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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Plastic Card Printing: A Supremely Effective Promo Tool

Over the last few years it seems like everyone has been giving me plastic cards as gifts–mostly food cards, since that’s the quickest way to my heart–but other kinds of cards as well. These seem to have become the gift of choice, not only for the recipient but also for the branded businesses for which these have become some of the best advertising opportunities available.

Why Loyalty Cards Work

First of all, whenever you open up your wallet and pull out the stack of cards, there they are, the loyalty and gift cards, along with all the health insurance cards and credit cards. The colors and images, even the typefaces, bring back memories of luxurious dinners, music, clothing. So they do what all good ads do. They touch the senses and evoke good memories, leading to a repeat sale.

In addition, they provide an opportunity to connect with the brand. As vague as this marketing-speak may sound, the concept is clear and powerful. The printed cards tell you that the food establishments and clothiers want your repeat business. They are reaching out and reminding you of past, pleasant experiences. They are also rewarding you with discounts.

To take this a step further, some of the more effective cards will point you toward a website, where you can further “engage with the brand” and see what’s new. Maybe there’s a new promotion, allowing your gift card to extend further and yield a bigger gift of food, coffee, or music to download.

From the point of view of the businesses, these Internet conduits can also elicit useful marketing database information. In exchange for premiums, potential customers and repeat customers alike can upload contact information and demographics that will help the businesses to provide better products or services, or to send out relevant information to selected prospects just when they need it. A smart marketer will coordinate multiple streams of advertising, using both custom printing and Internet media.

Somehow these cards seem more personal than cash as well, perhaps because they are tied to a particular establishment’s selling something you like. Gift cards also show that your friends have been paying attention prior to holiday gift giving. They know what you want.

Finally, they’re easy to use. You don’t have to carry cash. All you need to do is hand over the card. Clean, easy, good record keeping. What more could you ask?

Yes, But How Are They Produced?

Given the breathtaking graphics on my cards, I did some research to see how these cards are produced. After all, they are durable. I’ve never seen the images scratch off. Maybe it’s just me.

My research showed that inkjet is the method of choice (although I’m sure that for longer runs screen printing with solvent inks would work, too). Given the non-porous nature of the plastic cards, my assumption is that either solvent (or eco-solvent) inkjet inks are used, or LED UV technology is applied to cure the inkjet inks instantly. It seems that either technique would yield a durable custom printing product.

In addition, these cards can be further personalized with thermal printing (via heat transfer of inks) to apply barcodes, personalization, and QR codes to the printed plastic cards (usually but not always in black ink).

Another popular technology in use is embossing, which allows the card manufacturer to include raised letters and numbers (as you would find on a credit card). The surface of the raised letters and numbers can even be “tipped” with metallic ink (or other colors). These raised letters can be felt through the mailing envelope, increasing the interest level of the recipient.

Given the electronic technology available, plastic cards can include magnetic strips, QR codes, barcodes, and such, for encoding contact information, demographics, or financial information pertinent to the card (again, just like a credit card).

As an added lift to these promotional pieces, a marketer might also include a carrier wallet or a match mailing letter with the loyalty card or gift card fugitive-glued to the paper. This can provide further information, but it can also serve as a marketing opportunity.

When Would These Be Useful?

Much as the smartphone has become a person’s wallet, date book, cell phone, typewriter, communications device, video display, etc., the plastic card has become an additional conduit for commerce and communication.

Think about the options: These cards can be used as gift cards, key cards for hotels, loyalty cards, insurance cards, credit cards, prescription cards, or practically anything that needs to hold and transfer financial data and personalized information.

In all of these cases, plastic cards allow the retailer to create a miniature billboard with which to intrigue the customer or prospective customer. At the same time the retailer can capture data regarding customer buying patterns and schedules, and then target further advertising initiatives based on customer-stated interests.

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