HomeGadgetsChoosing a Plastic Card Printer

Choosing a Plastic Card Printer


The design and print of professional ID cards used to be exclusive to large corporations, government entities and professional printers. However, times changes and there days, in-house card printing is becoming more and more common. Plastic Card Printers are an effective — and cost-efficient— way to print PVC cards for your company. Card printers are used to produce everything from promotional cards and tags to student cards and staff ID cards.

There is a myriad of uses for card printers, just some of which are outlined below:

  • Staff ID Cards
  • Gift Cards
  • Loyalty Cards
  • Hotel Cards
  • Student Cards
  • Membership Cards
  • Access Control Cards
  • Smart Cards


With the huge variety of brands, features and price points in the card printer market, deciding which machine is right for your needs can be tricky — to say the least.  This article will help you to make an informed decision so that you can get the most out of your money.


Choosing a Card Printer – Top 3 Factors At a Glance

Before choosing your plastic card printer, it’s best practice to assess your current and future printing needs. Will your print needs stay as they are now or will they possibly evolve as time passes? And, this leads to point No. 1.


1. Estimate Your Card Printing Volume

To ensure you choose the correct printer, consider the volume of cards you’ll print per week/month/year on average.


< 1,000 annually = Low volume

1,000 to 5,000 annually = Standard volume

> 5,000 annually = High volume printing

For low-volume issuance, most entry level card printers will be suitable. These are usually the cheapest option and provide good quality with intuitive use.

For standard volume, you could potentially get away with an entry level model but these small print engines are not designed for such strenuous printing and will likely wear out prematurely. So, it may be in your best interest to get a mid-level printer.

For high-volume printing, you would need to purchase a premium model specifically designed for high-volume printing.


2. Determine Your Card Appearance Needs

Determining your card appearance before purchase will make things much easier when shopping for a printer.  This will usually affect the machine you choose in two ways: image quality and single or dual-sided printing.


Single-Sided Printing

This method is somewhat misleading. You can print on both sides of the card if desired, but you must remove the card manually, flip it and then print on the other side, which can be very tedious, especially if printing in batches.

Some single-sided machines can be upgraded after purchase but this can be more expensive than buying a dual-sided printer first time round.


Dual-Sided Printing

Dual-sided is self-explanatory, it has the capability to print on both sides of the card.  This is usually only recommended for printing large batches as it is a costly upgrade.

Used for collating front/back ID data on cards


Direct-to-card printing

Direct-to-card (DTC) is the most common and cost-effective method of printing cards. This process uses a thermal print head to heat and ink ribbon and transfer the colour to the card.

  • Uses standard ribbon supplies
  • DTC leaves a white border around the card edge
  • Entry-level printers generally have loer print quality than professional-class printers


Retransfer Printing

Retransfer printers are typically used when image quality is the primary concern. These printers provide much better colour depth and variance.

  • Requires extra retransfer ribbon
  • Higher Durability
  • Can print on uneven surfaces such as contactless cards
  • Eliminates borders
  • More costly and slower to print



3. Determine the Level of Security Needed

Most card printers have at least a fundamental level of security included with a barcode being the most basic.



Barcodes can be a simple solution commonly used in loyalty cards, membership, gift and student ID Cards. Barcodes are not as commonplace as they once were as they are somewhat lacking in terms of security.


Magnetic Stripe

Nearly all card printers have the option to add magnetic encoding, either at the time of purchase or as an upgrade post-purchase. Magnetic stripe cards are used for access control, loyalty, gift cards and hotel key cards.


Contactless Cards

For higher security needs, contactless smart card encoding is available on some card printers, which allows for more detailed information to be stored on the card.


These are the main factors to take into account when shopping for a printer. With these in mind, you will be in a good position to find the best machine that will serve your needs well.