The magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) market is proving to be tremendously resilient in the face of daunting challenges. Despite declining check volumes around the world, millions of MICR documents continue to be produced on centralized, distributed and desktop machines, and vendors continue developing new MICR printing hardware and solutions. In their recent study, "Digital MICR Printing," INTERQUEST reviews the current state of affairs of MICR printing.

Although checks are still the leading form of non-cash payment in the US, the Federal Reserve documents a steady decline in market share to electronic payments. Between 2003 and 2006, checks dropped from 48% to 33% of all non-cash payments, and this scenario is playing out in most regions of the world. INTERQUEST estimates that, currently, about half of consumer and small business checks produced by large check suppliers are printed on conventional equipment, and about half are printed on digital systems. Declining check usage has surprisingly not taken a toll on check producers. INTERQUEST expects check volume in the US to decrease from 32 billion in 2007 to 21 billion in 2012, and that an increasing percentage of checks currently produced with lithography will migrate to digital platforms.

A great deal of MICR printing occurs on desktop and distributed units. TROY Group and Source Technologies together account for more than 90% of the installed base of secure desktop and distributed MICR printers in the US. However, electronic delivery is having an impact. Check 21 provided a boost to desktop and distributed MICR prints as the volume of image replacement documents (IRDs) produced by banks and financial institutions grew very rapidly. As of mid-2009, however, nearly 90% of receiving institutions in the US were accepting check images, and IRD volume is declining. In the future, INTERQUEST expects to see faster desktop units and more MICR MFPs on the market.

Recent surveys of major commercial and in-house transactional printing operations find that only about one-quarter of the respondents expect MICR volume to decline over the next few years. Yet many third-party providers are gaining volume from failing competitors, and in-house operations face outsourcing decisions as volumes level off. Consolidation in the market has been a boon for faster continuous-feed systems from vendors such as InfoPrint and Océ, while Xerox continues to dominate the cut-sheet segment. It is estimated that the overall volume of MICR printing produced on production equipment to decline from around 13 billion to 11 billion impressions by 2013.

One of the most interesting and exciting developments for the market has been the MICRenabled inkjet. Printing MICR ink with these devices present difficulties for users since the magnetic particles in the ink tend to clog the ink nozzles and are difficult to maintain in suspension. Kodak worked around the issue by offering an inline Nipson magnetographic unit with its VL and VX presses, but the Holy Grail has been an entirely inkjet solution. A solution was first achieved for desktop inkjet units, and solutions for production equipment have followed. Océ has added a fifth print head and an additional MICR ink tank to the JetStream family of fullcolor inkjet presses, and InfoPrint unveiled a MICR version of the InfoPrint 5000 at Print 09. Other vendors offering MICR-enabled inkjet production equipment include RISO and the French company, Impika.

DAVID DAVIS [] is the director of INTERQUEST Ltd., a market and technology research and consulting firm in the field of digital printing and publishing. More information on the "Digital MICR Printing: Market Analysis & Forecast, 2008-2013" study is available at