Understanding printer ribbons, and knowing which one you should use to print your card design, is a key part of designing and printing high-quality ID cards. Use this guide to understand all the different types of ribbons.

What is a Printer Ribbon?

ID card printer ribbons are thin films with a repeating pattern of colored panels:

Using the yellow, magenta, cyan, and black color panels your printer can create full color designs with a clear overlay panel.

A YMCKO ribbon, the most common type, is for use in dye sublimation printers (reverse transfer printer ribbons do not have an overlay panel) that want to print full color with black. You can print full color on a single side of a card, so if you use a YMCKO ribbon to print full color on dual-sided cards, you’ll get half the ribbon yield (using two full sets of panels per card).

Other ribbon types include:

  • YMCKOK – for dual-sided printing with black monochrome printing on the back
  • Monochrome ribbons – available in many colors for solid single-color printing only
  • YMCK – full color ribbon for reverse transfer or lamination printers
  • YMCKK – for dual-sided printing with black monochrome printing on the back, with a reverse transfer or laminating printer
  • YMCKF – full color ribbon with a fluorescent panel
  • Laminates – available in clear, with holographic designs, and with cut-outs for smart card chips or magnetic stripes

Why do these different types matter? Because if you use the wrong ribbon, you can’t print your design – for example a monochrome ribbon can’t do multiple colors or shadows, and if you only need to print black on the back of a card you won’t want to use a YMCKO ribbon and get half the print yield.

Quickly Find Your Ribbons

Your ID card printer can only use the manufacturer recommended ribbons for your printer model. So when you’re looking for full color or monochrome ribbons, make sure you’re looking at ribbons that are compatible with your printer.

ID Card Group makes it easy to find all the printer ribbons that are compatible with your ID card printer through our Supply Finder online tool. Just select your printer brand and model from the drop down lists, and we’ll give you a list of all your ribbon options!

More Resources For Understanding Ribbons


Contact our expert sales staff at (877) 868-0012 or emailĀ sales@idcardgroup.com for help finding the right ribbons for your ID card printer.

ID Card Group offers a price match guarantee, provides free shipping on orders over $100, and accepts purchase orders.