The Inkjet MICR News Keeps On Coming

Jim Hamilton
Nov 3, 2009

What is it about magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) that has made it such a hot topic recently? There have been at least five MICR announcements involving high-speed color inkjet in recent memory:

  • Océ started the trend with its announcement of MICR capability for JetStream in October of 2008. The JetStream implementation was the first in a high-speed color inkjet device to use a fifth color implementation of a MICR inkjet ink.
  • In September of 2009 HP announced a technology alliance with R.R. Donnelley that includes joint development around inkjet MICR. This will assure that a MICR option will be available for HP’s T300 Inkjet Web Press.
  • At Print 09 InfoPrint added MICR inkjet ink capability for the black station of the InfoPrint 5000 (InfoPrint also had other MICR activity at the show with cut-sheet toner products through its partner Rosetta Technologies).
  • At Print 09 RISO (in partnership with Kirk-Rudy) announced an in-line MICR accessory for the HC5500. This new accessory was announced at the same time as a new envelope feeder.
  • In October Kodak announced a MICR option for the Versamark VL series that will be available in the first half of 2010 (more on this below).

What is MICR? It’s a special print technology that can be read extremely reliably by an automated reader/scanner. MICR is most commonly used for payroll, personal, and other bank checks but it is also used in direct mail applications for courtesy check printing as well as to track the return of inbound fulfillment envelopes. Not all countries use MICR printing, but it is important in North America, some European countries, parts of Latin America, and India. In the United States, the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act (widely referred to as Check 21) regulates the use of electronic scans and replacement checks, and has a direct impact on the use of MICR.

MICR printing is nothing new in the types of transaction and direct mail environments that have been using toner-based, continuous-feed, monochrome digital printing solutions for decades. What is relatively new is the ability to use high-speed inkjet devices to print MICR. Assuring that the printed result is dark enough and reliably machine readable using an inkjet ink is no simple task, which is why it has taken a while for MICR to appear in high-speed color inkjet products. The recent flood of announcements shows how important MICR is for the buyers of these systems.

Another interesting aspect of MICR inks and toners is that they generally cost more than regular black inks and toners. For this reason MICR is sometimes employed via an extra print station that makes it possible to print only the required areas using the MICR inks or toners. If this happens in a separate module then it also becomes important to ensure that the proper alignment/registration is maintained. If this happens alongside the other print heads, such as in an implementation that uses a fifth station, good alignment is generally assured. In either case one benefit of a fifth station is that the MICR inks can be applied only where needed.

The cumulative weight of all these MICR announcements is what finally convinced me to blog about it. Kodak’s press release was the last straw. It caught my eye not because of what it said, but because of what was left out. You wouldn’t know by reading the release that it was about an inkjet MICR solution. I went through the release twice trying to find a hint of whether the solution was toner or inkjet. I assumed it was toner because since 2005 (at least) Kodak has had a relationship with Nipson to provide MICR capability in line to high-speed Versamark inkjet units with a monochrome MICR solution. It wasn’t until I talked to Kodak that I learned the real story.

Kodak’s new MICR solution for the Versamark VL uses inkjet inks that are jetted through the same type of heads as the process colors. The new solution is supported in Kodak’s Versamark VL 2000/2200 and VL 4000/4200, but not in the faster VL 6000/6200. This is because of the way the technology is implemented. There simply isn’t enough room in the VL 6000/6200 because it uses the extra space for CMYK heads that ensure the 600 by 600 dot per inch resolution and 492 feet-per-minute speed of Kodak’s top-of-the-line Versamark VL product. Kodak also quietly announced a security ink solution for the Versamark VL series. This is implemented in a similar fashion to the MICR solution. In fact, the two could even be employed together.

In closing I’d like to address an issue of pronunciation. How do you say MICR? There is some difference of opinion on that point. I always say “my-cur” because it’s how I first heard it. Truth be told, some people prefer “mick-er.” I suppose there’s a case for “mick-er” if you pronounce the “I” like it’s spoken (as in “ink”). Nevertheless I’m sticking with “my-cur” if for no better reason than that it just sounds right to me. If these product announcements are any indication, you’ll be hearing a lot more about MICR (however you choose to pronounce it).

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