Software, Supplies & Accessories Guide

A card printer cannot function without the right supplies. From ribbons to ID cards, here is an overview of what you need to operate a successful card program.

Card Printer Ribbons Guide

An ID card printer does not use inkjet cartridges but ribbons. Each ribbon features a series of different panels. In direct-to-card printers, the printhead heats each color panel of the ribbon. Because of the heat, the dye turns into vapor and diffuses onto the surface of the card to create vivid colors. Direct-to-card ID card printers can produce up to 16.7 million colors with a 300 dpi resolution.

In retransfer printers, the card images are printed onto a clear film called retransfer film that is then fused onto the surface of the card.

1. What is a card printer ribbon?

When you start browsing for ribbons, you will notice that you have 2 major options: monochrome and color. Monochrome ribbons are used to print single-color text or images on a blank or pre-printed card. Monochrome ribbons come in a wide variety of colors such as black, red, green and even gold and silver. Some manufacturers also offer specialty ribbon such as scratch-off rolls.

Color ribbons are divided into three to seven panels, each panel being designated by a letter. Therefore, a 5-panel ribbon will be defined by a series of 5 letters.

A standard color ribbon is a YMCK or YMCKO ribbon. YMC refers to the 3 primary colors: Yellow, Magenta, and Cyan. The printer applies each panel one at a time to produce up to 16.7 million colors! The K panel is a black resin panel used for sharp lettering and barcodes. Some ribbons also come with an overlay panel (O or T) to apply a clear protective layer on printed cards.  

2. What are the different types of ribbons?

The first step is always to look for ribbons that are compatible with your card printer as each ribbon is specific to a brand and printer model.

Then, the design and layout of your cards will determine which type of ribbon you need. You can purchase standard YMCKO color ribbons to print vivid colors in one side or both sides of your cards or get a monochrome ribbon to personalize your badges with one color.

However, keep in mind that a YMCKO ribbon might not always be the best solution to print color cards. For dual-sided badges, a YMCKO ribbon is the right choice if the front and back of the card are printed in full color. But if you are printing color on the front and black on the back, a YMCKO-K ribbon is a lot more cost-efficient. This ribbon is specifically designed for dual-sided card printers and includes an extra Black panel that is used to personalize the back of the cards.

Here is another type of ribbon that might work for you: a half-panel color ribbon. In this ribbon, the Yellow, Magenta and Cyan panels are half the size of the regular panels of a YMCKO ribbon. Up to half of the card can be printed in full color while black text or images can be printed anywhere on the card. This ribbon is ideal for student IDs or employee badges and also works great on pre-printed cards when only a picture, name or barcode needs to be added.

A half-panel color ribbon allows twice the normal ribbon yield of a regular YMCKO ribbon, and is on average 45% cheaper.

3. How do I select and purchase my ribbon?

We have made it easy for you to purchase the right ribbon for your applications. Simply go to our Card printer supplies section and use our ribbon selector to get started.

We have also developed a ribbon selector for color ribbons.

Step 1: Go to the color ribbons page of your card printer manufacturer: Fargo, Evolis, Zebra, Magicard or Datacard, Nisca, IDP.

Step 2: Select your ID card printer on your printer’s color ribbons page.

Step 3: Answer a few simple questions such as “Are you printing color on both sides of your cards?” or “Is less than 50% of your card printed in color?”.

You will get within seconds the list of ribbons that match your criteria.

If you have questions, you can always call us at 1-800-897-7024 to talk to an ID expert.

ID Card Software Guide

ID card software is a core component of your ID card program. From card design to database management, the right system will definitely simplify your card production.

1. What is ID card software?

Most programs will allow you to import images, add text and barcodes, and use predefined templates to design your badges. However, if you need advanced functionalities, you will need to make sure that your software supports such options.

Entry-level software is perfect for small organizations in need of printing up to a few hundreds cards a year. These items usually come with limited database functionality and a set number of fields per card but work great for low volume applications.

Advanced software versions usually include external database connectivity and the possibility to add as many fields to your cards as needed. Designed for batch printing, these programs will allow you to save your cardholders data for easy reprints. Small to medium businesses looking for a flexible solution should definitely consider these products.

Finally, fully-featured software is available for corporations with large databases and encoding needs. Ethernet connectivity is also supported to connect on a network.

2. How do I choose the right ID card software?

ID card software needs to be selected carefully to add value to your ID card program. Consider these differentiating points before making your decision:

Database functionality: some programs come with an internal database, which allows you to save your cards and cardholder data for easy reprints. Entry-level software typically does not have this option so check the specs of your software carefully. Also, all programs do not support external database connectivity so if you need to import an Excel database for instance, make sure that your software will allow it. An easy way to know if you will need database functionality is to define the number of cards that you will print: if you print more than 100 cards per year, chances are that you will need this option.

  • Encoding options: if you need to print and encode magnetic, smart contact or contactless cards, you will need a program that fully supports your encoding option. You can usually add barcodes with any software version although entry-level software might not be compatible with 2D barcodes.
  • Network connectivity: this option allows multiple workstations to share a common database over a network. Fully-featured software is network compatible, which is particularly appreciated by large organizations.
  • Advanced security features: there are multiple ways to add security to your cards. Some programs will allow you to add watermarks to your design. Also, some advanced versions of ID card software include password protection and user permissions to control the use of the printer.
  • Operating systems: all programs are compatible with Microsoft Windows but if you are using Mac or Linux, options are more limited.

ID Badge Accessories Guide

Printing ID badges is great but making sure that people actually wear them is what creates a successful program. To do so, start by choosing the right badge accessories.

From badge holders to clips and lanyards, we got you covered. Here is an overview of the accessories that are available to you: 

  • Badge Holders: choose from a variety of horizontal and vertical badges holders. Solid and available in multiple colors, our badge holders will extend the lifespan of your cards.
  • Badge Reels: attach your ID card to clothing or bags with our line of colorful retractable badge reels. Their unique 'pull' system is perfect for an easy access to your badges.
  • Clips and Magnets: secure your ID cards and badges to anything with our solid and affordable clips and magnets.
  • Luggage Accessories: protect your belongings with our line of luggage tag straps and holders. From plastic to genuine leather, you will find the perfect option to secure your assets in style.
  • Neckwear and Wristwear:another great way to display your badges is through neck chains or wristbands. Neck chains are a stylish alternative to lanyards while wristbands simplify card swiping.
  • Photo ID Accessories: we carry a wide range of slot punches and ID badge racks to display properly all your cards.
  • Lanyards: easy-to-use, lanyards are a must-have for anyone in need of an inexpensive way to wear your badges. With our huge variety of colors and models, you will promote your company, enhance your brand image and display your ID badges with style!
  • Strap Clips: choose from plastic or vinyl clips to attach your cards to your bag or clothing.

ID Cards Types

There are basically 4 different types of ID cards: PVC cards, proximity cards, iCLASSŪ cards and pre-printed cards.

1. What are the different types of cards?

PVC cards: commonly referred to as plastic cards, PVC cards come in a variety of sizes, thicknesses and colors. The most standard size is called CR80 - which is the size of your credit card (3.375" x 2.125") – but we also carry CR79 cards (3.303" x 2.051") that are a bit smaller and feature an adhesive back. Thicknesses vary from 10 to 30mil. As a reference, your credit card is a 30mil card. PVC cards can also include additional features such as magnetic stripes for multifunctional badges.
If you want to create unique ID cards, browse our selection of color PVC cards.

Proximity cards: “Prox” cards have an embedded antenna that stores the cardholder data. This data can be read when the proximity card is passed within range of a reader. Mainly used for access control applications, proximity cards are also chosen in environments where crowd control is a factor. Prox cards can be programmed online or call us to talk to an ID expert.

iCLASSŪ cards: iCLASSŪ cards combine contactless smart technology with a contact chip and/or a magnetic stripe. iCLASSŪ cards provide 13.56 MHz contactless smart card technology and allow users to add a barcode, magnetic stripe, photo ID, graphics, or anti-counterfeiting features. HID’s iCLASSŪ cards can be used for diverse applications such as access control, biometrics, cashless vending, public transportation, airline ticketing and customer loyalty programs.

Pre-printed cards: this option is ideal for membership cards, loyalty cards, or other ID cards where only a name, ID number or barcode might be added onsite. Let us print professional cards and if needed, personalize them on the spot in seconds.  You will get stunning results that will definitely impress your customers.

2. How do I choose the right ID cards?

Your card printer and card application will determine which ID cards are right for you. Here are a few tips when choosing ID cards:

  • Card thickness: ID card printers will only accept specific card thicknesses. Most printers are built to print 30mil cards (thickness of a credit card) so if you need to personalize thinner cards (10-20mil), check the specs of your printer. 
  • Card size: most ID card printers print CR80 cards (3.375" x 2.125"), CR80 being the standard card size. However, if you need to print cards of other sizes such as CR79 (3.303" x 2.051"), note that only a few card printers will allow it.
  • Card material: the most common type of plastic card is 100% PVC. However, it is recommended to use composite PVC/PET cards for retransfer and laminating printers. Composite cards are 60% PVC and 40% PET and are more durable than PVC cards. They are also heat resistant and won’t bend under high temperatures. Composite cards can be used with any card printer.
  • Technology cards: if your printer is equipped with a magnetic encoder and you need to store data into a magnetic stripe, you will have the choice between high coercivity (HiCo) and low coercivity (LoCo) cards. HiCo cards are very resistant, harder to erase and built to handle frequent usage. Choose HiCo cards for access control or time and attendance applications. Less expensive but also less resistant, low coercivity cards work best with short-term applications such as hotel room keys or event passes. For advanced access control systems, proximity cards are a popular choice.
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