These tags are made of a strip of amorphous metal (metglas) which has a very low magnetic saturation value. Except for permanent tags, this strip is also lined with a strip of ferromagnetic material with a moderate coercive field (magnetic "hardness"). Detection is achieved by sensing harmonics and sum or difference signals generated by the non-linear magnetic response of the material under a mixture of low-frequency (in the 10 Hz to 1000 Hz range) magnetic fields.
When the ferromagnetic material is magnetized, it biases the amorphous metal strip into saturation, where it no longer produces harmonics. Deactivation of these tags is therefore done with magnetization. Activation requires demagnetization.
These are similar to magnetic tags in that they are made of two strips: a strip of magnetostrictive, ferromagnetic amorphous metal and a strip of a magnetically semi-hard metallic strip, which is used as a biasing magnet (to increase signal strength) and to allow deactivation. These strips are not bound together but free to oscillate mechanically.
Amorphous metals are used in such systems due to their good magnetoelastic coupling, which implies that they can efficiently convert magnetic energy into mechanical vibrations.
These tags are essentially an LC tank circuit (L for inductor, C for capacitator) that has a resonance peak anywhere from 1.75 MHz to 9.5 MHz. The standard frequency for retail use is 8.2 MHz. Sensing is achieved by sweeping around the resonant frequency and detecting the dip.
Deactivation for 8.2 MHz label tags is typically achieved using a deactivation pad. In the absence of such a device, labels can be rendered inactive by punching a hole, or by covering the circuit with a metallic label, a "detuner". The deactivation pad functions by partially destroying the capacitor. Though this sounds violent, in reality, both the process and the result are unnoticeable to the naked eye. The deactivator causes a micro short circuit in the label. This is done by submitting the tag to a strong electromagnetic field at the resonant frequency, which induces voltages exceeding the capacitor's breakdown voltage.\