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Beginner’s Guide to ID Cards: Uses, Specifications and Types

Beginner’s Guide to ID Cards: Uses, Specifications and Types

Identification cards and badges can serve various purposes — from security to company branding. These little pieces of plastic are more than just a tool to recognize someone’s face and name quickly. The card can carry information such as a name and photo, ID number or access information. ID cards can also contain encoded data that can be used for access control, cashless transactions, time and attendance tracking, and more.

In this blog post, we get back to basics with a beginner’s guide to the uses, specifications and types of ID cards you may choose for your ID badge program.

ID Cards: The Basics

As referenced above, ID cards have numerous responsibilities around offices, schools, warehouses and event settings. In their most basic form, ID cards are meant to quickly identify the wearer as belonging to a particular location or group.

Whether worn on a lanyard around your neck or a retractable badge reel at your hip, the typical ID card will carry the following basic information about the wearer:

  • Name
  • Photo
  • Title/Position
  • Branding from the issuing company or organization

Some cards go further, adding departmental information, a serial or ID number, or other relevant contact or company information.

Primary Uses of ID Cards

How the badge is used determines the type of information printed on or embedded within the ID card. If the card is solely for identification, it may only need a name, title and photo. Cards designed to track attendance or allow access to certain areas of the building will need additional encoded information, such as a barcode or magnetic stripe. For more sophisticated security needs, consider RFID/prox cards. Here are a few common uses for ID cards:

  • Time clocking. ID cards with a magnetic stripe or barcode allow businesses to monitor when employees start and end their workdays. When employees swipe in and out at the start and end of the day and during break times, employers can see an accurate record of hours worked.
  • Multi-building campus security. ID cards are important in secure facilities where access to certain areas or buildings is restricted. Hospitals, university campuses and secure warehouse facilities can use RFID/proximity cards to restrict and allow access as needed.
  • Company culture. In addition to identifying the wearer by name and photo, companies use ID cards to enhance branding by including the company name, colors, logo or slogan on the card. This can foster a sense of belonging and build a spirit of camaraderie among employees.
  • Health and safety. In hospitals and other care settings, ID badges can be used to indicate an employee’s title or level of training. They can also be equipped with badge backers with critical information about hospital emergency policies.
  • Parking passes. Using ID cards to scan in and out of parking areas allows you to track who is entering and leaving, ensuring a safe lot for employees and visitors.

Types of ID Cards

When launching a badge program for your organization, the first thing to consider is the type of badge you’ll use. Here’s a look at two common categories of ID cards and their best uses.

PVC and PVC/PET Cards

The PVC card is what you might think of when you imagine an employee or student ID badge. It’s a credit-card-sized plastic card made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or a composite mixture of PVC and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It's durable, flexible and easy to print on.

Most PVC cards come in the standard size known as CR80. It’s the same dimensions and thickness as a typical credit card. Blank PVC cards also come in a slightly smaller size labeled CR79, designed to be layered with a larger, beveled-edge access card.

PVC cards can be printed on one or both sides with an ID card printer. A standard PVC card does not contain internal technology like chips or antennas like an RFID card does.. Organizations often print barcodes or add a holographic overlay to PVC cards for security and functionality.

Choosing between PVC and PVC/PET depends on how you use the card. For typical everyday ID card printing without lamination, a PVC card is the most economical choice, and it offers good durability and a clean printing surface. For applications that require more durability — and when the printer laminates the final product — you will benefit from using composite PVC/PET, also known as 60/40 cards. Composite blank cards are stronger and will not bend as easily as 100% PVC.

Best for:

  • School IDs
  • Visitor badges
  • Membership cards
  • Event badges

Proximity/RFID Cards

Radio frequency identification (RFID) and proximity (prox) cards eliminate the need for physical keys or PIN pads. Prox cards are ideal for enabling physical access control to certain areas of the building.

Prox cards with RFID technology are embedded with wires that send data to your facility’s access control system. The wireless technology allows seamless and contactless interaction between the card and the reader. One of the benefits of prox cards over a magnetic stripe or barcode is that they don’t need to come into direct contact with the card reader, allowing for quicker and smoother access.

To integrate prox cards into your facility, you’ll need to understand a few things about your current access control system: the type of reader technology it uses, its frequency (125 kHz is most common) and the card format. Have this information handy before ordering a new set of prox cards.

Best for:

  • Secure facilities, including hospitals, warehouses and business parks
  • Schools and government facilities

Both prox and standard PVC cards can come equipped with a magnetic stripe, similar to what you see on your credit cards. These cards are ideal for use in secured access areas, tracking employee attendance and cashless transactions.

Overlays, Badge Backers and Accessories

While the ID card is the star, it's surrounded by a supporting cast of characters that enhance functionality, security and appearance.

Overlays. ID card adhesive shields or overlays are transparent stickers designed to protect your IDs, badges and credentials and make them easy to read. They can be transparent or include holographic images or text, adding to security and making cards more difficult to tamper with.

Badge backers. As the name suggests, badge backers are the same size or slightly larger than a standard ID card and designed to be worn with the primary credential. Badge backers can include color coding to indicate different roles or titles within an organization or come printed with emergency procedures or contact information.

Accessories.Badge accessories include lanyards, badge reels or badge clips used to hold the ID card in place and make it easy to wear all day. Accessories like custom-printed lanyards can also contribute to branding and quickly identify different groups, like school grades or departments.

In-House Printing Essentials

Thinking about launching an in-house badge program? Here’s a look at a few essentials you’ll need to get started.

ID card printer. There are plenty of ID card printer options to choose from for every budget and project size. Consider how many badges you need to print, in what frequency and whether you need dual or single-sided printing.

Ink ribbon. Choose from color, clear and monochrome ribbons that print from edge to edge. Make sure any ink you select is compatible with your printer.

Blank ID cards. We’ve looked closely at the different types of ID cards available. Choose from PVC, RFID/Prox or magnetic stripe cards that fit your organization’s identification and security needs.

Software and camera. Badge software, like Asure ID or CardsOnline, allows you to design and print your badges from any typical workplace computer to your card printer. You'll also need a camera if you’ve decided to include photos on your IDs. Organizations with multiple locations may opt for a cloud-based card system rather than purchasing individual software licenses. This allows for a centralized ID production process and streamlined data management.

Choosing the right ID cards for your badge program can feel overwhelming. We’ve created a guide to walk you through the process and get you started. And we’re always here to help answer any questions you may have. Contact us anytime.

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