How do you want your plastic cards to look? Sounds like a simple question, yet there are many variations that will help you choose the best plastic card printer for your needs.Magicard Tango double-sided card printer

Our first two postings in this series dealt with:

Today, we’ll discuss choosing a plastic card printer based on your desired card appearance. There are three appearance options to consider.

1. Single-Sided or Dual-Sided Printing

Not all printers are designed to print on both sides of your card. Most manufacturers offer both single-sided and dual-sided versions of their most popular models.

sample dual-sided ID card - IDCardGroup.comTypically a dual-sided card printer will cost approximately $600 to $1,000 more than an equivalent single-sided model.  Depending on the manufacturer, the dual-sided printer may have a different model number/name than the single-sided version.  Of course, even a single-sided card printer can print on the back of your cards if you choose to take the extra step of running the cards through a second time.

ID CARD GROUP TIP:  Some single-sided printers are “field-upgradable” to a dual-sided capability.  If you are not sure if you will need to print both sides of your cards and want to save some money on the initial purchase, you may be able to upgrade without replacing your printer if you buy an upgradable single-sided model.  However, the upgrade will typically cost more than buying a dual-sided printer at the outset.

2. Color or Monochrome Only Printing

Certain card printer models are designed for monochrome (single-color) only printing.  These printers will typically cost slightly less than the equivalent full-color capable model. Other than cost, there is no significant advantage to using a monochrome card printer. Any color printer can use monochrome ribbons and print single-color images.

sample monochrome ID card - IDCardGroup.comID CARD GROUP TIP: Monochrome printers are typically used in specialized situations.  For example, if you are integrating your printer with a mainframe type system it may require use of a monochrome printer.  Otherwise, it is almost always more practical to purchase a color printer.

3. Print Quality

Most direct-to-card printers use a “dye sublimation” process which transfers the color from the dye-based ribbon directly into the surface of your card using a thermal printhead.  This process results in photo-realistic colors that can be printed edge-to-edge. Each brand offers several printer models where the print quality can vary greatly. Entry-level printers generally have lower print quality (often called surface coverage) than professional-class printers.

For the highest quality image or for printing to a slightly uneven surface, some printers use a reverse-transfer process.  A reverse transfer printer will first produce a color image on a transparent film. The film is then transferred onto the card surface.

This two-step process produces over-the-edge color printing, which can eliminate the borders sometimes associated with the direct dye sublimation process. Depending on the other features selected, a reverse transfer printer can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars more than a comparable model.

ID CARD GROUP TIP:  Reverse transfer is for those applications where image quality is the primary concern.  The process is much slower than the standard dye sublimation process, and the initial cost per printed card will tend to be higher, however, ID cards printed with retransfer technology can last longer than ones printed with the standard dye-sublimation technology.

Ask for sample cards! This is a great way to see how your ID cards will look before you make the commitment to buy a specific printer.

How-to Series: Choosing an ID Card Printer

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Find more answers here or contact our expert sales staff at (877) 868-0012 or for help choosing the best ID printer to fit your needs.

We can also walk you through other technical issues our customers face, including warranty terms, connectivity, operating system compatibility, print speed and reliability.

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