Card access systems rely on keycards that are normally flat and rectangular in shape and made of plastic that can be identified by a card reader. Access control card readers are used mainly in physical security systems in order to read a unique code within the card that allows access through controlled points, such as locked doors or security turnstiles. Access control readers are classified by functions they are able to perform and by identification technologies. Types available from Eagle Guard Security include a magnetic stripe, smart card, proximity card and bar code.

Magnetic Strip

Magnetic stripe technology relies on a stripe of magnetic tape that is laminated on a keycard. The stripe includes tracks of data, which can be encoded in multiple formats. Mag-stripe cards, as they are formally called, are relatively inexpensive compared to other card types and easy to program and use. However, the technology is susceptible to misreads, wear on the cards, data corruption, and copying.

Smart Card

Smart cards are available in two types: contactless and contact. Both come equipped with an embedded microprocessor and memory components that can handle multiple applications and allow the smart card to work as a pre-paid membership card, cash card and an access control card.

The primary difference between contact and contactless smart cards is how their microprocessors communicate. A contact card has several contact points that must physically touch the right points on the card reader, which makes them slow and undesirable for most access control purposes.

A card using contactless radio-based technology functions very similar to proximity cards but with a higher frequency that allows for the transfer of more data and communication with several cards at a time. These cards do not have to touch the reader and can remain in a purse or wallet for easy storage and reducing the risk of loss. The cards usually do not use the available memory for access control, which frees the memory for uses like biometrics forms of data.


Barcode technology relies on a series of alternating dark and light stripes that are read by an optical scanner (like UPC barcodes you see on products at the store and shipping labels). The organization and width of the lines is determined by the bar code protocol chosen.

This technology is inexpensive and easy to generate, but this easy and low cost also makes them susceptible to fraud, and smudges and dirt can cause problems with the reader making out the barcode pattern.

Proximity Card

Most companies today utilize proximity cards to control physical access. With this type of card, an employee holds a card within a few inches of the reader; the reader receives a unique ID from the card and transmits it to a central computer that commands whether or not to open the door. A major reason why this type of card is popular is the convenience of their touch-less functionality.

There are still drawbacks with this system to review before making your final decision. Proximity cards  have largely been manufactured without governing body to control card numbers and facility codes, which are key parts of their operating format. Another manufacturer could supply cards with identical facility codes and control numbers to different organizations, which causes problems of duplicated card codes.