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Difference Between a Direct to Card and Retrans...

Difference Between a Direct to Card and Retransfer ID Printer

When looking for an ID printer, you will likely do some light research in order to understand the different aspects and properties of id card printers in order to purchase the one most suitable for you and your business. One of the most important things to learn about and consider are the two methods of printing that an ID printer will utilize. These include direct-to-card and retransfer. 


Each method, at its base, utilizes the same technique by imprinting on cards using resin thermal transfer and dye sublimation. However, the way this is implemented differs completely between the two, and creates several key differences. In the following section, we’ll go over each process more in-depth.


The Direct-to-Card Printing Process

Of the two methods of printing, direct to card printing is the most commonly used technology for printing. The way this method works is simple; the image is directly printed onto the surface of the ID card. 


This method of printing can produce high-resolution photo id cards in full color. As a bonus, they are also compatible with the more budget-friendly pvc cards. When it comes to printer supplies, it's possible to save quite a bit of money by going for a slightly cheaper option while still maintaining quality. 


As common as this method is employed, so too are the issues which may arise. One of the core issues is that they are more sensitive to imperfections and debris on cards. This results in a few outcomes. The first is that unfortunately this means there is no edge-to-edge printing for id cards. The printhead of direct-to-card id printers cannot come into contact with the outer edges of a card, thus leaving a white border. However, for many the design of their card is inconsequential and/or does not negatively impact the purpose for each card. 


Another problem which crops up from the sensitivity is that if you are in need of printing smart cards such as chipped identification cards, an id printer that uses direct to card printing can struggle doing so. Not only do the raised and uneven edges of the smart card make it difficult for the printhead to evenly print, but they can also damage the printhead itself. So this means that the likely result is an inconsistent print job and an increased risk for costly repairs and maintenance.


Overall, this method is simple and budget-friendly. The key is maintaining the cleanliness of your id printer and making sure that you are using the appropriate type of id card. If you’re in need of smart cards, then an ID card printer that uses the retransfer method is likely more suitable for you.

The Retransfer Printing Process

The less common method of the two, retransfer printers employ a fairly different technology and involves a two-step process. This kind of printer prints the images onto a clear film, and then heat seals the image to the card. 


Retransfer id printers also produce high quality multicolor images on id cards. Also, they provide an increased durability to each card, which adds a layer of security as well. 


Unlike direct to card printing, this method is not as sensitive to surface imperfections and debris on id cards. Because the image is first printed and then overlaid, the actual printhead does not come into direct contact with the card. So, smart cards, perforated key tags, pre-hole punched cards and proximity cards can all be printed with this method. 


Additionally, the design graphics and/or images can cover the card completely. So if you are looking for a printer capable of edge-to-edge printing, then it is more than likely using the retransfer process. 


One downside to retransfer printing is that it is not as quick as direct to card printing. Unfortunately, the process of printing and then heat sealing the film to the card makes for a longer turnaround time. Depending on your needs, the added bonus of increased tamper resistance may be just enough to make the lengthier printing time trivial in the long run. 


Another downside to this method is that the printers which use this are typically more expensive, as well as the supplies needed. However, because the components are often more durable and long-lasting, it could save money in the long run. Additionally, the increased durability of each card can mean less reprints due to card damage from wear and tear from everyday usage.


Direct to Card and Retransfer Printing Overview

The key differences between these two methods of id card printing come down to the way the image is placed onto the card. Direct to card printing transfers the ink directly onto the card, while retransfer prints onto a laminate and the heat seals it to the card face. 

Because they are more sensitive to ridges, oils and debris, direct printers are often prone to breakdowns due to printhead malfunction and may require frequent maintenance as well as extra care to maintain the integrity of the printhead components. However, they can print onto pvc cards without damaging them, meaning that the ability to use this cheaper option can mean long-term savings. 

Though they cannot print on pvc cards, retransfer printers result in more durable, tamper resistant, and long-lasting identification cards. This means that if you need to print on cards which may have uneven edges, such as smart, proximity, hole punched or perforated key tags then a printer that uses the retransfer method is capable of producing quality prints without damage to its hardware. 

If after reviewing the differences between direct to card and retransfer printing you still have more questions about how to choose an id printer, you can reference our guide to choosing a printer. If you’ve made up your mind, find the perfect direct to card or retransfer id card printer at Bodno!

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