Production of gift cards is, first and foremost, a printing process.
The customer's logo and design is reproduced on a plastic card and a unique number is added to each individual card. The vast majority of these are constructed using PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic. Once printed with the customer's design, the card must be "finished" to protect the printed design, then numbered to allow for card activation.
There are two basic types of finish applied to gift cards: UV coating or lamination.
- UV coating is a thin layer of clear ink applied over the printed image making it slippery and less likely to scratch (like a polyurethane layer on your hardwood floors). Lamination is an additional layer of plastic placed over the printed image sealing and protecting it.
- Lamination is industry standard practice. This method creates the smoothest, highest quality, longest lasting card product. Not all lamination is equal, however; roll lamination of PVC or other plastics most often produces a card with a less-than-perfect finish, while platen or hydraulic lamination produces a very smooth mirror or matte finish. Platen lamination is the method used for virtually all VISA, Mastercard, AMEX, and other bank credit cards.
Card numbering—the last step in production—can be in the form of bar codes, magnetic stripe encoding, human readable numbers, or any combination of these. In the numbering step, it is critical to ensure that no duplicate numbers are produced and that the method used to apply the numbers (thermal transfer, inkjet, etc.) produces a number that will be readable for the life of the card.