A Brief Background on ID Card Printers

For some of us in Australia, passing over a paper drivers licence as proof of identity doesn’t seem so long ago. The traditional paper based licences were replaced throughout the late 1980’s to early 1990’s with cut, paste and laminate ID cards produced with Polaroid instant photograph technology.

Since 2000 many Australian States have been migrating to digital ID cards, where the ID card information is printed directly onto the ~plastic card~plastic}. It is through the increased demand for instant issuance of digital Identification card production technology, that desktop plastic ID card printers have become widely available at affordable prices making them affordable solutions for the production of Student ID cards, Club Membership Cards, Loyalty Cards, Staff ID cards, Induction Cards and Other ID cards.

There are two common methods for ID card printers to print to plastic cards; these are Direct to Card Printing, and Re-transfer Card Printing.

Direct to Card – Card Printers

Direct to Card ID card printers print the images to the card via a thermal print head and dye sublimation ribbon, directly to the PVC plastic card. PVC plastic is the only good receptive surface for thermal transfer dye sublimation card production. If the cards only require monochrome personalisation, a thermal wax/resin ribbon is used, and while it may printer to a wider range of plastic, PVC cards provide the best print quality.

The most significant issue with direct to card printing is that the print head is in close contact to the plastic card, and any imperfection or contaminant (dust / sand particle) can cause a scratch in the ceramic head, requiring replacement.  Replacement heads can cost as much at $ 1000, so it’s an expensive exercise to replace them. Many ID card printer manufacturers consider the print head a consumable, with an average life of 10,000 full colour cards.

Another issue of direct to card printing is that they cannot print reliably right to the edge of the card leaving a thin white border around the card. This is particularly noticeable if the card is designed with dark background.

You will often see ID cards printed on a direct to card printer designed with a mostly white background or in the case of many club membership applications, with the photo and name printed to a pre-printed card design where the card base stock is “offset printed” in a factory in bulk, leaving a space for the photo to be printed later.

Re-Transfer – Card Printers

The alternate printing technology to direct to card is, re-transfer card printing, or “Reverse Image Transfer” printing. This process is where the card printer prints from the thermal print head, via dye sublimation to a clear polyester film. The printed image is reversed as it is then “laminated” via heated roller onto the card where it then appears right way around.

Re-transfer printing has an advantage, because the polyester film has been specially designed to be receptive to the ink from the ribbon and can provide lot clearer, more defined images with great colour accuracy. The image is also stretched slightly to ensure full coverage of the plastic card with “over the edge” printing is possible.

Re-transfer printing is the highest standard of printing in desktop ID card printers today, and while it has a slight premium in cost due to the use of the polyester film, the image quality is far superior to direct to card printers.

Most card printer manufacturers produce both direct to card and retransfer printer models, including PPC, Magicard, Digital Identification, Zebra, Datacard and Fargo.

If you are looking for more specific information on an ID Card Printer in Australia or you need to find a specialist in producing an ID Card. Printers vary in speed, quality, reliability and running costs take the time to get advice on exactly what you need in an ID Card Printing System.

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