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Not All Badge Printers (or Badges) are Alike


Event Planners Beware: Not All Badge Printers (or Badges) are Alike

The world of event planning can be confusing sometimes, due to the abundance of choices.  There seems to be as many different kinds of printers as there are different types of name badges flooding the meeting and events market.

The list alone could make your head spin: laser printers, direct thermal printers, ink jet, indirect thermal, laminated badges, standard paper, pressure sensitive badges, thermal badges, folding thermal, folding pressure sensitive and synthetic paper…what printers and what materials will work best for my event? You might have more questions than answers.

For example, what in the world is synthetic paper and why do I need it? Which printer goes with which? Is it possible to print color-coded badges onsite? What’s the most cost effective…what’s the least?? Where do I go for answers?? Can someone please tell me what a Dymo printer is and what I’m supposed to do with it???!

Direct and Indirect Thermal Name Badges Direct thermal badges have been around for many years, but the old Sato and Datamax printers were big and clunky. Now with compact, quick, easy-to-feed label printers from Zebra, Brother and other printer manufacturers, direct thermal badges make good sense for on-demand one-color badge printing.

The downside is thermal badges are still more expensive than laser paper badges. And of course, it’s still a paper product meaning badge holders are needed. Direct thermal printers cannot print in color onsite, so that means logos have to be pre-printed. Switching to indirect will allow basic color ribbons for printing data or simple logos, but you can only have 1 color per badge.

Indirect thermal printing uses a wax resin ribbon, which allows the use of synthetic paper materials like Polylith and Teslin. Again, with the limitations of printing with a single color ribbon, color graphics have to be pre-printed, and synthetic materials are super expensive compared to regular paper.

The upside is that these style badges were designed to effectively eliminate the need for badge holders. Just attach the lanyard and go! No tearing, creasing or folding. It’s actually a very nice product. Again, most thermal printers with print both direct (heat sensitive material, no ribbon) and indirect (standard paper or synthetic paper, with ribbon).

Most thermal printers on the market today will print both direct and indirect thermal badges. The continuous form style feed allows one-badge-at-a-time printing.

Laminated Rigid Badges

The least cost-effective badging solution is the laminated badge. The attraction is easily explainable – large, bold and colorful, with lots of real estate for schedules and sponsor’s graphics. And, no badge holders are needed! The challenge is printing the attendee data onsite. Unless you’re a large registration company, printing these badges “on-demand” is next to impossible. This means you’re back to pre-printed, alpha sorted badges, slowing up the check in process and creating long lines at check in.

The easiest solution to laminated badge on-demand onsite badging is to add a pressure sensitive pocket (badge holder) to the laminated badge and print paper badges from a laser printer. (So…let me get this straight…I pay more, lots more, for the laminated badge to expedite the onsite process and I still need a badge holder and a paper badge???) Yep.

Something else to consider is weight. Have you ever tried picking up a box of 1000 of these in a 4” x 6” container? Save your back and Don’t! The cost to ship this product is astronomical, let alone the carbon footprint that it leaves to move these things from point A to point B.

Pressure Sensitive Folding Badges

Pressure sensitive, or adhesive backed folding badges have only been around a few years. Primarily designed for use with the Epson ink jet printers, these badges were designed for onsite color printing with data on demand, taking the place of the laminated rigid badge by allowing nice graphics in a continuous feed product. This is a pricey solution, not only from the cost of the badges, but the ink jet printers are 5 times the cost of a simple thermal or even a color laser printer. Once onsite, you will need a tech-savvy staff or a competent onsite partner to be able to pull this off. One thing you won’t need?…badge holders.

Laser Paper Badges

The most cost effective solution by far is the laser printed badge with a badge holder. It is fast and inexpensive. With the advancement of color laser technology, just a few hundred dollars gets a compact, sturdy printer that allows using blank white paper onsite and producing very nice color logos and color coding. Combine with the newer sustainable plastic badge holders and you have solution that looks great, is efficient at check in, is great for the environment and is the most economical. Also, your onsite printer can be used just as easily in the office, so you won’t have to pack it away to use only in the spring and fall!

“The grass is always greener” and “keeping up with the Jones’” are two phrases that come to mind when I start analyzing onsite badging options.   Just because something looks really cool hanging around an attendees neck doesn’t necessarily mean it was easy to put it there. It’s important to understand the process required at check-in with any product that’s the “newest” thing before making decisions regarding your badges.

Generally speaking, in my experience attendees are not terribly excited by their badges or badge holders. They are however greatly annoyed by long lines and inefficiency.

My advice? Avoid the next new shiny badge that everyone is raving about and consider your attendee experience above keeping up with the Jones’. If your expense for check-in and supplies is more cost effective, you’ll have more in your budget to enhance your attendees’ experience. You might even be able to serve beef or sushi instead of chicken…again…


3 thoughts on “Not All Badge Printers (or Badges) are Alike

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