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Direct to Card Printers

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Direct to Card Printers


Direct-to-Card (DTC) printing technology is the most common technology used by desktop photo ID card systems to print images directly onto the surface of a plastic card. The ID card printer does this by heating a special print ribbon beneath a thermal printhead, resulting in the transfer of color from the ribbon to a blank card.

An ID card printer using with direct-to-card technology uses two printing methods: dye-sublimation and resin thermal transfer.


Dye-sublimation is the process used to print smooth, continuous-tone images on plastic cards that look truly photographic. It is the most common method to print full-color photo ID cards, plastic ID badges or proximity cards. This process uses a dye-based ribbon that is partitioned by a number of consecutive color panels. The panels are grouped in a repeating series of colors - Yellow, Magenta and Cyan (YMC) - along the length of the ribbon. During printing, a printhead containing hundreds of thermal elements heats the dyes on the ribbon, which vaporize and diffuse into the surface of the card. A separate pass is made for each of the three color panels. By combining the colors and varying the heat used to transfer them, the printer is able to produce up to 16.7 million colors. The high resolution and clarity makes it very suitable as a photo id printer for photo id badges.

Resin Thermal Transfer uses a single-color ribbon to print sharp black text and crisp bar codes on a plastic card which can be read by both infrared and visible-light scanners. This process uses the same thermal printhead as dye-sublimation; however solid dots of color are transferred rather than a combination of colors. This technology is employed to print ID cards requiring application of a single color for adding a name, number or other identifying data to either a blank plastic card or a preprinted card.

Not sure how to choose
an ID card printer?

  1. Approximately how many cards will you
    print per year?
  1. Do you need to automatically print on
    both sides of the card?
  1. Do you need a magnetic stripe?

The Complete Card
Printer Buyer's Guide

With such a wide range of ID printers, evaluating the options can be overwhelming. This FREE 7-step guide will walk you through choosing the perfect card printer.


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