ID Cards and Printers
Security is an important priority for organizations today more than ever. Having secure access control and identification technologies in place is essential to protecting people and assets. Tamper-proof ID cards play a critical role in high security identification processes. This paper introduces different ID card printing technologies, security features and considerations when creating ID cards.
Before you invest in an ID card system, make sure you have identified your specific security and identification needs. Based on these factors, you will be able to choose the right ID card printer and the right ID card technology for your application:
• The type of ID card you plan to use
• How many ID cards you plan to print
• How often you need to print ID cards
• What elements you need to incorporate into your ID card
• The quality of ID card images
• Type of encoding required on the ID card
There are five major factors to consider:
1. Card size: Most plastic ID cards found in wallets and purses have the same physical dimensions. This is the standard CR-80 ID card, measuring about 3.375” x 2.125” (85.5 mm x 54 mm). The standard thickness is 30 mil (0.75 mm), but can range from 10 to 60 mil.
2. Printing speeds: ID card printers come with a variety of ID card printing speeds depending on whether you need to print both sides or just one side of the card. In general, the faster the ID cards are printed, the more expensive the ID card printer. The needs of the ID card printer speed will be determined by the application (e.g., on-premise/ on-demand printing, mass duplication printing (same ID card design printed multiple times) or one-offs).
3. The physical properties of the ID card printer: If you are limited on work space, you will want an ID card printer with a small footprint. If other work must be accomplished while the ID card printer is printing, you will also want to make sure you purchase an ID card printer that is relatively quiet. While the size and loudness of an ID card printer may not be a concern in a factory, it might be important in an application such as a small office, retail store or cruise ship.
4. Ease of use: An ID card printer should be easy to use right out of the box, especially if the user is not familiar with ID card printers.
5. The type of printing you want: Thermal, dye sublimation, mass transfer ID card printing, or direct-to-card (DTC) or retransfer ID card printing. These are discussed in detail below.
Like all other computer-based printers in the office, today’s photo ID card printers are digital. Resolutions of 300 dots per inch (dpi) or more are common in office printers, so the problem of jagged edges is largely a thing of the past. Most photo ID cards are printed by digital thermal transfer, a process by which color is transferred from a single-use ID card printer ribbon to various kinds of ID card receptor materials.
Dye Sublimation Printing
The variable size and density of each color dot is the secret to the photo-quality printing possible with dye sublimation, bright colors and no jagged edges. YMC dyes penetrate the receptor and color migrates from the dye ribbon into the surface. The spread of the dye dot (its amount of diffusion) depends on the amount of heat applied by the printhead element. On reaching a dye panel boundary, the printhead is lifted to allow the ID card to back up. The head then lowers to print the next color.
Yellow, magenta and cyan are combined in varying proportions to print photo-quality images. When “fully saturated,” the three colors together print “process black” text and graphics, which is similar in appearance to “black resin printing”, but is not infrared readable. The K panel is not a dye. It is instead a “mass transfer” black resin used for infrared readable barcodes and other data. A second K panel (YMCKK) is sometimes provided to allow black resin printing on both sides of the ID card. An overlay panel or O panel is available to protect the image from abrasions and fading. The number of images per roll varies based on the type of ID card printer ribbon or number of ribbon panels and the manufacturer.
Mass Transfer Printing
With a mass transfer panel, the printer cannot control either the ink dot’s size or density. It is either there or it is not, which is not good for continuous tone images such as photographs. To create the illusion of continuous tone from discrete dots of ink, printers use a process called dithering, exactly the same behind the scenes operation your computer performs any time it sends a picture to a laser printer.
A mass transfer ribbon is a layer of monochrome resin on a thin backing film. The resin is usually black, so this type of printing is also referred to as “black resin printing.” When heated, the resin is stripped from the backing and deposited as a physical layer on the receptor. Mass transfer delivers sharp text and graphics plus infrared readable barcodes. Photo reproduction is adequate for many applications calling for high printing speed and low cost.
Direct-To-Card Print Technology
Using dye sublimination and/or thermal transfer ID card printing methods, heat is used to transfer a digitized image from the ID card printer ribbon directly to the flat surface of a blank plastic ID card. The relatively small number of affordable, durable ID card materials that accept dyes limits the types of ID cards used and limits the intensity of colors that DTC printing can reproduce. The DTC process depends on uniform, intimate contact between the printhead, the dye ribbon, and the ID card surface; therefore, uneven ID card surfaces cannot achieve high color density and uniformity when dye is transferred directly to the ID card.
Retransfer Print Technology
Retransfer printing uses a process called reverse thermal transfer. Unlike traditional dye sublimation ID card printers, which use a printhead to transfer the image through a dye ribbon directly onto the ID card surface, retransfer ID card printers use a two-step process:
1. In the first step, the retransfer process prints a high-resolution image in reverse directly onto a clear receiving layer carried by a flexible, intermediate film. The dye sublimation process prints the image to the film, just like in DTC printing.
2. Next, the ID card printer uses heat and pressure to thermally transfer the image and the entire image receiving intermediate film onto the ID card surface. During this process, the layer thermally bonds to the ID card surface, and the printed image resides underneath the clear image receiving layer.
The benefits of retransfer ID card printing include:
• Superior image quality
• Prints on more types of ID cards
• Improved security and tamper resistance
• Lower printhead costs
How Printing Can Make ID Cards More Secure
Security comes from a combination of media features, printer capability, database verification, and special security (e.g., unusual, covert and forensic features). Media features include surface quality, durability and built-in security elements. Printer capability encompasses high-resolution graphics and reliable barcodes plus covert features printed at the time of issue. Database verification consists of a central archive of cardholder data, including a photo, personal statistics, employee number, date, time and place of issue. Special security features are only shared with customers in order to protect their covert qualities.
Start With High-Quality ID Cards
First and most important, the ID card itself has to be tough. In this security-conscious age, government ID cards and ID cards of other large organizations rely on custom-designed ID card media of ever-increasing sophistication. This is for two main reasons. First, multiple security features create greater counterfeiting difficulties. Second, guards can quickly and easily validate unique features known only to the organization’s security force.
Your ID card media should offer an array of security features, any or all of which may be incorporated into custom designs such as custom ID holograms. Today’s ID cards must be extremely durable. For example, your ID card stock should be ten times the flex life of regular PVC ID cards. It should meet or exceed all international standards for resistance to cracking, permanent adhesion of overlaminate film, and durability of image. Choose ID cards that do not tear easily. Look for unique tear-resistant designs. The ID neck lanyard slot in a regular PVC ID card is often fragile. If the slot tears, an unauthorized user needs only to change the photo to go past a careless inspector.
To increase durability, higher capability ID card printers feature fully integrated hot roll laminating stations that apply 0.6 or 1.0 mil laminate patch materials, with or without holograms. ID cards with overlaminates will provide up to seven years of wear. Such lamination is especially recommended for abrasion-intensive applications such as frequent barcode or magnetic stripe reading. Depending on volume and how quickly one needs to print ID cards, there are ID card printers that laminate one side or both sides of an ID card at once.
Modern Print Features Are Hard To Copy
To prevent alteration, duplication or counterfeiting of fake ID cards, there are many techniques that companies can use with digital ID card printers. First of all, they can position multiple security images or holograms. One security image alone increases the difficulty of counterfeiting; two makes it at least twice as hard. The ID card holographic image lamination process also provides a very rich looking ID card. Multiple screenings of the same photograph increase integrity. This is the standard for most driver’s licenses. Unique graphic identifiers, such as allowing only the red-bordered cardholders to access an area, help differentiate security levels.
You can also purchase ID card stock with pre-printed security features, including ultraviolet-visible text and graphics that are available in the colors of green and blue. With micro-printing, text can be added to a user’s specifications, with deliberate random font changes and misspellings if desired. Character height is five thousandths of an inch (0.125 mm). Pre-printed serial numbers can also be incorporated into ID card stock. Laser etching is another option. Fine-line Guilloche patterns with hidden micro-text are aimed at foiling counterfeiters, and micro-printing of text and miniature graphic elements are also difficult to duplicate.
An overlaminate ID card film adds security to the printed ID card. The inner surface of the laminate can be preprinted with OVI ink or UV-visible ink in one, two or three colors. In addition, today’s high tech ID card printers can also laminate with holographic metallization, including embossed micro-text. Applications for such security enhanced ID cards include driver’s licenses; national health cards, social security cards and voter registration ID card programs; ID badging for the armed forces, law enforcement and government agency personnel ID cards; and access and identification cards for educational institutions, industry and transportation.
Keeping Track Of Critical Information
It is important to keep track of ID card transactions in the ID card printer’s host computer. For example, Zebra Technologies‘ ID/Log records the applicant’s personal data, together with other point-of-issue data. This data set can provide a means for security officers to validate the ID card by comparing a photo ID card with this centrally located data.
Card serialization also adds security. ID card printers with magnetic stripe encoder, proximity encoder or smart card contact options can be set up to function only with serial numbered ID card stock and also to add serial numbers to the data recorded by the ID/Log.
Here’s how card serialization works: All ID cards supplied to an organization using this system are pre-printed on the front or back with a serial number, which is also recorded on the ID card’s credential medium, such as magnetic stripe, proximity chip or smart card integrated circuit (IC). The ID card printer is configured to accept only serial numbered ID cards and will eject without printing any ID card without the appropriate encoding. If a valid serial number is detected, the ID card is printed.
The serial number read from the credential medium is recorded in the printer’s host computer, where it is linked with the license or employee number and other data such as date, time and location. This data set is available for uploading at any time to the organization’s central database. As a result, the security officer can read any ID card that is linked to a serial number in the database on-the-spot and without any special equipment. When transmitted to the central database, the serial number can, in turn, trigger a download to a local terminal. Now, in addition to the usual comparison of photo and subject, it is easy to instantly check the correlation of ID card serial number and credentials.