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The ‘Skinny’ on Thickness for Plastic Card Printing

When you request a quote for plastic card printing, you may not even be thinking about the thickness of the cards. And that’s OK. Lots of our customers rely on us to suggest the appropriate thickness for their plastic card order.

However, depending on the way your cards will be used, thickness may be an important consideration for you. So here are some helpful guidelines for you to review prior to placing your next order.

Guidelines on Thickness with Plastic Card Printing

The Basics on Plastic Thickness

At Plastek Cards, we print using the offset lithography process, and the substrate that eventually becomes plastic cards is fed to our presses in sheet form, ranging from .010 (10 mil) all the way to .080 (80 mil) – which would be something like a luggage tag. Smart cards (both contact and contactless) and traditional credit cards require a certain thickness for proper function. But, beyond that, it really depends on your needs and the needs of your users.

With litho printing, the thinnest material we can run is .005 (5 mil). However, if you’re looking at desktop printing, such as Evolis or DataCard, then anything below .020 (20 mil) can be problematic.

You also need to be careful with thickness if you’re going to silkscreen your cards. Typically, you do not want to go below .0135 (13.5 mil) because of silkscreening’s heated drying process. With thinner plastic substrate, you may end up with distorted sheets after drying is complete.

Cost vs. Perception with Plastic Cards

PVC is sold by the pound, so a thinner PVC yields more cards per pound. Of course, that translates into more cards at a lower cost, and your design will look the same on any thickness. However, a thinner card is not as strong as a thicker one.

Of course, you may be thinking, “My cards are designed for one-time use, so who cares how thick it is.” But from a marketing standpoint, there is a perceived value when a card closely conforms to a standard credit card, which is .030 (30 mil). For this reason, as well as durability, most hotel room keys, gift cards, membership cards and other similar applications are typically produced on 30 mil plastic.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Printing Plastic Cards

Let me wrap up this topic by giving you a short list of questions that will help you zero in on the card thickness that will be best for you:

1. Are you printing a credit card or a smart card? If yes, stop. The thickness of your card is already set.

2. Are you planning to print cards on a desktop printer? If yes, the plastic should be 20 mil or thicker.

3. Are you silkscreening your plastic cards? If yes, the plastic should be at least 13.5 mil.

4. Are you going with litho for plastic card printing? If yes, then minimum is 5 mil.

5. Will your card need to be used over and over again? For durability, I recommend at least 20 mil.

6. Is it important for customers to assign value (psychologically) to your cards and your brand? I recommend printing on 30 mil.


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Plastek Cards ASI Number: 78307