Card printers, the real workhorses of security identification systems, have entered a new level in their evolution.

Driven by user demands, expanding card technologies and specific applications that go beyond typical security needs, card printers are faster, smarter and easier to operate and maintain with a smaller footprint — often at per unit prices far below just a couple of years ago.

Take the Six Flags Over Texas amusement park in Arlington, Tex., as one example.

“When a person decides to purchase a season pass at Six Flags, she wants her pass now so that she can use it that day,” emphasizes Julie Ann Keith, IT manager for the park. “Our visitors like the quick turnaround we provide by printing our season passes on demand. They can immediately start taking advantage of the discounts at our retail stands.

“Likewise, printing on premises is good for us, too,” Keith adds. “Sending cards out to be printed is not cost-effective, efficient or convenient. I am impressed with the speed in which we print cards. Versus our former printing system, the Eltron system is less expensive, consumables cost less and it is easier to maintain with less downtime.” Six Flags Over Texas uses up to nine Eltron P310 printers at two processing centers in the Park.

“We are particularly impressed with the cost and small footprint of the P310,” reports Keith.

Reliability also is an important ID printer factor. Take Southern California’s Cypress College, for instance.

Once a student registers at the North Orange County Community College District’s Cypress College, his or her student card is ready one minute later. From that point on, students use that ID card as identification on campus — for use at the student bookstore, to enter laboratories and even to check out books at the library.

“Our previous card printer broke down constantly, about every dozen cards,” remembers Sara Hogg. “We wanted speed plus card clarity from a printer and found it last year in our Zebra Eltron P310. ” The standard plastic cards issued by Cypress College feature a photo ID and barcode at the bottom. The barcode comes into play at laboratories and the library. As the student approaches a lab, a technician, professor or advisor asks the student to present their card and have it scanned by a barcode reader. Upon verification that the cardholder is authorized for the facility, the student can enter the lab.

Multi-use IDs also are hot. That’s apparent in a partnership that IDenticard and Debitek. They just formed an alliance to make IDenticard’s access control and imaging systems compatible with Debitek’s electronic cash systems for corporate and university campuses. Among Debitek’s offerings is the MoneyClip solution — an electronic cash system for use on campuses and cafeterias that replaces currency with stored value cards in vending machines, copiers, pay-for-print areas and dining-area cash registers.

Innovations in card printers routinely target college applications. Fargo Electronics Inc., for example, recently introduced the Professional Series CardJet 410 Printer/Encoder, a plastic card personalization system. The printer is competitive with old-fashioned “cut and paste” analog photo-based ID badge systems.

Two-dimensional Printing

Innovative card-based technology that fits between mag stripe, barcode and smart cards also determines printer needs. Datastrip, for instance, uses its 2D bar code technology to create a new breed of ID cards designed to help prevent abductions at schools. These new “safe student” ID cards include small barcodes encoded with the names and photographs of students as well as adults who are authorized to pick them up, plus emergency numbers and medical data. School personnel use a portable barcode reader to decode the information and match it against adults who come to claim children during or after school.

The ID cards will be decoded with Datastrip’s DSVerify2D barcode reader, the handheld device that can decode and display photographs as well as text and fingerprints. This will enable school personnel to swipe the ID cards and perform identification duties outside the building as parents pull up in their cars, eliminating the need to park and come inside.

“Divorce custody battles, stranger abductions and terrorist concerns have created a growing security problem for many schools, and administrators are searching for strategies to help foil kidnapping attempts,” says Chuck Lynch of Datastrip. “With the ability of our technology to validate individual identities, these safe student ID cards are a new weapon in the struggle to keep our children out of harm’s way.”

In other card printer news:

Fargo’s HDP820 high-definition printing card printer/encoder is a desktop system that allows end users to decentralize the issuance of smart cards while choosing from a broad array of options for encoding electronics necessary to personalize and activate the cards.

Datacard Group now has inline proximity card reading capabilities for its Select and Magna Platinum Series desktop card printers. This allows the printers to read facility cards and identification numbers stored in proximity cards while photos, text and other identity elements are being printed on the cards. A plug-in for Datacard ID works as identity software then allows that information to be stored in a central identity database, along with photos and demographic data.

Maxell Corp. of America has a unique coil-on-chip card protected by a layer of plastic coating. The firm’s smart cash card stores cash in a digital format for use in vending machines, copy machines, FAX machines, laundry machines and other access points of sale. The chip memory is larger than the data storage on a typical magnetic stripe card, thanks to the integrated circuit chip.

Users wanting to increase their use and security of badges sometimes don’t even need a card printer. For instance, TEMTEC has a ONEstep TEMPbadge visitor badging system based on the firm’s self-expiring badge, which changes color automatically. It goes from white to red to quickly identify an expired badge and deflect re-use.