What’s the difference between HiCo and LoCo magnetic stripe cards?

October 6th, 2009 by Tom Leave a reply »

If you’re running an ID card program that requires magnetic stripe encoding, it’s important to remember not all mag stripes are the same. There are actually two options to choose from: high-coercivity (HiCo) magnetic stripe cards, and low-coercivity cards. The main difference between these two card technologies involves how difficult it is to encode and erase the information stored on the magnetic stripe. While the amount of data that can be stored on each card type is the same, the level of security and durability is different.

HiCo mag stripes are darker in color than their LoCo counterparts. They’re typically black, while LoCo stripes are brownish in hue. High-coercivity cards are used more prominently than LoCo cards, and are especially ideal for applications requiring higher levels of security and card durability. This is because the data encoded on HiCo mag stripes is less likely to be erased when the card is exposed to an external magnetic field. The cards also stand up better to frequent swiping and everyday use. Examples of high-coercivity magnetic stripes in action include credit and debit cards, access control cards, time and attendance, library cards, and employee ID badges.

Low-coercivity cards are more common for temporary applications such as gift card programs, passes to theme parks or ski areas, and hotel room card  keys. The data on a LoCo mag stripe is encoded at a low intensity magnetic field, which makes these cards better suited for short-term applications. Low-coercivity cards are cheaper than HiCo cards however, so that’s something to keep in mind if you think you could go either way.

Probably the biggest factor when deciding between HiCo and LoCo cards is determining how long the cards will be used. If longevity of card life is a key concern, then certainly high-coercivity cards our the preferred option. For those more temporary application, you could save a little money by going the LoCo route.

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