How to Print Your Own Plastic Cards

May 2nd 2023

There are many different reasons to create your own plastic cards. Some of the most popular uses include gift cards, ID cards, membership cards, VIP cards, loyalty cards, and business cards.

Whether you are printing on plastic because you want a high-end look for your business cards, or you need a gift card with a functioning magnetic stripe or barcode, you should first decide if you have the equipment needed to print them yourself, or if you should order PVC cards from a vendor.

How to print on blank plastic cards

Unlike paper card stock, plastic can’t be run through a regular inkjet or laser printer. If you plan to print plastic cards at your home or office, make sure you are using a printer that is designed specifically for plastic. Otherwise, it is highly likely that your equipment will be damaged.

Selecting the right card printer

Evolis Primacy Plastic Card Printer

The most popular type for non-commercial use is a thermal ID card printer. They are most popular for printing ID cards but can actually print just about any type of design you’d like onto blank PVC cards. 

The top brands of thermal card printers include Datacard, Evolis, Fargo / HID, Magicard, and Zebra. The cost for the machine itself typically ranges from $1,500 - $5,000+ which often does not include the necessary software.

As with any printer, it is important to determine what your needs are first. There are a lot of features to consider. Some are single-sided while others can print double-sided cards. Do you require a magnetic stripe encoder? Is speed important? Are you printing a single card or many at a time?

How much does it really cost to print your own plastic cards?

The actual cost is more than just the price of the machine. Don’t forget to factor in ribbon and cards. Rather than using inks or toners, ID card printers use thermal ribbons. These are available in black and color. Some manufacturers also offer fancier ribbons like gold foil or specific colors like red or blue.

Black ribbon is not very expensive and averages $0.01 - $0.02 per card side. Color ribbon can get very pricey, averaging $0.28 - $0.40 per card side depending on the brand.

This means that the ink / ribbon cost alone for a single plastic card printed with color on both sides is $0.56 - $0.80 per card. The ink costs for a card printed with color on the front and black ink on the back is $0.29 - $0.42 per card.

Don’t forget the plastic cards

Blank Plastic CardsWhen calculating the cost to determine if it makes sense to print your PVC cards yourself or outsource printing to an online printing company like Print Robot, don’t forget the blank plastic cards. Pricing on these can vary depending on the quantity, color, and finish selected.

The standard configuration on blank PVC cards is similar to a credit card in size and thickness. They measure 3.375” x 2.125” (CR-80) in size and 30 mil thick. The standard finish is gloss, with satin and matte finishes also available on most colors.

The cheapest blank plastic cards are white with gloss finish. They are priced at roughly $0.05 each through our website on quantities of 1,000 - 5,000. Make it a magnetic stripe card for another penny or so.

Cards are also available in a variety of colors. Standard blank card colors include light bluemedium bluedark bluehospital bluecranberrymedium greendark greengreyorangepinkredtan, and yellow. They are priced at about $0.085 - $0.09 each through our website on quantities of 1,000 - 5,000 with a gloss finish. Make it a LoCo or HiCo magnetic stripe card for another penny or so. 

If you are looking for something with an upscale look, try  black or metallic plastic cards. The metallic cards are available in red gold, green gold, silver, and copper. They are priced at $0.098 - $0.11 each through our website on quantities of 1,000 - 5,000 with a gloss finish. Order as a magnetic stripe card for roughly a penny more. 

Looking for something super bright? Try our fluorescent plastic cards - available in fluorescent yellow, pink, green, orange, blue, and red. These are priced a bit higher at $0.125 - $0.14 each through our website on quantities of 1,000 - 5,000 with a gloss finish. A LoCo or HiCo magnetic stripe can be added for a bit more.

In Summary

If you’ve priced out the cost of a thermal ID card printer, along with the necessary software, and ribbons, and determined that you’d like to print your own ID cards, gift cards, membership cards, or plastic business cards, that’s great! is one of the largest manufacturers of blank PVC cards and proudly produces its cards in the USA. In addition to incredibly low prices, we offer the largest select of blank plastic cards including a wide range of colors and magnetic stripe options.

If you are curious to see if  ordering printed cards makes more sense, get instant pricing on printed cards for gift cards, ID cards, membership cards, and business cards at Print Robot.

A third option to consider is ordering printed card shells for any portions of the card that are in color and/or remain constant from card to card. 

For example, if you ordered membership cards, your design would contain the logo, background color, everything but the member name and number. You could then run the card shells through your thermal printer to personalize them on-demand. If you add the member name and number in black ink, it will be a more cost effective solution than printing the entire thing in color yourself.

Print Robot also offers a prepaid shell program that provides on-demand personalization and can even include turnkey fulfillment solutions.