What is a MICR Spec Sheet?

The Banking World Depends on MICR Specification Sheets

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Magnetic Ink character recognition (MICR) allows banks to process the enormous of amount of checks that go through their system. A special type of font called E-13B is used in the character recognition process so they are commonly referred to as MICR characters.

micr numbers
Example of the style of MICR characters.

There are ten specially designed characters (0 thru 9) and four unique symbols (Amount, Transit, Dash, and On-Us) which make-up the fourteen MICR characters. Each character occupies exactly 1/8 of an inch. They are printed with toner or ink that contains iron oxide and that makes them magnetic. The numbers and symbols themselves have five different widths and they all must be fixed within a character cell.

When the characters are passed by a magnet in a MICR reader/sorter machine they become magnetized. The magnetized characters then pass under a magnetic read head and the flux pattern or magnetic field created by the magnetized characters will produce an electric current in the read head. The timing and strength of the current gives the reader the power to decipher which characters are being read.

All banks use magnetic readers that are capable of reading E-13B characters. MICR spec sheets were developed and designed to ensure that E-13B characters can be read by these electronic reader/sorter machines. The quality and the accuracy of the printed E-13B characters is a critical part of the banking industry and the primary guide to ensure appropriate standards is the MICR specification sheet.

The Exact Specifications Concerning MICR Printing are Detailed on a MICR Spec Sheet

Most consumers do not know and some do not care about magnetic ink character recognition and the pertinent details that making check cashing possible. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) was established to ensure quality and preciseness and to standardize MICR spec sheets. ANSI has a committee that develops printing standards for MICR characters. These magnetic ink character recognition spec sheets contain the mandated requirements for E-13B fonts, MICR registration, toner signal strength, paper grain and moisture content, and toner adhesion. A guide to Creating MICR Document Specification Forms is available from ANSI.

There are two basic standards on MICR specification sheets: the first one covers the printing specs and the second one details the printing location and the placement. If the numbers and symbols are not positioned correctly then pairs of symbols or numbers will not be read correctly.

The magnetic ink character recognition line at the bottom of the check encodes three or four distinct items. If a check is longer than 6.5 inches the field to the left is the Auxiliary-On-Us field which has the check number in it. If a check is exactly 6.5 inches or less that field is not present.

The area to the right of the Auxiliary-On-Us field is the Transit Field which identifies the bank or financial institution. To the right of that field is the On-Us field which is the individual or business bank account number. The area next to that field appears blank, but it is the Amount field which is filled in by financial institution or the bank that is processing the check.

All E-13B fonts must meet the ANSI standard called X9.27-1995 and all line positioning must conform to the X9.7-1990 standard. Fonts that do not conform to those standards cause check rejections. Some companies that sell MICR font checks never read MICR spec sheets and that creates check rejection issues so it is important to understand what the MICR specification sheets say and do so checks can be read by bank reader/sorter machines.

E-13B characters and symbols are also used on deposit slips as well as by airlines, credit card companies, sales agencies, and insurance companies. Encoding important information that can be read in bulk is an important part of any business. MICR specification sheets maintain the quality and printing standards that help the banking system process an extraordinary amount of information. Without E-13B spec sheets the system would be ineffective.