ID card printers: making the right choice. #3 Speed and volume

Written By John Fieldsend
News and updates, summer 2019

Now, this is an involved area involving a number of influencing factors. You need to ask yourself:

  • Do I need to print single cards ad-hoc and on demand or am I looking for regular large batch prints?
  • Do they need to be single or double-sided?
  • Am I printing in colour or monochrome?
  • How important is print quality?

All of these will determine what type of printer is right for you.

What’s on your card?

What do you need to include on your card? This will often be what determines your other choices. Inclusion of a photo ID for example, will have a bearing on the print quality you select. More than that, HOW MUCH information do you want to print? Are you including barcodes as well as personal credentials? Do you need to incorporate special formats for smart cards? Essentially, do you need to print single- or double-sided? Full colour or monochrome?

Dual-sided printers automatically turn the card and print the reverse as part of the process but if you need to achieve double-sided print when a base-level printer will satisfy most of your needs, you can print one side, turn them over then feed the cards back through the printer. Clearly, this is more time consuming.

Print quality

A major influence on print quality is the printing method that’s used. The most popular type is Direct-to-Card or Dye Sublimation print. It tends to be reliable, durable, fast and economical. It works by infusing the colour from the dye film into the card using heat from the printhead. When printed, the cards don’t smear and the print quality is acceptable for most applications.

Reverse Transfer Printers, which work by printing an image onto a film which is then fused over the surface of the card, offer higher definition and crisper images. The reverse transfer film offers an additional layer of durability. Because they print over the edge of the card, there is no tiny white border around the edge as there is with the Direct-to-Card method, which can be important if design or brand is a priority for you. This type of printing works well on cards which have an uneven surface – such as those which incorporate a microchip as the printhead doesn’t touch the surface of the card and so is less likely to be damaged.

Feed type

If you only need to print a few cards at a time and not on a regular basis, it’s worth looking at an entry-level handfed printer. You just load each card one by one. If you’re printing greater volumes, batch printing is probably the way to go. These printers incorporate input and output hoppers for the cards to be fed automatically into the printer. Look out for larger hopper sizes if you anticipate a growing need and be aware that large yield consumables such as the dye film and laminates avoids having to constantly change them.

While all the above contributes to over-all speed, there ARE faster and slower printers on the market. It tends to be the faster, the more expensive – a bit like cars. So, you need to determine whether yours is a high volume print requirement where saving time and production costs is a deciding factor, or whether other factors like quality and durability are more important.