ID Card Software 101

Do you really need a dedicated software application to print ID cards?

You can print to plastic card printers using any Windows compatible program such as MS Word or MS Access. Most companies purchase dedicated software because of the database and badge design capabilities. However if you have a database program and you know how to produce a "badge report" with it then you can save your company $600 to $2,500.

All ID card software programs use the same badge/ID production process which is divided into three phases:

  • The first phase is to create one or more badge design templates which will be used over and over again each time you need to make badges or IDs. These templates have some elements that will change from badge to badge such as pictures, signatures, and text like name, title, etc. Some elements will be the same from badge to badge such as a logo or background graphic. Once a badge design template is created it can be used in the next phase which is the data entry phase.
  • The data entry phase will use a template to create a badge. You will upload a picture and type in name, title, etc. and then save the record. Once you have created one or more cards/badges you are ready for the next phase which is printing.
  • The printing phase is where you will print all of the badges/IDs you have created during the data entry phase.


Click on the following link to go to another page on this site to see more detail about the badge production process. You can easily return to this page.

ID Badge Software Production Process

Software editions

Most ID card software publishers provide several "editions" of their software. The least expensive is usually very limited and not recommended. Each edition adds more functional capability and also adds to the price. You should ask for a product matrix which will show the various editions and the functions that each will support.

ID card software functional categories

ID card software applications can be divided into the following functional categories. These will be discussed in detail in the sections below. Some of these are easily understood and some not so much. In those areas I felt more explanation is required I have supplied a link to another page on this site. It is very easy to return to this page. 

  • Badge design
  • Database
  • Data entry
  • Card printing
  • Security
  • Networking 

Badge design

Badge design consists of adding appropriate elements to your badge/ID template(s) that you will use during the production process to create actual IDs. As I mentioned earlier there are two main types of design elements; ones that will change from card to card and ones that will be the same for every card that uses that design. Elements that will change from card to are are: text elements (that hold things like name, title, department, employee ID number, etc.), picture elements, barcode elements (1D and 2D), magnetic stripe elements, and signature elements.

Design elements that will not change from card to card are: Logo, background graphics, and fixed text such as facility address.

Some applications will allow your elements to change their appearance based on the contents of a text field. This allow you to visibly highlight things like security clearance or professional licenses, etc.

For a more detailed explanation of these design elements please click on the following link.

Photo ID Design Elements


All of these ID card software applications come with a built in database, usually MS Access. Some of the editions allow you to connect to other databases using ODBC or even native connections in the most expensive editions. Most will allow you to import data using these connections. Some will allow a live connection so that you print badges and IDs from data in these connected databases.

Most applications are set up to store pictures directly in the database. However this makes the size of the database grow very quickly. Some allow the pictures to be stored outside of the database with a reference or pathname stored inside.

Data entry

Data entry is where badges and IDs are actually produced. This is where you will select a design template, enter the variable text (like name, title, etc), upload a picture, type in magnetic stripe or barcode information, etc. Once everything is uploaded or entered you will save the ID and either start producing the next ID or go to the print phase.

Pictures are uploaded using either a TWAIN or WIA driver that comes with the camera.

Card printing

Most applications will allow you to print a single card or a batch of cards.


Some applications will allow you to create users with separate logins for each. Very few companies use this feature but some situations may require it.


If you will have more than one computer access one database then you will need an edition that supports networking. If you need this capability then I recommend purchasing a one or more year support package from the company that produces the program. You will most likely need help to set it up.



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