Navigating the showroom floor
Employee ID credentials have advanced greatly in recent years, but as new security features and materials are added to the mix one constant remains: the need to print and personalize the badge.
Choosing the right card printer is like purchasing a car in that the buyer must balance wants and needs. While the organization may want the Ferrari of printers they must ask, is it feasible? Reliable? Maintainable? Will they even know how to drive it?
These are concerns that decision makers from every company–large or small–grapple with when investing in a card printing system.
Different sizes, different drivers
Shane Cunningham, marketing communications manager for Digital Identification Solutions echoes this sentiment. “For businesses of any size that have tight budgets and ever-changing needs, the keys are versatility, reliability and a low total cost ownership.”
When it comes to ever evolving card technology, companies must be mindful of versatility. “They need to look for solutions that can meet their current needs but can be easily modified should needs change,” says Cunningham.
Versatility, along with the size and ambition of the operation, should be the lens through which any end-user views the card printer market.
Small operations should look for solutions that will be easy to implement, operate and maintain–it is a case of simplicity. Features such as easy loading of card ribbons as well as integrated card design software within the printer are extremely valuable, says Alan Fontanella, vice president of Product Marketing for HID Global. “For small organizations with few employees and who require basic ‘one-off’ card design, embedded card templates located within the printer browser can eliminate the need for separate software installation.”
For small businesses, solutions that feature greater ease of installation are invaluable. “The printer should come with integrated software so they can be up and running fast,” says Kathleen Phillips, vice president of distributed issuance at Datacard Group.
Integrated software benefits smaller businesses by offering built-in card design capability, explains Fontanella. “Some printers include an embedded badging application that provides a ‘plug and play’ feature for creating simple card designs satisfying basic ID card printing needs.”
“A user can custom design and print a card quickly using the included design templates, eliminating the need to install additional card personalization software,” says Fontanella.
As the size of a business increases so too do its ambitions. For this reason, larger operations should seek out more powerful printing solutions. “These organizations typically seek intuitive and scalable printers that can meet evolving requirements,” says Fontanella.
Efficiency often goes hand in hand with growth, and for larger businesses, time is of the essence. “Mid-size business should look for printers with speed and performance to enable printing large quantities of cards at select times,” says Phillips.
Planning for the future of both the organization and card printer technology is key for any operation but as the size of the business increases this foresight becomes more crucial. “The printer solution should be modular, with the ability to add dual-sided printing functionality in order to scale in parallel to an organization’s growth,” says Fontanella.
As with small businesses, the idea of versatility comes into play with mid-size firms as well. “Mid-size companies often require electronic personalization and encoding to support their technology migration needs,” says Fontanella. “Printer and encoder solutions should be capable of accommodating magnetic stripe as well as more robust card technologies to support an organization’s transition from one technology to another.”
Larger companies must be familiar with technological advancements in printing–namely security–as they often have both the security demands and the resources to employ the most advanced solutions. “Larger businesses need to be cognizant of security features the printer offers–do they need features like fluorescent printing or custom laminates?” says Phillips.
Large organizations are also concerned with print speed and quantity. “They typically require high throughput for growing staff requirements, contractors and visitors,” says Fontanella.
As quantities increase, concerns regarding security are sure to follow. Fortunately, with options like holographic over-laminates, forensic features and holograms, large operations may already have the answers they need. “Enterprise and government organizations are increasingly looking for risk-appropriate card personalization systems that address diverse requirements for anything from basic ID badges to highly secure credentials that use hardware lamination modules for added secure visual personalization,” says Fontanella.
Additionally, larger businesses often have multiple offices where linking disparate databases or linking securely to a central database is vital. In such instances security is a necessary expense and a robust, comprehensive solution is required. “Large businesses with multiple offices or locations should seek a card personalization software solution that seamlessly links internal and external databases to create cards over a network,” explains Fontanella.
The bells and whistles
The features offered by modern card printers are vast and advancements are being made on both the card and card printer fronts. This requires end users to identify which features to demand and which to avoid. “These hardware and software features are traditionally tied to the user profile of the organization,” explains Fontanella.
These user profiles are comprised of a number of wants and needs. The customer must ask questions like will the cards be contact or contactless smart cards? How many cards will be printed? Do multiple types of personalization need to be supported? On what OS will the printer operate?
For contact and contactless smart card printing, retransfer technology will certainly be a desired feature. Using a special film that fuses smoothly to the card’s surface, retransfer printing produces a sharper, higher quality print than direct-to-card surface printing methods.
“Retransfer technology doesn’t print directly to the card’s surface, which eliminates the risk of misprints of expensive cards due to surface or sub-surface irregularities or abnormalities,” says Fontanella.
The card landscape is an ever-changing one and the end user should be ready for any contingency, Cunningham says. “With all of the various encoding, printing and laminating options out there now, you need a system that at any moment could switch out technologies or personalize multiple technologies simultaneously,” he adds.
“Each project manager should evaluate what features are needed for their current issuance programs, keeping in mind where they would like to be in three to five years and then select a solution that can get them there most efficiently,” says Cunningham.
While there are a multitude of features available, never overlook simplicity, says Kurt Bell, sales director at Evolis. “One of the most important factors is basic operation,” he says.
The latest technologies and features in card printing can often overshadow other important aspects of the decision making process. Bell implores the consumer to consider the logistics of the printing operation before making a purchase.
“Consider where the printer will physically reside within your location,” says Bell. “In some work environments rear loading printers–both cards and ribbons–are problematic.”
Bell raises an important point. Regardless of the printer or chosen, the burden ultimately falls to the consumer to operate it. “Some printers have cartridges that are easy to drop in and the ribbon type is automatically detected by the printer,” he says. “Others use rolls which are less obvious to install and the printer will need to be manually configured for each ribbon change.”
General ease of use is of particular concern to smaller businesses where more novice operators will likely do printing.
Keep it clean
Loading is only one of the factors of maintenance. Cleaning is also a regular function of card printer care. “All card printers require regular cleaning,” says Bell. “Some let you know when it’s time to clean, others don’t … and cleaning on some models is more difficult than others.”
Printer cleaning may not be the sexiest part of the card printing process, but it’s a necessary function and one that should be considered during the purchasing decision process. “Most manufactures have videos on their web sites that show basic operation and maintenance–watch them before making your decision,” says Bell.
Fontanella also sees the value in proper cleaning and maintenance as a tool to reduce total cost of ownership. “Even though the maintenance of card printers is generally inexpensive, it is still a valuable habit to routinely maintain the hardware,” he adds. “Regularly cleaning print heads and the card feeding mechanism can limit the risk of more expensive service and replacement.”
Under the hood
Software is another crucial element to the card printer and can be the make-or-break for many consumers. Thus it needs to be examined closely prior to purchase. “Integrated software is key to maximizing the capabilities of the printer,” says Phillips.
The first thing to consider when looking at the software of a card printer is which operating system the printer will run on and whether or not the printer will support the consumer’s preference.
While this seems a rather straightforward concept, there are some details that muddy the picture. Some printer manufacturers restrict access to certain advanced features to inhibit the functionality of third-party software, says Bell. “This is done to protect their own software sales for which the customers are forced to pay a premium–be wary,” he cautions.
That being said, it is the software that will enable the printer to meet all the requirements the consumer is seeking. Consulting the web site of the printer manufacturer or calling directly are ways that the consumer can verify that the software capabilities of the printer will meet the necessary benchmarks.
The price tag
Wants, needs, features and software aside, a primary concern for any consumer will forever be the price.
Valuing a card printer, however, goes deeper than a simple price tag as maintenance, consumables and cost of initial deployment must all be considered. “The cost for initial deployment varies based on a number of factors,” says Fontanella. “The number of employees in an organization, the type of card to be used, the level of personalization and the risk-appropriate level of security or durability desired.”
This is where the consumer’s research becomes vital. The total cost of ownership will always be dependent upon the context in which the printer will be used and the technologies it will need to personalize.
Maintenance costs vary but are typically low. More crucial to the overall cost of the printer operation, however, is the cost associated with consumables.
Cunningham agrees with this concept. “Cost of systems and supplies depends on the solutions put in place, whether its monochrome data or bar code printing, full-color direct-to-card or higher end color retransfer and UV printing.”
Lamination is a common part of card printing and the prices associated with the various laminates available can vary significantly depending on customization and features, explains Cunningham.
So what’s the bottom line?
By taking into consideration the ongoing requirements of a printing operation, the actual cost of ownership comes into view. “For total cost of ownership, the key is to calculate the initial cost of the unit, the cost for supplies and an honest estimate of service or repair costs over the lifetime of the card project,” says Cunningham.
As with any purchase, the process of selecting a card printer entails a series of trade-offs and considerations ultimately leading the consumer to an informed decision. “A reliable and versatile system may cost more up front, but can reduce your downtime, maintenance and replacement costs later,” says Cunningham, “saving you more money in the long run and providing better cards in the meantime.”
Being informed is the key. Realistically balancing wants and needs, formulating a workable budget and preparing for operation and maintenance needs is essential. When done properly, any organization can drive away happy.