Laser Checks Printing MICR Standardization

In the late 1950s, the American Banking Industry looked for a way to standardize Laser checks printing.

The most pressing issue facing the industry was the choice of a font that could be read and processed by any financial institute. Adopting a font readable to financial software across the industry paved the way for automated processing, a move intended to make processing faster, cheaper and more accurate. The Batelle Memorial Institute was chosen to oversee a council chosen from industry experts. Fifty people were chosen to participate, most from the Laser checks printing industry. The first font agreed upon by the committee was called E-13A MICR, but during testing it proved inadequate. Some banking systems had difficulty distinguishing the number 8 from a similar character used to identify transit. As a result, the E-13A MICR font was updated to address this issue and the altered choice, the E-13B MICR font, was adopted as the industry standard. In 1959, the committee recommendation for E-13B MICR font was accepted and published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). With standards in place, MICR technology was adopted by the entire banking and laser checks printing industry, making check writing compatible to systems across the U.S. Evan though the E-13B MICR standards were developed and established by the American Bankers Association other countries were quick to accept the same standards. Canada, the U.K., Japan, India, Mexico, Australia, Columbia, and Turkey all use E-13B MICR. A different standard, CMC-7, is used in Mediterranean and South American countries, Spain, Israel, and France. The original E-13B MICR standards established in 1959 are still in use today by the financial industry. Detailed specifications for E-13B MICR checks printing standards are available for download from the American National Standards Institute at ANSI.org. The specifications detail line and component placement as well as the font character style. Machines calibrated to read laser checks look for precise character placement as well as the waveform shape created by the magnetic properties of MICR ink. There are a number of advantages to standardization. Laser Checks printed on any MICR printer, including commercial printing and desktop laser checks generated by in-house printers, can be interpreted by any bank or ATM in the country. This helps prevents costly mistakes and discourages check fraud. From a banking point of view, automation is faster and reduces the possibility of human error. For businesses, it ensures that a smudge cannot be interpreted as an extra zero on a check sum, resulting in an inconvenient and potentially expensive recovery process. The standardized E-13B MICR system is the core of today's banking and check printing industry, used by commercial printing houses and businesses alike to produce printed checks or computer generated laser checks as needed.

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