In the 1-to-1 mode a user must first either present an ID card or enter a PIN. The reader then looks up the template of the corresponding user in the database and compares it with the live scan. The 1-to-1 method is considered more secure and is generally faster as the reader needs to perform only one comparison. Most 1-to-1 biometric readers are "dual-technology" readers: they either have a built-in proximity, smart card or keypad reader, or they have an input for connecting an external card reader.

Biometric templates may be stored in the memory of readers, limiting the number of users by the reader memory size (there are reader models that have been manufactured with a storage capacity of up to 50,000 templates). User templates may also be stored in the memory of the smart card, thereby removing all limits to the number of system users (finger-only identification is not possible with this technology), or a central server PC can act as the template host. For systems where a central server is employed, known as "server-based verification", readers first read the biometric data of the user and then forward it to the main computer for processing. Server-based systems support a large number of users but are dependent on the reliability of the central server, as well as communication lines.

A reader radiates a 1" to 20" electrical field around itself. Cards use a simple LC circuit. When a card is presented to the reader, the reader's electrical field excites a coil in the card. The coil charges a capacitor and in turn powers an integrated circuit. The integrated circuit outputs the card number to the coil, which transmits it to the reader.