What is an Embossed Card?

An embossed card is an electronic payment card with imprinted or stamped payment card details that can be felt above the card’s surface for taking a physical impression. Embossed details on credit cards and debit cards typically include the cardholder’s name, card number and card expiration date. Historically embossed cards were required to make physical impressions of card information for payment processing.

Embossed Cards Explained

Embossed card styles evolved from a historic functionality which required a physical impression of card details to be made for transactions. Embossed card processing was heavily utilized when electronic payment cards were first introduced. The use of physical impressions for payment card transactions faded with new technology which provided for faster and more efficient processing.

With the vast majority of transactions now processed electronically using magnetic stripes or personal identification numbers, it is generally no longer necessary to have embossed details on a payment card. In today’s processing environment many embossed cards have been replaced by cardholder details that are laser printed on the card at a lower cost. Today’s payment cards now even have chip functionality which makes payment and processing almost instantaneous.

Some merchants, however, may still have equipment that allows them to make carbon impressions. These impressions may be made through the use of what is known as a “knuckle-buster” or “zip-zap” device which creates a carbon copy of the embossed information. Merchants may used embossed card devices when electronic terminals are down, when a card is damaged, or in special circumstances when taking a non-cash payment. Merchants can also write down essential information for card processing, if necessary.

Embossed Card Transaction Processing

Merchants who may choose to use an embossed card copy for any reason will basically incur the same transaction process as an electronic card, just with more work and at a slower pace. Embossed card processing requires the merchants to manually enter card information either by phone or internet. The transaction is then processed in the same way as a payment processed with a point-of-sale terminal. The merchant acquiring bank serves as the main facilitator on the transaction. They contact the processing network who then contacts the issuing bank. The issuing bank confirms the charge sending authorization back to the acquiring bank through the processor. The merchant bank then settles the transaction and processes the deposit of funds in the merchant’s account.

Some merchant banks still provide embossed card and manual processing services to merchants. This type of payment processing requires considerably more time for the merchant. It also has a much higher risk.