Card Printing Tips & Advice ID Card Printers

The Main Cause of ID Card Printer Printhead Issues (& How to Prevent Them)

common ID card printer print head faults and how to fix them

Sometimes, you may face issues with your ID card printer’s printhead. This can cause further print quality issues and could even lead to expensive repair costs.

In this post, we’re taking an in-depth look at the main cause of printhead faults and sharing preventative measures. But first…

What is a printhead and how does it work in an ID card printer?

All ID card printers have a thermal printhead, used to transfer your design onto blank white cards.

Card printer printheads live inside an ID card printer and look like this:

replacement printhead for ID card printer

Each printhead works differently, depending on the type of printer being used

With direct-to-card printers (also known as dye-sublimation printers), first the ribbon is loaded into the printer. The ribbon then passes under the printhead, which uses heat to warm it up. Once the correct temperature has been reached, the printhead deposits ink straight onto the card, making direct contact.

For retransfer printers, the printhead and ribbon work together to print a design onto the laminate overlay instead of the actual card. A combination of heat and pressure then binds the overlay to plastic cards.

With retransfer printing, the printhead does not make direct contact with the card.

For a complete breakdown of the full ID card printing process, you can see how card printers work here

What is the most common cause of ID card printer printhead faults?

Most printhead faults are caused when dust or debris gets stuck in the machine.

This usually happens when:

  1. The ID card printer is not cleaned regularly
  2. Dust or dirt is attached to a card before it enters the printer

It may not seem like a big issue if a bit of dust gets inside your machine. However, these bits of dust can add up and cause real concerns, such as a print head scratch.

A print head scratch occurs when an accumulation of dust or debris gets stuck in your machine. And if this happens, the damage cannot be fixed. In most cases, you would need to purchase a new printhead.

That’s why it’s important to keep the dust out, away from your machine.

Another common cause of printhead issues

Alongside dust and debris entering your printer, there is another culprit that could cause problems:

The printhead making direct contact with a raised chip – Access control cards contain a raised chip that could potentially damage a printhead if contact is made. This is only an issue for direct-to-card printers, as their printheads print designs directly to the card.

The good news is that both of the above issues can be prevented.

Related: Printing to access control cards explained here

How to protect your ID card printer’s printhead & prolong its life

ID card printer cleaning kit to prolong printhead life

Keep the printer clean – Ideally, you should be running a cleaning cycle with every printer ribbon change. Some printers such as the Fargo HDP5000 will prompt you to do this. Keeping your printer clean will ensure that dust and debris are kept away from your machine and are unable to cause harm.

Use a retransfer printer when printing onto access control cards – As access control cards contain a raised chip, they could damage the printer’s printhead if it comes into contact with this chip. Fortunately, retransfer printers don’t require their printhead to make direct contact with the card. This is we recommend only using a retransfer machine to print onto contactless cards.

Use a new ID card printer, not a second-hand machine – If you buy a second-hand printer, you won’t know the printer’s history and quality control will be much harder to manage. For instance, your printhead could already be damaged before you purchase it. That’s why we always recommend buying a new machine and not a second-hand model.

For more tips on prolonging your printer’s life, you can see a full list of expert printer maintenance tips here.

ID Card Printer Printhead FAQs

Are some ID card printers more vulnerable to printhead damage?

Yes. As mentioned earlier, printheads work differently, depending on the type of ID printer being used.

With direct-to-card printers, the printhead makes direct contact with the card, therefore becomes more susceptible to damage. Alternatively, the printhead of a retransfer printer doesn’t make direct contact with the card, therefore is less likely to become damaged.

Does my warranty cover card printer printhead issues?

This depends on the printer model you purchase, as each machine comes with a different warranty.

For instance, some manufacturers offer a replacement printhead if any issues occur, but others don’t. You should always check what’s included in your warranty before purchasing an ID card printer.

As an overview, most retransfer printers such as the Magicard Ultima offer a lifetime warranty on the printhead, as it does not make direct contact with plastic cards.

Important: When your warranty period comes to an end, your machine and printhead’s cover will also end. Cover is during the warranty period only.

Let’s Recap

Most ID card printer printhead issues occur when dust or debris gets stuck in the machine.

Regularly cleaning your printer with genuine cleaning kits will help protect both your printer and printhead, lowering the likelihood of any faults or issues being caused.

Find the best ID card printer for your company, today

At Digital ID, we stock the best ID card printers from the world’s leading manufacturers. Our printers have helped thousands of companies create high-quality ID cards and can help you, too. Browse our complete 2022 ID card printer range here.

Or for a custom package tailored to your individual needs, get in touch with our expert team on 0800 988 2095 or at today. We look forward to hearing from you.