Cheque Specifications

For information about the Cheque Printer Self Accreditation Program, please visit the program page.

General Questions

Where can I obtain the latest version of the CPA’s Standard 006?

The version of Standard 006 that is currently in effect is available in the Our Rules section..

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How can cheque printers, software providers and organizations that produce their own cheques confirm that they meet all of the new specifications?

Cheque printers, software providers and companies that print their own cheques are strongly encouraged to provide pre-production samples to their financial institution to ensure that they meet the requirements of the standard. These organizations should contact their financial institutions for more information about the testing process and timelines.

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Can cheque images be used as proof of payment?

Yes, cheque images can be used as proof of payment. Images, photocopies and microfilm copies of cheques are already used as proof of payment in many circumstances. For example, financial institutions have been providing microfilm copies of cheques to clients who request them for many years, and some have begun to provide images for this purpose.

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Will Canada Revenue Agency accept cheque images?

Yes, the Canada Revenue Agency has confirmed that images of the front and back of cheques or print-outs from them are acceptable when they may ask clients for copies of cheques.

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Can cheque images be used as evidence in court?

Yes, both the federal Evidence Act and the parallel legislation in most provinces and territories have already been amended to permit the admissibility of electronic records in court proceedings. Further, most jurisdictions have well-established business record and banking record provisions that could be used for admitting an image in evidence as proof of a cheque.

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Does the CPA approve samples of cheques?

The CPA does not review or approve samples of cheques, as this offered by financial institutions that will actually process the cheques. It is strongly recommended that cheque printers, software providers, and organizations that print their own cheques submit samples of cheques their financial institution to confirm they meet the new specifications.

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Questions on Detailed Specifications

MICR Line

Does magnetic ink need to be used in the MICR line on cheques?

Yes, magnetic ink must be used in the MICR line, as automated processing equipment relies on magnetic ink to read data from the MICR line.

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Does a serial number have to appear in the MICR line?

Yes, a serial number must be MICR-encoded in the Serial Number field on all cheques to serve as a unique identifier to retrive the item from image databases. For more details, see paragraph 4.13.4 of CPA Standard 006, Part A.

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Can a printed border appear at the top or bottom of the 1.59 cm (5/8”) MICR band?

Borders are not permitted within the 1.59 cm (5/8”) MICR band, as indicated in subsection 4.2 of CPA Standard 006. If a border is printed, it should be slightly above the 1.59 cm (5/8”) mark with sufficient allowance for potential minor variations in positioning during the printing process. A border is not to be printed below the MICR characters. It's important to note that no printing, other than the E-13B characters, shall appear in the MICR band.

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Can a background appear in the 1.59 cm (5/8”) MICR band?

It is strongly recommended that the 1.59 cm (5/8”) MICR band remain clear of background screening as per subsection 4.2 of CPA Standard 006. However, background screening is permitted in the MICR band provided it has a maximum print contrast signal (PCS) of 0.30.

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Are guide marks (cut marks) permitted to be printed in the 5/8” (1.59 cm) MICR band?

(Note: Guide marks, also referred to as cut marks, are very small marks that would be used at the corners of cheques to identify the position for cutting the forms horizontally and vertically.

If the cut is not exact, the guide marks could potentially appear in the in the MICR band.)

Yes, printing guide marks is permitted in the 5/8” (1.59 cm) MICR band provided that they:

1) are not printed in magnetic ink;

2) appear in the corners no higher than .12” (0.3 cm) from the bottom edge of the cheque and;

3) do not extend more than than .32” (.81 cm) from the left and right edges of the cheque.

To ensure your guide marks do not encroach too far into the MICR band, we recommend you make your horizontal marks no more than .25” (.635 cm) in length and the vertical marks no larger than .0575” (.15 cm) in height. If your marks are larger, the cheque may not pass testing.

More information is available in paragraph 3.6.2 of CPA Standard 006.

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Is bleed-through ink allowed for the printing of the E-13B characters in the encoding line in the 1.59 cm (5/8") MICR band?

Yes, bleed-through magnetic ink is allowed for the printing of the E-13B characters in the encoding line in the 5/8" (1.59cm) MICR band. There is no maximum print contrast (PCS) value applicable to magnetic ink that bleeds through to the back of the cheque in this position.

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Serial Number and Cheque Number

Does a cheque number have to appear in the upper right-hand corner of the cheque?

While a serial number in the MICR line is mandatory, a cheque number elsewhere on the cheque is optional. If a cheque number is to appear, it is usually printed in the upper-right corner of the cheque above the date field. However, positioning is flexible, provided that it does not interfere with a data element or its clear area.

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Do the serial number in the MICR line and the number of the cheque have to match?

The mandatory serial number in the MICR line and the optional cheque number located elsewhere on the cheque will normally match, but it is not an absolute requirement.

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Clear Areas Around Data Elements

What are the requirements for clear areas on cheques?

Section 2.2 of CPA Standard 006, Part A refers to a minimum clear area of 0.64 cm (0.25”) around data elements, but indicates that where space limitations do not permit, a temporary exception allows for the clear area to be reduced as necessary to 0.25 cm (0.1”).

The CPA encourages cheque printers and issuers to provide the full 0.64 cm (0.25") clear area where possible, or as close to it as the layout will permit within the space limitations, so as to maximize the likelihood that Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) software will be able to read the information in these fields during cheque processing.

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Which data elements require a clear area?

The following data elements on the front of the cheque require a clear area:

  • Payee name field;
  • Amount in figures field (i.e. around the convenience amount rectangle and the dollar sign);
  • Amount in words field; and
  • Date field (i.e. the word “DATE”, the numeric characters of the date (and/or guidance boxes and guidance characters if these are printed) and the mandatory date field indicators).

The following data elements on the back of the cheque require a clear area:

  • “Teller Stamp Here” Box;
  • Endorsement area; and
  • Verification phrase (i.e. “BACK/VERSO”; “VERSO/BACK”; “BACK”; “VERSO”; “BACK/ENDOS”; or “ENDOS/BACK”.

In addition, no printing having a print contrast signal (PCS) greater than 0.25 is permitted within the 2.54 cm (1”) area from the bottom edge on the back of the cheque and only E-13B characters are permitted in the 1.59 cm (5/8”) MICR band. Note that these dimensions already include a clear area.

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Is background screening allowed within these clear areas?

Yes, background screening is allowed within these clear areas provided it has a maximum print contrast signal (PCS) of 0.30.

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Is the minimum clear area required between the signature line and printed information (e.g. “authorized signature”, “PER” or a title) related to the signature?

No, printed information related to the signature such as “authorized signature”, “PER” or a title may be printed close to the signature line without a clear area.

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Is a clear area required between “PAY TO THE ORDER OF” and the payee name field?

No, a clear area is not required between “PAY TO THE ORDER OF” and the payee name field.

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What is an acceptable amount of clear space around a signature line?

As signatures will vary in size, precise dimensions have not been established. The CPA recommends that printers and businesses that print their own cheques use their judgment to leave a reasonable amount of room for the signature.

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Date Field

What does the term “date field” include?

The date field includes the word “date”, the date characters, the date field indicators, and, where printed, the guidance boxes, as per clause 5.4.1 (6) of CPA Standard 006.

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Are the date field indicators below the date field mandatory?

Yes, date field indicators must be printed below the date field so that it can be determined which of the three permissible numeric date formats is used (i.e. YYYYMMDD, MMDDYYYY or DDMMYYYY). They are to be printed in a minimum of 6 pt font and a maximum of 8 pt font.

Note that the Standard accommodates a bilingual version of the Date Field Indicators (i.e. Y/A M/M D/J) for cheques using the international date format for those organizations that wish to print a single bilingual cheque format. See paragraph 5.4.1 and Figures E and E1 for details.

Printers of cheques for business clients should confirm with their clients whether the client wants the date field indicators to be pre-printed, or whether the client will print the indicators at the same time as they print the date.

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Are guidance boxes and guidance characters required for the date field?

Guidance boxes are mandatory for cheques on which the date will be written by hand or using a manual process (i.e. a typewriter), whereas guidance characters within the boxes are optional. Both the guidance boxes and characters are optional for cheques on which the date will be completed using an automated process. However, as noted above, the date field indicators below the date are mandatory on all cheques. See paragraph 5.4.1, Figure D, Item 6 for more details.

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Are there specific dimensions for the guidance boxes for the date field?

Standard 006 does not specify exact dimensions for guidance boxes. If guidance characters are printed within the boxes, a minimum of 10 pt font is recommended. The size of the guidance boxes is likely to depend, at least to some extent, on the size of the cheque and the space available. Printers of cheques that will be completed by hand (i.e. personal and some small business cheques) are encouraged to take into account that increasing the size of the boxes to the extent possible will contribute to clients’ ease of use.

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Are spaces, dashes or slashes allowed between the elements making up the date?

Spaces or dashes are allowed between the elements making up the date (e.g. 2005 08 25, or 2005-08-25). However slashes (i.e. “/” ) are not permitted as they may hinder Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) software from capturing the date effectively.

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Where exactly should the date field be printed?

The date field is to be printed towards the upper-right end of the cheque.

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Does the word "DATE" in the date field on a cheque have to be printed in upper case letters?

No, the word “DATE” is not required to be printed in upper case letters. It can appear in lower case or a combination of lower case and upper case letters (i.e. “Date” or “date”).

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Convenience Amount

Should a border or box be printed around the convenience amount rectangle?

No, no border or box should be printed around the rectangle, as it may interfere with the ability to read the amount using an automated process.

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Does the background for the convenience amount rectangle have to be white (i.e. no screening)?

The rectangle may be printed either in white or with background screening, as long as the technical specifications relating to the print contrast signal and reflectance are met. See paragraph 5.4.4 and Table 1 of CPA Standard 006 for details.

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Are asterisks permitted in the convenience amount rectangle?

Asterisks shall only be printed immediately preceding the amount in figures (e.g. $****45.00 or ****45,00$) as per section 5.3 of Standard 006.

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What are the requirements related to the position of the convenience amount rectangle and the related clear area?

For details about the positioning on personal cheques, see paragraph 5.4.2 and Figure F and for business size cheques, see paragraph 5.4.3 and Figure G.

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How is the clear area applied to the convenience amount?

There must be a minimum of 0.64 cm (0.25”) clearance around the convenience amount rectangle and the dollar sign. In relation to the date field above the rectangle, the minimum clear area is to be measured from bottom of the date field indicators to the top of the convenience amount.

Note: Where the cheque does not accommodate the standard 0.64 cm (0.25”) clear area due to space limitations, the clear area may be reduced by the minimum amount necessary to accommodate the data elements, but it must be a minimum of 0.25 cm (0.10”) in all cases.

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What elements must be within the convenience amount scan area?

The convenience amount rectangle and the related clear area, as well as the dollar sign, must be within the scan area.

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Can other information enter the convenience amount scan area?

Yes, provided that it does not interfere with the 0.64 cm (0.25”) clear area around the convenience amount rectangle and the dollar sign.

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What are the specifications for the dollar sign?

A single dollar sign must be printed in a minimum of 10 point font with one solid vertical line close to its centre. The dollar sign must be printed in a minimum print contrast signal (PCS) of 0.6 and shall not be printed using an italicized or slanted font.

A dollar sign with a broken line is not permitted as it hinders Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) technology from reading the convenience amount (e.g. the amount in figures) effectively.

Additional information for the positioning of the dollar sign is provided in paragraph 5.4.2 of Standard 006 for personal cheques and section 5.4.3 for business cheques.

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Are there any requirements for identifying the currency of the funds on cheques?

Transaction code “45” is required to be printed in the transaction code section of the On-Us Field in the MICR line on U.S. dollar cheques drawn on a U.S. dollar account at Canadian financial institutions (i.e. cheques that have a Canadian routing number in the Transit Number Field). Cheque printers and businesses that print their own cheques should contact their financial institution to confirm any requirements for the specific position of the code within the transaction code section.

In addition, a currency designation is required on all US Dollar cheques drawn on a domestic branch of a CPA member and encoded with a Canadian transit number. The currency designation is to appear to the right of or below the word “Dollars”, not interfering with any areas of interest. On cheques where the word “Dollars” is integrated into the machine printed amount in words, the currency identifier (e.g. U.S. Funds) may be printed below the convenience amount rectangle, leaving a minimum 0.64 cm (1/4”) of clear space between the bottom of the convenience amount rectangle and the currency identifier. A currency identifier is not permitted to be printed beside the amount in figures.

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Legal Amount (amount in words)

Does the amount in words have to be printed on the cheque?

Printing the amount in words is highly recommended, but it is not an absolute requirement, as noted in subparagraph 5.4.1, Item 9,

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Is it permitted to print a combination of letters and numbers in the amount in words?

While it is permitted to print a combination of numbers and letters in the amount in words, it is not recommended. As the ICR engine that reads the amount in words only reads letters, printing a combination of letters and numbers in that field could reduce its read rate.

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Is it mandatory to print horizontal lines for the payee name and the amount in words?

The lines for the payee name and amount in words are required for guidance on cheques where these fields will normally be completed by hand (e.g. personal and some small-business cheques). They are not required on cheques where the payee name and the amount in words will be printed using an automated process.

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Does the amount in words have to end with the word “Dollars”, or can it end with “Cents” (e.g. Four hundred Dollars and Fifty Cents)?

It is acceptable to end the amount in words either with the word “Dollars” or with the word “Cents”.

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Can the amount in words be printed on more than one line?

The amount in words can appear as a “wrap-around” continuation (i.e. on two or more lines), provided there be a 0.25” of clear space between the text and other data elements printed on the cheque.

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Is it mandatory that the amount in words and the amount in figures be printed on the same line?

It is not required that the amount in words and the amount in figures be printed on the same line. There is some flexibility in the positioning of this information.

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Can the amount in words field be filled using a protectograph?

Yes, the amount in words field can be filled using a protectograph provided that it does not interfere with any of the following elements on the front or back of the cheque:

Front of cheque

  • 1.59cm (5/8”) MICR encoding area;
  • date field;
  • payee name field;
  • amount in figures field;
  • CPA member name and address field; and
  • signature line area.

Back of cheque

  • “teller stamp here” box;
  • Endorsement area
  • Verification phrase (i.e. “Back/Endos”; “Endos/Back”; “Back/Verso”; “Verso/Back”; “Verso” or “Back”); and
  • the 2.54cm (1”) area from the aligning edge

Red ink should not be used if filling in the amount in words field using a protectograph as it may not appear clearly on an image of the cheque.

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Financial institution name and address

Are the financial institution’s name and address mandatory?

Printing the CPA member financial institution name is mandatory, but the financial institution address is optional. If the address is printed, it must appear below the financial institution name.

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Is there a specific font size for the financial institution information?

Financial institution information must be printed in a minimum of 6 point font.

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For a window envelope cheque, can the financial institution name and address appear below the window?

If a window envelope cheque format is used for a business cheque, the financial institution name and address may appear either above or below the window, as long as it does not interfere with any areas of interest.

Payor name and address

Is printing the payor address mandatory?

While it is strongly recommended that the payor’s name be printed on cheques, the payor’s address is optional.

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Is there a specified font size for printing the payor name and address?

There is no font size requirement.

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Conditional Statements

Are conditional statements permitted on cheques?

Conditional statements such as “void if over X amount” are permitted on cheques, provided that their placement does not interfere with any areas of interest.

It is important to keep in mind that, in and of itself, a statement intended as a general security warning is not likely to create any obligation for a financial institution that holds the account to verify that the condition is met.

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Is a statement such as "Two signatures required" permitted on cheques?

As noted above, any such statement would not, in and of itself, create any obligation for a financial institution (FI) that holds the account to verify that the condition is met. With regard to this specific statement, signing authority for the account would be identified through the client's account agreement with the financial institution, and any related responsibility for the FI would flow from that agreement.

If the requirement for two signatures is included in the account agreement or related contract between the FI and its customer, then the statement printed on the cheque may be seen as a "security flag" or warning to anyone cashing the cheque, reflecting the signing authority on the account. However, if the statement "Two signatures required" were written on the cheque without being reflected in the account agreement, it would not likely create any obligation for a FI that holds the account to verify that there are two signatures on the cheque or to honour only those cheques that have two signatures.

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Inverse Printing

Where can inverse printing be used on the front and back of a cheque?

Inverse printing cannot be used to fill in or print any of the following data elements on the front of the cheque:

  • Date field (i.e. the word “DATE”, the numeric characters of the date (and/or guidance boxes and guidance characters if these are printed) and the mandatory date field indicators);
  • Payee name field;
  • amount in figures field (i.e. the convenience amount rectangle and the dollar sign);
  • amount in words field;
  • CPA member name and address field
  • Signature line area
  • The 1.59 cm (5/8”) MICR band

Further, inverse printing cannot interfere with any clear areas required for any of the above data elements. It may be used anywhere else on the front of the cheque.

In addition, inverse printing cannot be used to fill in or print any of the following data elements on the back of the cheque:

  • “Teller Stamp Here” Box;
  • Endorsement line and phrase (“Endorsement – Signature or Stamp”)
  • Verification phrase (i.e. “BACK/VERSO”; “VERSO/BACK”; “BACK”; “VERSO”; “BACK/ENDOS” or “ENDOS/BACK”.

Further, inverse printing cannot interfere with the clear areas required for the above data elements on the back of the cheque. It cannot appear in the 2.54 cm (1”) area from the bottom edge.

On the back of the cheque, given that inverse printing will appear in a minimum print contrast signal (PCS) of 0.6, the CPA strongly recommends that it appear only in the upper right hand corner– no lower than 1” from the bottom and to the right of the endorsement line and the verification phrase, taking into account the clear areas required for these elements.

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Ink Colours

In Standard 006 there are various sections that refer to the use of “dark ink” for printing on the cheque. What is the definition of "dark ink"?

The intention of the use of the words “dark ink” is to ensure that information printed will appear clearly on an image of the cheque. Subsection 5.3 of Standard 006 recommends the use of black, blue or dark purple inks when filling in information on the cheque.

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Back of Cheque

Are the requirements in Standard 006 for printing on the back of cheques mandatory?

Yes, there are three elements that must be printed on the back of cheques. They include:

1) the teller stamp box with the phrase “Teller Stamp Here”

2) the endorsement line with the phrase “Endorsement – Signature or Stamp” below it

3) the Verification Phrase (“BACK/VERSO”; “VERSO/BACK”; “BACK/ENDOS”; “ENDOS/BACK”; “BACK” or “VERSO”)

For further details regarding the positioning of these elements, consult paragraph 5.4.5 and Figure H of Standard 006, Part A.

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What print contrast signal (PCS) levels apply to each of the three required elements on the back of a cheque?

The endorsement line with the phrase “Endorsement – Signature or Stamp” as well as the Verification phrase (“BACK/VERSO”; “VERSO/BACK”; “BACK/ENDOS”; “ENDOS/BACK; “BACK” or “VERSO”) must be printed in a minimum PCS of 0.6 with respect to their immediate background. These elements require this PCS level to ensure that they are visible on an image taken of the cheque.

The teller stamp box with the phrase “Teller Stamp Here” must be printed in a maximum PCS of 0.25 with respect to its immediate background. This PCS level ensures that the box and the phrase fade when an image is captured from the cheque.

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Can any information other than the three elements required be printed on the back of a cheque?

Additional information may be printed on the back of a cheque. However, it cannot interfere with the three required elements (i.e., the teller stamp, the endorsement line and the Verification Phrase [“BACK/VERSO”; “VERSO/BACK”; “BACK/ENDOS”; “ENDOS/BACK”; “BACK” or VERSO”]).

If the additional information is to be visible on the images captured from the cheques, it should have a minimum print contrast signal (PCS) of 0.6 with respect to its immediate background. If the information is not intended to be visible on images, it should be printed in a maximum PCS of 0.25 with respect to its immediate background.

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Where can printing, such as a reference number in a minimum print contrast signal (PCS) of 0.6 appear on the back of a cheque?

Subsection 5.4.5 of CPA Standard 006, Part A strongly recommends that any printing in a minimum PCS of 0.6 appear in the upper right hand corner on the back of the cheque – no lower than 1” from the bottom of the cheque and to the right of the endorsement line and verification phrase, taking into account the clear areas required for these elements.

For example, on a maximum size business cheque (i.e. 21.59 cm wide by 9.53 cm high, or 8.5” wide by 3.75” high):

  • Taking into account that the 2.54 cm (1”) area from the bottom of the back of the cheque cannot have any printing of more than 0.25 print contrast signal (PCS), 6.98 cm (2.75”) vertically would remain for informational printing; and
  • If the endorsement line is 6.35 cm (2.5”) long and has a clear area of 0.63 cm (0.25”) to its right, there would be 5.71 cm (2.25”) horizontally that would remain for informational printing.

Therefore, in this scenario, the available space for informational printing would be 5.71 cm wide by 6.98 cm high (i.e. 2.25” wide by 2.75” high). Note that these dimensions will vary based on the size of the cheque and the length of the endorsement line. In practical terms, it would be slightly less, as printers and businesses would want to leave some clearance between the informational printing and the edges of the cheque.

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