Plastic ID Card Printers

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About ID Card Printers

The cornerstone of any card printing program is the ID card printer itself. While the technology behind ID card printers, also known as plastic card printers, is very different to a standard desktop printer, they can be just as simple to use, once you have loaded the drivers and run a few test cards. Before you consider purchasing your ID card printer, you'll probably need to do some research. Below are some fundamental facts about ID card printers.

Single or Dual Sided Printing

Simply put, a single-sided printer produces full colour or monochrome images, text and barcodes on one side of the card only and a dual-sided printer prints on the front of the card, then flips it over and prints on the back of the card - all in one process. Many dual-sided cards have the card holder’s photo and other details on the front, in full colour and carry an "If found please return to..." message in black text on the back. It is possible to print any combination of full or single colour images on one or both sides with a dual sided printer. Colour print quality is photographic and resin printed text is printed at 300 dpi.
Many single-sided printers can be upgraded to dual-sided printing after purchase. It is also possible to field upgrade most machines to include magnetic strip or chip encoding and even a card lamination module. This saves you having to worry about buying upgrades to your printer now when you are not sure that you’ll need them in the future. You can buy them later, if and when they are required.

Print Technology

Most printers use the dye sublimation process, also known as dye diffusion, to print photographic quality, continuous tone images onto plastic cards. Single colour text and bar codes are printed using resin thermal dyes. Both involve heating mineral dyes on a carrier ribbon that are then diffused onto the plastic card surface.

Direct to Card (DTC) Printers

Direct to card (DTC) printers print directly from the ribbon onto the card’s surface. This process involves using one colour ribbon to undertake the printing.

Re-Transfer High Definition Print (HDP) Printers

HDP Re-transfer printers use two consumables to produce a printed card. One is a clear, intermediate, re-transfer film and the second is a colour panelled ribbon. In this case, the ribbon prints the complete image onto the re-transfer film, which is then laminated onto the card’s surface. This is a slower process than DTC but produces a true, full bleed (over the card edge) image with more depth of colour. This method is also very good for printing onto smartcards where the card’s surface is not flat around the areas where the antenna or chip have been embedded or where the contact chip plate is located.

Magnetic Stripe Encoding

Magnetic strips are used for storing small amounts of data, often door access codes which are read when the card is swiped. High Coercivity (HiCo) magnetic stripes are relatively difficult to corrupt or erase with a magnetic field, possibly from a mobile phone and are used in applications where cards have a high usage and therefore need to be durable. Low Coercivity (LoCo) magnetic stripes can be relatively easily erased and are normally used on rail tickets and some legacy access systems. In order to read or encode magnetic stripe cards, you will need a printer that is is fitted with an ISO magnetic stripe encoder. These can also be retro-fitted.

Smart and Proximity Card Reading and Encoding

In this case, data is stored on a smart chip. A smart card offers added functionality and can hold many 1,000s of times more data than a magnetic stripe. They can be reconfigured to add, erase or edit hosted data.

Smart cards can generally be split into two categories, contact and contactless.
A contact smart card has an integrated contact chip and, as the name implies, this chip has a visible contact plate on the card’s surface and must be inserted into the card reader to be read.

A contactless smart card has an internal chip and antenna and normally communicates using RFID with readers at 13.56MHz, which is classed as high frequency. In order to be read, it needs to come within a specified distance of the reader, usually 2 - 15 cms, which varies by reader, but doesn't need to make direct contact or be inserted for communications to take place.
Note: Proximity cards are similar to contactless smart cards but there are important differences. Proximity cards usually use a low frequency communication protocol at 125 kHz to communicate with a card reader. They are usually supplied pre-programmed, so do not need to be encoded when printing takes place. Some printers can read and verify data that has been written to a proximity card, but data on most proximity cards cannot be added, erased, or edited.
Requirements: In order to read or encode a contact or contactless smart card, you'll need a smart card encoding printer and fully-featured ID software. Sometime this software will include an application to load data onto the chip, which has to be specially written. When ordering the printer, you'll need to specify whether you require contact or contactless encoding.

Post Print Card Lamination

Some higher end printers have the option of an in-line post print card laminator. The purpose of this is to apply protective and / or security overlaminates after the cards have been printed. These overlaminates can either be clear, to give added protection to the images on the card or can they can carry a hologram, to also add an extra security element to make the cards harder to forge. In the case of the holographic material, the holograms can be either generic (off-the-shelf) or a custom design. The latter is subject to an origination charge and minimum order quantities.

Laser Engraving

The ultimate protection that can be given a card to render it unalterable, is laser engraving. This uses a Class 3 laser to etch the card’s surface and produce a tactile as well as visible security feature that cannot be changed without destroying the card. This is an in-line device that is available on the Fargo HDP8500 only.

Project Genesius

Specialist Printing Equipment and Materials (Offences) Act 2015

The bill became law on 26th April 2015. The law makes it illegal to sell specialist printing equipment without any due diligence checks being made.

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