How are ID Badges Printed?

How are ID Badges Printed?

ID Badges are usually printed either a) Printed in-house or b) out sourced to a vendor, depending on various factors (ie: budget, number of cards to be printed, etc).

For clarity purposes we will be focusing on printing in-house in this article.

Historically The ID card printing industry came out of “repetitive writing” needs in the early 20th century. The procedure involved firmly pressing embossed metal address plates against paper cards using ink ribbons, very similar to using a type writer. By the 1960’s ID papers were carried in a wearable card by military, government, and corporate personnel. The printed credentials were placed between layers of plastic, die-cut, and compressed by heat. This was known as lamination.

Laminated ID’s are still made today but increasingly rare. The technology has evolved in solutions that connect directly to a card printer, applying a laminated coat on to the card surface for physical and visual protection.

So now we fast forward to the mid 1990’s, “Dye-sublimation” technology and “retransfer” printing are the main methods for ID card printing. “Dye-sublimation” consists of heat transferring dye to plastic while “retransfer” printing uses a transparent film that is thermally bonded to the card.

In addition to an ID card printer to print your ID badge, let’s take a look at the other equally important items you will need:

• ID card software

• A camera (if you’re including photos)

• A printer ribbon

• Cards (PVC, magnetic stripe, and proximity cards most common)

• A computer to install your software on


These days there are two major printing technologies on the market:

Direct to card: (DTC): prints images by heating a print ribbon beneath a thermal print head resulting in the transfer of colour from the ribbon to a blank card.

Retransfer printing: (also known as High Definition Printing or HDP) is a two step process that transfers your image to a retransfer film before applying it to the card.

Please see my other blog post entitled “What is the Best Printer?” For more details on printers.

Once you have all your necessary items in place to print your ID badge you are ready to go.

• Step one: Using your computer, install your card design software and set up your ID printer.
• Step two: install your ribbon
• Step three: Prepare your cards by adding them to the card hopper
• Step four: take a photo and add all card holder information
• Step five: PRINT!

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