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How to Make ID Cards More Secure

The Security Threat from Fake ID Cards

Good looking full color ID cards with photos can be printed with off the shelf card printer packages for an less than two thousand dollars and ongoing per card cost of around fifty cents for supplies. Used card printers on eBay sell for minimal amounts. Printed photo ID cards can be ordered online from legitimate suppliers for $5 to $10 per card with no capital investment or know-how required.

Modern scanners and photocopiers at do it yourself stores, like Kinko’s will copy any card that has no security built into it, and the digital file can be used to print a full color plastic cards. Security features make spotting fake cards easy, even for minimum pay, guards.

The possibility of having unauthorized cards issued by a disloyal employee also needs to be guarded against. You want to make sure that no unauthorized cards are created using your supplies, software and equipment.

How to Implement Basic Card Security

Even a modest investment of time and a few hundred dollars into card security gives big returns. Basic card security defeats the first ninety-five percent of the crooks. Basic card security involves using controlled availability stock holograms. Holograms are attached using super glue or are hot stamped onto the cards, and cannot be removed without tampering being evident. Neither can holograms be reproduced on a color photocopier. A mid-range card printer is able to print ultraviolet ink (photocopier does not reproduce UV printing because it is invisible and needs a black light), and mid-level software is able to print a ghost image onto cards (ghost images do not reproduce properly on photocopiers).

Keep Supplies and Software Locked Down

This solution is easy to implement. Simply make sure all cards, ribbons, and even the printer itself are locked in a secure room or in a vault after each use. Software options are available that allow monitoring of the plastic ID card printer on a local area network. IT or security staff can be notified electronically any time the printer or its related programs are used. If printing is taking place at an unusual time of day, it is easy to send security over to see who is using the equipment. ID printing software can also be password protected to make it more difficult for unauthorized personnel to print cards. To protect against internal misuse of id cards, have only trusted and supervised employees issue cards and establish checks and controls on card issuance. Check card and ribbon inventories regularly. The more costly and sophisticated card issuance software tracks all cards that are printed, who printed it, when, etc. Software can be set up so that the input clerk cannot print cards while a supervisor can. Dispose of card production waste (used ribbons and card misprints) so that these are destroyed and data cannot be copied from them.

Print easy to see card expiration dates that automatically invalidates obsolete cards. Change card designs every year so that old cards stick out like a sore thumb.

Issue cards to everybody that comes unto your premises including visitors. Those without cards will readily stand out and can be challenged.

Risk Assessment to Decide on a Reasonable Card Security Budget

To decide on the investment warranted the key questions that you want answered are:

  • What is the damage your organization would suffer if someone used a fake ID card to gain access to different areas of your premises?
  • What potential loss would you suffer if someone successfully pretended to be an employee or an executive?
  • In addition to the loss of tangible and intangible assets (customer lists, financial data) what kind of legal liability could you be facing?

The larger the group that you issue ID cards to, the easier it is to amortize the one time design and make up costs of security features.

The investment into card security falls into the following major areas: Staffing costs, physical secure facility costs (to store card printing equipment and supplies), card printers and software and ongoing maintenance costs.

While printed color plastic cards with variable data including photograph can be printed in quantity for less than $1 each, having security features built into the card increases the cost per card by only a few cents per card for production costs. Paying professionals for custom designs and having custom dyes made for your custom hologram costs a few thousand dollars. This could be small change in the big picture and when amortized over a large number of card users the cost is reasonable.

Most Cost Effective Way to Issue High Security Custom Designed ID Cards

The way to eliminate card issuance investment into staff, training, facilities, equipment, software and maintenance is to outsource data capture and card production to security card printing companies like ID Security Experts Inc. (Formerly PICS SmartCard), a pioneer in the design and printing of high security cards for governments, institutions, corporations. ID Superstore is a division of ID Security Experts Inc., and makes this very cost effective service affordable to organizations of all sizes.

On site photo shoots and data capture to enroll hundreds or thousands of employees or to make weekly print runs of a few ID cards for new employees by our service bureau give you a fixed cost per card and saves most customers tens of thousands of dollars.

Summary of Card Security

  • Visible security is embedded or hot stamped holograms, ghost imaging, micro printing, card numbering, expiration dates, confidential color coding, and different printing techniques used in currency printing
  • Machine readable security is ultra violet printing (needs a backlight), data embedded into the mag-stripe or computer chip, and biometric data (fingerprint, iris scan) that matches the card against the card user
  • For large numbers of users a cost effective way to manufacture high security ID Cards is to custom print ID card blanks that have several types of security laminated into the core of the card. The customization is done with the usual types of card printers onto the custom designed card blanks. High end card blanks look like currency because similar printing techniques are used and these do not reproduce properly on high-end copiers and scanners.
  • High-end card production software tracks users and gives differing level of permissions to those that are capturing data and printing ID cards.
  • Cards that store Biometrics provide virtually foolproof security. Biometric software and hardware to read the cards have come down in price making these systems affordable for virtually all businesses.
  • While Biometric data is most secure, the needs for visible security on ID cards to spot intruders remains.
  • Passwords and questions and answers can be encrypted and securely stored within a card’s memory. The card user does not have access and the software key to decrypt would be at the guard station.

Make it Easy to Spot Fake Cards

Large expiration dates, color coding (different color bar depending on the level of trust), and shifting images gives security staff quick info from a distance. By issuing different color lanyards to different types of staff this accessory is used as a quick distinguisher between executives, employees, part time staff, etc. Adding barcodes to ID Cards is also a great way to limit (or completely remove) the risk of fraudulent ID Cards.

Finally, remember to choose a secure vendor for custom printing or buy the equipment to make all of your ID cards in-house.


For more information on how to go about improving your ID card's Security contact our experienced sales team.

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