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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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Printer Ribbons

Supply Finder

See all ribbons & supplies for your printer

ID card printers use specialized printer ribbons instead of ink like a standard inkjet printer. These printer ribbons are used to apply color, images, graphics, and text to the surface of ID cards. Each color on a ribbon is stored on a separate panel, and there is usually an overlay panel which seals and protects the printed card.

The name of each ribbon is an acronym for the panels that it contains, for example an YMCKO ribbon has 5 panels: Yellow, Magenta, Cyan, BlacK, and Overlay. See the Different Types of Ribbons for a complete overview of the most common types of ribbons.

During printing, each panel goes over the blank card in succession to create a full-spectrum colored card design. Every printed card uses a full set of YMCKO panels regardless of the card design, which is why ribbons have a fixed number of prints (called the ribbon yield). The number of panel sets in the ribbon determines the ribbon yield.

Most printers use a dye-sublimation process which applies the ribbon directly to the card with a heated printhead. Some higher-end printers use reverse transfer printing instead, which applies the color from the ribbon first to a clear transfer film that is then applied to the card. Laminating printers have a separate module that applies an additional durable clear or holographic laminate to the card after the ribbon has been applied.

Most ID card printer ribbons come on plastic cartridges with spools on each end. To change the ribbon, you simply remove and discard the old ribbon cartridge and insert the replacement. Some printers offer ribbons with re-usable plastic cartridges so that only the used ribbon film is discarded and the cartridge can be refilled with a new ribbon spool. Re-usable cartridges waste less plastic, and generally have a slightly less expensive refill cost than a traditional ribbon.

View All ID Printer Ribbons