Once you understand the reasons behind why ID cards deteriorate over time and what impact it can have, there are actions you can take to help minimise them. Here we look at how to avoid the effects of wear and tear by addressing card durability, security requirements, print quality and protection.
Some cards such as drivers’ licences need to last for decades as proof of identity but are used relatively rarely. Others could be used multiple times a day and are predominantly intended for access control. Then there are uses such as visitor badges which are issued regularly but do not need to last long. Will they be used outside? Cards used frequently outdoors can degrade and become brittle due to UV exposure, leading to premature failure and cracking.
With this in mind, the first area to address is the durability of the card itself. It may be that it’s time to upgrade your stock. Essentially, you have 2 options: PVC and composite such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or Teslin. The latter type is composed of 40% polyester rather than completely PVC and this makes them longer lasting and stronger. They also tend to be more resistant to damage through abrasion and peeling.
Multiple substrates allow for embedding security features within different layers to protect from counterfeiting but can be rigid leading them to crack.
If a key reason behind issuing ID cards is for security, you will already have assessed what level should be achieved for your requirements; will the card be used for accessing a building or data? Will it be used for making payments or for monitoring time and attendance? All these may require the use of holograms, embedded components or magnetic stripes which need to be functional despite exposure to electrostatic discharge and magnetic fields.
Security features such as embedded chips for PROX/RFID smart cards can inherently create an uneven card surface which may affect the quality of print. In this instance, retransfer printing where your card design is first printed on a clear film and that film is then adhered to the card surface should be considered to give better quality results. This method, in comparison to direct-to-card printing also offers more resistance to abrasion and tampering.
Another method worth considering is lamination, the process of adding an additional layer of film onto a card’s surface to protect it from wear and tear as well as the effects of UV light. Lamination aids card durability by making them less likely to scratch, crack or bend, but also keeps them looking professional with their resistance to fading.
Quality of print
If you want your cards to last, they need to be of a good quality, but longevity is also affected by the printer itself. Like any of us, an older model may not perform at the peak of a younger more feature-packed edition. Print quality may not be as crisp as it had been, or the printer may not even have been designed to print at photo quality in the first place.
Plus, check your power supply! Don’t put up with barely visible print or recurring error messages. This may be an indication that the power supply unit (PSU) has been inadvertently swapped for one with lower power. All ID card printers are supplied with a specific PSU bespoke to the printer model, rated at 24v output – required for a card printer to function properly.
Once your ID card is printed, you have some options to protect it. Your choice will be affected by a number of considerations: how long do you need the card to be used, how frequently it will be used and whether or not it will be exposed to UV radiation.
In the ideal world, everyone would treat these key pieces of security with the utmost care, but in the real world, that is not always practical. ID card holders are the first step to reducing wear and tear: they protect from abrasion and general environmental exposure, they reduce the risk of bending and cracking, but if the card is intended to be used for personal identification, they need to allow for clear, unfettered visibility of any photo or security watermark and protect from colour fading.
In the next edition, the last of this blog series, we look at the real-life solutions available to help minimise wear and tear on your ID cards.