AlphaCard Technical Support

Getting Started - Designing High Quality ID Cards

Getting Started - Designing High Quality ID Cards

Getting Started – Designing High Quality ID Cards

ID card systems allow you to design and print high quality, professional ID cards in just a few steps. But making sure your cards look their best depends on three main features: the card design, your printer, and your supplies.

Designing Your Cards

As long as badge designs are created to suit the dye sublimation process and the type of card being printed, your cards will look good. It is important to remember, however, that dye sublimation printers will not give you the same quality and quantity of output as  a mass production offset printer.

Offset printers use a completely different printing process not available to desktop card printers – but using your own printer in-house allows you to customize cards whenever you need, print on demand, print small volumes of cards, and save money per-card over outsourced print jobs.

For help designing your ID cards, check out the AlphaCard Technical Support guides for using AlphaCard ID Suite v11.

Basics of Badge Design

Plain color areas are the most likely to show any variation, so it is better to use textured colors where possible. Avoid large blocks of solid color in your design for this same reason.

Avoid colored bands running along the card and into a photo as it will affect the area around the photo.

Photos will sometimes print better at the start of the card or the end of the card depending on the layout.  Try reversing the whole image to select the best result.

The heat in the print head accumulates faster if dark colors are printed.  The darker the color the more heat is used to print the layers onto the card.  Lighter tones are preferable.

Taking Cardholder Photos

Ensure that any captured image, such as an ID photograph, is lit correctly for color and brightness and is properly focused. Avoid taking head shots in front of a white wall or background. Use a colored background and natural light when possible.

If you must take photos in a room with overhead fluorescent lighting, place lamps near the subject to soften the glare of the overhead lights.

Image File Sizes

If you add a logo or bitmap to the design, ensure that the size of the original does not cause distortion and pixellation if it has to be enlarged or reduced to fit into the design.

Printing on Smart Cards

When printing on smart, proximity, RFID, or contactless cards, ensure that the design of the badge allows for any unevenness in the surface due to the embedded technology. These bumps can cause white or faded patches to appear in the text or image.  It is best to avoid placing critical parts of the image directly above these features.

Getting the Most from the Printing Process

ID card printers use heating elements in a rigid ceramic print head to transfer color onto the plastic surface of your cards from the dye film ribbons. Getting the best print quality means ensuring you use the best cards and minimize potential damage to the print head.

Choosing Cards

There are several card manufacturers and many different types of card.  Due to differences in the materials used and the manufacturing process, each brand and type of card may print slightly differently from others.

Dust and debris on the card surface can cause small white blemishes to appear, so keep the cards and tacky rollers clean.

Color Matching

Colors on you monitor will not always be exactly the same as the colors printed by the printer. We cannot guarantee color matching for your designs.

All monitors will show the same image slightly differently based on settings and lighting.  Different cards will print slightly differently from each other and the dye film will vary slightly from batch to batch.  Any combination of these factors can cause the card design on your monitor and the printed cards to look different.

Using settings in the Printer Drivers, you can adjust the print head power and color output to change how your cards look.

Printer Driver Options

Adjusting the printer driver options may help you get a higher print quality. You can find step-by-step guides to adjusting many of these settings on your printer in the AlphaCard Technical Support Printers section of this site.

Color correction: Allows a choice of multiple gamma curves. Printing test cards will help you find the best color settings for your system. You can find the color correction setting in the driver under the image tab. It is recommended to use Relative Colormetric as a starting point.

Print Head Power: This allows the print head to be operated at higher or lower than normal temperatures, which increases or decreases the amount of dye film media put onto the card – this effectively increases or decreases the density of the chosen layer.

When adjusting the print head power, you’ll have three layers to choose from:

  • YMC, which affects the color intensity
  • Resin Black, which affects the intense black layer
  • Overcoat, which affects the clear protective layer

Print Speed and Image Quality: Some printers have two choices for print speed and quality. Those are:

  • High Speed Mode: This will allow the printer to operate at the very limits of the printer providing very fast printing, but at the expense of quality
  • ColorSure: This will add to the print time per card but allows the printer to put down the color more precisely and with greater intensity, giving a high quality image

Color Adjustment: This selection allows you to change the intensity and contrast of the colors by adjusting the balance between the red, green, and blue components of the image being printed. This adjustment takes time and patience as it is very subjective and requires a trial and error approach. It affects all the elements of the image so should not be used to adjust a logo if it is not the required color. This should be done in the original artwork.

It is more important to ensure the color is correct when printed, even if the color looks incorrect on the screen.

Using Quality Blank Cards

There are several types of blank PVC cards available and it cannot be stressed enough that the quality of the card directly affects the quality of the finished item and the quantity of waste in time and materials.

The print head, being ceramic, will not bend into any hollows or over any lumps or ridges in the card surface. Your design’s colors will also be distorted by any contamination, dirt, oils from fingerprints, and more that may be on the surface of the card.

Ideal cards are the correct size, have clean edges (rough edges can snag and tear ribbons), flat surfaces, no surface contamination, and be opaque to light.

If the cards are self-adhesive, the paper peel off backing must give a similar grip to the printer rollers that a standard plastic card would or they will cause feeding problems and mis-registration of the color layers.

If the cards have electronic components inside (such as proximity or smart chip cards) these must not create any unevenness in the card surface, or you must use a reverse transfer printer to avoid damage to the print head.

If the cards are being printed on more than once (such as customizing a pre-printed card) there must be no overcoat on the cards or the dye film ribbon will stick to the surface of the card.

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