Identification cards are now far more than a basic photo ID. You’ll find a variety of technologies being implemented today on ID cards such as barcodes, magnetic stripes and RFID to allow for greater security and track ability. With the ability to completely customize them, ID cards have become the default technology for tracking memberships, loyalty programs, employee access and students.
With the right tools, making IDs is easy. At its core the system will consist of a printer, media (cards, ribbons) and design software. Depending on your business needs, there are solutions to support low volume office printing to full-scale enterprise and educational applications. Making sure you choose the appropriate printing technology and security features for your application is key to reaping all the benefits a card system can provide.
What are the Key Benefits of ID Card Printing?
Our card printing applications will increase your customer satisfaction, generate more clients and help you track employees or students in a scalable way.
- Efficiency – Quickly print ID cards on the fly with card printers and software.
- Simplicity – Easily load and manage printers with drop-in media.
- Accuracy – Record customer, employee, student and attendee information by swiping a magnetic stripe, scanning a barcode, or reading an RFID tag to eliminate incorrect data capture.
What is ID Card Printing?
Creating on-demand ID cards is an easy process when you have the right technology for the type of card you need to make. There are a couple of ways cards can be printed – making sure you know the differences between them is essential to making the best card for your application.
The first major difference between systems is whether they print monochromatically or in full color. The most common route is a full color system since it offers the most flexibility and highest print quality. However, there is a beneficial cost savings with monochromatic systems if your application is suited for it. For any long term or high security application, color printing is best but in cases where the card is a temporary use item, a single color card can still service its needed purpose at a lower production cost.
Card printers use thermal transfer printing with a fixed printhead that heats up and melts a ribbon onto a blank PVC card to create an image. There are two printing technologies to transfer the ribbon: Direct-To-Card dye sublimation (DTC) and Retransfer (reverse transfer).
- Direct-To-Card (DTC)
Direct-To-Card is the most common card printing technology as it enables photo quality printing, for pictures and full color logos, by controlling the heat setting of the printhead which produces variable sizes and densities of color. The card is passed under the printhead up to four times to create the perfect color, tones and highlights using CMYK ribbon. With DTC printing, images have sharp edges, deep blacks and a full spectrum of colors. This printing method does not provide full card coverage as a small white border will be at the edges of the card.
- Retransfer (Reverse Transfer)
Retransfer printing is a two step process that transfers your image to a retransfer film before applying it to the card. First, the image is printed in reverse directly onto a clear layer of film (like direct-to-card except the film replaces the card in this step). Next, the printhead heats up and bonds the imaged film to the card’s surface by applying heat and pressure. The two step retransfer process creates a true edge to edge (100% card coverage) high quality image on PVC cards and other card types.
Card printers also offer several options for encoding information onto the cards. Depending on the application the card is being used for, certain encoding options will be better suited than others. Encoding information on the card itself helps increase the security of the card as it become harder to counterfeit and also makes reading the card faster, easier and error free.
Barcodes are the easiest to make as they are still part of the printing process – so no additional features are needed on the printer. With options for 1D or 2D codes, you can encode a variety of information in a common, easy to read format.
- Magnetic Stripe
This type of card is capable of storing data on a band of magnetic material. The magnetic stripe (also known as swipe card or magstripe) is read by physical contact when swiped past a magnetic reading head.
- Contact Smart Card
A contact area of approximately .15 sq in. comprised of several gold-plated contact pads are embedded onto the card. These provide electrical connectivity when touched to or inserted into a reader.
- Contactless Smart Card
These contain a re-writeable smart card microchip that can process and store data. They communicate with a terminal via radio waves with a read range of up to around 5 inches.
- UHF RFID
RFID cards store data that can be read through radio waves at wider read ranges (typically 3 to 10 ft.), allow multiple card reads at the same time and are extremely secure.
Once print method and encoding requirement are selected, you will need to decide how many sides of the card will have print.
- Single-sided printing is typically used for simple card applications which do not require both front and back of the card to be printed at once.
- Dual-sided printing allows for both sides of the card to be printed on at the same time and is typically used when full color is required on the front of the card and black text or barcode data on the back.
Some higher volume printers will offer a built-in laminator to protect the print on the card from fading and wearing off. Lamination is the process in which a protective polyester film is applied onto the card’s surface to guard it from wear and tear and UV rays. Cards without lamination last about 1 to 2 years with everyday usage, but for the most security and longevity, card lamination is recommended. For increased security, holograms may also be applied to your cards before laminating for a great deterrent to forgery.
What Should You Address When Making an ID Card Printing System?
When putting together an effective and suitable ID card printing system there are a few key questions to answer:
- What is the printing volume/duty cycle? Will printing be done on a regular basis or as limited batches?
- How long will the card need to last?
- Will you print in a single or full color?
- Do you need single or dual-sided printing?
- Can your card have an unprinted border around the card or do you need “over the edge” coverage?
- Will you encode data onto the card? What method? Barcode, magnetic stripe, smart card, RFID?
- Do you need to laminate the card for security and durability?
- Will you make cards manually or require a connection to a database?
What are the Components of an ID Card Printing System?
All ID card printing systems consist of 3 core components:
- Thermal ID Card Printer – The printer is the core of your system and will determine what type of cards and printing you can do. Which model you choose will depend on the volume you are printing and what specific features you want on your cards. Lamination, data encoding, edge to edge print and dual/single sided printing will all come into play when selecting a unit.
- PVC Cards and Ribbon – Cards and ribbons come in a variety of colors and options including magnetic stripes, smart chips and RFID elements. Making sure the media you choose matches your application and your printer model is crucial to getting the longest lasting and best printed results.
- ID Card Software – Whether you are printing images, barcodes, or encoding a magnetic stripe, the design software will determine what features are available to you. If you are creating large volumes of cards, you will also want an application that can access a database to automate your printing.