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 Personalized Plastic Cards: The Inside Story

 

Once considered a marketing channel that was dying in all but the most backward markets, the use of plastic cards as sales tools has actually rebounded in the past several years. No one knows for sure why this is, but the best rationale we’ve heard is that humans still respond positively to receiving tangible proof of their participation in any event or organization. A plastic card instantly bestows a degree of value and prestige that an image on a smart phone, tablet or computer screen cannot. Interestingly, even tech-obsessed adults in their 20’s and 30’s are susceptible to the allure of the physical, responding just as frequently as their older, less tech-savvy peers when solicited with plastic cards.

 

This is, of course, very good news for 1•2•1 MSG. We have been in the business of personalizing and encoding plastic cards since our inception in 2000, so we know a thing or two about how efficient, successful plastic card programs work. If you have an immediate interest, we’d love to talk details with you, but assuming you’re in research mode, we thought it would be helpful if we supplied some basic information about personalized plastic cards and the different processes we use to produce them.

 

 Plastic Card Personalization Processes

 

At 1•2•1 MSG, we support three types of plastic card personalization: Embossing, Thermal Imaging, and DoD (Drop on Demand). As you might expect, each of these different processes has advantages and limitations. For example, durable embossed cards are relatively expensive, while less substanital DoD cards are less expensive and quicker to produce. As you read through the details of each method below, keep in mind that there is some overlap between the processes. Depending on your project, a shift in process may save you significant time and/or money.

 

 Embossing

 

Embossing is probably the most common way plastic cards are personalized. Personalized text is stamped into the surface of the card, creating palpable, raised letters. After stamping, the tops of the raised letters are coated with foil so the text stands away from the card’s background. Though it is considered old technology, embossing is hard to fake or alter, making it a useful deterrent to forgery. Embossing also creates visually appealing cards with high perceived value, making it the perfect process for loyalty program and membership club cards. 

 

 Embossing Specs

 

Text 

  • Five foil colors available: Gold, Silver, Black, Blue, Red

  • Two font options in all capital letters only: OCR and Simplex

  • One-sided embossing only

  • Text must be at least .25” (6.35mm) from edge of card

 

Card

  • Must use standard size CR-80 card (3.375” wide x 2.125” tall)

  • May use 20 mil (.51mm) to 30 mil (.76mm) PVC or PVC composite cards

  • Magnetic strip encoding available

 

Production Speed

  • The embossing process is fairly speedy, averaging roughly 9,000 complete cards per hour. Card production speed is affected by the number of characters being reproduced and whether a magnetic stip is being encoded. 

  • 3-5% waste is average, though waste may be higher if run is small.

 

Cost

The cost of embossing varies significantly depending on the number of characters to be imprinted. The more characters needed on each card, the more expensive each will be. Contact us for more details or a quote!

 

 

Sample Embossed Card
 with Gold Foil

 Thermal Imaging Specs

 

Text 

  • Six colors available: Gold, Silver, Black, White, Blue, Red, Gray

  • Virtually any font may be used. (To maximize legibility, we recommend using heavier, thicker fonts.)

  • Cards may be printed on both sides if desired

  • Text must be at least .199” (5mm) from edge of card

 

Card

  • Must use standard size CR-80 card (3.375” wide x 2.125” tall)

  • May use 25 mil (.6mm) to 30 mil (.76mm) PVC or PVC composite cards

  • Magnetic strip encoding available

 

Production Speed

  • Thermal imaging is slow, averaging about 3,000 complete cards per hour. Card production speed is also affected by print coverage (more = slower production) and whether a magnetic strip is being encoded.

  • 3-5% waste is average, depending on quantity.

 

Cost

The slowest of our personalization processes, thermal imaging is usually our most expensive option, but not always. Contact us for more details today.

 

 

 Thermal Imaging

 

For plastic card projects that need more personalization flexibility, thermal imaging is often the answer. Personalized text is bonded with the card using a heat transfer process. Once the transfer is complete, personalization becomes one with card’s surface, yielding cards that are virtually immune to wear. Though significantly slower than both embossing and DoD processes, thermal imaging also allows the greatest range of creative freedom. Personalization may be in any font desired in any of six colors; and, except for a small clear space needed at card’s edges, text may be placed anywhere on the card. Some of our clients use this process for their high-end loyalty program “designer” cards, but its ability to accommodate eye-catching designs makes it equally good when used for promotional and gift cards.

 

Sample Thermal Imaged Card
Personalization on front,
Bar Code and Encoding on back

 
 DoD (Drop on Demand)

 

DoD plastic card production is speedy, accurate and surprisingly versatile, making it a great option for almost any project. “DoD” stands for Drop on Demand, which is a short way of describing the process’s amazingly fast and precise placement of tiny inkject droplets. After being placed on the card, inkjetted personalization is instantly cured with a UV light, delivering finished, high-resolution (up to 720dpi), mailstream-ready cards in seconds. Our system can accommodate a wide range of substrates including everything from PVC to paper; and, unlike embossing and thermal imaging processes, non-standard card sizes are no problem. For example, one client had us personalize a combination piece that ganged up a membership card and two luggage tags. The DoD process worked flawlessly, creating an economic card that was unique and engaging.

 

 DoD Specs

 

Text 

  • Black only. Color or grayscale elements must be converted to black only before production.

  • Virtually any font may be used. (To maximize legibility, we recommend using heavier, thicker fonts.) 

  • One-sided printing only

  • Text may be anywhere on card surface. We recommend at least a 1/16” (1.58mm) gap between text and edge of card.

 

Card

  • Can accommodate most non-standard card formats. Check with us for details.

  • May use 10 mil (.25mm) to 40 mil (1mm) PVC, ABS, PET, PETG, Polystyrene, Polyethylene or Paper cards. Again, check with us for details, as inkject quality varies from substrate to substrate.

  • Magnetic strip encoding available

 

Production Speed

  • DoD production is lightening quick, averaging about 12,500 complete cards per hour regardless of print coverage or magnetic strip coding.

  • Less than 1% waste is average because of DoD’s smooth workflow and exceptional accuracy.

 

Cost

DoD plastic card personalization is usually our least expensive option. Fast, accurate and sharp, DoD is always worth considering when planning any card project. Contact us for more details or quote!

 

 

Samples of two DoD Imaged Cards
Personalized front &
Personalized back with Bar Codes, Logo and Encoding