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A Simple Guide to the Types of ID Card Printer Ribbons


Types of ID Card Printer Ribbons

Do you need help with understanding the different types of ID card printer ribbons?

If so then this post is just for you.

To maintain a high-quality print and to also prolong the life of your card printer, it is imperative that you do these 2 things:

  • Only ever purchase genuine card printer ribbons
  • Only use a ribbon that is compatible with your chosen ID card printer

The type of ID card printer ribbon you’ll need will depend entirely on your printing requirements.

Card printer ribbons are available in either monochrome or full colour.

If you are printing in only one colour such as black, then a monochrome ribbon is suitable, and dependant on the manufacturer can be a more viable option.

If your design contains two or more colours, then you will need to opt for a full-color ribbon.

Let’s start by looking at the standard ribbons used by most DTC (direct to card) printers:

YMCKO Ribbons

Probably the most popular and versatile of all the printer ribbons, the YMCKO offers four colours with the added extra of a protective overlay incorporated into the ribbon.

YMCKO stands for Yellow (Y), Magenta (M), Cyan (C), Black (K), Overlay (O).

They are available in many different sizes to fit all kinds of printer models from a whole range of manufacturers.

Their main feature is the clear coating overlay which gives your finished cards extra protection against abrasions or tampering, making them the perfect choice for cards that will receive a lot of handling or which contain secure information.

YMCKT Ribbons

YMCKT stands for Yellow (Y), Magenta (M), Cyan (C), Black (K), Topcoat (T).

It works in the exact same way as the YMCKO ribbon above the only difference is the (O) is replaced by the (T).

YMCKOK Ribbons

YMCKOK stands for Yellow (Y), Magenta (M), Cyan (C), Black (K), Overlay (O), Black (K).

If you are looking to print dual-sided cards with colour on the front and Black text on the reverse then this ribbon is suitable for the task.

With this ribbon, you can also add a barcode to the reverse of the card.

Please note that with this type of ribbon, a protective overlay is added to the front of the card, but not the contrary.

Half-Panel Ribbons

Half-panel ribbons are a great option when colour is only required to one-half of the card. For example for a photograph or logo, and full black personalisation is required to one full side.  By using a half panel ribbon for the colour printing, you will save money on your consumable costs.

As an example, you could add an image or a logo to one side, and full black text to the other side, such as the image below.


By using a half panel ribbon, you will save money on ongoing consumables but are restricted to the print area on each card.

Types of Monochrome Ribbons

Monochrome ribbons are ideal if your card design contains one single colour with no shading.

These types of ribbons are popular when adding barcodes or text to the reverse of the card such as “If found, please return to”.

Please note that Monochrome ribbon colours will vary by printer model and manufacturer depending on their setup, but to help we have listed the most common colours available below:

  • Black
  • White
  • Green
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Metallic gold
  • Metallic silver

BO & KO Monochrome Ribbons

In some instances, you may see options to purchase a BO or a KO monochrome ribbon.

The differences here is what type of black the ribbon prints.

B stands for pure Black and K stands for composite Black which is a mix of combined colours to form the Black.

To help you make the right choice our advice is BO ribbons are best for printing barcodes, while KO ribbons are more suited for printing detailed and clearer text.

Colour Monochrome Ribbons

These are available in an array of colours to enable you to print single-colour text and images.

These are especially useful if you wish to personalise a pre-printed plastic card, for example by adding your personal details to the back.

They’re also very useful for creating layered monochrome images on a coloured plastic card.

You’ll find good quality single colour monochrome ribbons from a range of manufacturers.

Ribbons for Retransfer or Laminating Printers

If you are printing using a retransfer printer such as the Fargo HDP5000 or the IDP Smart 50L which is a card printer with built in laminator, then it is imperative that you select the correct ribbon.

In this section, we break down down the different ribbon types that should only be used for these types of printers.


YMC stands for Yellow (Y), Magenta (M) and Cyan (C).

This retransfer ribbon can be used to print full-colour single-sided cards with no black text or images.

These ribbons do not contain an overlay panel as the retransfer printer uses a separate transfer film during printing.

When ordering the above ribbon type, please check to see the compatible retransfer film as you will need to purchase both at the same time.


YMCK simply stands for Yellow (Y), Magenta (M), Cyan (C), Black (K).

These are the four colours that can be combined to enable you to produce all the colours in the visible spectrum.

They’re fantastic for creating vibrant, full-color images and black text on a single side of a card, making them absolutely perfect for simple, single-side plastic cards where you perhaps want to incorporate an ID photo with some text.

They’re fantastic for producing vibrant, full-colour images and black text on a single side of a card, making them absolutely perfect for single-sided plastic cards where you want to incorporate a photo with text.


YMCKK stands for Yellow (Y), Magenta (M), Cyan (C), Black (K), Black (K).

If you’re printing using a dual-sided retransfer printer then this ribbon will allow you to add full colour and black on the front of the card, and black only on the back.

Like the YMC ribbon, these ribbons do not contain an overlay panel as the retransfer printer uses a separate transfer film during printing.


YMCKI stands for Yellow (Y), Magenta (M), Cyan (C), Black (K), Inhibitor (I).

Opting for this ribbon allows you to print full-colour single-sided ID cards with black text or images only.

TheInhibitor Panel (I) prevents the design from being printed on specific parts of the cards, such as the signature panels or RFID chip.

Again like the YMC and YMCKK, these ribbons do not contain an overlay panel as the retransfer printer uses a separate transfer film during printing.

 Specialty Card Printer Ribbons

If you are printing signature panel cards, cards with a scratch off panel or adding UV to a card, then a special type of ribbon will be required.

In the section below we detail 3 types to look out for when you have a specific requirement for your printed cards.

Signature Panel Ribbons

If your card design includes a section where the user is required to add a signature, then you will need this type of ribbon.

The ribbon includes a semi-opaque or clear panel that makes the card writable.

Membership, discount and loyalty cards often require members to sign their cards so this ribbon type will complete the job for you.

UV or Fluorescent Panel Ribbons

UV panel or Fluorescent ribbons as they are also know, are used to add images or text to ID cards that are only visible under ultraviolet (UV) light.

The main benefit of UV printing is that the text or pattern can only be seen under the UV light meaning any cloned or duplicated attempts can be easily spotted.

If you still require help in selecting the right ribbon then we can help.

Click on the link below to speak to one of our card printer ribbon experts today.



Adam Bennet
Adam has been the Digital Marketing Manager here at Digital ID since 2015. Adam is in charge of the content creation and promotion on our blog and has been featured on sites like Entrepreneur, Talk-Business and Brighter Business to name a few. See what he gets up to in the office by following him on Twitter @adamjbenno.