Retransfer Printing vs Direct to Card

Retransfer Printing vs Direct to Card

Posted by ReviewIDprinters.com

Both Retransfer (RTF) and Direct to Card (DTC) use a thermal print head to transfer dye-sublimation ink for a ribbon carrier to a PVC card.  The main difference is that a RTF’s thermal print head does not come in direct contact with the card. It prints the image onto a film (transferring the image to the film). Then, the image is transferred again (retransferred) to the card via laminating technology.  The benefits of this technology are as follows.

  • The image printed on the film can be larger than the card surface, so one can achieve full-bleed (over the edge) printing.
  • The laminator transferring the image to the card is typically coated with a soft roller, therefore, the film and image can contort to the card’s surface perfectly – even if there are chip dropouts.
  • The printer can transfer a large amount of ink to the film, then, to the card, so one can achieve richer and deeper colors.

The shortcomings of retransfer technology are:

  • this technology requires an additional consumable (the transfer film), so typically retransfer cost per print is higher
  • print speeds are usually slower than direct to card printers
  • printer bootup / warm up times are typically long – sometimes it takes up to three minutes before one can print a card

In a Direct to Card printer, the print head transfers the ink directly to the card.  In this case, the card’s surface will be a larger contributing factor in the overall print quality of the finished card.

The benefits of DTC Printing are as follow:

  • cost per print is lower than RTF as it does not require a retransfer film
  • color print speeds can be very high – some manufacturers quote speed up to 9.9 seconds.
  • DTC printers do not require a laminator in the printing module, so bootup/warm up times can be very short.

The shortcomings of DTC printing are as follows:

  • All DTC printers have difficulty achieving true edge-to-edge printing.  All DTC printer manufacturers use that term as an industry specification, but they all have problems printing on the leading edge of the card where you’ll typically see a few milometers of white unprinted card.
  • DTC printers cannot contort to the card surface, so if there are dropout caused by an embedded chip, one will most likely see a small white unprinted area.  As of this post, most card manufacturers have greatly improved their production process to mostly eliminate this issue.

Overall, the choice between RTF and DTC comes down to the speed and price.  A common misconception in the market is “if you have a smart card you need a retransfer printer”.   That once was the case, because card manufacturers had a very hard time producing card with embedded chips without dropout.  Those days are behind us, so the choice between RTF and DTC really comes down to three user-based factors:

  • Does the user want full-bleed / over-the-edge printing?
  • Is the user concerned about the long warm-up time of a RTF?
  • Is the user concerned about cost per card?

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