How to Choose the Right ID Card Printer


There's a large variety of ID card printers on the market. Choosing the right ID card printer can be a daunting task when you don’t know what to look for. This guide will walk you through what to consider when picking an ID card printer.

Step 1: Determine your budget

An organization’s budget is the first and most important factor to consider. The budget you set will determine the range of printers you can buy. The lower-budget printers start at around $2,000, while the higher-budget printers start at $10,000. Keep in mind, there are ongoing costs associated with your printer budget. These costs include printer ribbons, cleaning kits, and blank cards.

Step 2: Determine your printing method

There are two types of printing methods: Direct-to-Card (DTC) and High Definition Printing (HDP). A DTC printer heats a print ribbon beneath a thermal print head. As a result, color from the ribbon transfer onto the blank card. 

Benefits of using a DTC printer:

  1. The cost per card to print is lower than HDP printers
  2. The DTC printers are faster than HDP printers 
  3. The DTC printers support rewritable card printing

An HDP printer transfers an image onto retransfer film before applying it to the card. This type of printing technology is a two-step process. In the first step, the printer prints an image in reverse onto a clear layer of film. In the second step, the printhead heats up and bonds the imaged film to the card’s surface by applying heat and pressure.

Benefits of using an HDP Printer:

  1. The high-definition image prints extremely clearly and in rich, deep colors
  2. Prints over the edge of the card and over embedded technology, such as a smart chip
  3. The image on the HDP film fuses to the card, which provides better protection and durability
  4. The retransfer printer is not sensitive to ridges and bumps on the card's surface.

Step 3: Determine your print volume

The number of cards you print will determine the printer you buy. Consider the number of cards you will print each year. If you are printing a low volume of cards, you can get by with a less expensive printer. If you are printing a high volume of cards, it is a good idea to invest in a more expensive printer. Over time, investing in a new printer can save you labor costs and material costs.

Step 4: Determine your card appearance

  • Color vs Monochrome: Decide whether you would like your cards to be full color or black and white.
  • Single Side Printing vs. Dual Side Printing: Single-side printing is cheaper, but it means you print one side of the card. Dual-side printing is more expensive, but you have the front and back of the card to print on. This can be great if you would like credentials on the front and employee procedures on the back of the card.
  • Lamination: Lamination protects the card from typical wear and tear. Although lamination is expensive, it will extend the card's life by a couple of years.
  • Visual security: Visual security can be added to your ID cards. This includes holographs and tactical impressions.  
  • Encoder: ID card printers can secure your card by encoding credentials onto the card. Encoding the card makes the card harder to counterfeit. Also, the card will be faster to scan. The main encoding options are barcodes, magnetic stripes, and contact/contactless smart cards.

Step 5: Look at other considerations

When investing in an ID card printer, it is important to consider long-term factors. First, are you buying a printer that you can upgrade? Some printers come with field upgradable options, such as a lamination module or a dual-side printing module. If you buy a printer you can upgrade in the future, you are allowing your printer to scale with your business needs.

Second, does your printer have a warranty or preventative maintenance plan? A warranty or preventative maintenance plan is important to protect your printer. If your printer has a critical failure, it can be costly to fix. Keep your printer protected, so when the time comes for a repair, you are covered.

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