ID Card Printers - What to consider before you buy

If you’re going to be printing your own plastic cards for the first time, you’ll most likely be starting to research 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’s likely to fit your needs. 

Plus, some

You can also read our Best ID Card Printers for 2021.

First Step - 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.

If you will only be printing a handful of membership cards every week, you won’t need a powerful, expensive printer to do it: one designed for low volume users will do what you need.

Card Printers commonly fall into the following categories:

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.

Will you be printing single-sided or double-sided cards?

Some plastic card printers 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 almost certainly 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.

Do you need your plastic card printer to be scalable in the future?

Will you want to be able to encode your own cards at some point in the future, for example to add a magstripe or bring in contactless cards? If so, bear it in mind now.

You can either look for a model that allows you to bolt-on this functionality in the future (many are flexible and can enable the upgrade ‘in the field’, whereas others will need you to send the printer back to the manufacturer) or look for a printer that has the functionality built-in now.

It will save you money in the long run as the last thing you’ll want to do is buy an entirely new printer.

What type of cards will you be printing?

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 like Paxton cards, or smart cards like MIFARE or HID for example, you ideally need to consider a Retransfer or Inkjet printer.

Mifare ID cardsAccess cards with magnetic stripe

This is because these types of cards include a small chip inside them which may get damaged going through a direct-to-card printer. 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.

Direct-to-card, Retransfer or InkJet Card Printer – what’s the difference?

How important is security to your organisation?

Is security right at the top of your agenda? Is ensuring your cards can’t be cloned or copied business critical?

If so, you’ll want to 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 link.

Many of the newer printer models 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.

Other factors to consider:

- Speed

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.

- Size and Portability

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!

- Printing costs per card

As well as the initial investment cost of the printer itself, you should consider the ongoing print cost per card.

Look at the ribbons for the specific printer (each ribbon shows the number of prints its capable of) and add in the cost of the blank cards.

e.g. if a 100 shot ribbon is £35 (a) and a pack of 100 blank cards is £8 (b), then your cost per card is 43p.

Inkjet printers have a lower cost-per-card rate as the ink cartridge will go much further, depending on the saturation of colour used in your design.

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.