A Full Deck
Plastic gift cards continue to play the lead role in the holiday shopping experience of today’s consumers. According to the eighth annual CEB TowerGroup Report, gift cards surpassed $124 billion in sales in 2014, a five percent increase over 2013. Add hotel key cards, promotional and customer loyalty keytags, and ID cards to the mix, and the market becomes even more massive, which leads to the burning question: Why aren’t you selling plastic? Maybe your knowledge about plastic is restricted to spending it, and that’s OK—we’ve got you covered. Check out our compilation of best practices:
Chances are you’re not the only one who wants a cut of this lucrative market, making it even more important to outsmart the competition. The first way to get ahead is to find out what’s trending. Jeff Flowers, marketing line manager for Gill Studios Inc., Shawnee Mission, Kan., has observed an increase in full-color cards. “The photo-like quality that is achievable with offset printing really provides customers with infinite options when it comes to gift cards, loyalty cards and unique business cards,” he remarked. “Also, adding a matte clear coat is really growing as well.”
Diane Morsch, director of sales and marketing for Bristol ID Technologies, Lima, N.Y., on the other hand, is fielding a lot of requests for custom-shaped cards. “This could range from a credit card-shaped card with a key fob attached to it or something as unique as a hangtag in the shape of a school mascot,” she said.
Security is another area in high demand. Hardly a week goes by without a report of a new cyberattack, and the harmful impact on victims is real. “Security is a growing issue, so incorporating overt (visible) and covert (invisible) security features into a card is increasing in popularity,” Morsch noted. The U.S. has been slow to adopt the popular “chip and PIN” technology used by banks and card networks overseas, but American consumers have other options to choose from. Bristol ID Technologies, for example, offers embedded holographic foil, guilloche patterns, micro text, signature panels and surface holographic foil.
EXPLORE THE MATERIAL WORLD
There are many materials that can be used to build a plastic card, but as Morsch pointed out, the main driver for material selection is the specific application. “A card that would need to withstand an extreme environment (i.e., ski slopes or, believe it or not, college campuses) would need materials that yield a more durable card than one that only needs to last a weekend,” she said.
Flowers expanded on this point. “10 mil cards are great for a more temporary option that doesn’t need to be as rigid,” he explained. “For a longer-term application, there are cards that are constructed, meaning they have a 10 mil core that is printed, then they are over-laminated on both sides with a clear protective plastic. This is similar to loyalty keytags. They are very durable, and the imprint is extremely protected.”
Partnering with a knowledgeable supplier can help you make sense of the many considerations that need to be taken into account. PVC and Teslin are two of the most common materials used to make plastic cards, but did you know that they can’t be used interchangeably? “Teslin could not be used to make a functioning hotel key card, but could be a great fit for gift cards,” Morsch said. “Other materials exist, such as styrene and polycarbonate, but these are generally more driven by application.”
DESIGN WITH A PURPOSE
Understanding the card’s end-use also can assist with the design process. “Of course, the card has to be functional so certain design features, like location of a magnetic stripe, are predetermined,” Morsch shared. “Going further, is the end-user looking to add security elements in conjunction with brand building? Then be sure to incorporate a security feature—maybe a holographic foil, along with their logo on the card.
“As a reseller, are you looking to ‘lock-in’ this end-user relationship?” she asked. “Then why not see if you can include your logo in small print on the card?”
Don’t forget to make room for fun, visual features. Flowers mentioned that foil stamping or spot clear coats or matte can enhance the design of a card. “If there are ice cubes shown on the card, add a spot clear coat and it will really make it look like the cubes are wet,” he said. “Clear plastic or custom shapes from a functionality standpoint can create unique and memorable cards. Just remember to round the corners; the points on the plastic can be sharp.”
Whatever you decide, make sure your design actually lends itself to card manufacturing. “We marketing people can be pretty creative, but if we don’t understand the whole process, we could spend a lot of creative development time going down a dead-end road,” Morsch warned.
Again, this is where you can lean on your supplier partner. Prior to finalizing the design, Morsch recommended reviewing what you have with your manufacturer. “Your manufacturer may be able to offer other suggestions that you or your client aren’t aware of,” she added.
Plastic cards don’t come without production challenges. Morsch cited color matching as one of the biggest issues she comes across. “As we all know, different substrates, different printing methods, different printers and so on can all yield a slight variation in color to the final product—this is no different with plastic card production,” she said. “So, if your client is insistent that a plastic business card match their letterhead, work with your manufacturer to ensure the process is viable and goes smoothly.”
Flowers offered a piece of advice on the design end. “Regarding design, there’s really no limit—just keep the live copy an 1/8" away from the cut line and they’ll turn out great,” he concluded.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.