4 Best Key Card Entry Systems & Buying Guide

Controlling access to your building is one of the most critical components of commercial security today. Surveillance cameras will only get you so far – at some point, you’ll need an access control system to lock and unlock your doors when your employees need to get in and out.

When deciding on your readers and credentials, you must consider everything from biometric fingerprint scanners to key fobs to smartphone apps. Remember that while a key card entry system might not be as flashy or cool as other credentials, they’re still the workhorse of commercial access control.

Card Entry Systems are an essential part of most commercial facilities’ security and access control. It’s not just government facilities, hospitals, and technology labs that require electronic access control. Commercial buildings, apartment complexes, industrial facilities, and many other types use entry systems to control when visitors, employees, and residents can enter and exit.

key fob

4 Types of Keycard Entry Systems

1. Smart Card

A smart card is a proprietary format designed to have a higher level of security than traditional prox cards. Smart cards are much harder to “clone” or hack than prox cards. Since a smart card is only designed to communicate with a particular reader, it does not allow for transferring legacy cards from older entry systems to new ones.

In the context of credentials, the term “smart card” typically means High-Frequency RFID cards that use Near-Field Communication to transmit data. NFC technologies, operating at 13.56 MHz, are commonly seen in contactless payment systems. They still use passive induction for power, but smart cards have more storage capacity than 125kHz cards, so they can encrypt their data and store it. As such, they are more secure and aren’t as easily copied as the older prox cards. Smart card door locks generally have a smaller working radius than traditional RFID entry systems, maxing out at about 4 inches.

2. Prox Card

Many access control administrators opt for proximity cards when using legacy hardware or in mixed-use buildings where cardholders are likely to have credentials for other doors that are usually in proximity format. The convenience of the excessive nature of proximity cards from one system to another makes them an easy option when high security isn’t required.

Contactless credentials generally use Radio Frequency Identification to transmit data stored on a microchip. A proximity card uses a low frequency of 125 kHz to communicate with the reader. The card can either be actively powered by a small lithium battery or, more commonly, passively powered by the reader, which continuously sends out a short-range radio signal.

When the proximity card gets close enough, the card’s antenna of coiled wire stores enough energy to send the ID on the chip to the waiting reader. Prox cards are proprietary, so there are no established standards or compatibility between manufacturers. They’re also vulnerable to being copied or rewritten, although you’d have to be within the card’s read radius (about 1 foot) to do so.

3. Wiegand Cards

Some of the first key cards developed for a key card system were Wiegand key cards, named after their inventor. In the 1970s, John R. Wiegand discovered that specially annealed wire made of iron, cobalt, and vanadium would suddenly switch polarity when passed through a sufficiently strong magnetic field. A nearby sensor coil will pick up the rapid change as a high-voltage pulse, which can be translated into data if multiple wires are pulled through the field.

Wiegand key card entry systems use two parallel lines of short Wiegand wires to store binary data in magnetic polarity. When the card is pulled through the reader, the wires register as ones, and blank spots register as zeroes. The unique Wiegand number is then sent to the controller to be authenticated.

By nature, Wiegand key cards cannot be erased or reprogrammed by magnetic fields. They’re also more durable than other key cards because they don’t contain a microchip or other breakable components.

While Wiegand cards are rarely used outside legacy systems today, they are still the standard interface to connect readers and scanners to controllers, no matter what kind of credentials are used. From other types of key card systems to fingerprint scanners, most readers convert the data to a Wiegand number.

4. Swipe Cards

Utilizing the same technology found in a credit card, magnetic stripe cards are swiped across a magnetic reader to transfer information. The black stripe comprises tiny polarized magnets in multiple tracks, creating a much longer data set than a Wiegand card can hold.

In swipe card access systems, the magnets create a varying voltage across a magnetic read head that measures the changing voltage and converts it to a binary credential when swiped.

While the overall principle is similar to a Wiegand card, the magnets on the swipe cards are not permanently encoded for control access so that they can be rewritten as necessary – or accidentally.

Magnetic fields or general wear-and-tear can corrupt the data stripe, meaning you’ll lose your credentials even if you still have your swipe card, thanks to the key card access control.

Type of Keycards

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Key Fob Door Entry System

A key fob door entry system uses a small plastic RFID keychain powered by RFID technology that allows users to present the fob as a credential to a fob reader connected to a control panel programmed to authenticate the user of the access control system.  

Components of an Access Control Key Fob System

Fob Reader

The fob reader is typically a Wiegand reader programmed to read the Wiegand code associated with the fob being presented to it.

This card reader can help gain and restrict access with the help of key fobs.

Access Control Key Fob

The key fob is a small keychain device that transmits an RFID signal to the reader. Key fobs can be used for key card access systems to gain access, manage access, and limit access in physical security.

Access Control Panel

The control panel is a device connected to the door card reader so it can authenticate the credentials and decide which doors the holder of that key fob is allowed to enter at which times.  

Fob Door Lock

The fob door lock is an electrified locking mechanism connected directly to the lock power supply. The lock power supply receives commands from the control panel to send voltage to the electrified lock to unlock the door.

card reader door lock

Key Card Entry Systems

A Key Card Entry System is very similar to a Key Fob Entry System with a few differences. The keycard can be turned into an ID badge that can be used for visual identification and electronic authentication. Cards can also be swiped or scanned, where fobs are typically used as proximity readers only.

Key cards are easily the most common credential because they’re cheap to manufacture, easy to secure, simple to program, and easy to manage. Most key cards are made of thin, flexible plastic with chips and magnets embedded, making them somewhat fragile. If you’re worried about employees damaging their credentials, use heavy-duty cards or plastic cases to prevent them from bending.

Components of a Key Card Access System 

Door card reader

card reader door lock will read the RFID badge or card and authenticate it just like a fob reader.  

Key Card

A key card can come in multiple formats, but the most common are smart cards or prox cards.

Key Card Door Lock System

A Key Card Door Lock System is similar to a fob lock system. Using a transfer wire from the lock hardware to a lock power supply lets the control panel tell the lock power supply when to supply voltage to the locking mechanism to unlock the door.  

Keycard Scanner and Control Panel

Modern key cards are programmed into the control panel using browser-based software. Still, some older access control systems use a keycard scanner to swipe a card into the control panel for physical programming.

Door Buzzer Entry System

Unlike fob and card readers, door buzzer entry system use intercom technology to “buzz” in visitors and guests. They can be combined with credential reading technology like fobs or cards, but their primary function is visitor management.

Door Buzzer System for Business

Door buzzer entry systems for businesses are usually used at the entrances of facilities to allow businesses to manage the flow of visitors into the building. Using intercom and telephone entry systems, businesses can talk to visitors before they enter the building and buzz them in from a phone or master station.  

Door Buzzer Systems for Apartment Complexes

In apartment complexes, the most typical technology is a telephone entry system that allows tenants to buzz in their guests.  

Door Buzzer Systems for Retail Facilities

Retail facilities like Jewelry stores and pawn shops typically use unsophisticated technology since they can usually see their visitors through the window before buzzing them in.  

Door Buzzer Systems for Residential Gates

Residential gates typically have buzzer systems connected to gooseneck pedestals that allow a wire to run underground to a gate motor to send voltage to the relay to allow the gate to buzz open.

Key Card Entry System for Smart Lock 

A key fob or keycard door lock system is an all-in-one reader built into the lock itself. It allows access control in areas where it is difficult to run cables to a central control panel.  

Components of a Smart Lock for Security Door

Keyless Exterior Door Lock

The lock is battery-powered and programmed directly at the device since no cables run back to a central panel.

An electronic access control system usually powers it and does not need key cards, RFID cards, and other key card systems to control access. Also, limitiing access in electronic lock using mobile credentials is possible.

Card that Supports “Data on Card”

The credentials store the data on the card itself instead of sending it back to the controller when the reader scans the credential.  

Choke Point Cabled Back to a Control Panel

If reporting is required, a choke point data collection station can be installed in an area that users will likely pass through often. This choke point station is used as a hub to extract the data from the card and send it to the control panel through traditional wiring.

Programming Station

Data-on-card credentials are typically scanned at a programming station, where they are uploaded with the schedules and doors they can access.

Should You Buy a Commercial Key Fob Door Entry System?

There are many reasons to consider a door entry system. It is cost-effective than other key access card systems and door entry systems.

Also, the convenience of eliminating brass keys and efficiently issuing credentials in large blocks is the reason for considering access control. 

Since doors can have contacts, request-to-exit motions, and other features that give the control panel information about who’s entering the doors at which times, an added level of security reporting is also a reason to consider access control.

How Do Key Card Locks Work?

All key card lock systems work similarly. Credentials are presented to a reader, which sends the data to a controller for authentication in card access control systems. If the credentials match a set stored on the system’s whitelist, the controller unlocks the door and generally sends a signal to the reader.

What’s the Best Key Fob System for a Business?

Check out our RFP template for creating a request for proposal to issue to vendors that can bid on your access control project:

As a bonus, here’s a list of entry system manufacturers that will offer software demos and the contact info of the people who provide those demos.

Securing Your Business

The kind of key card access system you choose depends on taste and how secure or convenient you want to make your entrances and exits. If your site isn’t high-risk or needs to secure something important, magstripe or prox cards should be fine.

They’ll generally keep most unwanted people out even though they’re not encrypted, mainly because copying or foiling them still takes effort. Suppose you’re securing anything critical, though. In that case, you’ll probably want to use smart cards to control who has access to your building – they’re more customizable and encrypted, making them much more difficult to copy or rewrite.

Integration with Other Security Systems

Keycard systems, a vital component of modern security, can be seamlessly integrated with other security measures like CCTV, alarm systems, and other physical access control systems.

This integration forms a comprehensive security solution, enhancing overall safety and efficiency. Here’s how this integration works:

Integration with CCTV (Closed-Circuit Television)

  • Enhanced Monitoring: When integrated with CCTV, keycard systems can trigger cameras to record a card swipe or access attempt.
  • Incident Investigation: In case of a security breach or unusual activity, CCTV footage can be correlated with access logs from the keycard system, providing clear evidence of who was present during the incident.
  • Real-Time Alerts: Advanced systems can send real-time alerts to security personnel if unauthorized access is attempted, allowing for immediate review of live CCTV footage to assess the situation.

Integration with Alarm Systems

  • Automated Responses: Keycard systems can be programmed to trigger alarms if a door is forced open without a valid card swipe or if an attempt is made to access a restricted area.
  • Customizable Settings: Different alarm responses can be set based on the type of security breach, such as a silent alarm for minor infractions or a full alert for significant security breaches.
  • Access Control: Alarm systems can also be deactivated by authorized keycard holders, ensuring that alarms are only triggered by actual threats, not by routine access by employees or authorized personnel.

Integration with Visitor Management Systems

  • Streamlined Check-In: Visitors can be pre-registered in the system and issued temporary keycards, which can be tracked and monitored like regular employees.
  • Access Restrictions: Visitor keycards can be programmed to allow access only to specific areas, ensuring visitors can’t enter sensitive or restricted zones.
  • Record Keeping: Integration allows for detailed logs of visitor movements within the facility, enhancing security and providing valuable data for future security planning.

Overall Benefits of Integration of Key Card System

  • Comprehensive Security: The combination of keycard systems, CCTV, alarms, and visitor management creates a layered security approach, addressing multiple security needs simultaneously.
  • Efficiency and Convenience: Integrated systems streamline security processes, reducing the need for manual checks and interventions and making it easier for security personnel to monitor and manage the facility.
  • Data Analysis and Reporting: The integration allows for the collection of comprehensive data, which can be analyzed to identify security trends, potential vulnerabilities, and areas for improvement.


Are key card entry systems vulnerable to hacking or cyberattacks?

While no system is immune to cybersecurity threats, reputable key card entry systems employ encryption and security measures to protect against hacking. Regular system updates are essential to maintain key card access control security.

Can key cards be easily duplicated or cloned? 

Key cards are challenging to duplicate, especially if they employ advanced encryption and security features. The risk of unauthorized duplication is significantly lower compared to physical keys.

With this, you can confidently use key card access systems to restrict and gain access in commercial office spaces and other premises.

What happens if a key card is lost or stolen? 

If a key card is lost or stolen, it can be quickly deactivated in the system, rendering it useless for unauthorized access. Replacement cards can be issued to authorized users.

You can unlock doors and grant access with the replacement cards or mobile credentials. The lost key card can be deactivated using key card access systems and give additional security.

3 Responses

  1. Good afternoon,

    I am researching alternate entry methods for a pool gate at one of my communities that I manage.

  2. Hi, We have a 9000sqft office we are currently renovating.

    We would like to fit a video door entry system that’s linked to a key card for entry to all the offices and common parts

    There are approximately 15 individual office suites.

    Can you please advise if this is something you can help us with.



  3. We are having dumpster problems at my condo site people leaving unauthorized trash in the area.
    I’m interested in a quote for a system access and synced video for the dumpster area. The cards would only require the unit number. I wound require 269 active cards and a way to replace lost or
    Damaged cards.
    Could you provide me with a quote for such a system using a functional and least expensive system.
    We do have internet service on premise
    Thank you
    Fred Judge

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