Direct-to-Card vs. Retransfer Printing

July 2018


Here at Cards Plus one of our most common questions we get asked is: “What is the best ID card printer?”. The second most common question is: “Which one do I need?”

Since there are many different options for badge printers, the answer to this question will depend on each organization’s individual needs and requirements. That’s why it’s always a good rule of thumb to speak with one of our dedicated account managers to help ensure that you choose the machine that ultimately fits your card printing needs.

Direct-to-card Printing

Also referred to as “dye sublimation printers”, are the most popular plastic card printer. These printers use ink ribbons and PVC cards to print. The print head inside direct to card printers contain little glass pixels that press the ink from the film directly onto the cards.

Because the print head is not able to go all the way to the edge of the card, you will have a small white border around the edge of the card. However, direct to card printers will give you faster print speeds and lower cost per card than retransfer printers. These plastic card printers were designed for printing on regular PVC cards as well as adhesive backed cards.

Retransfer Printing

Also known as “reverse transfer”, “over the edge”, or “high definition” printers. These plastic card printers are relatively new to the card printing industry. They were specially designed to print on cards with uneven surfaces and technology (smart) cards, however they can print on regular and non-technology cards too.

The printing process is slightly different to direct to card printing. This particular print process uses ribbon and film to print onto cards. The print head never comes in contact with the cards. Instead, the ink gets printed on a laminate film that is then thermally bonded to the card instead of printing the image on the card surface though a ribbon. This allows the ink to be printed on the entire surface of the card without leaving a white border.

Retransfer printers are slower than direct to card printers and the cost per card is higher due to the fact that three consumables are used. However, this type of printing process will give you the best image quality and more durable cards.

Want to know more about the different types of printing methods we use? Click on the link below for a full description of each method:

Printing – what you need to know

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