Art & Data Design Guide

 

Printing and creating plastic cards properly can be a challenge. But with some preparation, especially early on in the project, we can make it easy for you.

 

Data Specifications

Data can range from a simple, consecutive number through to the complex mashing of data, images, barcodes and evaluations. For jobs that contain data, getting it correct from the start is a key difference between a smooth flowing job and a nightmare. Quite often, the requirements of the data will dictate the artwork, and as such, the data requirements should be one of the first things that is established.

If you’re new at this, don’t panic. It’s a new way of printing and requires a new way of thinking about projects. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get into contact with us to discuss your project and the best way to go about achieving it. What might appear to be a daunting amount of work may, in fact, be quite simple with a bit of planning.

File Formats

We accept data in the following formats:

At this point in time, we do not support data supplied in Microsoft Access. We ask that you output the data required in another format, such as tab-delimited text file or an Excel spreadsheet.

We also do not accept data supplied as word processor files.

Supplying Data

We accept data via email, DropBox, WeTransfer, USB stick, and portable hard drive. If required, we can also set up an SFTP account for you to drop data into.

We advise using encryption when you transfer data electronically. We are set up for PGP and will happily supply our public key on request. Although the chances are slim, email itself is not a secure, encrypted transfer method and can be intercepted. We recommend using something other than password protected Zip files, especially where the password is sent only a moment or two later, or in the same email. This is not a secure practice and we cannot be held resposible for data sent that way.

If the data is sensitive, encrypt at your end using PGP and we will then decrypt here.

Accuracy of Data

Data will be output as supplied and we cannot be held responsible for mistakes in your data. We cannot read through all the data and we cannot proofread it. Ensuring your data is correct is your responsibility.

Ensure the following:

  • All dates are formatted as you wish them to appear
  • All data is in the case you wish them to be printed (UPPER/lower case/Sentence case/Title Case)

Unique Identifier

We require that each card has a unique, sequential identifying number imaged onto the card to facilitate replacing cards removed during the QC process and to assist in our data auditing procedure.

Quite often, this is part of the required data that you request us to image onto the cards. When there isn’t a unique identifying number that we can use, we will add one in an inconspicuous position.

Fonts

Please ensure that all fields for data have a font specified, down to size and weight. All fonts must be supplied, we do not hold a store of fonts.

Barcodes

Barcodes. You know them as those black bar things that get scanned at the supermarket. That’s one type. At last count, there was a ridiculous number of different barcode types, and a number of variants of those barcode types, too. Sound daunting? We’re here to hold your hand on this one.

When you break it all down, there’s only a few types of barcodes that regularly get used out in the real world. If you’re getting cards from us to integrate into a new or existing system, then it’s probably even easier to work out which one you need as the type has in all likelihood been specified by the system manufacturer.

For detailed information on barcodes, head to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcode. In the meantime, let’s have a quick look at a few of the common types.

Code 39

This is the simplest barcode of them all. Unless specifically disabled, practically all barcode readers can decode a Code 39 barcode. This makes it a very popular choice. It does have a number of drawbacks, however.

A standard Code 39 barcode can only encode A-Z, 0-9 and a few special characters. It also has a very low data density, which makes it a longer barcode than other types. There is a variant called Full ASCII Code 39 which adds a-z and some more special characters. This lowers the data density, making it longer still. This low data density is it’s greatest weakness, reducing it’s ability to be used in small areas on cards and keytags.

EAN-13 & EAN-8

These two barcodes are probably the most ubiquitous barcodes out there. Those barcodes that get scanned at the supermarket? They’re one of these two.

We’d only recommend using these in a retail environment, and even then with a few caveats. Firstly, don’t expect to encode someone’s names or alphanumeric member number with one of these, the only do 0-9. The EAN-13 only encodes 13 numbers, the EAN-8, 8 numbers. And even then it’s only 12 numbers + check digit or 7 numbers + check digit. And you have to have the right number sequence to ensure that it doesn’t clash with stock you already have. You don’t want to scan someone’s loyalty card only to add a $15,000+ refrigerator to their bill instead.

Having said that, many existing retail systems leverage the fact that they are setup for EAN barcodes already and that there is scope in the EAN system for internal use barcodes, and use this for membership cards. Be aware of potential problems though if the system and the numbering for the barcodes isn’t set up with care.

Code 128

A very versatile, high density barcode with a number of subformats that can be swapped between within a barcode. Code 128 is a popular choice because of it’s flexibility.

This is usually the one we recommend for most purposes. It’s main drawback is it’s high data density, shorter numbers can make the barcode look, well, way too short and a bit odd. It’s main trick is to be able to swap between 3 different sub-formats, each optimised for a different type of data, enabling it to be as small as possible. Some systems can become a bit unstuck because of this trick, but newer systems should be able to decode it fine.

Interleaved 2 of 5

One of the toughest barcodes out there. Good data density, but with a bit of a drawback.

Interleaved 2 of 5 gets used a lot in quite demanding areas like external box packaging, ticketing and the like. It’s got a high data density, is simple to decode and does nothing but numeric characters. Got letters in your member number? This one’s not for you. You’ve got a card that needs to be processed quickly and reliably and your system is happy with numeric characters only? This is your barcode.

QR Code

Need a lot of data (and I mean a lot) in a small space? QR Code is the go.

QR Codes are becoming a lot more prevalent out in the world, being used mainly for mobile phones to capture web and email addresses off business cards, posters, buildings and so on. They’re used a lot in the manufacturing world as a highly reliable barcode for marking parts. Very high density, but specialised scanning equipment is required if you’re not using software on a mobile phone.

As a quick note, all the barcodes displayed contain just the data below them except for the QR Code which contains all of our contact details – address, phone numbers, the lot. If you have a QR Code reader app on your mobile, scan it to add our details to your address book.

Other barcodes

We understand that you may also have a peculiar barcode arrangement or specification. For example, there’s defined standards for use in the health industry to ensure that all medical facilities are using the same barcode type and encoding of data as each other.

If the barcode type you need isn’t here, don’t worry. There’s a very good chance we can produce it for you if you let us know what the specification is.

Barcode Features

 A-Za-z0-9!&@# etcDensity
Code 39
Code 39 Full ASCII
EAN-8 & EAN-13
Code 128
Interleaved 2 of 5
QR Code

Size Comparison

These following card images each show the same data encoded as a barcode at the same data density to illustrate the size differences between the barcode types. The difference can become even more pronounced when using alphanumeric data.

Magnetic Stripes

Magnetic stripes are a common way of carrying data on a plastic card. For the most part, they’re limited only to 0.75mm PVC cards as that’s what’s required by the reader equipment. We can create custom thicknesses to suit equipment requirements, however.

For detailed information on magnetic stripe cards, head to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_stripe_card. In the meantime, let’s go over some of the basic information.

Coercivity

Magnetic stripes come in essentially two flavours: hi-co (or high coercivity) and lo-co (or low coercivity), measured in Oersteds (Oe). There are basically two differences between the two types, cost and resistance to change.

Hi-Co stripes are more resistant to change: they take more magnetic energy to change them, thus more suited to long term and critical uses. Because of this, they’re also more expensive. Hi-Co mag stripes usually come in either 2750 Oe or 4000 Oe forms. The higher the Oersted rating, the more resistant to change and the more expensive.

Lo-Co cards are less resistant to change than Hi-Co cards, but are the most common type used. More than 80% of orders use Lo-Co magnetic stripes and they are more than appropriate for the majority of applications. They are usually rated at 300 Oe.

Encoding

Magnetic stripes can be encoded on any combination of three stripes of data, each with it’s own limitations.

 A-Za-z0-9Total Characters
Track 1 (IATA)79
Track 2 (ABA)40
Track 3 (Thrift)107

Location

For the vast majority of uses, magnetic stripes are 12.7mm wide and are placed 5.5mm from the top edge of the card.

We can also place the magnetic stripe through the centre of the card or along the bottom edge if required. Please contact us for more information.

Variable Images

For a bit of extra security, especially with identification related products, variable images and/or photos can also be added to the data stream as well. Like everything else, there’s a few limitations and things to watch out for; but when done well, they can add a lot to the product.

The first, and most important thing is to get the data and the filename of the image matching up exactly. We can’t stress that enough. The system needs to know what the image is called or it won’t be able to find it and we can’t go renaming files or altering data because we don’t know what Jeffery Smythe from Accounts looks like. As result, any mismatches will go through as a blank image.

The second thing is to make sure that each image for a particular field is of the same file type. So make sure that all the employee photos are a JPEG or a TIFF and all the variable logos are all Illustrator or EPS files, for example. We can do a batch conversion for you of all the images if necessary at an additional cost. This may be necessary if your images have come from a range of sources; eg different branches or offices or collecting from different organisations.

Thirdly, you need to make sure that the photos are cropped appropriately. Ensure that the person’s head is central to the image and that they’re all roughly the same size. Although we can automatically resize the image to fit into an area, we can’t automatically crop and guarantee that the person’s head will not have bits cropped off as well. Depending on the final size and shape required, this might occur:

As you can see, the top of the head has been sliced off.

There is two options for cropping. One is to go through each photo in a program such as Photoshop and crop each file individually. The other option is for us to run software we have that identifies the face and then crops to suit.

A good guide to photos is the one for Australian Passports (https://www.passports.gov.au/passportsexplained/theapplicationprocess/passportphotographguidelines/Pages/default.aspx). This guide gives a good idea on how large the photo should be and most of the rules they have for an acceptable passport photo also applies to identification photos. Of course, unlike passport photos, it’s probably okay if your staff smile for the photo.

As well as photos, we can change other graphical elements on a card through data. Each department may have a differently coloured logo to help rapidly identify which department staff belong too. Event passes may have a map specific for an entry gate for that pass to be used at. By changing the map based on the entry point and highlighting the entry point for that pass, the pass can be made to convey the information in a clearer manner than having all the entry points indicated on what will be a fairly small map.

The combinations available through the changing of not just text, but graphical elements as well, open up a wide range of possibilities for projects. It can also greatly reduce the amount of work required for the artist in the design phase.