Before You Print Your Own Checks

How to Print Your Own Checks Successfully

NCR Machine
Magnetic ink helps ensure that things go well if your checks move through older equipment. Archive Photos / Getty Images

Printing checks can help you save money, avoid running out of checks, and customize the checks you use. But those gains may get wiped out if you don’t do things the way your bank wants you to, and it might end up being more trouble than it’s worth. Get familiar with the requirements and decide what’s best for your needs.

To print your own checks, you’ll need:

  • Software for formatting the check

  • MICR font to print the computer-friendly numbers at the bottom of each check

  • Check stock (or paper with security features that keep your checks from being altered)

  • Magnetic ink (this is potentially optional, but it can help you avoid problems and additional expenses)

How Much do you Want to Do?

There are two ways to print checks: you can do it all from scratch, or you can order partially printed checks from a professional printer.

If you don't want to do it all (perhaps you’re not interested in getting special ink and fonts), the easiest approach is to have a check printer do the hard part - which is the same for every check - of putting computer-readable numbers on special paper with magnetic ink. Then you can just drop the checks into your printer to add the payee, amount, and memos.

Check printers offer a variety of options so you can specify how your checks come out, and they’ll generally include industry-standard security features. Most of their options will be compatible with popular software programs.

Essentially you’re buying the check stock and getting your bank information printed on the checks.

Software for Printing Checks

While you can design and print your own checks without any special software, it takes some design skills and time. A pre-built package does most of the work for you, and the software is relatively inexpensive - especially if you’ll print a lot of checks.

There's a decent chance that you already have what you need - popular money management software programs (like Quicken and QuickBooks) make it easy to create a payment and print a check. What's more, those programs help you track payments without having to enter them manually (a record is created when you create the check). Again, it's easiest to use “check stock” paper ordered from a check printer or office supply store with these programs, but you can design a template yourself if you prefer.

If you don’t want to use the programs above, there are numerous alternative software vendors. Be sure to research before you buy (you don’t want to put your bank account information into any kind of malware), and read plenty of reviews from other users.

Equipment Needed to Print Your Own Checks

You can print your own checks with almost any printer. However, it is wise to use magnetic ink if you’re going to print your own checks from scratch. Check reading machines at banks and retailers work best if your bank information is printed with magnetic ink. You can sometimes get away with using plain-old ink (see below), but you need to know the tradeoffs. Finding magnetic ink is not always simple at your local office supply store, and it's more expensive than standard ink.

You should also use special paper for check printing. This paper has security features that make it difficult to alter your printed check and create fake checks using your account information.

Do You Need Magnetic Ink to Print Your Own Checks?

Technically, no. However, you’re taking a risk if you do without. Be wary of software vendors who oversimplify the issue and claim that you can always print checks without magnetic ink.

The entire check doesn’t need magnetic ink. The most important part is your bank information like the routing number and account number. Those are the funny looking numbers along the bottom of a check, also known as the MICR line. If you had these numbers preprinted by a check printer and you’re only printing payee information and the amount, you don’t need magnetic ink.

Computers with magnetic readers read the account information off these checks to speed processing. While we are slowly moving towards optical readers, plenty of checks still get run through a non-optical reader. In the age of mobile check deposits, where consumers snap a picture of a check to make a deposit, the need for magnetic ink is decreasing.

But what if you print your checks without magnetic ink, and the check passes through a non-optical reader? Then the check has to be processed manually, which can result in fees for you and/or your payee, as well as slower processing.

The safest route is to use magnetic ink. It is more expensive than regular ink, but it’s not outrageous. You don’t have to use it exclusively when you print your own checks - you can use magnetic ink for everyday print jobs.

Just Need One?

If you just need a single check so that you can provide a voided check (for setting up direct deposit, for example), your bank might be able to give you what you need. 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.

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