If you’re going to be printing your own plastic cards for the first time, it's likely you're looking around at different ID card printers.
There are many different models on the market, with different features and vastly varying price tags.
A good place to start is to ask yourself the following questions – they will help guide you to the type of plastic card printer that will fit your needs.
Or take our simple Quiz! We'll ask you four short questions and then give you recommendations based on your answers.
Question One - How many cards will you be printing in a year?
ID Card Printers can be broadly grouped into categories, which are generally based on the number of cards that it’s capable of printing in a year.
- Low Volume or First-Time Users (aimed at those printing up to 1,000 cards a year)
- Medium Volume Users for those printing around 5000 - 10,000 cards a year
- High Volume Users - in excess of 10,000 cards a year.
If you fall into the Low Volume category for example, you can build a short-list of printers that fit into this bracket and then compare their various benefits and features.
Question 2 - Will you be printing single-sided or double-sided cards?
Plastic card printers with the lowest price tags are only capable of printing single-sided cards. If you need to print on the other side, particularly if you’re printing large numbers of cards, you’ll want to consider a double-sided model.
However if you’re only printing small quantities, you can hand feed each individual card back into the printer to print on the reverse side. This has to be done one-by-one though, which can be time consuming and frustrating.
Question 3 - What type of cards will you be printing?
ID Card Printers are available as either Direct-to-Card models (at the lower priced end of the market) or Retransfer models at the higher end.
Direct-to-card or Retransfer – what’s the difference?
If you’re printing ID cards, membership cards or other types of cards on regular blank plastic cards, any Direct-to-card printer will be suitable.
However, if you need to print on access control cards or chip cards like MIFARE® or HID for example, the recommended solution is a Retransfer printer due to the method of printing.
This is because these types of cards include a small chip inside them which may get damaged going through a direct-to-card printer. Also, there can be issues with printing over the raised area where the chip is embedded.
Retransfer printers use a different two-step printing process, where the card design is first printed onto a film, which is then bonded onto the actual card using heat.
There are work arounds with DTC printers, such as avoiding printing over the chip area, although there is still the risk of damaging the card.
Question 4 - How important are running costs to you?
As well as the price tag associated with the printer, you should also consider the ongoing print cost per card.
Many entry-level ID Card Printers with a smaller price tag seem like a low-cost investment, but the ribbons can be significantly more expensive than other more expensive models. This may not be a problem based on the quantity of cards you're printing, but if you're going to be buying multiple ribbons over the year, weigh up the running costs moving forward.
E.g. if a 100 print ribbon costs £50 and a pack of 100 cards costs £10, the cost-per-print is 6p.
How important is ensuring your cards can't be cloned or copied?
If it's critical, look at the security features that come with each plastic card printer. Some of the established printer models on the market come with the ability to print unique watermarks on your cards to prevent cloning for example, or to print using UV ink which is only visible under certain lighting.
Many also come with advanced features that have been designed for use in a GDPR world, e.g.
- Secure boot up, preventing malware or viruses
- Data encryption – where the data sent from device to the printer is fragmented, rendering it irrecoverable
- Hopper locks & Kensington locks that prevent unauthorised use.
Speed matters a great deal to some organisations, particularly if they are regularly printing large batches of cards at once under deadlines. If this is the case for you, all plastic card printers specs show their speed of printing a single card and how many its capable of in an hour.
If you’re going to be taking the printer with you to events or conferences to badge attendees for example, you want it to be portable. Equally, if you’re badging from home and its sitting on the kitchen table, make sure you weigh up the size and kilos before you buy!
One last thing: Don’t let yourself be talked into a more expensive model with lots of bells and whistles if you just won’t use them.
Prefer to talk to someone about the best ID Card Printer for you?
Give one of our friendly printer experts a call on 01244 526009 or start a chat with us.
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We will never try to upsell you to a more expensive printer that you don’t need.