With a printer, digital camera and software, an ID card can be produced while the subject waits, such as with this printer from Ultra Electronics Card Systems, Redmond, Wash.

ID cards are printed at this hospital by the P310 from Zebra Technologies, Vernon Hills, Ill.

People from hilly or mountainous regions sometimes are fascinated by the flatness of the Great Plains of the midwestern United States, although the people who live there sometimes think it’s boring. But farmers love it. Why? Because it makes farming easier than trying to prevent soil erosion and having your tractor struggling up and down hills.

Similarly, flatness is a virtue for access or identification cards when dye sublimation printing is used. True flatness can be achieved in a number of ways. First, in the manufacture of the cards, and secondly, in their storage by the customer, which can prevent warping. The thickness of the card also influences flatness, which affects price.

“The rule of thumb is it has got to be a brand new clean, flat card made for dye sublimation printing,” advises Daniel Gramlich, technical director for Galaxy Control Systems, Walkersville, Md. “It is a good consideration where you’re getting your cards from.”

Gerardo Talavera, managing director of Evolis Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., agrees. “Just like everything, you may get a batch of defective cards that is not flat enough,” he concedes.

If true flatness cannot be achieved, it can be thrust upon a card through reverse transfer printing. With this method, the card information is printed on clear plastic film, which then is adhered to the card.

The name for the process derives from the fact that the ink is applied to the back of the film in reverse so it reads correctly when adhered and the printing is protected on the underside.

These printers can be up to four times as expensive as dye sublimation printers, but they also are faster, points out Gramlich. Jim Young, North American key accounts manager for Ultra Electronics Card Systems, Redmond, Wash., prices the reverse transfer consumables at 20 percent to 30 percent more expensive.

A third type of printing, thermal transfer, is used for cards that only require a single color.

“Look at what the cost of the consumables are, and the best way to do that is figure what is the cost per card?” Gramlich suggests. “You need to look at how many cards the customer prints a year and what would be the best value.”

Charlie Ross, vice president of U.S. sales for Fargo Electronics Inc., Minneapolis, thinks printers are getting so easy for customers to use that not even a full day of training is required to learn their operation. “It’s getting easier and easier to operate the software,” he asserts. “Most are pretty intuitive.”

Thermal transfer printing can be used for cards that require only a single color with this Tatoo model from Evolis Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Adding, Upgrading and Scanning

Adding a printer to an access control job can provide recurring revenue from sale of ribbons, cards, laminates and cleaning supplies. “To add the printer, you have to show them the benefits of adding visual security by personalizing the cards,” points out Dan Hirsch, senior product marketing manager for Datacard Group, Minnetonka, Minn.

Selling printers requires preparation, stresses Gary Staley, national sales director of RS2 Technologies LLC, Munster, Ind.

“You have to sell the concept of video ID badging to them,” Staley recommends. “In New York, you can barely get through the lobby of any building without a photo ID of the company or from the building itself.” In corporations, access cards can be personalized so they could be used in the company cafeteria, for example.

Upgrading of printers can be justified due to new encoding technology in which data can be put on a mag stripe or smart card chip at the same time as the card is being printed. “It’s better and more efficient to have a printer that will have multiple functions versus not getting the printer and just getting the encoding or standalone units,” recommends Talavera.

Besides just adding a printer, if a corporation or other end user has a daily supply of visitors, especially in large groups, adding a scanner to the access job is recommended. Scanners can take information from business cards and driver’s licenses and enter them into a database and onto an identification card, often from self-service kiosks into which they are built.

“We can authenticate a driver’s license and authenticate a person coming into a show while they register,” maintains Eyal Barsky, vice president of business development for Card Scanning Solutions, Los Angeles.

Personalized access cards like this one printed on the DTC550 from Fargo Electronics Inc., Minneapolis, can be an extra source of revenue for dealers.

Maintaining Quality

Proper and timely maintenance is not only crucial to printers but also can be a good source of recurring revenue for dealers. “What I’ve seen is the dealer never sold them the cleaning kits and educated these guys, or the dealer had sold one but the consumer never took time to do it,” Gramlich reports. “Maintenance on that printer is pretty critical. Do whatever the manufacturer recommends.”

Gramlich also cautions against low-quality printer ribbons. “There are some that are knock-off dye sublimation ribbon companies,” he warns. “Some of the printer companies have resolved the issue where they have bar codes on the ribbons now, and if the printer doesn’t read it, it won’t use that ribbon.”

The quality of PVC the card is made of also affects printing. “When they die-cut, sometimes you’ll find a lot of particles, a lot of debris, and that may damage the printing head, so you need to be careful of which quality you buy,” Talavera points out.

Rather than scanning a driver’s license or business card, the SnapShell from Card Scanning Solutions, Los Angeles, takes a digital photo of it and enters the data and photo onto an ID card.

New Applications for ID cards

New applications for ID cards can create new printer and consumables business for dealers. “The big thing I’d tell them is keep their eyes open to additional applications,” Ross suggests. “A ton of customers out there today are walking around with blank prox cards. From a physical security standpoint, not only is access important, but also visual security. To personalize those cards is an easy step.”

Ross suggests printing ID info on thin 10-mil cards and adhering them to clamshell proximity cards. When the employee leaves the access system, the ID can be peeled off the clamshell and the clamshell reused. Young points out these types of cards also can be used for one-time events.

A creative use for ID cards is on cruise ship lines and similar transportation methods. “One of our customers, a large cruise line, actually prints different cards and makes the design completely different for kids and adults because of strict rules about alcohol,” points out Ram Ramaprasad, director of product management for Zebra Technologies, Vernon Hills, Ill.

Staley has seen ID cards used as lift tickets at ski resorts and in the villages of Olympic teams.

End users should be able to change printer ribbons and other consumables themselves with today’s printers, such as this one from Ultra Electronics Card Systems, Redmond, Wash.

Use What You’ve Got

Dealers and integrators should make sure they are not leaving money on the table by not pointing out to their access customers that badging modules usually are included in their access software.

“A lot of those modules are not being used,” Ross maintains. “We tell dealers it’s pretty simple to add a printer. We’ve done a lot of work with big manufacturers to make sure they are plug-and-play.

“Customers can use those badging modules and dealers can sell those printers and get the ongoing consumable business,” Ross points out. “Consumables are sold through the dealer and are a great revenue source. One of the big things dealers are looking for is an excuse to contact customers.”

Sidebar: Scholastic Opportunities

The opportunities in education, even in elementary grades, are growing exponentially.

“It’s becoming commonplace in some schools where they are able to scan a credential and make sure that person has the right to pick up that particular student,” points out Gary Staley, national sales director of RS2 Technologies LLC, Munster, Ind. “Schools are being very proactive for litigation down the road. In case something happens, they need to show they have some type of plan in place to try and manage this.”

ID cards also are being used to determine when students arrive at school so detention lists of truants can be compiled automatically. They also can determine if all students have left buildings during evacuations, reports Charlie Ross, vice president of U.S. sales for Fargo Electronics Inc., Minneapolis.

Cards for substitute teachers are being used to check whether the teacher has a police record.

At the university level, course schedules are being printed on the back of students’ ID cards, notes Ram Ramaprasad, director of product management for Zebra Technologies, Vernon Hills, Ill.

Adds a spokesperson for Datacard Group, Minnetonka, Minn., “When you get into using smart-card-based student cards, it increases ten-fold the number of opportunities a student could use the card within a campus.”

These include use in cafeterias, bookstores and libraries, as debit cards or for storing points in loyalty programs. “Universities had relied primarily on straight printed cards or a mag stripe, but more and more they are now going to multiple technology cards that have prox, bar code and mag and I-class cards,” reports Ross.

“There’s a host of applications dealers and integrators can think about when offering systems to the schools and universities,” Datacard’s spokesperson says. “Thinking outside of the box for additional card uses, perhaps students or parents would want their graduation picture on a card as a remembrance. This can add additional revenue for the dealer and helps justify ROI for the customer.”

Sidebar: Cards Getting Smarter About Thickness

Smart card chips and antennas in proximity cards are not contributing as much as they have in the past to keeping cards from being flat. “More and more companies are going to contactless smart cards,” declares a spokesperson for Datacard Group, Minnetonka, Minn. “The ability to print on the card — to personalize it — is much better.”

Daniel Gramlich, technical director for Galaxy Control Systems, Walkersville, Md., agrees. “Smart cards are just as flat,” he maintains. “You can’t tell the difference between smart cards and other types.”

Many printers compensate for the smart card chips, insists Jim Young, North American key accounts manager for Ultra Electronics Card Systems, Redmond, Wash. “There’s no difference printing on smart cards because most manufacturers have default settings in direct-to-card printers where the print head will not print color over a chip, so it doesn’t matter,” Young maintains. “It’s not going to print over it.”

Reverse transfer printing is trickier, Young thinks. “If it’s in the standard one of two standard locations, you can just click a box, and it will automatically avoid that area and not try to put an overlay on the chip,” he says.

Printing on cards with different types of technologies requires ways of compensating, Young asserts. “All card types are not created equal,” he declares. “In general, we recommend slowing the printer down, because you get much better saturation of color.

“Everybody likes to see a card come out of a printer in less than 30 seconds, but the reality is, if you slow it down, you get much better results,” he advises.

“If you’re adding 6 or 7 seconds to the print, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you’re printing 1,000 cards, that adds up,” he admits. “But most people are happy to do that tradeoff given the choice and understanding the benefits.”

Sidebar: Sporting Uses of ID Cards

One application mentioned by Charlie Ross, vice president of U.S. sales for Fargo Electronics Inc., Minneapolis, is using access card technology for season tickets to sporting or arts events in place of large sheets or thick booklets of tickets.

“The people going to these events prefer to carry a full-color plastic card that fits in your wallet,” Ross points out. “They have really nice preprinted cards with the technology to write to the card who you are, when your pass expires, your total number of seats and more.”

Those venues that had been scanning bar codes on paper tickets now can scan them from these preprinted cards if they do not want to change their technology, Ross notes.

His company’s printers are creating passes to one-day events like the Winter Olympics. What type of card is good for a one-time use?

“It all depends on the event and how secure they need it,” asserts a spokesperson for Datacard Group, Minnetonka, Minn. “In these types of events, visual security or access is often more important than electronic access control. It will depend on the number of places people can go within an event and the type of identification needed.”

Depending on those factors, a simple paper badge with a bar code printed by a laser jet may be all that is needed, or a full photo ID on PVC from a dye sublimation printer may be required.