ID Card Printer Ribbons

ID card printers use one time, dye sublimation or resin thermal colour and monochrome ribbons with a 300 dpi thermal print head to print onto plastic cards.

Dye Sublimation Ribbons for Direct to Card Printers

Dye sublimation ribbons are used to produce continuous tone, photographic quality images and photos and use successive panels of Yellow (Y), Magenta (M), Cyan (C), Black (K) dyes together with an Overlay (O) panel, sometimes called a Topcoat, in different combinations to produce either single or dual sided cards in colour and / or monochrome black. The O (or T) panel protects and seals the mineral dyes onto the card surface. Without this overlay, the colours would wear and fade within weeks.

The most usual panel format is YMCKO or YMCKT. These are used mainly for single sided, full colour cards with black text or bar codes. Dual sided, full colour cards can be produced using two sets of panels which will halve the capacity of the ribbon.
Other popular combinations are YMCKO-K which allows printing of full colour images + text to the card face and black text to the back.

Most medium and high end printers now have fluorescing (F) or Ultra Violet (UV) panels which allow the printing of UV images at the same time as the cards are being printed. These have ribbon panel formats such as YMCFKO and YMCFKO-K.
Finally, there are special ribbons which have half width colour panels that can only print on the LHS of a card. These are used to print standard format staff or student cards where the photo and logo are on the LHS of the card but where black text or barcodes may be required to be printed anywhere. These cost less because the colour panels are narrower.

Resin Thermal Ribbons for Direct to Card Printers

These ribbons are single colour, high capacity ribbons in a variety of colours including metallic. They do not need an Overlay panel and will not fade. Colours available vary by printer and by manufacturer but most have the following colours - White, Blue, Green, Red, Gold, Silver, Gold Metallic, Silver Metallic, Premium and Standard Black. Print quality using resin ribbons is at 300 dpi and is not photo quality.

Dye Sublimation Ribbons for Re-Transfer Printers

Re-transfer printers such as the Fargo HDP5000 or HDP8500 do not print directly onto the card. They print onto an intermediate, high capacity, usually clear* HDP transfer film and when this process is complete the whole card image is laminated onto the card surface giving a true over-the-edge (full bleed) ID card. Colours look richer and deeper and any imperfections in the card surface, such as those on smart cards around the chip or embedded antennae, are invisible.
Re-transfer printer ribbons do not use or need an Overlay or Topcoat panel and are in the formats YMC, YMCK, YMCKK, YMCFK etc etc.
Printing onto a card with a security or holographic foil can cause the foil to lose it brightness and to become dull. To avoid this happening, there are ribbons with inhibitor (I) panels in the YMCKIKI format. This Inhibitor panel allows an area to be selected on the front or back of the card where the HDP transfer film is not laid down thus avoiding the area where the foil is located. There is also a YMCKI ribbon which should be used when printing onto cards with a signature strip on the back of the card. This allows the printer to omit the area here the signature panel is. Signature strips become difficult or impossible to write on if printed over.
There are Fluorescing (F) ultra violet and half panel ribbons available just the same as with the direct to card printers and they do the same job. The only difference is that they do not have an Overlay panel. All re-transfer printing is carried out directly onto the HDP intermediate transfer film not onto the card surface itself.
*There is an option to buy a Holographic HDP Intermediate Transfer film with a 300 image capacity.

Resin Thermal Ribbons for Re-Transfer Printers

There is only one colour available for resin ribbons on re-transfer printers, which is Premium Black. Other colours are not available for the Fargo or Datacard HDP5000, HDP8500 and SR200/SR300 printers.