Printing your own checks allows you to customize the checks you use and avoid running out unexpectedly. It can also be cheaper than buying your checks from the bank. But following common bank procedures (like using magnetic ink) might make printing your own checks more trouble than it’s worth. Get familiar with the process, software, and supplies needed to print your checks at home, and how many of them you need per month or per year, so you can decide if it's worth the trouble.
To print your own checks, you’ll need:
- Software for formatting checks
- Check stock paper—paper with security features that keep your checks from being altered or copied
- A printer
- Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) font to print the computer-friendly numbers at the bottom of each check
- Magnetic ink
Software for Printing Checks
Designing your own checks requires special graphic design skills, and the checks have to be formatted just the right way. But check printing software does this work for you, and the software is relatively inexpensive—especially if you can spread the cost out over a high volume of checks.
You may even already have what you need. Popular money management software programs such as Quicken and QuickBooks make it easy to create a payment, fill out the parts of a check, and print it. What's more, those programs help you track payments by creating a record in your ledger when you print the check.
Other alternative software vendors also can help you create checks. For example, the cloud-based accounting program Xero allows you to customize a check design and add bank information in MICR format, then print the check.
Check Stock Paper
Check stock paper is compatible with most printers and check printing software. It's specifically intended for printing checks, and often has additional security features such as microprinting, security warnings, and watermarks. Some check stock also comes pre-perforated for ease in cutting.
You can find check stock paper at office supply stores or online retailers; it's more expensive than regular paper due to the security features, but the peace of mind they offer can be worth the price.
A Printer (or Printing Company)
You can print your own checks with almost any printer: inkjet, laserjet, even offset printers. Some check printers have special features that boost the security of your checks, like watermarks and even thermochromatic ink—but you can use any basic home-office printer, too. The only requirement is that the printer is compatible with the magnetic ink used to print the MICR code.
You may consider paying a check printing company to print the MICR code for you. Then you can just drop the pre-printed checks into your own printer to add the payee, date, amount, and any memos. With this approach, you don’t need to deal with special ink or download the MICR font.
You'll type your bank information, including the routing number and your account number, in MICR font at the bottom of a check. This MICR code, or MICR line, is key to the character-reading technology used by the special computers that process checks. A bonus is that these characters can also be easily read by humans. Once processed, the bank information is then converted to digital data and used in facilitating the transaction.
Magnetic ink works in tandem with MICR technology, allowing a computer to read the MICR line even if it's partially obscured by other ink or markings.
These days, it's not as necessary to use magnetic ink. Mobile check deposit, for example, snaps a picture of a check to make a deposit, eliminating the need for magnetic ink. Most banks now also use check scanning devices in the branch that support optical rather than magnetic readings.
If you just need a single check and don't want to go through the hassle of printing one yourself, your bank might be able to give you a counter check. For example, you might need to provide a voided check for setting up direct deposit, or you might have a one-off situation that requires a paper check. Banks usually offer small quantities of checks with your account information printed on them for a small fee. Call ahead and ask if it's possible to get a counter check before you make a trip to the branch.