get in Touch
get in Touch

Choose the Right Access Control Card Reader Type for Your Business

Elliot Blackler August 24, 2023 5 min read

In an age where cyber threats often dominate headlines, the importance of physical security measures like access control systems should never be underestimated.

These systems serve as the front-line defence for a range of settings—from corporate offices to residential buildings and specialised facilities. At the heart of these systems are access control card readers.

This article serves as an exhaustive guide for security installers looking to gain insights into the variety of access control card readers available today. We’ll explore the technology behind these devices, their advantages, and disadvantages, and how they fit into different security ecosystems.

In sum, we'll look into: 

  • Proximity card readers 
  • Magnetic stripe card readers
  • Wiegand card readers
  • Biometric card readers
  • Smart card readers 
  • Infrared & bluetooth card readers

So, if you're in the security installation business or are considering upgrading your existing security infrastructure, you've come to the right place.


Proximity Card Readers

Brief Overview

Proximity card readers have been a go-to option in access control systems for several years. These devices operate using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

Simply put, when an RFID-enabled card or fob comes within a certain range—typically a few inches to a couple of feet—the reader picks up the embedded signal and grants access.


- Ease of Use: Proximity readers are almost intuitive. Users don't need to insert or swipe cards, making the entry process faster and more streamlined.

- Quick Authentication: These devices can process access almost instantaneously, making them ideal for high-traffic areas like office buildings and commercial complexes.

- Moderate Security Level: While not the most secure option available, for most average-risk scenarios, proximity readers offer a reasonable level of security.


- Vulnerability to Cloning: One of the most significant drawbacks is the susceptibility to cloning, especially if additional encryption measures aren’t in place.

- Limited Operating Range: The need for close proximity can be limiting in specific scenarios, such as vehicle access control where a longer range might be preferable.


Magnetic Stripe Card Readers

Brief Overview

Magnetic stripe card readers are the elder statesmen of the access control world. They read the magnetic stripe on a plastic card when swiped through the reader. Their technology is similar to that of traditional credit card machines.


- Cost-Effectiveness: These readers are generally more affordable upfront, making them popular for budget-sensitive installations.

- Widespread Adoption: Their long history means that they are universally recognised and compatible with various systems.


- Wear and Tear: Both the cards and the reader's mechanical components can wear out over time, requiring frequent replacements.

- Limited Security: These are easier to clone and offer less in terms of security encryption, making them less suitable for high-security applications.


Wiegand Card Readers

Brief Overview

Wiegand card readers use a technology based on the Wiegand effect, a non-linear magnetic effect named after its discoverer, John R. Wiegand. These readers are recognised for their exceptional durability and higher levels of security, often utilising multiple forms of verification.


- Durability: Built to last, these readers are known for their long lifespan and resilience against physical wear and tear.

- Enhanced Security: Multiple forms of verification can be used, adding an extra layer of security that is much harder to breach.


- High Cost: This increased security and durability come at a cost, making these systems more expensive upfront.

- Installation Complexity: These readers are not plug-and-play and often require specialised knowledge for proper installation.


Biometric Card Readers

Brief Overview

Biometric card readers represent the next step in access control technology, utilising unique biological characteristics—fingerprints, facial recognition, or eye scans—for authentication.


- Maximum Security: Biometric data is unique to each individual, making these systems incredibly secure.

- Dual Authentication: Many biometric readers also require a card swipe or PIN for double verification, making them nearly impregnable.


- High Cost: These are among the most expensive access control options available today.

- Environmental Sensitivity: Dirt, oils, and other environmental factors can sometimes interfere with biometric scans, leading to false negatives.


Smart Card Readers

Brief Overview

Smart card readers are a step up from the traditional card systems. They interact with an embedded microprocessor in the card, allowing for a host of functionalities and advanced encryption techniques.


- Versatility: Beyond access control, smart cards can be programmed for a variety of uses, including data storage and even cashless payments.

- Top-tier Security: Advanced encryption algorithms make these among the safest card reader options.


- Upfront Expense: The need for specialised cards and readers can make the initial setup costs quite high.

- System Compatibility: Older access control systems might require significant upgrades to be compatible with smart card technology.


Infrared and Bluetooth Card Readers

Brief Overview

The latest entrants in the card reader space are infrared and Bluetooth-based systems. These readers can interact with smartphones and other devices, allowing for hands-free access.


- Convenience: The hands-free nature makes these ideal for areas where carrying a card is not practical.

- Smartphone Integration: The ability to use a smartphone as an access key is a notable advantage.


- Security Risks: Wireless technologies are susceptible to a different set of vulnerabilities, including hacking.

- Power Consumption: These readers can be more energy-intensive, potentially raising long-term operational costs.



Choosing the right access control card reader is a decision that should be guided by your specific needs, whether you’re an experienced security installer or a business owner looking to ramp up your premises’ security.

From cost-effective magnetic stripe readers to high-security biometric systems, each type offers a unique set of advantages and drawbacks.

Your choice could very well be the difference between a reliable, long-lasting security solution and one that leaves you vulnerable to breaches.

So, take your time to consider the options, and make an informed decision for a secure tomorrow.

  • Don’t forget to share this article:

Why Should You Trust Us?

It seems that people and vehicle access control is an incredibly complex world using hard to understand technology, yet it impacts so many of the environments we interact with on a daily basis.

We are here to fill in the disconnect. We'll break down access control, the benefits, and drawbacks as well, including expert insight based on over 30 years experience in the industry operating as an independent British company. Our goal is to give you ALL the information so you know what's right for you.

Please consider subscribing or adding to the conversation in the comments below. We appreciate you taking the time to visit our resource centre.

Elliot Blackler

Elliot is the in-house content specialist at Nortech and runs all aspects of the resource hub. He's passionate about UK manufacturing and how modern content marketing can help bring light to complex industries.

Elliot works extensively with the Nortech team to shine a light on the access control industry for both installers and end users. Always keen to improve, feel free to email him on new content suggestions or feedback!

table of contents

Read our latest articles

Integrating Biometrics with Access Control: A Guide for Installers

Access control has been an evolving field, the shift from lock and key to card swipes was a milestone, but we're on the brink of another seismic shift: Biometric Access Control.


Choose the Right Access Control Card Reader Type for Your Business

In an age where cyber threats often dominate headlines, the importance of physical security measures like access control systems should never be underestimated.


Access Control for Parking: Best Practices and Systems

Parking areas, often considered as mere extensions of the premises they serve, are more than just spaces for vehicles. They are critical zones that require security and efficient management.