Data Encoding

Proximity Card

Smart cards with contacts have to be inserted into readers before use, which is inconvenient in some applications. Proximity cards, otherwise known as contactless smart cards, dispense with the contacts and instead use radio frequency transmit/receive electronics to transfer the data.

Proximity cards are somewhat more complex in that they contain a large antenna in addition to the chip, and the power supply for the chip is now supplied via the RF energy from the reading device.

There are several relevant ISO standards including ISO 14443 A&B and ISO 15693, but in addition, individual vendors have defined their own proprietary encoding schemes such as Mifare, Legic and I-class.

All of these cards operate at 13.56 MHz, and claimed read ranges vary from 10 cm up to 1 metre depending on the modulation and data rate used. There is currently a lower limit on emitted power in the USA (FCC) than in Europe and the rest of the world (ISO), and this can restrict read ranges to as little as a few centimeters in some situations.

The extra chip "overhead" involved in the communications link and the power generation functions, plus the restriction of the maximum data transmission rate attainable, limits the functionality and data storage capacity of Contactless-cards to less than that available with contact cards. Even so, the convenience of use is greatly improved, and it is tempting to assume that in the near future, all smart cards will use this approach.

The Magicard Rio and Tango can both be fitted with Contactless Smart card encoders which allow cards to be initialized and pre-loaded pRior to printing.


Smart Card

Contact smart cards are CR-80 sized PVC/PET cards with an array of gold metallic contacts connected to a silicon chip embedded inside the card.

The chip usually includes a control microprocessor an encryption/decryption engine, a Read Only Memory containing the operating program, and up to 64 K bytes of reusable memory (EEPROM).

Smart cards are now widely used in credit card applications (especially in Europe) where their increased security can help to defeat criminals.

They are also finding many new roles in biometric access and ID systems, and in multi-function transaction applications, such as Campus Cards. These applications frequently require dye sub-printing for personalisation, and combining the initial data programming of the card with the printing process is very efficient.

The Magicard Rio and Tango printers can both be supplied with an optional smart card contact station (/S) and will execute the encode-and-verify function while the card image is being downloaded for printing.

Smart Card Printers & Encoding
Because of the wide variety of Smart card chip functions, Magicard printers position the card, lower the contact array, and provide direct electrical connection to the chip via a 9 pin connector on the rear panel. The interface electronics and encoding can therefore be external, and customer specified to suit the application.

The eight chip contacts will normally be supplied in the "low" format which is now the preferred ISO 7816 position. If specified at the time of ordering, the older "high" format can be supplied as an alternative.

The uses to which Smart cards can be put are boundless, but some examples include:
Card Electronic purse payments for vending machines, refectory/canteen, photocopying, and exam fees. Access control for laboratories, protected databases, and student voting rights. Personal bio data including age home address, medical history and blood group. Printed with a strong University corporate identity and a large student portrait. Protected by custom HoloKote™ and HoloPatch™. Biometric Access Control Encrypted biometric fingerprint and/or retinal scan data.

Digitized portrait
Personal data including access authorizations and bio data. Duplex printed with a large portrait and corporate data on the front, and personal data and "If found" information on the reverse.


Swipe Card

The optional Magicard Rio and Tango Magstripe encoder can read or encode up to 3 tracks of digital information onto CR-80 cards incorporating a HiCo or LoCo magnetic stripe in the ANSI/ISO 7811 format. Encoding for the three tracks can use either the ISO 7811 format, or, for special application, a user specific custom format can be employed.

Because HiCo cards are much less susceptible to stray field erasure, they are to be preferred for any new application, despite their slightly higher cost.

ATM cards and credit cards normally use the older LoCo technology however, and so many existing types of installation will require the use of LoCo encoding.

Security Printing
The ISO 7811 standard uses 210 BPI (Bits Per Inch) encoding for Track 1 in the International Air Transport Association (I.A.T.A.) format of 79 alphanumeric characters, at 7 bits per character.

Track 2 uses 75 BPI encoding to store 40 numeric characters at 5 bits per character in American Banking Association (ABA) format, and Track 3 uses 210 BPI encoding of 107 numeric characters at 5 bits per character in THRIFT format.

These rather odd formats have grown up based on the historical "owners" of these tracks, but even in ISO 7811 format, the tracks can be used to store any compatible data the user requires, such as basic biometric or personal data.

If "Advanced Settings" is selected in the Driver, then all three tracks can be set to either 75 or 210 BPI with character encoding in 7,6,5,4, or 1 bit formats. Using these custom settings, more useful data can be stored on the card in a format which suits the system designer, at the expense of losing ISO compatibility.

Magstripe encoding uses relatively inexpensive media (Magstripe cards) and operates with inexpensive swipe readers. It is widely used in access control and loyalty card schemes. Unlike Barcodes, Magstripe data can be rewritten, which is a major advantage for some applications.

The frequent use of swipe readers can cause a problem with wear on the surface of dye-sub printed cards. Experience suggests that customers are often prepared to tolerate this, or to work around it by redesigning their cards, in order that they can keep card and system cost down. For those that are not, the only solution is to specify the Sicura™ laminator which protects the card with a tough 1 mil thick polyester laminate.



Data encoding using Barcodes is essentially "free", since the information is encoded on to the card during the printing process. One dimensional (1D) Barcodes are usually printed along the long axis of the card, and are read using swipe readers which use either visible or infrared sensors.

Since the narrowest Barcode "bar" should ideally be at least four pixels wide, practical data capacity is limited to about 20 characters or so.

There are various 1D Barcode systems in use, with Code "3 of 9" being the simplest and probably the most reliable, and Code "I 2 of 5" being the most space efficient.

It is relatively easy to integrate a 1D Barcode encoding scheme into a software application because Barcode formats are available as True-Type fonts, and variable data can be incorporated into the card design during the card issue process.

Barcode Printing
Barcodes should always be printed using the K panel (Black Resin) because this is opaque to both visible and infrared sensors.

As a security measure it is possible to print the black resin Barcode on top of a dark YMC color panel in such a way that it cannot be photocopied, but it can still be read with an infrared swipe reader.

The "height" of a Barcode contains no information, but the higher each bar is made, the easier it may be to read when presented to a reader. About 0.4 inch (1 cm) centered on the swipe reader sensor, should normally be adequate.

Because of the read-only nature of Barcodes and the limitations on data length, 1D Barcodes are usually used to store a single unique character string used as a pass code in access control or other holder identification systems.

Problems to consider include possible security breaches due to the ease of copying the code, and the potential for physical damage to the Barcode after repeated swipes.

Two dimensional (2D) Barcodes appear as a matrix of variable sized square dots and are usually read with a raster-scanning beam sensor housed in a hand held "gun" or in a fixed (supermarket style) reader. Swiping is not required.

The major advantage of a 2D Barcode is its data encoding capacity, with up to 500 bytes per square inch being feasible. Some of this data will normally be used for error correction encoding which also makes the 2D Barcode remarkably tolerant of holes, cuts, and dirt marks.

With around 500 bytes of data available, a 2D Barcode can be used to store biometric data such as a fingerprint, or even a compressed version of the holder's portrait.

Other possibilities include detailed personalized data such as name, address, department, employee number, access authorizations, training status, and expiring date. Since swiping is not required, and 2D Barcodes are very tolerant of artefacts, physical wear should not be a problem, but a potential downside is the higher cost of scanners.