Best Prices in the Industry

Best Prices in the Industry

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5 Things You Need to Know When Choosing Between Card Printer Models

Are all printers created equal? Learn about what makes a specific printer different from other models in this article.

The first thing that springs to mind when considering to buy an ID card printer is the money involved. Don’t worry! There are many models to choose from at different price points. There are plastic card printers now that sell for under $1,000 and there ones that sell for several thousand dollars. Rather than starting with price ask a much more crucial question. What aspects of the machine’s capabilities and performance are most important to you?

Simplicity and Portability

If all you need is a basic informational card that includes text and photos, you may be happy with an entry-level model that prints on one side of a plain PVC card. These are fine for card applications that do not require the ability to interface with a card reader.

Some models are very small in size so you can pack and take them with you to different events and locations. Just bring a camera and make sure that you will have computer access (with the software installed) to download and format your card designs to the printer. These inexpensive basic printers are slower than their more costly cousins, but they work well for companies that need small quantities of cards printed from time to time.


Units that print on thermal transfer film rather than directly on the card surface offer some additional protection to your printed images and text. Also look for printers that handle cards of all thicknesses so you can print on heavy duty PVC stock. If you are interested in cards that last for a long time in environments where they will be exposed to sun, rain, and/or chemicals, you will want to invest in a machine that has laminating capabilities. This comes standard on a few models and is an additional option on others.

Factory warranties that cover parts and labor are either one year or two years, depending upon the manufacturer. Extended warranties are also available. As far as the durability of the machine itself goes, how you treat your printer has a great deal to do with how long it lasts. Be sure you aren’t making the mistake of buying a printer designed for occasional use if you are planning to run a constant high volume of cards. Check the manufacturer’s recommended duty cycle, and warranty to see what maintenance is required to keep your equipment in good shape. Dust and dirt are the biggest enemies of card printers. Put your printer into a clean environment and use a dust cover.

Image Quality

Image quality is usually pretty much the same on all printers that use the same technology. Thermal transfer printers produce a better looking card. The level of image quality a printer yields is usually expressed in dots per inch or dpi. The higher the dpi number the more resolution the finished image will have. Most card printers are 300 DPI. Even low cost ID printers yield a decent image. If your cards are used for advertising purposes (where stunning first impressions are crucial), you may want to have your plastic pre printed at 1200 DPI by offset press method then customized on your ID Card printer. You can also choose a machine that prints both the front and the back of each card so you can put the less important information on the back of the card.

For crisper black lines and text be sure your printer will handle YMCK ribbon and not just YMC. The YMC stands for yellow, magenta, and cyan. This type of ribbon creates “black” by blending the 3 colors together and outlines can sometimes be a tiny bit blurry. This may not be noticeable to the naked eye, but bar codes are especially sensitive and require sharply delineated edges. The K panel is a black panel. The software in the printer driver recognizes the ribbon and uses the K panel when if available.To protect the print and the image use a YMCKO ribbon, the O panel is for an overlay panel that seals in the print and the photo.

Encoding and Security

If you need cards that can be used to store data, it is time to look at printers that allow you to encode and read magnetic stripes, RFID tags, and smart chips. Mag stripes are the most popular option and are very cost effective.
You can choose printers that rewrite existing card data allowing you to update information and track changes throughout the life of the card. Mag stripes and RFID tagged cards are both great options for handling basic access control. Smart chip data cards have the ability not just to store information, but to contain executable programs as well. These are ideal for handling sensitive information.

You will also want to investigate the many security finishing options such as holographic lamination and micro printing. The knowledgeable staff at ID Superstore will be happy to help you select the best security for your purposes.

Image quality blank plastic card stock costs around 10 cents. You can buy cheaper plastic cards but these will ruin your plastic card printer because the cards are not “image quality”. You can have a custom made card with a good selection of security features for between $1 and $5 per card depending upon quantity and the type of security features selected. There are both visible and invisible security features available. UV printing (ultra violet) is an invisible security feature. You need a black light to read it. A custom hologram is visible to the naked eye as is micro printing which looks like a line to the naked eye but when magnified it contains letters and numbers. Allow six weeks for custom printed high security card production after artwork approval.

Additional Considerations

The printer you buy needs to be compatible with your current version of Windows. Windows 2000 and XP are standard on most models, so if you have ‘98 or Vista you will want to double check the spec sheet or talk to your sales representative about compatibility. Also look to see if the card printer uses Ethernet or USB technology to connect to your local network. Evolis printers will work with late model Apple computers. Check with the customer Service rep at ID Superstore for compatibility.

For more information about choosing your card printer contact our experienced sales team.

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