Magnetic ink character recognition or MICR printing as it is better known, prints using special fonts and magnetic inks that are primarily used to quickly process documents like checks. As you have probably seen at your bank, your checks can be quickly read by machines designed to scan MICR printing. This type of printing was developed in the 1950s and is still a vital part of the banking industry.
The Development of MICR Printing
Before the development of MICR printing, all checks quite naturally had to be processed manually. "However, by the mid-1940s the banking system became inundated with paper as society grew more mobile and affluent." (1) The influx of paper demanded new processes that could keep up with the paperwork accurately and efficiently. Finding a solution meant that both the electronics and banking industries had to work to develop a new tool that could be used by all banking institutions. In essence, they needed to determine a new standard form of processing checks.
The result occurred during the 1950s when the first automated systems employing MICR printing were used. Stanford Research Institute achieved the credit for developing MICR while using equipment designed by General Electric. The notable MICR font was developed at the same time as the magnetic ink.
The Importance of MICR Printing
MICR printing can easily be regarded as a cornerstone of modern banking processes. Our checks today feature "MICR toner" (2) and most adults are familiar with the telltale font associated with our checks' routing numbers, bank accounts, and check numbers. Not only is MICR printing vital to the banking industry, it's also used by airlines for ticket verification purposes.
When it comes to banking, however, MICR printing is a major time-saver for banks. For instance, banks do not have to verify that the check given to them is a valid one; the MICR print conveys that as its read. The MICR check also tells them right away which bank issued the check. Another important aspect of MICR is that it conveys accurate information. It can be read even if it is covered up by ink or a signature. This ensures greater accuracy.
Banks have been relying on MICR toner for decades now and it is still essential for their operation. The next time you look at the bottom of your check, you'll remember that the unusual font has an important purpose indeed.
Video: MICR Explained
- Xerox, "Generic MICR: Fundamentals Guide," http://download.support.xerox.com/pub/docs/DocuPrint_100_100MX/userdocs/any-os/en/GenericMICRFundamentalsGd.pdf
2. Troy, "Troy MICR Printers," http://www.troygroup.com/products/printers/micr_printers.aspx