Choosing the Right ID Card Printer: Differentiating Between Direct-to-Card and Re-Transfer

What is the difference between Direct-to-Card and Re-Transfer ID Card Printers?

A blog by IDW Technologies - Published: 10/07/2023

When it comes to printing ID cards, there are two primary card printing technologies: direct-to-card and retransfer. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between the two will depend on a variety of factors, including your specific printing needs, budget, and desired card quality. Here are some key differences to consider when comparing direct-to-card and retransfer ID card printers:

ID Card Printing Technology

Direct-to-card printers print directly onto the surface of the card, while retransfer printers print the image onto a clear film which is then thermally bonded to the card. This makes retransfer printers more versatile as they can print on uneven card surfaces, while direct-to-card printers can only print on flat cards.

ID Card Print Quality

Retransfer printers generally produce higher-quality prints than direct-to-card printers. This is because the retransfer process can produce edge-to-edge printing and a higher print resolution (up to 600 dpi), resulting in sharper images and text. In contrast, direct-to-card printers may leave small white borders around the edges of the card and have a lower resolution (typically 300 dpi).

ID Card Printer Durability

Retransfer printers typically create more durable cards than direct-to-card printers. The retransfer process creates a clear protective film over the printed image which makes the card more resistant to wear and tear, fading, and damage from UV light. Direct-to-card printers don't have this protective layer and can be more susceptible to fading and damage over time.

ID Card Printer Cost

Direct-to-card printers are generally less expensive than retransfer printers. This is because they are simpler in design and require fewer components to operate. However, retransfer printers provide a higher print quality and card durability which may be necessary for specific use cases such as government IDs or employee badges.

ID Card Printer Speed

Direct-to-card printers tend to print faster than retransfer printers due to the simpler printing process. Retransfer printers have to go through an extra step to transfer the image from the clear film onto the card, which can slow down the printing process.

ID Card Printer Print Volume

To further help narrow what printer you need, determining the quantity of output per year is essential. The more affordable ranges have a lower output of less than 10,000 cards per year whereas the more specialised can print more than 100,000 cards per year.

Back to You

In summary, direct-to-card printers are typically less expensive and faster than retransfer printers but produce lower-quality prints that are less durable. Retransfer printers, on the other hand, provide higher quality prints and more durable cards, but come with a higher cost and slower print speed. When choosing between the two, it's important to consider your specific printing needs and budget to determine which technology is the best fit for your organisation.