Are embossed credit/debit cards still necessary?

While unembossed credit/debit cards aren’t new, they may eventually become more mainstream. Embossed credit/debit cards go back to a time before cards were swiped or dipped into point-of-sale (POS) systems or entered into online payment systems.

Embossed cards used a simple method for merchant processing. Consumers would pay merchants with their cards and merchants would have a device to place the embossed card onto. The sales order or receipt, which comprised of several duplicate sheets sandwiched between carbon paper was placed on top of the card. The merchant would pull up & down on a slider and the embossed information would be imprinted onto the sales order or receipt. The carbon paper would ensure duplicate copies. The sales order or receipt would be separated, carbon paper discarded, leaving copies of the sales order or receipt each with imprints of the card information. One copy would go to the consumer; one copy would go to the merchant and one or more copies would be used for merchant processing. As embossing equipment was expensive, embossed cards also served as protection against fraud.

As technology has advanced, embossed cards for the purposes of merchant processing today serve merely as an old-fashioned back-up system in the event modern processing techniques (ex: swiping the magnetic strip or dipping the chip) are unavailable. However, with online credit and debit card processing, the need for swiping or dipping a credit/debit card becomes a non-issue. In addition, there have been advancements in anti-fraud technologies to further boost security and protections on cards for both consumers and merchants.

With all the advancements, it’s not unreasonable to see why card issuers would do away with embossed credit and debit cards in favor of unembossed cards. Card information (ex: card number, cardholder name, etc.) is still printed on the cards either on the front or back. However, utilizing unembossed cards reduces production costs and makes it easier for card issuers like banks to issue new or replacement cards on the spot rather than having to have the embossed cards printed through a third-party vendor and then mailed to the cardholder. This adds convenience and quick turnaround time for the consumer.

Realistically, embossed cards are not likely to completely go away as they do add a certain elegant and aesthetically pleasing characteristic; however, it won’t be too surprising to see more card issuers eventually make the switch from embossed to unembossed cards at least for some of their cards.