By Gabriel Schonzeit, President, IDSecurityOnline.com
Card printer ribbons are central components of any ID card program. They promise sharp, vivid ID cards for stunning employee or student badges. But the choice of a card printer ribbon can be confusing as it is not simply a question of color. In fact, it depends on the design of a badge and the user’s application. That is why some ribbons can prove to be far more cost-effective than others. To determine which one is right, users have to define precisely what will be printed and understand the options.
Identifying a ribbon
For dye-sublimation card printers there are two major types of ribbons: monochrome and color. Monochrome ribbons are used to print single-color text or images on a blank or pre-printed card. Monochrome ribbons come in a variety of colors such as black, red, green and even gold and silver. Some manufacturers offer specialty ribbons such as scratch-off rolls, perfect for gift cards, calling cards or unique marketing actions.
Color ribbons are divided into three to seven unique panels, each panel being designated by a letter. For example, a five-panel ribbon will be defined by a series of five letters.
A standard color ribbon is a known as a YMCK or YMCKO ribbon. YMC refers to the three primary colors: yellow, magenta and cyan. The printer applies each panel one at a time to produce up to 16.7 million colors. The K panel is a black resin panel used for sharp lettering and bar codes. Some ribbons also come with an overlay panel (designated with an O or T) to apply a clear protective layer to the printed card.
To find the right color ribbon, it is fundamental to decide on the design of the cards. Users have to determine if the cards will be single or dual-sided, and if color is required on the entire surface of the cards. A specific ribbon is available for each case.
Most users purchase a standard YMCKO color ribbon to print their ID cards and badges and it does make sense for full color single-sided badges. In some cases, however, buying an YMCKO ribbon can be a waste of money.
For dual-sided badges, an YMCKO ribbon is the right choice only if the front and back of the card are both printed in full color. However, if the user’s application requires color on the front and black on the back, an YMCKO-K ribbon is much more cost-efficient. This ribbon is specifically designed for dual-sided card printers and includes an extra black panel that is used to personalize the back of the card. A typical application is an organization looking to print employee badges with a photo ID, text, logo and background on the front and the company’s contact information in black on the back.
Another interesting case is when color printing is not required over the entire surface of the card. Many ID cards feature a color photo with a logo, cardholder information and a bar code. For those applications, most users get a regular YMCKO ribbon without knowing that there is another solution that can significantly reduce the cost per card.
Some manufacturers offer a half-panel color ribbon. With this type of ribbon, the yellow, magenta and cyan panels are half the size of the regular panels of an YMCKO ribbon. Up to half of the card can be printed in full color while black text or images can be printed anywhere on the card. This ribbon is ideal for student IDs or employee badges and also works great on pre-printed cards when only a picture, name or bar code needs to be added.
A half-panel color ribbon allows twice the normal ribbon yield of a regular YMCKO ribbon, and is on average 45% cheaper. Users get more prints per roll at a much lower cost per card.
Purchasers might get anxious at the idea of ordering a new type of ribbon but following a few easy rules will guarantee a smooth and successful experience. First, printer ribbons are specific to a printer brand and model so buyers should start by checking which ribbons are compatible with their printer.
Another key factor is the number of cards that will be printed. Many manufacturers offer high-yield ribbons that double the number of cards per roll.
Once the selection is done, it is recommended to call the retailer to check that the chosen reference is right for the card application. Users can also send their card design to their provider for complete peace of mind.
Many users do not know that card printer ribbons typically carry a shelf life of one to two years. Beyond that time, the print quality might be degraded. Ribbons need to be stored properly to avoid excessive cold, heat, humidity and direct sunlight. They should never be stored near solvents or other chemicals.
And remember, if a ribbon breaks do not discard it. It just has to be taped back together to print again.