either the Sort-A-Matic or Top Tab Key method. As the number of checks increased, it became essential to find a mechanized method of processing them, as well as to develop standards that could be used to ensure uniformity in financial institutions across the country.

By the mid 1950s, the Stanford Research Institute and General Electric Computer Laboratory had developed the first automated system to process checks--MICR. The same team also developed the E13B MICR font.

MICR was established as the standard for negotiable documents by the American Bankers Association (ABA) in 1958. By the end of 1959, the first checks had been printed using magnetic ink. The ABA set MICR as its standard because machines could read MICR accurately, and MICR could be printed using existing technology. In addition, documnets printed with MICR technology remained readable, even through overstamping, marking, mutilation and more.

In 1963, ANSI recognized the ABA's standards as the American standard for MICR printing. Although compliance with the standards is voluntary in the U.S., the financial industry considers them to be the definitive method by which to determine the acceptable quality of a negotiable document.

Other MICR fonts and some optically read fonts, meet the standards set by organizations in other countries around the world

Components of an MICR Laser Check System

A MICR laser check system is made up of 4 key components: the MICR laser printer, MICR toner, secure check stock and check writing software

The MICR laser printer is a specialized laser printer capable of producing a check that meets ANSI standards, including the durability and uniform placement of the MICR font. A MICR laser printer can create a check in a single step by imprinting all required information; a blank piece of security paper becomes a complete check with variable payee data, digitized signatures, a company logo, bank identification and electronically readable MICR line

MICR Toner is a specially formulated mixture of toner and iron oxide designed to be used in a laser MICR printer set with a specific signal strength to print MICR charaters that can be easily read by the financial financial institution.

Secure check stock is a paper designed with security features that prevent tampering and forgery to ensure a secure financial transaction. To comply with the ANSI standard, all checks must have at least three security features and at least one security feature must cover each of four areas:

  • One must be overt, such as an endorsement warning, warning band or non negotiable stub backer
  • One must be covert, such as copy-void, fluorescent fibers or solvent reactive chemical stain
  • One must be anti-copy or designed to hinder duplication
  • One must be anti-alteration or designed to deter data modification
The security feature types can overlap; for example, microprinting is both a covert feature and anti-copy feature and diagonal anti-splice lines are both overt and anti-alteration.

Secure check stock is avilable in pre-printed or blank formats. Pre-printed secure check stock identifies a single business and financial institution. Blank check stock can be used when single or multiple bank accounts are required. Check writing software drives a MICR printer to apply variable information and a secure, unique MICR line to each check. Because the variable information and MICR line are added on demand, account information is kept secure within the MICR printer or software. The use of blank check stock can also reduce waste.

Check Writing Software

Many accounting systems offer check printing functionality. If they do not or if additional secure check printing functionality is required special check writing software is a viable option.

Designed to intergrate with a range of accounting packages, check writing software can print fully formatted checks including the MICR line on blank secure check stock. To ensure the security of check production, check writing software can be protected with multiple security features, including a secure log-in, encryption, remote authorization and complete audit capabilities.

Check writing software can also be used to configure a check that is 100 percent image friendly to ensure compatibility with optical scanning equipment. This is especially important for those organizations that need to comply with Canadian Payment Association Standards.

MICR Printer vs Standard Laser Printer

The ABA made MICR the standard because it could be printed using existing technology and while it is possible to print using a standard laser printer witha MICR toner cartridge, only with a MIVR printer and MICR toner will a user be ensured of the quality that will meet ANSI standards and that the MICR line will be acceptable to a financial institution's readers.

Only a MICR laser printer can guarantee compliance with the six ANSI X.9 standards for MICR printing. Manufacturers of standard laser printers cannot guarantee that the MICR line will be readable or usable.

In addition, MICR printers can also offer a host of security features including paper tray or printer locks that prevent unauthorized users from printing checks. A special security cartridge, which acn be removed and stored in a secure area after use, can ensure that authorized signatures, company logos and font information remains protected

In a MICR printer you want to look for:

  • a printer resident MICR font engineered for the printers engine
  • automatically controlled toner density settings
  • MICR toner sensors to prevent check printing with non-MICR tone

MICR Toner vs Standard Toner

MICR toner is similar to standard laser printer toner, but includes an iron oxide additive which allows for electronic processing and ensures compliance with ANSI specifications for readability standards. So while it is possible to physically print checks with regular mon MICR toner there are several important issues to consider before doing so.

The first is that financial institutations read checks optically and magnetically and there is no guarantee that the check will clear the banking system. If it does clear you will likely be charged for addittional processing fees

Using MICR ensures that an organization has done its due diligence to prevent fraud. An orginzation that does not exercise due diligence risks their own security and may be ultimately responsible for any losses that result from the fraud

What to Look for in a MICR Printing Solution

MICR printing technology must addres four key concerns: security, quality, performance and capacity and cost

Security: Checks and other negotiable documents must be protected against fraudlent use and MICR security is addressed throughout the production process.

Quality: In addition to adhering to ANSI standards, MICR printing technology must be architected to meet the strict quality requiremnets and quality control processes of businesses, government agencies and the financial industry, including those for resolution and output, check design, font positioning and encoding strength.

High Performance and Capacity: To meet the demands of the most challenging enviroments, MICR technology must deliver the performance and capicity neccessary to keep up with large duty cycles and to handle high volumes of paper.

Cost: By eliminating the need to maintian a supply of pre-printed check stock or to discard outdated, obsolete forms and reducing the time spent on labor intensive functions, such as check decollating, bursting and signing, the right MICR solution can reduce costs.

How EGP Business Solutions can Help

Since 1993 EGP has been a leading provider of MICR solutions including laser MICR printers, laser MICR toner, laser security paper and check writing software. We offer a complete range of solutions - you choose the solution to meet your specific security, performance and capacity needs and to fit your budget