Vol. 01: Magnetic Stripe Reader

Have you ever wondered what information is stored on the magnetic-striped cards in your wallet? Now you can find out. This project shows you how to make a magstripe reader for less than $40.

+ Downloads & Extras:

Source List

I've listed links below for sources for obtaining most of the materials and tools you might not find at your local hardware store. For a full materials list, see page 109 of MAKE Volume 01.

Card Reader
Item Description
TTL Magstripe reader I recommend the Omron V3A family, specifically the V3A-4, which you can purchase online for $20-25 dollars, from Digikey and others. TTL readers as a whole aren't very hard to find: you can get them for less than $5 a piece from BGMicro . We will be using the Omron V3A-4 because of its quality and potential for modification.
DB-15 Male Connector This is a joystick connector. Make sure you don't get a DB-15HD, which is a VGA connector. You won't find these in your local Radioshack so you'll need to order part #15034 online at www.jameco.com which will set you back about $0.55.
Cat 5 cable< You can buy this by the foot from Home Depot or Lowe's for around $5 total, or just use some you have lying around. Speaker cable could also be used, but you will need an additional 8 to 10 feet of it.
Jumper Wire Kit (optional) Sometimes it's difficult to solder the Cat 5 wires directly to the pins of the DB-15 connector or the TTL Reader. For less experienced people, I recommend soldering wires first to the connector and then to the reader before finally connecting them to the Cat 5. Radioshack has a good kit, and it'll cost you around $6. The kit is a necessity if you have to make a parallel port adapter.
Soldering Iron and Solder Any light duty soldering iron and solder will work. I got mine years ago at Radioshack.
Port Adapter
Item Description
Project box. Radioshack has one that's just what you want. Its a good size and comes with a small PC board and mounting screws.
Jumper Wire Kit If you didn't buy one for the first part of the project, you'll need one now. Get it from Radioshack.
DB-15 Female Connector Available online at jameco.com if you look for part # 15051.
DB-25 Male Connector Part # 15114 at jamecom.com.
7805 Regulator Can be found at mouser.com or Digikey.
Capacitors Can be found at mouser.com or Digikey. Should be rated for over 10V. The exact value of the capacitors doesn't matter. I used 10uF.
1K ohm Resistor Can be found at mouser.com or Digikey.
Dremel Tool Try online at Home Depot or Amazon.


Additional content for this article, available only online.

Adding Multi-Track Capability to Your Magnetic Stripe Reader

I paid $30 for a Omron V3A-4, which is a single-track reader. But you can modify it to read all three standard magstripe tracks, for free!
by Billy Hoffman; April 25, 2005 | Technorati | del.icio.us


Here's how to make this without purchasing the magazine (please note: the magazine gives better instructions and is easier to understand).

This project deals with the information kept in Driver License barcodes and how it relates to privacy and data commerce. Should be interesting for magnetic strip enthusiasts out there... find out how much your data's worth!

Stripe Snoop is a suite of research tools that captures, modifies, validates, generates, analyzes, and shares data from magstripe cards.

MAKE: AMENDS Errata for This Article


Correction for page 109
Two items in the Set Up photo are mislabeled. The item labeled [R] under the item labeled [P] should be labeled [S]. Likewise, the item labeled [S] should be labeled [T].

Join the conversation -- every MAKE article has an online page that includes a place for discussion. We've made these RSS and Atom feeds to help you watch the discussions: subscribe.