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The Complete ID
Printer Buyer's Guide

This guide walks you through all the important considerations you'll need to know when selecting an ID card printer.

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Encoding Printers

Encoding Printers

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In addition to printing ID cards, many ID card printers offer optional modules to encode cards. This allows cards to be integrated with other existing systems to accomplish a variety of functions. Common uses for encoded cards include programs for payment in lunch rooms, vending machines, or parking lots, systems used to check out books and other materials, to issue membership and rewards cards, and access control.

There are several ways to encode data onto cards, each with their own best uses and benefits. Some types of encoding will require specialized cardstock, additional software and database management, and equipment to read the cards.

Barcode ID Cards

To print and encode barcodes you do not need a special printer or cardstock, making barcodes the easiest and most affordable option. There are several types of barcodes you can choose from when designing and encoding your cards, including 1D barcodes and 2D barcodes.

Barcode ID Cards Are Best For:

  • Membership & Reward Cards
  • Time & Attendance Programs
  • Library Cards

Magnetic Stripe ID Cards

Encoding magnetic stripe cards requires a magnetic stripe encoding module on your printer, and special magnetic stripe ID cards. Almost all ID card printers offer this as an option when the printer is first purchased, and some printers have field upgrade modules that allow you to add magnetic stripe encoding functionality at a later date.

Magnetic Stripe Cards Are Best For:

  • Membership & Reward Cards
  • Hotel Room & Key Cards
  • Cashless Payment Cards

Proximity ID Cards

Proximity cards (also known as prox cards or access control cards) are used as digital key cards to unlock doors. ID card printers can print on proximity cards, and can be ordered with special modules to read proximity cards, but they cannot encode them.

Proximity ID Cards Are Best For:

  • Data & Information Storage
  • Access Control
  • Security

Smart ID Cards

Smart cards, a general term that includes several types of more advanced encoding, also require an encoding module, specialized cardstock, and software to encode. If you’re printing on smart cards, you should only use reverse transfer printers—smart cards can have uneven surfaces and may damage the printhead on a dye sublimation printer.

Smart ID Cards Are Best For:

  • Cashless Payment Cards
  • Data & Information Storage
  • Multifunctional ID Programs