Before choosing an ID card printer, it helps to assess your current and future card printing needs. Use this guide and infographic to review the top three card printing factors at-a-glance.

1.  Estimate Your Card Printing Volume

For best results, consider how many cards you’ll print per session and per year, on average. Infographic - How to Choose An ID Card Printer

  • < 1,000 annually = Small batch/Low volume printing
  • 1,000 to 5,000 annually = Medium batch/Standard volume printing
  • > 5,000 annually = Large batch/High volume printing

2.  Determine Your Card Appearance Needs

Determining your card appearance needs involves deciding on single- or dual-sided card printing, full- or single-color printing, and desired image quality.

Single-Sided Printing

  • Can print on both sides if desired, but must run through twice. Works best if cards have fixed data on one side.
  • Some single-sided printers are upgradeable to dual-sided printing after initial purchase, but upgrade may cost more than dual-sided machine

Dual-Sided Printing

  • Dual-sided capability can cost approximately $600 to $1,000 more at initial purchase
  • Used for collating front/back ID data on cards

Monochrome (Single) Color

  • Less costly; typically used in specialized situations, such as integrating with a mainframe system
  • Also works well when using color ID cards, for example silver printing on a black ID card
  • Other than cost-savings and card design, there are no significant advantages to using a monochrome card printer

Full Color

  • Higher cost, but the most versatile and practical long-term choice
  • Any color printer can also use monochrome ribbons to print single-color images

Edge-to-Edge Photo Quality – Direct-to-Card Printers

  • Direct dye sublimation process uses thermal print head to transfer color from ribbon to card
  • Uses standard ribbon supplies
  • Prints photo-realistic colors, but images will have slight borders
  • Many of these cards look as good as borderless
  • Entry-level printers generally have lower print quality than professional-class printers

Borderless High Quality – Retransfer Printers

  • Best if image quality is primary concern
  • High-tech printing process
  • Requires extra retransfer ribbon
  • Offers higher durability and tamper resistant cards
  • Offers high-quality printing on uneven surfaces
  • Eliminates borders
  • More costly and slower to print

3.  Determine the Level of Security Needed

Basic Visual Security – ID Card

  • For basic visual identificationShop top ID card printers at low prices now
  • Often includes a simple 1-D barcode that can be scanned
  • Can be printed on lower-cost, entry-level printers
  • Printed on standard pvc card stock in CR80 size
  • Perfect for loyalty cards, membership cards, basic student IDs and gift cards

Low Security – Magnetic Stripe Cards

  • Nearly all card printers can be purchased with optional magnetic stripe encoding
  • Magnetic stripe – or swipe cards – can be read by any card reader
  • Versatile – common uses include: Time and attendance systems, secure access, loyalty or gift cards, membership cards, hotel room keys, and more
  • Magnetic-stripe cards are not much more expensive than plain plastic card stock

Medium Security – Access (Smart) Cards

  • For even higher security needs, optional smart card technology can be added to some card printers to allow more advanced or detailed information to be stored directly on cards
  • Used for contactless access control, using proximity or smart cards
  • Professional-class printers with smart card encoders must be used
  • Great for access control cards and kiosk payment cards

High Card Security – Lamination

  • Extends life expectancy for all cards
  • Allows added security features such as holographic images and added security layers such as ultraviolet images
  • Often used for high-security facility identification in the public and private sectors
  • Laminator functionality typically increases printer cost by several thousand dollars
  • Requires use of composite card stock, rather than standard PVC card stock
  • Custom holographs can be customized for highest security by either using customized laminating ribbons or card stock

How-to Series: Choosing an ID Card Printer

Want to learn more? Check out these other posts in our How to Choose series:


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.