Can you get more prints from the ribbon if you use less color in your card design? This is one of the most common questions we get from people new to ID card printing, but unfortunately the answer is no.

How ID Card Printing Works

Most ID card printers don’t use liquid ink to print, they use rolls of ribbon. For color printing, the ribbon will have a repeating pattern of yellow, magenta, and cyan panels, along with composite black and usually an overlay or top coat. Together those make the YMCKO name you see on most ribbons.

In a dye sublimation printer, the printer runs a heater printhead over the ribbon. This transfers your design from the ribbon to the card. In reverse transfer printing, the card design is first printed on a clear transfer film and then that is applied to the card.

So Can You Get Extra Prints by Using Limited Color?

When you print a card, it uses a full set of those YMCKO panels – it doesn’t matter if your card has a full rainbow background or a minimal design with just text and a simple logo. Ribbons cannot be reused, so once you’ve printed a card and used those panels, they are done.

Ribbon names always include the print yield, so you know how many cards you can print with the ribbon. Some ribbons will be lower yield, like a 250 count ribbon, and some will be high yield of several hundred to a thousand. If you want to print a lot of cards you’ll need a high yield ribbon, not a design low in color.