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How Many Types Of Access Cards Are There?

types of access control cards

Access control cards work in conjunction with an access control system to act as a key and grant or restrict access as required. Access cards can be of different types including; proximity cards, traditional key cards, magnetic-stripe cards, smart cards, and contactless cards. These cards look largely the same but they vary considerably in the level of security they offer and how they are read by card readers. The cards work alongside readers and access control systems to provide secure entry to a hotel, workplace, organization, or building.


  • Proximity or prox cards


Instead of swiping the card on a reader as you would do with a traditional key card, with a prox card, you have to place it near a scanner. These cards are part of contactless card technologies. These cards enable read-only functionality and are mainly used in access control applications requiring only an identification number to be transferred from the card to the reader. These cards are divided into two categories;

a) Passive proximity cards

These cards must be held close to the reader unit as they have a limited range and are powered by radio frequency signals from the reader device.

b) Active proximity cards

These cards have an internal lithium battery to power them. The cards can be placed farther away from the scanner and still work. However, these cards are more costly because the battery runs out but they can typically last for five years or less.

Click here to learn more about the differences between proximity cards and Mifare cards.


  • Contactless cards


These cards store up to 100 times more data than a magstripe card because they contain an internal technology that is more durable. RFID cards have this technology feature, an internal antenna, and a tiny microchip. To grant access, the microchip has encoded data that relates to the cardholder when used in conjunction with a card reader. To grant access, the microchip transmits the data through the antenna. Contactless cards enable both read and write capabilities. These cards are used in more complex applications, therefore, they require the information to be read from the card and updated information written to the card.

Click here to learn more about RFID contactless cards.


  • Smart cards


The cards contain a computer chip programmed with personal information about the access point(s) the cardholder is allowed to enter. These cards differ from prox cards in that they can read and write data. The cards can be integrated with different technologies including magnetic-stripe, proprietary proximity, and biometric systems.


  • Traditional key cards


Being the most common type of access control card, these cards work when placed in the reader to grant access to a building.


  • Magnetic-stripe cards


The cards permit the user access to a locked physical space or complete electronic transactions. The stripe identifies the user as its using the embedded information present. These cards have to be swiped through a card reader to work hence are sometimes called swipe cards.

Click here to learn more about Magnetic stripe cards.




Lots of access control cards have other capabilities too other than permitting entry through. They can carry personal data relating to the cardholder like a record of clocking in/out for students and employees and can be deactivated or activated at the moment’s notice via an access control system.


Learn the latest eco-friendly material available for access control cards, BioPaper cards.

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