A card printer is an electronic desktop printer with single card feeders which print and personalize plastic cards. In this respect they differ from, for example, label printers which have a continuous supply feed. Card dimensions are usually 85.60 × 53.98 mm, standardized under ISO/IEC 7810 as ID-1. This format is also used in EC-cards, telephone cards, European Union drivers’ licenses and health insurance cards. This is commonly known as the bank card format. Card printers are controlled by corresponding printer drivers or by means of a specific programming language.

Reverse Image Technology

The standard for high-security card applications that use contact and contactless smart chip cards. The technology prints images onto the underside of a special film that fuses to the surface of a card through heat and pressure. Since this process transfers dyes and resins directly onto a smooth, flexible film, the print-head never comes in contact with the card surface itself. As such, card surface interruptions such as smart chips, ridges caused by internal RFID antennae and debris do not affect print quality. Even printing over the edge

Dye Sublimation

This process uses four panels of color according to the CMYK color ribbon. The card to be printed passes under the print head several times each time with the corresponding ribbon panel. Each color in turn is diffused (sublimated) directly onto the card. Thus it is possible to produce a high depth of color (up to 16 million shades) on the card. Afterwards a transparent overlay (O) also known as a topcoat (T) is placed over the card to protect it from mechanical wear and tear and to render the printed image UV resistant.

Process

The principle is the same for practically all card printers: the plastic card is passed through a thermal print head at the same time as a color ribbon. The color from the ribbon is transferred onto the card through the heat given out from the print head. The standard performance for card printing is 300 dpi (300 dots per inch, equivalent to 11.8 dots per mm). There are different printing processes, which vary in their detail:

Thermal Transfer

Mainly used to personalize pre-printed plastic cards in monochrome. The color is “transferred” from the (monochrome) color ribbon onto the card.

Thermal Rewrite Print Process

Thermal Rewrite Print Process  is possible.

In contrast to the majority of other card printers, in the thermal rewrite process the card is not personalized through the use of a color ribbon, but by activating a thermal sensitive foil within the card itself. These cards can be repeatedly personalized, erased and rewritten. The most frequent use of these are in chip-based student identity cards, whose validity changes every semester.