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Card Printing


Printed cards can increase the visibility of your branding, can increase security for your scheme and can make every card individual to each user. Using a combination of pre and post card manufacturing printing techniques USC can make a card that is truly unique to fulfil your vision.

Cards can either be printed during manufacturing or after being made into a finished product.

Cards that printed during the manufacturing process (or pre-printed) are done by either lithographic or screen-printing processes. When printed in this manor the image is printed to the cover material which is then laminated into the finished card product. This is ideal for large card runs where the design of the card is fixed.

Card printing after the cards are made into a finished product are done using direct-to-card or re-transfer printing. These methods are best for variable data or images where each card is different.

Some popular features that are printed to cards are:

  • Sequential Numbers
  • Photo ID
  • Logo Printing
  • Background Designs
  •  Guilloche
  •  Barcode & QR Codes
  • Security Features

Explore the many different print methods that USC use, below, to discover which methods may be most suitable for your cards and how each print method works.

Lithographic Printing

Lithographic printingLithographic printing, also known as Offset Lithography, is the widest used method in the commercial printing industry. In this method the desired print image is burned onto a plate and is then transferred (or offset) from

the plate to a rubber blanket, and then to the printing substrate. The lithographic process is based on the repulsion of oil and water. The image to be printed gets ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area attracts a film of water, keeping the non-printing areas ink-free. Lithographic printing is very high quality and is used on 80% of the products USC supply.

Most card designs are printed using a mixture of cyan magenta yellow & black (also known by the acronym CMYK) colours however most card designs are printed using a mixture of cyan magenta yellow & black (also known by the acronym CMYK) colours however specific colours can be rendered using the Pantone colour system (PMS).       

Silk Screen Printing

Screen printing is a printing technique whereby a mesh is used to transfer ink onto the substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. A blade or squeegee is moved across the screen to fill the open mesh apertures with ink, and a reverse stroke then causes the screen to touch the substrate momentarily along a line of contact. This causes the ink to wet the substrate and be pulled out of the mesh apertures as the screen springs back after the blade has passed. One colour is printed at a time, so several screens are used to produce a multicoloured image or design.

Silk screen printing is ideally suited for adding special effects or security features to the printed design. Pearlescent or M

etallic inks can be printed to substrate to give a vibrant or reflective effect, UV or colour changing inks add security features that can only be detected under certain conditions and varnishes can be added to highlight logos or features within the design.

Direct-to-Card printing


Direct-to-card, otherwise known as DTC, dye-sub or dye-sublimation printing, is recognised for its high-quality output when personalising cards with images, text, logos and more.

Datacard SD160 Side AngleThis method of printing utilises a thermal head and transparent film to place layers of coloured directly onto the cards surface. A roll of transparent film impregnated with up to five panels of different colours ,that repeat throughout the roll, is loaded into the printer. The colours are yellow (Y), magenta (M), cyan (C), black (K) and a clear overlay (O). Each of the colour panels are heated by the print head as the film passes below it causing the dyes to vaporize and permeate the surface of the card. Then, as they cool, they turn back to a solid form. With this process of the dyes going from solid, to gas and back to solid again there is little, or no mess involved with this printing process. The clear overlay panel is printed across the entire surface of the card to add a protective layer against UV degradation of the print.

Direct-to-card printing is a method most commonly used in desktop card printers. At our technical centre we are equipped with many of these printers meaning we can offer quick turn-around times for cards printed using this method. Direct-to-card printing offers a quick, effective, way to have your cards personalised at a lower cost. Ideal for designs where the printed image doesn’t need up to the edge of the card.

Desktop card printers that use direct-to-card printing technology are readily available from many manufacturers. You can view our range of printers here that you can purchase to personalise your cards yourself.

Re-transfer printing

Re-transfer printing uses a similar methodology to direct-to-card printing in that a coloured dye impregnated film is used to produce the colour in the image. However, re-transfer printing differs from direct-to-card by printing the image in reverse to the underside of a clear film which is then bonded onto the surface of the card using a heated rolldatacard_cr805_single_sided_printer_-_side_angle_1er system.

As there is no direct contact between the printing head and the card any small imperfections to the card surface do not affect the printed image. There is also the advantage that re-transfer printers can print to the very edge of the card and tightly around chip contact places and/or holographic foils that may already be on the card. The durability of the printed card is also increased using re-transfer printing as the clear film used in the process also acts as a protection layer.

Re-transfer printing has a very high-quality finish, nearing that of pre-printed cards that have been made using lithographic or silk screen printing processes (see below). USC have multiple re-transfer printers at our technical centre to enable us to print or personalise cards with a fast turn around times.

Desktop card printers that use re-transfer printing technology are readily available from many manufacturers. You can view our range of printers here that you can purchase to print cards yourself.

Still not sure which print method best suits you? Chat to one of our specialists today and we’ll be happy to advise on the best print methods for your cards.