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Selecting an ID card printer and getting a custom ID card program up and running can be done easily and in a cost effective manner - no matter how tech savvy you are (or aren't). They are produced by a variety of different manufacturers and offer a variety of technologies and capabilities, and yet the use of them is surprisingly similar to that of a normal computer printer. If you are completely new to ID card printers, you may want to check the "Learn About ID Card Printers" video series in our Learning Center.
The answer here is as simple as it sounds. Single-sided ID card printers are made for printing onto one side of a plastic card, while dual-sided ID card printers are capable of printing onto both sides of the card in a single pass.
A single-sided printer is an excellent choice if you will be printing cards with a limited amount of information on them, such as company name, cardholder name, employee ID number, and a barcode. Dual-sided printers are a better option if you need your printed cards to include additional information or intricate graphics. Additionally, having the flexibility to print to both sides of the card allows you to keep the front of your cards presentable, simple, and uncluttered with information of secondary importance on the backside.
It is worth noting that even simple card designs may benefit from a dual-sided ID card printer. The back of the card is an excellent location to print contact information for a lost card. Additionally, it is a common practice to print the same information on both the front and back of the card. This way the information is visible no matter which direction the card is facing.
In plastic card printing, lamination is the clear, protective layer applied over the top of your printed cards by any printer with lamination capabilities. Primarily, lamination is used to extend the life of printed cards; the additional layer guards against physical wear, dye migration, and fading from the sun while making your cards tamperproof for increased security. When coupled with holographic laminates and other visual security elements, lamination can make your printed cards almost impossible to duplicate.
A barcode takes simple information, such as an employee name or ID number, and encodes it into standardized barcode format.
Aside from the obvious visual method of printing text, ID card printers are also able to print 1D and 2D barcodes. Barcodes offer an inexpensive way to store information on cards that can be readily accessed by a computer or scanning device. While they require the least amount of equipment (all ID card printers are capable, regardless of whether they use direct-to-card or retransfer technology), barcodes also offer the least amount of security as compared to other encoding options.
Requirements: All card printers are capable of adding 1D and 2D barcodes to plastic cards. You will simply need a barcode scanner connected to a computer, and an ID card software that supports the format of barcode you want to use.
Magnetic Stripe Encoding
While a barcode's information is stored locally in a computer, magnetic stripe information is stored physically within the magnetic stripe of the card. For example, when used for access control, each encoded card includes a magnetic stripe that holds data for unlocking preprogrammed doors. An authorized user can simply swipe his or her mag stripe card and the door will unlock.
There are two types of magnetic stripe cards:
High Coercivity (HiCo) magnetic stripe cards are harder to erase and are used in applications where cards are frequently used or need to have a long life. HiCo stripes are resistant to damage from most magnets or magnetic fields and therefore are most often used for access control, time and attendance, and gift card applications.
Low Coercivity (LoCo) magnetic stripe cards require a lower amount of energy to record and are consequently easier to erase. LoCo stripes can be damaged by brief contact with a magnetic field, and so they are typically reserved for short-duration applications.
Requirements: In order to encode magnetic stripe cards, you will need an ID card printer outfitted with a magnetic stripe encoder, plus your choice of mid-level or fully-featured ID card software.
Smart Card and Proximity Card Encoding
Similar to a magnetic stripe card, smart card data is stored within the card itself. A smart card offers added functionality and can hold up to 100 times more data than a magnetic stripe card. Plus, smart cards can be reconfigured to add, erase, or edit hosted data. Smart cards can be categorized into two categories:
Note: Proximity cards are similar to contactless smart cards, but there are important differences. Proximity cards come pre-programmed, so do not need to be encoded. Some printers can read and verify data written to proximity cards, but data on most proximity cards cannot be added, erased, or edited. Some cards, such as iClass cards, include non-editable, pre-programmed proximity data and a smart chip for encoding your own data.
Requirements: In order to use a contact or contactless smart card, you'll need a smart card encoding printer and fully-featured ID software. When ordering the printer, be sure to specify whether you require contact or contactless encoding.
If you're an experienced card printer user, you are probably familiar with the white border that direct-to-card printers leave around the edge of printed cards. Retransfer printers, on the other hand, feature ''over-the-edge'' printing that covers the entire surface of your cards.
Since direct-to-card printers print directly to the surface of the card, any uneven surface - including the card's edge - can damage the printhead. To prevent this from happening, direct-to-card printers are designed to avoid printing too close to the edge of cards.
Retransfer printers, on the other hand, print onto a clear (retransfer film) rather than directly onto the card. The retransfer film is then thermally fused onto the surface of the card, allowing your card graphics to extend right up to or over the edge of your cards. This printing process also allows you to print onto a wider variety of card types including proximity cards, smart cards, pre-punched cards and key tag cards. With this process, there is no risk of printhead damage caused by card contact. An additional benefit of retransfer printers is that they produce vivid imagery with rich, fully saturated color.
As you shop for an ID card printer, it's important to have an understanding ahead of time about what types of information (and how much) you need to include on your cards. Knowing this will help determine the features to look for in an ID printer, as some card elements require special technologies, modules, equipment, or supplies.
Common ID badge elements include:
Custom design: Most ID software includes card templates to get you started on your badge design. Or, design a card from scratch using your own images, graphics, and logos.
Cardholder information: Photo ID software makes it easy to add information to your ID cards. Most can even connect to a database so that all your card data is easily accessed.
Cardholder photo: An ID camera will make your life easy! A simple webcam lets you save images so that they can be placed within your card template right from your software.
Barcode: Even the most basic photo ID software can add a barcode to your ID badges. Barcodes are a cost-effective way to include data on your cards that can be scanned and used in other systems.
Over-the-edge card design: A custom-designed ID badge is an extension of your brand. Plus, more intricate designs are more difficult to fraudulently replicate. If you want your card design to go "over-the-edge," you'll need a retransfer printer.
Signature: A signature pad allows you to electronically capture a signature for placement within the card design.
Smart chip: There are many types of technology cards, such as contact smart cards, that can store cardholder information for use in other systems.
Holographic lamination: Holographic lamination makes cards more durable, plus increases their security.
Lamination: Laminating printers apply a thin film to the card with heat and pressure during the printing process to protect against abrasion and wear. Laminated cards are more durable and last longer than non-laminated cards.
Magnetic stripe: Magnetic stripes are another way to include data on your cards that can be scanned and used in other systems, such as access control. Card printers with mag stripe encoding capability will print your cards and encode them in a single process.
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