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Which Ribbons Are Required for My Card Design?

Printer ribbons are essential components of any card design and printing program. They offer sharp colors and vivid printouts for stunning cards and badges. While selecting card printer ribbons may sound straightforward, it can become confusing when complicated card designs are added to the equation. More than price and color considerations, the task of selecting ribbons largely depends on the card’s artwork and application.

To determine which ribbon is perfect for your needs, you will need to look at your card design and all the other features you will be incorporating in your card. Here’s a quick reference guide for choosing the right ribbons for your card design:

Header_CardDesign Header_RibbonRecomendations Header_Notes
Card artworks with:

  • single color logos
  • plain text

Monochrome Ribbons
Zebra Monochrome Ribbon
Monochrome ribbons come in a variety of colors. There’s black, blue, gold, green, red, silver, and white option.
Card artworks with colored front and back components like:

  • photographs
  • colored backgrounds
  • gradients
  • text

YMCKO / YMCKT Full Color Ribbons
YMCKO / YMCKT Full Color Ribbons
A standard color ribbon is also called YMCK or YMCKO ribbon. The first three letters refer to the three primary colors: Yellow, Magenta, and Cyan. The K in the YMCK or YMCKO refers to the black resin panel and is typically used for printing the text or barcode component of your card artwork. The O or T, depending on the brand, are the overlay or topcoat panels that protect the card from fading.
Card artworks with:

  • colored elements at the front like photograps, gradients, colored backgrounds
  • black elements at the back like barcodes and plain text

YMCKOK Ribbons
Fargo YMCKOK Color Ribbon
YMCKOK ribbons are similar to YMCKO full color ribbons but have an extra black panel that is used specifically to print barcodes, single color logos, and text to the backside of a card. They are designed for use with dual-sided card printers.
Card artworks that have minimal color elements like an ID card featuring mostly:

  • text
  • barcodes
  • a simple logo
  • a colored photo

YMCKO Half Panel Ribbons
Evolis Half Panel Ribbons
With half-panel color ribbons, the YMC panels are half the size of the regular panels of a YMCKO ribbon. This is ideal for cards where the only colored component is a picture or a simple logo. They are generally 45% cheaper.
Card artworks with colored front and back design elements that are to be printed on PVC cards with:

  • foils
  • signature panels

YMCKI Ribbons
Zebra YMCKI Ribbon
A full color ribbon with special (I) panel that inhibits retransfer films from adhering to areas of the cards where signature panels or foils are located.
Card artworks where some information needs to be hidden like:

  • gift cards
  • phone cards
  • lottery cards

Scratch Off Gray Ribbon
Evolis Scratch Off Monochrome Ribbon
Scratch off panels are added as a separate step after a card is printed, it can be layered over either dye or resin printed cards and can easily be removed by applying friction.


While all plastic card printer manufacturers produce monochrome and full-color ribbons, note that printer ribbons are model and brand specific. This means that you cannot use an Evolis ribbon in a Zebra printer or vice versa.

VIDEO: Card Printer Ribbon Types (2:28)

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