ID cards

Outsourcing printing of plain or smarter cards via the web makes it easy and cost-effective. How to set and implement your ID policy. 

By David Finkelstein

If your employees go into your customers’ homes or places of business or do potentially hazardous jobs, you probably need ID cards for your employees. Identity management is becoming increasingly important for improving security, fraud control, staff professionalism and public confidence in your employees. Having a clear, consistent photo ID badge policy is often a necessity.

More companies are now requiring their staff to wear or carry a photo ID card at all times. This best practice is a low-cost, highly visible means of emphasizing professionalism and distinguishing your business from competitors. The photo ID card is an easy, visible way to communicate your company’s training and standards while promoting its brand.

Employees often must be able to immediately reassure anyone that they are a bonafide representative of their organization. With people becoming increasingly suspicious even of those who are clearly there to help, your employees need to reassure the people they meet of their identity and good intentions.

With everyone sensitized to rampant identity theft and similar misrepresentations, more businesses must make it easy for their employees to quickly legitimize themselves. Some organizations require service providers to carry ID cards when they’re onsite.

Putting Your Policy into Action

Once you’ve decided to adopt an ID card policy, what’s the best way to implement it?

Some companies may be tempted to try to save money with do-it-yourself methods such as printing paper nametags or by producing cards with a color printer and a laminator. Such cards may have been adequate a few years ago, but today they make an organization appear amateurish and reflect poorly on its professionalism. They are easily copied—it’s worse to have cards that can be pirated than not have them at all—and wear out very quickly. As a result, the impact of such cards is often counterproductive.

You could print your own professional-quality plastic ID cards. But you’ll need to invest several thousand dollars in hardware and software, plus train someone to run a machine that will sit unused 99 percent of the time.

Fortunately, it has become far simpler to outsource production of professional cards with the advent of the web and cloud-based services. It’s no longer necessary to buy and maintain specialized equipment and train staff.

Today, there are a number of online card-production services that can provide fast delivery, at a very low cost, of required ID cards. They offer solid plastic cards (like credit cards) that are durable and fraud-resistant. Because the photo is embedded in the plastic, it’s almost impossible to alter the card without making a telltale mess. Americans have become familiar with these cards since they’re constantly present on TV shows like “Scrubs” and “C.S.I.”

Besides projecting an image of professionalism and boosting security, professionally produced cards promote your firm’s brand in a subtle, effective manner. Because they incorporate your logo and your color scheme, every employee who wears a badge becomes your brand ambassador. The card connects your brand to both the person who stands before your customer and to your company.

Outsourced card production can be done over the web, efficiently and easily. You simply need to upload your company’s logo and employees’ photos to the vendor, which handles everything from there.

Besides handling card design and printing, the vendor can also distribute cards to one or more offices or send them directly to employees. If you have multiple locations, each office can order its own cards online directly and have them delivered directly. This ensures that the same quality and graphics are utilized in each office. The card company can even drop-ship individual ID cards, along with badge holders and lanyards, to staff members’ homes.

Today, there’s no reason not to require all staff members to wear their photo ID card at all times. Producing photo ID cards, whether plain or enhanced, doesn’t have to be a distraction from your core mission. It’s one of those seemingly small items where taking the right strategy and then getting the details right can increase security, boost the brand, reassure clients, and save staff time.

The cost savings from outsourcing card production can be substantial. Typically, companies can save 60 percent to 75 percent over the cost of producing cards in-house, without tying up capital.

Smarter, More Capable Cards Offer Options

You may need just simple ID cards—called “flash passes,” because you “flash” them to a security guard to obtain passage in, for example, the lobby of a building. These cards don’t contain any identification technology, and their usage can’t be automated.

But you may want to add smart features. Various technologies are becoming increasingly common in ID card programs. It is now common to use a proximity (“prox”) card to allow authorized individuals to open doors of facilities securely and easily. Prox cards use radio-frequency (RF) technology to send a unique number to door-side readers, which determine whether access should be granted. Millions of prox cards are in use throughout the country today.

When proximity technology is integrated with photo IDs, compliance is augmented and you obviate the need for staff members to carry separate photo ID and prox cards. One card should serve both functions.

Smart cards, containing a chip and an antenna that communicate with a network, also allow building access but also do much more. Employees can use a smart card to log on to their computers, purchase lunch in the cafeteria, or even buy drinks from the vending machine.

Smart card technology can be added in a photo ID card. It costs more and using smart cards requiring programming and management. But the many benefits can be worth it for some companies.

An expert on photo ID cards and smart cards, David Finkelstein is president of InstantCard (, a leading online provider of photo ID cards and credentialing services based in Rockville, Maryland. InstantCard also offers Credential Verification Service. He can be contacted at 301-216-3846 or