ID card printers: making the right choice. #2 Card lifespan

Written By John Fieldsend
News and updates, summer 2019

Once you’ve established the level of security you’re looking for, the next thing to ask yourself is: How long does this card need to last?

The answer to this is affected by numerous conditions:

  • If it’s a magnetic stripe card, how many times is it going to be swiped each day?
  • Will the card be exposed to extremes of temperatures?
  • Will it be used outside?
  • How essential is the quality of print /image?

……not to mention how it’s used by the wearer, after all, it has been known for cards to split when users employ them as window screen ice scrapers or fading and warping when left exposed to the sun.

Clearly, if it’s a single-use gift or loyalty card, it doesn’t need to last as long as, say, a government ID or driver’s licence. Even in terms of employee credentials, organisations expect cards to have a lifespan of number of years -although it’s good practice to update them regularly as individuals change over time. As a result, the traditional, single substrate, monopolymer PVC card is losing ground to composite cards such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or Teslin for greater durability. This reflects the increased complexity of the ID card’s role and increased number of security features.

What DO YOU EXPECT of the card?

Do you want it to last for five, seven or 10 years? How will it be used? Is it used once every so often, or several times each day? All of this will impact durability. Will it be used outside? Cards used frequently outdoors can degrade and become brittle due to UV exposure, leading to premature failure and cracking.

Consider the security of the card. You can produce the longest lasting card, but if it doesn’t include security features strong enough to see it through such a lifespan, then it has done little good. Cards with multiple substrates allow you to embed security features into different layers of the card to make it counterfeit proof. You might have a hologram embedded on one layer and another feature on the Teslin layer.

Then there are any embedded electronic components. These chips and antenna coils have to be protected and if you use highly rigid card materials such as PVC and polycarbonate with embedded electronics, they may crack over time.

With contact, contactless and dual-interface cards, the durability of the internal components, circuitry and connections can significantly affect card life longevity but as ever, it’s best to opt for the PVC and polyester blends mentioned above to maximise card lifespan. This type of card is also more resistant to chemicals, abrasion, peeling and flexibility.

In addition, take into account characteristics such as the magnetic stripe or printed barcode, the UV resistance of the printed surface as well as the dye quality. If the card includes an integrated circuit chip with a contact pad or a contactless antenna, the card should maintain functionality after exposure to x-rays and magnetic fields, and it should survive anticipated levels of electrostatic discharge exposure.

In order to be confident in protection levels, look out for internationally recognised standards such as ISO 24789 and ANSI 322.

ISO/IEC 24789: A methodology for determining a card’s expected lifespan taking into consideration the demands placed upon it by the various applications it will support. The second part uses this determination to define a series of tests to evaluate if it can meet this prescribed lifespan.

ANSI INCITS 322: This defines a Card Structural Integrity Test to help gauge a card’s resilience against delamination under adverse environmental conditions. The test is considered rigorous and used most often as a qualitative or comparative assessment between different card constructions.

Ultimately, there’s no single answer when it comes to durability: it all comes down to use