Printers & Systems

About ID Card Printers

About ID Card PrintersID cards have been around for decades. In the beginning, they were created by manually cutting and pasting information, including instant photos, onto card-sized pieces of paper, which were then laminated. While the cards served as a basic means of identification, they were not at all easy to create or durable and certainly not secure.

Today, most organizations use a digital printer to produce their identification cards, as the technology has made plastic ID cards easy, fast and economical to produce. Plastic, or PVC, cards are also durable and can be highly tamper-proof.

Today, a digital photo ID system typically consists of a computer, software with card design and database capabilities, a digital camera, and a card printer/encoder. The printer itself comes with a choice of several different technologies to fit almost any need.

Digital ID Card Printing Processes

Direct-to-Card (Dye Sublimation) ID Card Printing

Dye sublimation ID card printing is the most widely used technology for desktop ID card systems today. This reliable, versatile technology transfers images directly onto the surface of a plastic card using a dye-based ribbon sectioned into a number of panels, including yellow, magenta and cyan, and sometimes including black and/or clear panels as well.

During the printing process, a print head containing hundreds of thermal elements heats the dyes on the ribbon. The dyes then diffuse into the surface of the card. The result of varying the heat intensity of each thermal printhead element is millions of colors creating photo-realistic images.

Resin Thermal Transfer (Retransfer) ID Card Printing

Resin thermal transfer ID card printing also uses a thermal printhead to transfer color from a ribbon to a card, the difference is that solid dots of one-color ink is transferred to the surface of a card. This one-color process produces sharp text and single-color images.

Resin must be used when printing data that will be read by infra-red or visible-light barcode scanners. This one-color (also referred to as monochrome or mono) printing process prints fast, economical one-color cards.

ID Card Lamination

Laminating an ID card used to be done by feeding a paper card and trimmed photo covered with a plastic sleeve through a laminator by hand. Today, ID card printers with lamination capability use heat and pressure apply the laminate over the surface of the card during the printing process.

This layer of lamination offers protection against abrasion, fading and dye migration.

Thermal transfer overlaminates can also increase the security of ID cards with the inclusion of a standard or custom watermark or holographic image. These images can be visible to the human eye or covert and visible only with special equipment.

Digital Card Printing Technologies

Direct-to-card (DTC) Technology

Direct-to-card technology is currently the most common form of card printing. The direct-to-card printing process transfers images directly onto PVC cards using dye-sublimation and resin thermal transfer printing processes. Direct-to-card printers are available in a wide price range, with varying features and capabilities.

Reverse-transfer TechnologyWhat a printed retransfer ID card looks like

Reverse-transfer technology is the latest card printing technology, and is growing in popularity. This printing technology applies images onto a special clear film that is then fused onto the surface of a blank card. In essence, the printed graphics and text are sandwiched between the film and the card it is applied to.

Reverse-transfer technology allows greater flexibility to print on a wider variety of cards than direct-to-card printing, including proximity cards, smart cards, pre-punched cards, key tag cards, or any type of card with an uneven surface.

Because reverse-transfer printing transfers images to a clear film, its print quality is superior, producing vibrant, crisp, clear colors.

Rewrite Technology

Rewrite technology requires special cards that are thermo-sensitive. This material allows data to become visible or invisible based on the temperature applied to it. Rewriteable cards can be written to and erased hundreds of times, allowing you to personalize a single card many times over.

Rewrite thermal printing prints in a single color, typically black or blue and doesn’t require a ribbon.


For all of your photo ID needs, you can depend on our ID Professionals to deliver exceptional service on top-quality products. Call us today at (800) 321-4405…we’re here to help!

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