Prior to computers and MICR, the banking industry had two manual methods for processing large batches of checks. These two processes were known as Sort-A-Matic and Top Tab Key Sort. The Sort-A-Matic method utilized one hundred dividers, numbered 00 to 99. The first two digits of the account number were used to sort checks into dividers. By repeating this sorting process for each two digits of the account, all checks were finally grouped by account number.
The Top Tab Key Sort method used small holes at the top of the check to indicate each specific digit of the account number. A metal rod was used to separate checks with the same digit in the first position. It then repeated this process for each digit of the account number until all checks were grouped by account number.
These were slow, painstaking and expensive processes. With the advent of computers, Stanford University and Bank of America were the first to successfully develop a computer technology that would sort and match checks quickly and accurately. This computer technology became know as Magnetic Ink Character Recognition or MICR for short. The American Banking Association approved this computer technology and the rest is history.
One of the key elements of this technology was the development of the MICR font. This font is often referred to as the E-13B font. It consists of ten numbers (0-9) and four special symbols. The E refers to the fifth version of the font. The number 13 refers to the 0.013-inch design of the font. All horizontal and vertical widths are multiples of 0.013 inches. They range from 0.052 to 0.091 inches. The B refers to the second revision (of the fifth version).
There are two types of magnetic readers used to read these MICR font characters: Single track and multiple track magnetic readers. The MICR fonts are printed with toner that contains iron oxide. These readers pass the check number past a magnet, which magnetizes the iron oxide particles. This magnetizing process creates patterns, which can then be decoded by the MICR magnetic reader to sort and batch the checks by account number.
A third machine, called an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) reader can also be used to read the MICR fonts. These machines do not use any magnetic properties, but use a scanner light technology to decode the MICR fonts and sort them into batches by check account number.
MICR Printing and Toner
MICR printers must include a unique MICR font, which has been designed with the specific printer in mind. These MICR printers must also be able to match the magnetic toner at the pixel level to insure proper decoding. Finally, the MICR font for each printer must meet the ABA-X9 standards established by the banking industry.
Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) MICR toner cartridges will provide the MICR printing you need, but at a much higher cost. Today, you can purchase compatible MICR toner cartridges that will provide quality printing, but at a reduced cost. The key to successfully purchasing quality compatible MICR toner cartridges is to only deal with reputable toner cartridge companies. These companies will provide the high quality, low abrasive MICR toner. Their toner cartridges will meet or exceed the U.S. check printing standards.
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