Credit Card ImprinterWhy It’s Past Time to Update Your Point-of-Sale Technology

April 18, 2023 | 13 min read

Credit Card Imprinter

In a Nutshell

What’s a “knuckle buster” machine? In this blog post, we will delve into the bygone era of credit card imprinters, explain why they’ve become outdated, and explore the modern alternatives that can help you streamline your operations and improve your customer experience.

Why are Some Merchants Still Using Dated Credit Card Imprinters? What are Some Alternative Options?

In today's fast-paced market, you need to keep up with the latest technological advancements to meet customer demands and remain competitive. This is particularly true when it comes to payment processing

Credit card imprinters have served businesses well for decades. Some merchants still rely on them, even though the technology is ancient by industry standards. Still, modern alternatives offer numerous advantages that make the switch from imprinting a necessity.

Let’s explore your options, and see how you can move into the 21st Century of payments.

What is a Credit Card Imprinter?

Credit Card Imprinter

[noun]/kreh • duht • kaard • im • prin • ter /

A credit card imprinter is a non-electric mechanism used to create a physical imprint of a customer's credit card, capturing their card information on a carbon-copy sales slip. The imprinter is sometimes derisively called a "knuckle-buster" because of the manual effort required to operate it.

The credit card imprinter consists of a base, a sliding mechanism, and a plate to hold the credit card and sales slip. When a customer presents their credit card for payment, you would place the card and a multi-layered sales slip (usually with carbon paper in between) on the imprinter's base.

Credit Card Imprinter

To use the device, you would slide the imprinting mechanism across the card. This applies pressure, causing the raised characters embossed on the card face to transfer onto the sales slip.

The carbon paper transfers the imprint to the lower layers of the slip, creating copies of the sales record; one for you, and one for your customer. Once the imprint is complete, you would separate the sales slip layers, and give one copy to the customer as a receipt, and retain the other for your records. At the end of the day, you’d then have to manually enter the payment information for each transaction into your system before batching and processing.

Credit card imprinters were widely used before the adoption of electronic payment processing systems. They were a reliable way to record a customer's credit card information, which would later be processed and billed by the merchant. Even today, some merchants keep imprinters as a backup in case their electronic systems fail, or service is unavailable.

Accept card payments with confidence.REQUEST A DEMO

Why Would You Use a Credit Card Imprinter?

We’re not knocking credit card imprinters wholesale. There are situations in which they might still serve you well on occasion.

Despite the availability of more advanced payment processing options, there are still a few scenarios where you might find a credit card imprinter useful. Some of these include:

As a Backup Solution

Like we mentioned above, electronic payment systems may occasionally experience technical issues or temporary outages. In such cases, having a credit card imprinter as a backup can ensure business continuity and prevent lost sales. You can manually process transactions using the imprinter and submit the sales slips for processing once the electronic system is back online.

For Use in Remote Locations

If you do business in remote areas with limited or no internet connectivity, you may find credit card imprinters helpful in processing transactions. Although mobile card readers offer a portable solution, they often still rely on a stable internet connection to function. In such instances, imprinters provide an alternative that doesn't require connectivity — or even electricity — in that moment.

In Case of Emergencies

In the event of a power outage or natural disaster, electronic payment systems may become inoperable. Credit card imprinters, however, can still function without electricity, allowing you to continue processing transactions.

You Have a Niche Business

Certain businesses may cater to customers who prefer traditional payment methods or may not have access to modern credit cards. For example, antique shops, vintage stores, or businesses serving an older clientele may find that having a credit card imprinter on hand can accommodate the payment preferences of their specific customer base.

You’re a Traveling Merchant

If you frequently travel and sell products or services at various locations, a credit card imprinter can be a lightweight and portable solution that requires no power source or internet connection to operate.

The use of credit card imprinters has obviously declined a lot in recent years. However, these scenarios illustrate that there may still be some limited applications for this dated technology. You should carefully weigh the pros and cons before relying on this as a long-term solution, though.

Modern POS (point-of-sale) systems already include many solutions for the above situations. They also offer practical, everyday applications that your business needs to thrive, and which imprinters can’t match.

The Trouble With Credit Card Imprinters

Card imprinters aren’t just ancient. They can also cause problems that modern technologies simply don’t.

Lost receipts mean lost sales. Errors in reading an impression, or in manually keying-in information, can mean charging purchases to the wrong account, or simply to an account that doesn’t exist. Plus, a lot of modern cards are flat-printed; you can't get an impression even if you try.

Here are a few downsides to consider before you decide to stick with your old “knuckle buster” technology:


Imprinters require manual effort. They’re also very time-consuming compared to modern electronic payment systems, which can process transactions in seconds.

Data Insecurity

Imprinters leave a physical copy of the customer's credit card information, increasing the risk of fraud and identity theft. The physical sales slips must be stored securely, and their disposal must be handled properly to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Incompatibility with Modern Cards

Again, imprinters rely on raised characters on the card, which many modern cards no longer have. Instead, they feature flat printing and embedded chips, which render the imprinter useless.

Lack of Real-Time Authorization

Imprinters don't provide real-time authorization or verification of the customer's available credit. This means you run the risk of accepting a declined or over-the-limit card, leading to lost revenue and goods.


EMV chip technology is now the global standard. In fact, 91.4% of all card transactions worldwide are made with EMV chip cards, which has led to a precipitous drop in card-present fraud. Due to the EMV liability shift, you’d be held liable for all acts of fraud when you swipe or imprint an EMV card, rather than dipping the chip into a certified card reader.

Difficulty Processing Disputes

Imprinters don't capture digital transaction data, so disputes can be harder to resolve, as there is no electronic record to reference. To put that into perspective: if you took an imprint of your customer’s card during checkout, did you also write down their address, phone number, and email address? If the answer to any of these is “no,” then you may have limited evidence in the event that the customer decides to dispute the charge.

A lot of small businesses argue that they have no need to update their software because their business doesn’t demand a modern POS solution. However, as demonstrated above, that just isn’t true any longer. 

Step into the present without incurring more chargebacks.REQUEST A DEMO

The Benefits of Upgrading to Modern Payment Systems

You can’t afford to ignore modern payment trends and expect to grow your revenue, secure your checkout process, and reach more customers.

To that end, upgrading your hardware now can help you with more than just the checkout process. By upgrading from a credit card imprinter to a modern payment processing system, you can enjoy numerous benefits, including:

Faster Transactions

Electronic and contactless payment methods significantly reduce transaction times, allowing you to serve more customers in a shorter time frame.

Enhanced Security

Modern payment systems employ encryption and tokenization to protect sensitive cardholder data, reducing the risk of fraud and data breaches.

Real-Time Authorization

Modern systems provide instant authorization, ensuring that the customer's card is valid and has sufficient funds before the transaction is processed.

Better Customer Experience

Offering a variety of secure, fast, and convenient payment options can improve customer satisfaction and encourage repeat business.

Better Recordkeeping

Electronic payment systems generate digital records of transactions. This simplifies accounting, dispute resolution, and reporting processes.

Lower Long-Term Costs

Modern payment systems require an initial investment. However, they often result in lower processing fees and reduced costs associated with handling, storing, and disposing of physical sales slips.

Improved Software Integration

Many modern payment processing solutions can integrate with other business software, such as inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM), and accounting systems. This integration can streamline operations and provide valuable insights into sales trends and customer behavior.

At the end of the day, you want to focus on your customers and increase your sales. However, most customers nowadays demand modern payment methods and might be put off by card imprinters.

5 Modern Alternatives to Credit Card Imprinters

Modern systems have all-in-one capabilities that could save you time, money, and bookkeeping headaches your credit card imprinter simply can’t. Modern payment alternatives to credit card imprinters offer greater efficiency, security, and compatibility, coupled with a more streamlined user experience and improved functionality. 

With that idea in mind, here are five other options for accepting payments:

Electronic Card Readers

Electronic card readers, or point-of-sale (POS) terminals, allow merchants to swipe, dip, or tap a customer's card to process payments electronically. These devices are faster, more secure, and provide real-time authorization of transactions.

Mobile Card Readers

Mobile card readers let you accept credit card payments on the go using a smartphone or tablet. These compact devices may plug into the headphone jack of your phone or tablet, or connect via Bluetooth, transforming the mobile device into a portable POS terminal. They're ideal for small businesses, pop-up shops, or those who attend trade shows and events.

Contactless Readers

Near Field Communication (NFC) technology allows customers to make payments by simply tapping their credit card, smartphone, or wearable device on a compatible POS terminal. This method is fast, secure, and popular among customers due to its convenience. NFC technology also has other applications as well, like contactless ATMs.

Virtual Terminals

Virtual terminals are web-based applications that allow merchants to process credit card payments without a physical card reader. They are especially useful for businesses that primarily conduct transactions over the phone or online. Virtual terminals enable merchants to manually enter the customer's credit card information, which is then securely transmitted for processing.

eCommerce Payment Gateways

eCommerce payment gateways have become essential as more businesses transition to online sales. These gateways securely process online credit card transactions, allowing merchants to accept payments from customers around the world.

For an in-depth review of some of the best modern POS systems available, check out our post comparing cloud-based POS systems to traditional POS hardware.

Beyond this, the best POS system for your needs will depend entirely on the specifics of your business. The product category, scale, and business model will be factors. The same applies to the type of backend recordkeeping and analytics you require to secure and promote your brand. 

Another issue you need to take very seriously is the dispute situation we mentioned above. How does your business handle chargebacks if you don’t have access to transaction data? Let’s get into this for a moment. 

Can Credit Card Imprinters Help Prevent Chargebacks?

Some merchants claim they use imprinters as a means of preventing chargebacks. It makes a degree of sense; if you’ve got an impression of somebody's card, it's hard to argue that a transaction was unauthorized, right?

Unfortunately not.

If you're using an imprinter, you have to look at the carbon paper receipts and manually key in the card information — the number, the expiration date, etc. If you mess anything up, or key in the wrong information, it could very easily lead to a chargeback. 

Also, a cardholder can simply claim that the card was used without their knowledge. Even if you have their signature, you’re probably going to need more than that to prove the transaction was legitimate. And don’t forget, you will pay a chargeback fee, regardless if you’re in the right or not. 

To be frank, chargebacks are not an issue that can be solved by avoiding technology. While it is true that card-not-present transactions are far more likely to result in chargebacks than an in-person transaction, this is by no means a guarantee that it can’t — or won’t — happen anyway. 

If your goal is to keep it simple and avoid a lot of overhead, upgrading your POS system will help you get there much faster, and with fewer hassles than your legacy hardware. 

Need Help?

If you're a merchant still using a credit card imprinter, now is the time to embrace the future of payment processing and upgrade your hardware. Not only will you improve the efficiency and security of your transactions, but you'll also position your business for growth in an increasingly digital and competitive marketplace.

Haven’t upgraded yet for fear that you’ll increase your chargeback exposure? Chargebacks911® can help. Click below to learn how opting for professional chargeback management might be one of the best decisions you can make.


What is a credit card imprint?

A credit card imprint is a physical imprint of the embossed characters on a credit card, usually recorded on carbon paper. These were widely used before the widespread adoption of electronic payment processing systems. They were a reliable way to record a customer's credit card information, which could later be processed and billed by the merchant. Even today, some merchants keep imprinters as a backup in case their electronic systems fail or are unavailable.

What does a credit card imprinter do?

A credit card imprinter is a mechanical device used to create a physical imprint of a customer's credit card, capturing their card information on a carbon-copy sales slip. The imprinter is often called a "knuckle-buster" because of the manual effort required to operate it.

Can you still use a credit card imprinter?

Yes, you can still use a credit card imprinter. However, they’re largely outmoded and don’t always work with modern credit and debit cards, which often have no embossed credit card numbers or other characters.

Why aren't credit cards embossed anymore?

A fraudster can easily make an imprint of an embossed card, then use that information to make card-not-present purchases. 

Imprinters leave a physical copy of the customer's credit card information, increasing the risk of fraud and identity theft. The physical sales slips must be stored securely, and their disposal must be handled properly to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information. Eliminating embossed characters also eliminates these issues.

Like What You're Reading? Join our newsletter and stay up to date on the latest in payments and eCommerce trends.
Newsletter Signup
We’ll run the numbers; You’ll see the savings.
Please share a few details and we'll connect with you!
Over 18,000 companies recovered revenue with products from Chargebacks911
Close Form