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What Is a Credit Card Imprinter?

Updated Apr 06, 2023

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The credit card imprinter has become somewhat of a dinosaur in the digital age. To figure out exactly what credit card imprinters are and where they came from, let’s take a brief walk through history. 

Credit card imprinting: A quick history lesson

Credit card processing has been around, in one form or another, since the early 1900s. The first major credit card, as we know them today, was the Diners Club card, introduced in 1950.

Since then, as you have more than likely noticed, the business of credit cards has charged steadily ahead (no pun intended). By the late 1960s, credit cards were spreading across America like a horde of locusts.

Along with all these credit cards came the need for some type of credit card processing system – not just for the banks and subsequent credit card companies that have sprung up recently, but also at the store or merchant level.

Several other methods, machines and modes were used to process credit cards in the early years, but the credit card imprinter quickly rose to prominence.

Did You Know?Did you know

Credit card imprinters were once known as “knuckle-busters.”

What is a credit card imprinter?

For starters, if you are younger than 20 years old, chances are pretty good that you have never even seen a credit card imprinting machine. Chances are also pretty good that you probably never will (except maybe at the random antique shop or flea market).

Credit card imprinters have earned the somewhat dubious distinction of being counted among the ever-expanding ranks of the technologically obsolete or nearly obsolete items, such as cassettes and DVDs, landline telephones, and film cameras.

The majority of these devices were about the same size and shape as a standard handheld adding machine (if you remember those). Most retailers and other businesses in the 21st century use electronic barcode readers of some type; however, some companies still need to use an imprinter, especially if they are processing credit cards without a printer.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right credit card processor for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

How does a credit card imprinter work?

A credit card imprinter is a non-electronic, manually operated machine that makes an imprint (hence the name) of the face of your credit card and transfers it onto a double receipt. Once an imprint of your credit card is successfully accomplished, you sign it, and the proprietor or shopkeeper rips the perforated edge, keeps the original (top) copy and gives you the imprinted (bottom) copy.

FYIDid you know

Payment processing does not occur when a credit card is imprinted, but rather when the credit card information is entered into a credit card processor.

Are credit card imprinters obsolete?

A number of companies today utilize manual credit card machines like these imprinters for several purposes, such as when they are taking a customer’s order in person and want or need to key in the card information later at a virtual terminal. Some companies use them as a backup option when their electronic credit card scanners are not working or there’s a power outage.

In addition to being an essential backup, manual credit card imprinters can still be relevant in today’s high-tech and computerized business world. You can find manual credit card imprinters in myriad retail stores, restaurants and financial institutions.

Why you should consider upgrading

There are reasons to make the switch to other forms of credit card processing.

“There are a number of reasons why businesses should upgrade from credit card imprinters,” said Chris Panteli, director and founder of Life Upswing, a fish and chips shop. “Chief among them is the cost advantage. The availability of carbon forms is diminishing, making forms far more expensive and quite inaccessible. The carbon copies are also fragile records of very important information, and living in a digitized age just means this form of transactional accounting is becoming completely redundant.”

Carter Seuthe, vice president of content at Credit Summit, agreed, saying that it takes longer to swipe, the imprint isn’t reliable, payment isn’t instantaneous and the system isn’t secure, among other things.

Alternatives to manual credit card imprinters

Credit card imprinters don’t benefit business owners as much as they used to. The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives.

Credit card processing services 

The best credit card processing services now offer a host hardware that makes it easy to accept payments. There are credit card terminals for swipe cards, EMV chip cards and NFC tap cards. All of these devices can easily print out receipts for customers.

FYIDid you know

You can learn more about top credit card processors in our review of Merchant One and our Fattmerchant review.

Point-of-sale (POS) systems 

A POS system is a big upgrade over an imprinter. Not only can you use it to accept credit cards and debit cards, but the best POS systems come with added features like inventory management, employee management and integration with top accounting software

“Everything is connected to our business account, and payments are made instantaneously,” Panteli said. “Credit card till roll is cheap, and the system works through Wi-Fi or the telephone line.”

TipBottom line

You have various highly rated POS systems to consider. Learn more about some top options in our review of Clover, our Lightspeed review and our review of Square.

Mobile credit card processing systems 

Merchants can use mobile credit card processing systems that allow them to take payments from anywhere via smartphone or tablet. These systems, which can also be part of a mobile POS system, typically offer a credit card reader that can connect to your mobile device. 

Jennifer Post
Contributing Writer at
Jennifer Post is a professional writer with published works focusing on small business topics including marketing, financing, and how-to guides. She has also published articles on business formation, business software, public relations and human resources. Her work has also appeared in Fundera and The Motley Fool.
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