Identification card printers are available as both one-sided and dual-sided card printers which either print directly to the card or utilize retransfer printing. Some printers are also able to encode information to ID cards using barcodes, magnetic strips and radio-frequency identification, and others can even produce contact and contactless smart cards.

Basic ID card printing involves printing images by heating up and melting ribbons onto a blank PVC card. Retransfer printing is a faster printing method that allows for photo-quality images; this method prints to a thin transparent film which is then thermally bonded to the card.

Retransfer printing is more expensive than printing directly to the card itself, but it also produces a higher quality image that has greater durability. Retransfer printing can deliver true edge-to-edge printing while traditional printing leaves a white edge around the card. Retransfer printing also allows for printing on uneven card surfaces, and it also makes printing on non-PVC cards possible, as it is not necessary to have a nonporous surface when using this type of printing. suggests choosing a Zebra, Magicard, Fargo or Datacard when choosing an ID card printer. All four companies sell both retransfer printers and traditional direct-to-card printers as of 2015.