The End of Embossing?

Drop-on-demand Flexibility May Foretell the Future of Financial Card Production

After a long period of extensive review and testing, in 2009 the world’s largest payment schemes approved drop-on-demand (DoD) inkjet printing for the personalization of their unembossed products, i.e. open-loop prepaid and debit cards. At that time, credit cards still had to be embossed. Since then, leveraging the cost savings per card and superior durability of UV-cured inks, hundreds of millions of open-loop prepaid cards have been issued using DoD personalization.

Of late, the payment schemes have expanded the range of cards that can be issued unembossed to encompass nearly their entire product range, with the exception of certain premium products that must still be embossed in some regions. This means that DoD can now be used to produce personalized credit and debit cards, in addition to debit and open-loop prepaid cards.

Though some might say that this decision was a long time coming, payment schemes have reasons to be thorough. Ultimately, a preponderance of technical and cost advantages weighed in DoD’s favor.

To combat fraud, many countries have already migrated magnetic stripe-based credit and debit cards to more secure EMV chip cards. One of the main regions where the adoption of EMV cards is still under way is the U.S. According to Javelin Research, the number of EMV financial cards issued in the U.S. will increase more than tenfold this year: from 100 million in 2014 to 1.1 billion in 2015.

Issuers increasingly request a higher degree of flexibility for design creativity. This includes card designs with a vertical orientation, or placing personalization data such as account number, cardholder name, and expiration date in non-standard positions on the card body, using different fonts or font sizes.

The good news is that card personalization equipment suppliers were also making progress. With newer equipment combining DoD personalization with full EMV chip personalization capabilities, perso bureaus can see immediate increases in flexibility, efficiency and cost savings. Personalization layouts can be changed in no time.

Now that VISA and Mastercard, among others, have given their blessing to DoD across the gamut of EMV card applications, it’s useful to take a closer look at what it can offer issuers and perso bureaus – and why now is a good time to consider adoption.

Legacy methods increasingly outdated

Embossing and indenting are decades-old legacy methods for card production that have persisted despite inherent disadvantages. Cards with raised numbers are more expensive to produce compared to surface-printed cards. Changing personalization layouts, fonts and font sizes is extremely time consuming. The equipment used to manufacture them is slow and expensive, as well as costly to maintain due to wear and tear.

For contactless and dual interface cards with embedded antennas and an electronic chip, to avoid damaging these elements, embossing layouts have been restricted to the same standard layouts used for the past 40 years. As contactless and dual interface cards gain in popularity, the non-impact nature of DoD printing allows card issuers to maximize creativity and graphics placement without compromising a card’s antenna or chip.

From a consumer standpoint, even though raised cards are still useful for some offline transactions, topping and indenting foil tends to wear out faster and characters become unreadable. Surface-printed cards are much faster and cheaper to produce, yet provide the same security and functionality, along with enhanced readability.

What to look for in a DoD system

In contrast to legacy equipment running in stop-and-go mode, DoD-based EMV card personalization systems utilize printing modules where cards are DoD printed while flowing precisely underneath the print head. Combining these card transports can be a challenge.

When considering a DoD-based EMV card personalization system, beyond functionality, scalability and ease of use, it’s important to carefully assess DoD printing quality as well as process and data integrity. It’s also useful to look at a supplier’s field experience and service network. The availability of inks that provide proper contrast to preprinted card artwork, while ensuring state-of-the-art durability, should also be considered.

DoD machines are simple to operate and experience almost no wear and tear thanks to their non-impact process. When compared to thermal transfer – another legacy technology – they offer four times better abrasion resistance; up to 30 times lower consumable cost; and are faster. DoD also provides an unequaled degree of flexibility in personalization layout; fonts, font sizes and the placement of data can be changed in no time.

DoD printing is suitable for all types of personalized financial cards, from chip-and-pin to magnetic stripe and open loop prepaid cards. All card elements can be speedily and securely reproduced including color and B&W images, barcodes, logos, numbering and other elements, with pin-sharp quality and rugged durability, with no additional overlay needed.

With so many advantages and benefits, one may ask if there is a downside to DoD adoption for personalized financial card production. Perhaps there is one: the need to implement and learn a new process. Whether cards are produced in-house or through an outside supplier, with any new production method there’s a learning curve that must be climbed. The good news is the curve is not that steep, the benefits far outweigh the objections – and it’s being done successfully around the world.

The revolution is here

For hundreds of years beginning with Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, moveable type set by hand was the standard in printing. Early printed books were of high quality and could be produced in quantity, at a much lower cost per book than hand lettering. Although it was slow, the printing press proved superior to the inflexible, labor-intensive methods that preceded it. It revolutionized the printed word, and, by extension, global communications.

Drop-on-demand surface printing for personalized EMV credit and debit cards is a breakthrough of a similar nature, especially when compared to traditional but inflexible card embossing. DoD enables smooth, on-the-fly adjustments to card content changes, different language versions, complex electrical personalization profiles, and creative variations – all at high efficiency and low cost. It promises to revolutionize the process of financial card personalization.

Friedbert Bayer
Friedbert Bayer
About Friedbert Bayer

Business Area Manager Security Printing Systems | Atlantic Zeiser