New Category for Card Personalization Offers Alternative to Direct-to-Card (DTC), Retransfer and Large Central Issuance Machines


By Jim Meier, Senior Director of Product Marketing, Card Printers, HID Global

The advent of specialized inkjet technology for secure ID and financial card personalization has opened new markets and transformed traditional ones. Part One in this two-part series looked at the latest products that print on off-the-shelf ID cards, and how they offer an entry- and mid-level market alternative to traditional direct-to-card printers (DTC) that use dye sublimation technology. Part Two explores how UV inkjet and laser engraving are delivering more capable and secure personalization solutions for high-volume applications in the government sector, financial institutions, enterprise operations and service bureaus.

Filling a Gap

Today’s secure ID and financial card personalization options fill an important gap between ribbon-based technology that can’t match their crisp print quality or cost advantages, and large central issuance machines that can be more difficult to deploy, upgrade and maintain.

When compared to ribbon-based DTC/retransfer technology, today’s new category of card personalization delivers crisper print quality and lower cost. Their printhead technology, specially formulated inks and ultraviolet (UV) LED ink-curing techniques work together to deposit and cure thousands of microscopic ink droplets on multiple card surfaces with optimal size and placement, such as 100% polycarbonate cards, press polished PVC, composite (PET/PVC with PVC as an outer layer), laminated PVC (credit card construction), and laserable PVC cards. Strong UV light almost immediately dries text and images even when printing at up to 1200 Dots-per-Inch (DPI) resolution. For even greater durability, a clear ink can be layered over images and text after the color ink droplets are applied. All of this is accomplished at up to 80 percent lower cost per card as compared to DTC/retransfer printers, which create considerable waste by using an entire set of ribbon panels for each card design.

As an alternative to central issuance machines, the new inkjet printers also offer improved risk management. Replacing a single, large piece of equipment with multiple desktop units offers the redundancy to ensure that print productivity can continue, uninterrupted, even in the event that one printer is not functional. The desktop units’ simplified deployment and maintenance also cuts expenses, as does the elimination of the ribbon waste that adds to a central issuance machine’s higher total cost of ownership for models that use ribbons.

Choosing a Printer

There are several important capabilities to keep in mind when considering secure ID and financial card personalization options. In addition to evaluating print quality, one of the most valuable features is a modular system architecture. The ability to purchase printing and laser engraving systems together or as separate, stand-alone units, ensures that value can be added over time, when needed. 

For example, a user that needs durable and tamper-proof financial card personalization to protect against forgery and manipulation can start with a laser engraving system.  Later, additional new and unique card designs can be created by adding a color UV ink module. Other high-value modular options include input hoppers and output stackers that can be added to scale production as needed, and card-encoding modules for printing and encoding credentials across applications ranging from physical access control to time and attendance. The addition of a camera vision system can also deliver the precise image reproduction required for engraved microtext and ensures accurate image data placement and registration to a pre-printed card surface.

The new category for card personalization fills the gap between smaller desktop printers and today’s complicated, room-scale units. At the same time, they offer valuable advantages when compared to both alternatives. Users can now leverage the simplicity of DTC and retransfer desktop printers without the high ribbon costs, and lower total cost of ownership than central issuance machines with new opportunities to deploy, upgrade and scale capabilities as business needs evolve.


Jim Meier is a Senior Director of Product Marketing with HID Global and manages the portfolio of desktop printer products. He has more than 25 years of experience working with printing technologies and has 20 patents related to these technologies.


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