With the ever-growing security needs of today’s technologically driven society, one area in which workgroups and businesses can start to protect themselves is with secure identification systems.

The use of card printers and corresponding software can streamline the process of getting new employees or members into your systems and keeping them maintained. ID cards are not just limited to businesses either; applications can be expanded easily to education, government, customer loyalty cards, transit passes, and much more.

At the core of each printer is the technology it employs to create the images on the cards. There are two main options available to choose from:

  • direct-to-card
  • reverse transfer.

Direct-to-card (DTC) uses a dye-sublimation process with a print head that heats each panel of the ribbon to convert the ink into vapor, which then diffuses onto the surface of the card. This method is fast and effective and can be used with full color, overlays, and monochrome ribbons to create cards with vivid imagery from edge to edge. These printers average a resolution of about 300 dpi, which provides detailed images and sharp text. There is one caveat with DTC printing, while it is edge to edge, an extremely small white border can be visible when printing directly to the edges.

Reverse transfer, or retransfer, uses a similar technology but prints the images on a clear film which is then fused onto the surface of the card. This allows for over-the-edge printing, avoiding any white border around your cards. Print quality is also better with retransfer printing and it allows users to print onto uneven surfaces, such as smart and proximity cards, as well as non-PVC cards, such as ABS, PET, PVH, and polycarbonate. Retransfer does require both clear film and ribbons to operate, resulting in the use of more consumables than standard DTC printing. Also, compared to DTC, this method can be slower, though this method can allow for resolutions of up to 600 dpi for extremely high-quality imaging.

After deciding the type of printer you would like, the next step is choosing between single-sided and double-sided printing. This choice is as simple as it seems—single-sided printers can only print on one side of the card at a time, while double-sided models can print on both sides in one pass. Double-sided printing is extremely useful for creating cards with photo identification on one side and a barcode or other information (maybe rules, schedule, or contact info) on the rear.

Next will be print speed, which goes along with card and media capacity. What you are looking for here depends entirely on your needs. Small groups with not much need to constantly print cards will not find any benefit in fast printers with large card input trays, whereas large groups will see a great improvement in productivity where fast speeds, large card trays, and high-capacity ribbons will result in less down time. Additionally, some units feature reject trays to sort out cards with print issues or errors automatically, without having to sort through your fresh pile manually.

Moving onto media, cards come in very specific sizes, and you will be using either CR-80 (ID-1) or CR-79 standards. A vast majority of users will be sticking with CR-80 in varying thicknesses, usually between 10-40 mil (most common being 30 mil, which is the same as your credit cards) with thicker cards being more durable. CR-79 is useful in adhesive-backed varieties, which will fit into the recess of CR-80-sized proximity cards. If you need this extra feature, be sure to check the printer you need to make sure it can accept both CR-80 and CR-79 cards.

Ribbons are another critical aspect of your work and come in a wide variety of options. Monochrome ribbons are the simplest, and allow you to print with a single color on your cards. These can be available in black, standard colors, or even metallic-like silver. Next are your color ribbons, which are named for the various panels they have.

One of the simplest ways to improve your security is through the use of encoded cards, of which, of course, there are multiple types.

Magnetic stripes are the simplest, but are limited in use and also the least durable, as the stripe is susceptible to wear over time. There are two encoding methods, high coercivity and low coercivity, also known as HiCo and LoCo. HiCo cards are made with a stronger magnetic field for more durability, making them useful for cards with a longer life, like access cards and employee ID cards. LoCo cards use a lower intensity magnetic field, but are best for short-term applications where they may need to be recoded often, such as a weekend pass or hotel room key.

Smart cards are a reliable and versatile option, which uses a tamper-resistant security system for added security. Contacts are present on the cards, which when in contact with readers, can be programmed to perform a variety of different actions. Contactless versions of these cards are available and can be used within a short distance of a reader. A common use of these cards is as a proximity card for access to certain areas of a building.

Certain models offer lamination in addition to the standard printing and encoding capabilities. At the most basic level, lamination is designed to add a protective coating for long-term use of your cards. Depending on the printer and media available, it is possible to get either thin or thick film for lamination. As can be expected, the thicker films will usually last longer than thin film.

Laminators can also provide some added security by allowing users to add holographic patches or printing to their cards, either to one or both sides. This can be done in a variety of fashions that range from simple to incredibly complex. Depending on your needs, you may desire printers with more advanced security options. Certain printers can even add an impression to the card, for even more security.

As ID card printers are generally used as part of an integrated system with software and potentially multiple users, this is where connectivity plays a part. USB 2.0 is the standard connection between printers and computers, as it is a universal and well-established method. It is very reliable, but limits the networking capabilities and positioning of the unit itself, as it requires connection to a single machine. Ethernet is the next step up and allows for direct networking of printers to a network, allowing multiple users on different computers, and possibly in different locations, to work from the same printer, or have access to multiple printers for large or custom jobs. Finally, Wi-Fi or wireless connectivity is the next step up, and eliminates the need for cables when networking the printer.

While not a direct feature of the printer, software can be bundled or made specifically available for certain models. It is important to find software that you can rely on and that has the features you need to keep your IDs organized. Also, some offer additional security with multiple users and can grow with their features as you grow as a business or group. This is also what enables you to program smart cards, create holograms and, in general, just produce good-looking IDs.

ID card printers are available for all types of businesses and organizations, with basic models allowing small groups to create cards easily for their members, and advanced printers allowing large, expanding businesses to secure their people, property, and assets with an extremely secure network of identification.