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What’s the Difference Between Direct to Card and Retransfer Printing?

Retransfer PrinterOne of the most common questions from customers who are doing in-house printing is, “which ID card printer is the best?” The answer to this question is not cookie cutter and varies depending on the need of the customer. The main distinctions are whether or not to use a direct to card printer or a retransfer printer. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two technologies.

Direct to Card

Also known as Dye Sublimation Printers, these are the most commonly used printers on the market. The printhead of this type of printer directly presses the ink onto the surface of the card. Due to the way the ink is applied to the card, this method does not allow for edge to edge printing which means there will be a small white line around the edge of the card. In this case, if you’re wanting a full color design across the entire card, this may not be the printer for you. However, if you have a predominantly blank design with a photo and some text, this may be the right fit. It offers faster print times and a lower cost per card than a retransfer printer.


Also known as High Definition or Over the Edge printers, these were designed with the ability to print a full color design across the surface of the entire card. This method was also designed for printing onto the uneven surfaces of technology cards. This method actually prints the design onto a layer of film which is then adhered to the card surface. This is what allows the ink to be printed over the entire surface of the card which is often referred to as “full bleed.”

This method typically offers slower print times and is a bit more expensive per card but will offer a higher quality and more durable print. With this method, it is also recommended that you use composite cards instead of standard PVC because of the higher heat requirements.

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