There are many makes and models of ID scanners. Generally, ID scanners are either handheld or countertop devices. They are usually about 10″ x 5″ x 3″ in size. An ID card scanner will have a barcode reader, a magnetic stripe reader, or both. Machines that have both types of scanners will have two separate devices for reading each type of code. An ID scanner will have some type of visual display like a small screen. Some scanners have small keypads or touch-screens to input data and control the device.

Barcode Readers
Barcodes are machine-readable codes in a pattern of parallel lines of varying widths. They can also appear as a rectangle of of randomly placed black shapes. This is called a 2D barcode and is used in approximately 40 states use in North America. A barcode reader on an ID card scanner will either be a slot where the ID is inserted and removed (dipped), or a “point-and-shoot” infrared scanner (like a UPC reader at the grocery store) that beams a red light at the barcode. The best ID card scanners, in terms of speed and readability, have a slot-reader for barcodes. These are more expensive to produce, but they allow for a perfect reading of the barcode on each use. Point-and-shoot bar code readers scanners often have difficulty focusing on the barcode long enough to get a reading before the card moves. They also must contend with orientation of the license, surface reflectivity and ambient light conditions. Most manufactures address these issues by using a countertop mounted scanner and a target area to position the 2D bar code before scanning. This works in a fixed location environment but is impractical in mobile / handheld applications. Many discount manufacturers of inferior ID scanning products contain this type of cheap barcode reader. In short, point-and-shoot ID scanners are impractical because it is difficult to hold an ID card and the scanner steady for enough time to get a reading.

Magnetic Stripe Readers
Magnetic stripes are a black band about 1/2″ wide that stretches across the entire length of an ID card. A magnetic stripe reader on an ID card scanner looks like a 1/8″ wide slot. To read a magnetic stripe ID, the magnetic stripe is swiped through the slot. This is same way that credit cards are read.

Operation
An ID scanner should be very easy to operate. For fast and simple operation there should be no buttons to press to switch between the barcode scanner and magnetic stripe scanner. There also should be no buttons to press to reset the device between scans. It should take no more than 0.5 – 2 seconds from dipping or swiping the card before the data is displayed on the screen.

The typical ID scanning procedure is as follows: (1) power on the ID card scanner; (2) dip or swipe the ID through the barcode or magnetic stripe reader, or carefully align the barcode under a point-and-shoot scanner; (3) the information from the card is displayed on the screen; (4) a visual or auditory alarm is shown if the ID is underage or expired; (5) the operator compares the data shown on the card reader to the data printed on the card to make sure everything matches; (5) the operator returns the ID to the customer; and (6) the machine resets to a ready-state, automatically on well-designed machines and manually on poorly-designed machines.

Some machines require a telephone or Internet connection in order to operate.

Advanced Functions
High-tech ID card scanners retain a record of all IDs that are scanned. This can be useful to provide evidence that a particular ID was checked, to analyze customer demographics or to build a customer mailing list. Scan history can either be viewed directly on the machine or downloaded to a computer spreadsheet. Some manufacturers charge a fee for downloading scan history to a computer. Please check with a manufacturer before purchasing an ID scanner to ensure that scan history is easily accessed.

An ID scanner should be easy to operate. Look for positive user reviews of an ID scanning product before you buy.