This is a quick high-level overview of the basics of plastic cards. Are you buying blank cards or printed cards? What security features if any do you need? How long does the card need to last? What climate will the card be used in? Who are the users? Pencil pushers or rough necks? All these choices affect the type of plastic card you need.
Buying Blank Cards for Your Card Printer
To print plastic cards using your card printer you must use “image quality” cards because standard plastic cards will ruin the most expensive part of your printer—the print head. You can buy image quality white cards, colored cards, and cards in different thicknesses. They come is boxes of 500 and within each box there are sealed packs of 100 cards. These cards are ultra clean and have been designed for dye sublimation card printers (almost all card printers are dye sub).
Buying Printed Plastic Cards from a Card Manufacturer
Cards can be printed by offset press in full color in a very high resolution on any card stock. The more you buy the lower per card cost. That is why many direct mail promotions contain printed plastic cards. You can reproduce the Mona Lisa to look better on the card then it looks in the Louvre. The printing is done on large sheets before lamination. The cards are punched out afterwards and the printing is sealed within the card.
If you need cards quickly and in low quantities the most economical printing method is spot color printing. Cards are printed one color at a time. Several colors can be printed including gold and silver (these look really sharp on black plastic card stock). Turnaround time can be as little as 24 hours. This is surface printing that will not last as long as printing that has been laminated.
Variable data, like names, sequential numbers even photos can be added during the printing process. This costs a little more but is very economical way to produce promotional materials that have been customized.
ID Superstore’s parent company, PICS SmartCard Inc has been in the plastic card manufacturing and printing business since 1967. We can handle jobs involving millions of cards for a direct mail program as well as high value high security cards that are used to secure military installations, atomic facilities as well in transit applications where the cash value of each card is several hundred dollars in transportation. Different technologies and security features are used for different applications.
Plastic ID cards come in a variety of thicknesses for different applications. The thickness or gauge of a PVC card is measured in mils (an industry term for thousandths of an inch). 10 mil cards are great to use for advertising purposes or as event passes since they are more durable than card stock (but are still inexpensive). However, since these thin cards are very flexible they are not suitable for all situations. 20 mil cards are standard for many purposes since they are thick enough for daily handling. This gauge works well for basic employee ID card and security credential needs. Cards in the 30 mil range offer the greatest longevity of all PVC types and are ideal for use in rugged environments. Most mag stripe cards are made of this thick stock so they can withstand repeated use.
Specialty Card Materials
All plastics are made of carbon compounds so manufacturers are now offering the option of corn based cards to replace those made from petroleum products. In addition, since PVC is a recyclable material, it comes as no surprise that ID cards made from reclaimed plastic are also available. Both options are designed to be easy on the environment and to reduce your carbon footprint.
If you want regular PVC cards that are not plain white, you can purchase 30 mil cards in a variety of solid colors. These are ideal for displaying attention getting logos and text in monochrome ink. Composite cards can be furnished with a polyester core sandwiched between two layers of poly vinyl chloride. These composite blends are rigid and resistant to bending and are useful in cold climates where PVC cracks.
Cards can be supplied with a matte finish to reduce reflection or in slick video grade to make images pop. The back surface can match the front or you can choose paper or mylar backed adhesive cards for uses that require them. Adhesives are usually featured on 10 mil cards which you can custom print for use as long lasting labels. They have the ability to stick to many surfaces so these cards will stay where you put them.
So called smart cards are cards that store data that is machine readable. Programmable cards can use magnetic stripe, radio frequency chip, and other technologies for information storage purposes. Mag stripe and regular data cards are considered “contact” cards since they must be swiped or inserted into a reader to function. RFID and hybrid data/RF cards can be read from a short distance and are considered “contactless”.
Storing biometrics like fingerprints, iris scans within the card memory makes smart cards with these features the most secure cards in the world. The card is matched to the biometric date of the cardholder. This technology is now available and affordable even for smaller companies.
HiCo and LoCo magnetic cards are a favorite of many industries in the US since they have been mass-produced for a long time now and are very cost effective. RFID cards work best for quick and secure access to facilities in situations where a mag card is not convenient. Data cards (as the name suggests) are ideal for applications that require large amounts of data storage space. Different versions allow information and/or programs to be stored in an easily transportable device for use at multiple locations.
For more information about Choosing your Plastic Cards contact our experienced sales team.