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Plastic Card Printing: Everything You Should Know

Having a basic understanding of how plastic card printing works can help you make more informed decisions when ordering custom plastic cards online. For this reason, we provide this introduction to the topic that explains everything about plastic cards, how they are printed, how to make sure a quality print job, and some other important info.

Let's get started.

What is Plastic Cards

Plastic cards are everywhere. You probably have a few in your wallet right now. But what are they, exactly? And where do they come from? A plastic card is a physical object that stores digital information. The first modern plastic cards were credit and debit cards introduced in the 1950s. Today, plastic cards come in all shapes and sizes and can be used for various purposes, including custom gift cards, membership cards, plastic business cards, and more.

Common Size and Thickness of Plastic Cards

The dimension of plastic cards can be tricky to figure out because there are a lot of different size possibilities. When you search on Google about this information, some websites talk about inches while others use millimeters to measure the plastic cards, making it harder for us to understand which size will work best with our needs. You even don't know whether they are talking about the same thing. So much confusion here. That's why we've made the below dimension chart, so you will always understand what size your card is in terms of both measurements.

Card Type Inch MM Common Usages
Standard 3.375" x 2.125" 85.5 x 54mm Description
Traditonal Business Card 3.5" x 2" 89 x 51mm Description
Square 2.5" x 2.5" 63.5 x 63.5mm Description
Circle Description Description Description

These sizes are the most popular choice in today's market. But keep in mind that you can only choose the standard size if you order plastic cards with magnetic stripe, like custom gift cards, because this black stripe can only be embedded on 3.375" x 2.125" card stock (also known as CR80 cards.)

Next, let's turn to the thickness of plastic cards.

You can find at least five different measurements on plastic cards thickness when you browse online. They are mil, mm, pt, micron, and inch. Most online seller doesn't explain this well to their customers. But the thickness of plastic cards is critical because different thicknesses can significantly affect how they feel. And they will affect the price of card printing. So let's check out the chart below.

Mil MM PT Inch Micron % to Bank Card
30 0.76 30 0.03 760 100%
20 0.50 20 0.02 500 66%
15 0.38 15 0.015 380 50%

The percentage of bank cards indicated the specified thickness compared to standard bank cards such as credit or debit cards. For example, a 30mil plastic card means it's equal in thickness to a traditional bank card, and for a 15mil card stock is half in thickness of a bank card.

So, which thickness should be your choice?

This is one of the most asked questions about plastic card printing. But obviously, there is no right or wrong to this question. However, we always recommend 30mil for custom card printing new starters because it's most durable, luxurious, flexible, and suitable for all usages. Whether you want membership cards, clear business cards, or plastic key tags, 30 mil card stock can be the best choice.

Different thickness can be chosen depending on your needs. Still, please keep in mind that if you are ordering the card type that comes with a magnetic stripe, such as plastic gift cards or hotel key cards, you can only go for 30mil; otherwise the magnetic stripe of the card can't be read by the POS machine or lock system.

Material of Plastic Cards

Have you ever wondered what materials are often used to make plastic cards? Below is a list of some popular choices.


Most plastic cards are made out of PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). That's why plastic cards are also known as PVC cards. PVC is a type of plastic that is durable and cheap. So they have become the most common material for making cards today.


PETG is made from polyester. It's a lot like PVC that's durable and easy to print with, but most importantly, PETG is 100% biodegradable and recyclable. That means they will break down over time into harmless substances after usage.


ABS or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene is another alternative to PVC. It's 100% recyclable. ABS is also considered more durable than PVC and PETG. The only disadvantage is the cost. They are more expensive than PVC.

At, we offer all these three materials for our customers. If you are ordering custom plastic cards for the first time, or you are going to print your cards with a limited budget, we suggest going with PVC directly - it's durable and affordable, so there can't be any wrong choice here.

How a Plastic Card is Printed

You probably thought that the plastic card manufacturers are printing your cards using a small printer just like the one you have in your office. But that's not the case. In fact, plastic card printing and production can be a complex process. An office card printer is perfect for small quantities and short runs, in most of the case they are used to print your plastic ID cards. But we need something bigger and better with high-quality output to ensure the cards are durable and the colors are 100% matched with our customer's design. Offset printing, also known as lithography, is the best choice for this task.

Offset printing is a traditional printing process that uses an indirect form of printing. A plate is created with the image to be printed, then put on the press. The ink is then transferred from the plate to the plastic sheet, resulting in a high-quality print. This type of printing method uses wet ink to print the job. We use CMYK ink, or sometimes Pantone color ink, to mix custom colors to meet our client's needs. Digital printing, on the other hand, prints directly from a digital file, meaning there is no need for plates or presses. Instead of using wet ink, digital printing uses a toner to print.

One of the most important reasons we have to use offset printing is that it offers us the ability to have more control over the output, especially the color. We can ensure that the colors printed on your plastic cards are always vibrant than other print methods with offset printing.

Now, let's dive into the plastic card printing production process to discover how we print your cards with these concepts in mind.

We first have to create the plates, usually made of aluminum. Your plastic card design will be split into four colors - CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). Our CTP (Computer to Plate) machine will transfer these four color files onto the plates.

They will be sent to the press machine to start printing. Next, the image is printed onto two plastic sheets - one for the front of the card and one for the back. We do not print your card one by one; the plastic sheets here are huge. Usually, one sheet contains 24 pieces of single plastic cards in a standard size, 85.5 x 54mm. The plastic sheet will be cut into the single cards at the end of the process.

Next, we will run into the lamination process. These two plastic sheets will be sandwiched between a thin transparent film in this step. Then they're sent through a heating machine where heat and pressure are applied until they are laminated together. This film can protect the print underneath and make sure the plastic cards are durable enough for long-term usage.

Then the plastic sheets are sent through the die-cut machine. They will be cut into the single cards, and after that, your card is born.

But the process is not over yet.

We still have to inspect the quality before they can be sent out. Your card will be checked by our team of experts one by one to make sure that they are perfect. What if they are not perfect, not up to standard? Well, then reprinting is what is going to happen.

The process above is a brief introduction to card production to let you easily understand how your plastic cards are produced. The process involves many steps, especially when your cards need more complex features such as hot foil stamping, magnetic stripe, spot UV, etc.

Plastic cards produced using this method are widely considered the highest quality. That's why the vast majority of banks worldwide only produce their debit or credit card with this method. We at also believe in this process. We think it's the only way to produce the highest quality cards for our customers.

You now have a much deeper understanding of plastic cards, but that isn't enough to ensure you will get a quality print job. To reach that goal, you still need some more knowledge about plastic card design!

So no more waiting. Let's get started.

Artwork Guideline for Plastic Card Printing

To ensure your plastic cards print job get done perfectly, there are several things you have to keep in mind. We list them below, so be sure to check each of them when designing your plastic cards.

Color Mode

As we have covered above, your artwork will be split into four colors, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK), to create the press plates during the production process. So please make sure your artwork is in the correct color mode. Most designing software such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop use RGB as their default setting. Therefore, you have to switch to CMYK on your preferred program when designing your plastic cards.


Bleeding is the safety margin that sticks out from your original design. Your plastic card layout must stick out at least 3 mm beyond that shape. Why does this matter? As you know, during the plastic card printing process, your cards will be laminated and cut from large plastic sheets. Each step can have a very slight error. So leaving enough space for tolerance can make sure every pieces of your cards look perfect. We provide design templates with the proper margin lines to put all important elements within the line. If you still have any questions, our friendly support team is ready to help.

Font Outline

Font outlining allow you to turn the text on your card artwork into a series of vector curves and lines. This will avoid any font lacking problem as we might not have the same fonts you used for design. Font outlining is also a great way to avoid any legal issue relating to font transference. If you are doing your design work on Adobe Illustrator, you can select the text to be converted, and press Ctr + Shift + O, (Cmd +Shift + O for Mac)

Acceptable File Formats

We require industry-standard formats for all artwork files. We accept the following file formats: Adobe Illustrator (.ai, .eps). Photoshop (.psd, .pdf, .eps, .tif).


Now we are going to answer some questions about card printing.

Is it worth the money to hire a plastic card designer for my project?

What should I do if I want a custom shape of plastic cards?

Choose for Your Plastic Card Print Project.

Card printing industry is a big world so it would be impossible to cover everything in one post. In fact, different people can have different questions when they print card online. To ensure you can get the most high-quality printed plastic cards, it's important to working with the experts of this field. We at have been working in this industry for over 15 years, and we know everything about plastic card printing. Whether you need plastic gift cards, plastic business cards, membership cards, or plastic key tags, you can always count on us to get the greatest and most affordable plastic cards for your business.

So what are you waiting for? Click the button below and get a free custom quote today!

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