plastic card printingcard printing Plastic Card Printing

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Shape & Size

test Reflecting on the current trends of the prepaid phone card, we observed a gradual switch from conventional phone cards to rigid board packaging.

test Retailers prefer the rigid board because it offers a 4 1/2 X 6 inch billboard that effectively competes with other impulse items hanging from j-hooks.

test In retail marketing situations where the "fast scan" is considered the window of opportunity, this type of packaging has proven to be an excellent means of attracting retail dollars.

test Packaging and image are what makes a customer pick up your card for the first time, and a good rate will keep them coming back for more.


There are 2 types of material that are commonly used in this industry:

Paper and Plastic - both come with different thicknesses. We always make the attempt to match the appropriate card type to customer needs type to customer by asking the following questions:

How durable must the card be?

(i.e. life of 1 month, 6 months..etc.)

How should the card feel?

(i.e. Thin - saving wallet space, or thicker-more substantial image, collectible)

The most popular thickness that the majority of people use is 13mil. With lamination, this thickness is in the position to deliver both image and durability. The next option is 10mil plastic, it has the same benefits of a paper card but the price is slightly higher.


Gift Card Manufacturer Qualifications

Gift Card Printing > Articles > Gift Card Manufacturer Qualifications

The U.S. gift card market has proven to be highly profitable for printers, plastics decorators and card manufacturers that supply the gift card manufacturing niche. The capital investment needed to enter the market for manufacturing gift cards are relatively modest, especially for businesses that already have some of the printing equipment and/or finishing equipment used in gift card manufacture.
Understanding this market requires knowledge of the equipment and tooling involved in gift card manufacturing, and the ability to meet market demand for design flexibility.
A decade ago, in the U.S., gift cards were a rarity and commonly perceived as a second rate gift card choice. By the time the 2005 holiday season was over, this dynamic had changed, and 76% of adults had purchased one or more gift cards.

Equipment for Gift Card Manufacture

Understanding The Basics By some estimates, the total cost of entry into the gift card manufacturing market could be about $500,000 for plastics printing companies. This is not a significant deterrent for those accustomed to high cost of sophisticated printing hardware. Gift card manufacturing services could become as competitive as the increasingly price-driven financial card manufacturing.Most players in the North American gift card market already had made the needed investment in equipment – printing presses, high precision optically-registered die cutting equipment,laminators, etc. –before they delved into the gift card niche. These companies had been using this equipment to manufacture other products, and many continue to do so.

There are many U.S. market niches that are just a s fast growing and profitable, such as refrigerator magnets, specialty advertising products, gaskets, loyalty cards, hangtags, etc., that rely on high precision steel rule die cutting systems that are commonly used for gift card manufacture. Printing equipment and processes need to be able to handle plastic substrates. Most gift cards use magnetic stripes to encode data, which requires the type of personalization equipment already in use by financial card manufacturing companies. There is no absolute requirement for cards to store data on magnetic stripes, and some major U.S. retailers rely on simpler bar coding to store data. To date, the majority of gift card designs have been limited to wallet-sized cards. This is probably because of the retailers' desire to have gift cards easily accessible to consumers, and to function as portable mini-billboards. Many gift cards have the same dimension as credit cards, but rarely hold to the same exacting ISO standards. The corner radius of these cards might vary, for example, because gift cards only need to be read by one type of card reader, usually a swipe type, ultimately affording designers much more latitude in card dimensions and designs. Another common denominator of gift card manufacturing is that all designs require die cutting capabilities. The varying shapes of gift card offerings require better systems that deliver cut-to-print registration accuracy of +/-0.Imm. The versatility of died cutting systems to handle changing shapes and dimensions of gift card products has had great impact on gift card manufacturers staying power in the market. Those that have more flexible modular designed die cutting equipment that can interchange sheet with roll fed or interchange different types of dies and different modes of parts extraction, have enabled gift card manufacturers to evolve with market requirements. The so-called "sombrero" card is becoming a very popular design. These are rack cards that have a score line for a break-off ISO CR80-sized card that is contained within a point-of-sale carrier. It has a broad somewhat triangular slot knockout, similar to a hat, for the card hanger that makes it easy to get off a hook, thus, the "sombrero" nickname.

Competitive Edges.

Gift card manufacturers that have invested in automated inspection technology have been able to gain a competitive advantage. Not all automated inspection systems offered in the marketplace have proven capable of adapting to the gift card products. The best-in-class automated inspection systems can fully inspect both sides of typical gift cards at the rate of 36,000 cards per hour. These better inspection systems also use the type of open system design that can adapt to non-standard card dimensions (e.g. double CR80 "sombrero" designs) and special features such as bar codes and UV feature inspection. Any equipment feature or operation that a facility shorter runs gives gift card manufacturers a competitive advantage. For example, some steel rule die cutting systems automatically reposition dies for rapid job changeovers. Modularly designed die cutting systems allow interchange of hard tooling or steel rule dies within minutes, while other equipment configurations are fixed and inflexible. Some automated inspection systems can fully inspect multiple features in a single pass, while less sophisticated systems require slower multiple runs or combination with hand inspections.

Tooling Decisions for Gift Card Die Cutting.

Gift card manufacturers need to be equally versed in the different types of tooling used in die cutting gift cards..

Steel rule dies have the advantages of being relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain quickly. A steel rule die generally costs 95% less than a standard blanking tool. Gap presses that have better optical registration can automatically re-position steel rule dies. They also offer rapid job changeovers that are important to the short run niche. All of the features used in gift card designs to date-hole punches, score lines, perimeter cuts-can be made, but with far lower mechanical accuracy than would be possible with other types of tooling. This is due to the tendency of cutting blades to bend or deflect while cutting. Card manufacturers familiar with the financial card industry usually have little experience with steel rule dies as they are not up to the rigors of strict ISO standards for CR80 dimension cards. However, steel rule dies are often the tooling of choice for less demanding gift card designs and mastering their manufacture and use is an important part of being competitive in the gift card manufacturing niche.

Male/female hard tooling can easily create gift cards that do not have internal features such as score lines or internal holes that are common in gift card designs. With these tools, the key technical consideration is the clearance between the punch and die and how far it penetrates into the die cavity. When cutting the thick materials typically used in gift cards (e.g. 0.76 mm plastics), there is a need for considerable clearance between the punch and the die. In most cases, the punch should be smaller than the die cavity hole diameter by as much as I/I0 the plastic material thickness. This general rule nearly always needs fine tuning and the more experienced die cutting equipment manufacturers will make adjustments in tooling design as a matter of course.

Progressive dies are essentially two or more tools built side-by-side that create all the cuts, internal holes, score lines, and perforations used in gift card designs in multiple sequential cutting stations. Here, too, the knowledge base of the gift card manufacturer is important, especially when it comes to considering tool progression (center-to-center spacing between two stations in a tool). Progressive tools must be very accurately built to match the step up, and artwork must be similarly matched to this dimension in the printing. Progressive dies cost about 50% more than ordinary male/female hard tools. Progressive dies can be troublesome in that printing must precisely match tool dimension, or station-to-station positioning will be off, and quality will be compromised. If there are cut-to-print registration problems, a progressive die will multiply the rejects. They are also inherently slower, because they involve cycling through multiple stations. For these reasons, compound dies have come into use.

Compound dies are essentially two or more tools built inside each other such that the gift card (including all its internal features and the die cut features of carrier for point-of-sale displays) can be created in one press stroke. This type of die has unsurpassed mechanical accuracy in a fast single step process. But one pays for this accuracy and throughput-generally at a 15% greater cost of a standard male/female die. They also are return-to-web dies, like steel rule dies, and those gift card manufacturers that have equipment with greater versatility in parts extraction and knockout systems have a distinct advantage.

Modular dies have been newly created to meet the need to produce high quality prototypes in competitive bid situations, and to find tooling for moderate run lengths for gift card products. These moderately – priced dies create the same edge quality produced by hard tooling, but at approximately 1/5 the upfront cost of hard tools and obtained in as little as 1/8 the time it takes to procure hard tooling up to the requirements of many gift card designs. These are often the tooling of choice for many gift card jobs with runs less than 500,000 die cutting cycles.

Weighing Competition

In North America, the leading companies now established in gift card niches were largely drawn from the ranks of plastics printers, printers of specialty advertising products, and printers of specialty advertising products, and card manufacturers. Each of these companies has particular advantages and disadvantages to consider. Card manufacturers, most of which began in the financial card arena, have gravitated to gift card products in reaction to the increasing competitiveness in thin margin financial cards. These companies often have most or all of the equipment needed for gift card manufacture – printing presses, laminators, optically register high precision die cutting systems, and often automated card inspection systems. However, the models of equipment they use are more or less adaptable to gift card manufacturing requirements base on how open their designs are. Card manufacturers with non-modular designed card punching systems often have to start from scratch and acquire new die cutting systems better configured for gift card requirements. Similarly, automated card inspection systems that are unable to adapt to non CR80 card dimensions are not matched to popular gift card design requirements. The main disadvantage for financial card manufacturers or ID card manufacturers in their investment in the relatively expensive secure facilities and processes required for financial card production. That encumbers them with an overhead that smaller companies outside secure card niches do not have. Familiarity with the interplay of inks and plastics is a strong competitive advantage. All companies that have well-established in-house expertise in plastics printing have strong potential to be successful in this market. This is especially true when one considers that the die cutting system needed to complement this capability only cost about $200,000. Training in operating these die cutting systems is relatively straightforward, usually completed in three days of initial system setups. Printers that have the ability to provide turnkey solutions, both cards and packaging, have a distinct competitive advantage. The maturing gift card market is spawning greater variety in gift card packaging designs, so those printing operations with the most versatile finishing departments have a competitive edge. Companies that have added laser die cutting systems to their repertoire are seemingly limitless in meeting retailers' need for unique gift card designs and packaging.


The gift card market grew very rapidly in North America in the last decade. Many companies across the globe are already well equipped to capture this market as it moves to their geographic region. Many others will be able to enter the market with only modest investments in additional equipment.

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