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Magnetic ink character recognition

Cheque sample for a fictional bank in Canada using par-crossing MICR encoding for cashing in the United States

Magnetic Ink Character Recognition Code (MICR Code) is a character-recognition technology used mainly by the banking industry to ease the processing and clearance of cheques and other documents. The MICR encoding, called the MICR line, is at the bottom of cheques and other vouchers and typically includes the document-type indicator, ISO 1004:1995,[1] but the CMC-7 font is widely used in Europe, Brazil and Mexico.


  • Fonts 1
  • MICR reader 2
  • Unicode 3
  • History 4
  • See also 5
  • External resources 6
  • References 7


The 14 characters of the E-13B font. The control characters bracketing each numeral block are (from left to right) transit, on-us, amount, and dash.
An example of the CMC-7 MICR font. Shown are the 15 characters of the CMC-7 font. The control characters after the numerals are (from left to right) internal, terminator, amount, routing, and an unused character.

There are two major MICR fonts in use: E-13B and CMC-7. E-13B has a 14 character set,[2] while CMC-7 has 15—the 10 numeric characters, plus control characters.

The MICR E-13B font is the standard in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries. (The "13" in the font's name comes from the 0.013-inch grid used to design it.[3]) 0.013-inch is one typographic point. Besides decimal digits, it also contains the following symbols: ⑆ (transit: used to delimit a bank branch routing transit number), ⑇ (amount: used to delimit a transaction amount), ⑈ (on-us: used to delimit a customer account number), and ⑉ (dash: used to delimit parts of numbers—e.g., routing numbers or account numbers).

Major European countries, including France and Italy, and others like Brazil and Mexico use the CMC-7 font, developed by Groupe Bull in 1957.

MICR reader

MICR characters are printed on a document in either of the MICR fonts. The ink used in the printing is a magnetic ink or toner, usually containing iron oxide. The MICR text is passed before a MICR reader. The ink in the plane of the paper is first magnetized. Then the characters are passed over a MICR read head, a device similar to the playback head of a tape recorder. As each character passes over the head it produces a unique waveform that can be easily identified by the system.

The use of MICR allows the characters to be read reliably even if they have been overprinted or obscured by other marks, such as cancellation stamps and signature. The error rate for the magnetic scanning of a typical cheque is smaller than with optical character recognition systems. For well printed MICR documents, the "can't read" rate is usually less than 1% while the substitution rate (misread rate) is in the order of 1 per 100,000 characters.


MICR characters were added to the Unicode Standard in June, 1993 with the release of version 1.1.

The Unicode block that includes MICR characters is called Optical Character Recognition and covers U+2440–U+245F:

Optical Character Recognition[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
1.^ As of Unicode version 8.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


Before the mid-1940s, cheques were processed manually using the Sort-A-Matic or Top Tab Key method. The processing and clearance of cheques was very time consuming and was a significant cost in cheque clearance and bank operations. As the number of cheques increased, ways were sought for automating the process. Standards were developed to ensure uniformity in financial institutions. By the mid-1950s, the Stanford Research Institute and General Electric Computer Laboratory had developed the first automated system to process cheques using MICR.[4] The same team also developed the E13B MICR font. "E" refers to the font being the fifth considered, and "B" to the fact that it was the second version. The "13" refers to the 0.013 inch character grid.[5]

In 1958, the American Bankers Association (ABA) adopted E13B font as the MICR standard for negotiable documents in the United States. By the end of 1959, the first cheques had been printed using MICR. The ABA adopted MICR as its standard because machines could read MICR accurately, and MICR could be printed using existing technology. In addition, MICR remained machine readable, even through overstamping, marking, mutilation and more.

MICR technology has been adopted in many countries, with some variations. In 1963, ISO 1004:1995.[1] The E13B font was adopted as the standard in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and other countries.

The CMC-7 font was developed in France by Groupe Bull in 1957. It was adopted as the MICR standard in Argentina, France, Italy, and some other European countries.[7]

In the 1960s, the MICR fonts became a symbol of modernity or futurism, leading to the creation of lookalike "computer" typefaces that imitated the appearance of the MICR fonts, which unlike real MICR fonts, had a full character set.

MICR, or E-13B, is also used to encode information in other applications like: sales promotions, coupons, credit cards, airline tickets, insurance premium receipts, deposit tickets, and more.[8]

See also

External resources

  • MICR Basics Handbook, Troy Group, Inc.


  1. ^ a b "Information processing -- Magnetic ink character recognition -- Print". International Organization for Standardization. 1995. Retrieved September 28, 2009. 
  2. ^ MICR E13B character set
  3. ^ "The History of the Check and Standardization Efforts"
  4. ^ "Generic MICR Fundamentals Guide" (PDF). Xerox. p. 12. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  5. ^ MICR - MICR Education Center. what is micr. Retrieved on 2013-09-27.
  6. ^ ANSI standard X9.27-1995 and ANSI standard ANS X9.7-1990.
  7. ^ MICR - MICR Education Center. MICR Fonts. Retrieved on 2014-05-07.
  8. ^ Elfring: What is MICR?
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