Photo Panels, Driver’s Licenses, and Dye-Sublimation

You may not realize it but the same dye sublimation technology that is used to make photo panels, mugs, and mousepads is literally at work in your wallet.  Dye-sublimation printers are used to produce  most ID cards, including driver’s licenses, employee IDs , and membership cards. These printers use donor ribbons containing cyan, magenta, yellow and black patches to produce a full color image. A  plastic laminate is then applied to protect the card. In this process, special UV dyes and custom laminates provide additional security. Most IDs have a glossy surface, which helps protect them from dirt and scratches.

Dye-sublimation is a flexible process. Transfer dyes to cloth and you have a t-shirt; tranfer them to a white mug and you have a custom coffee cup; transfer them to a blank piece of plastic and you can legally operate a motor vehicle. Dye-sublimation was the name originally given to this printing process, and it has stuck, even though nothing sublimes in  dye-sublimation printing. 

Here’s my suggestion – next time you renew your driver’s license, spend five minutes thinking about the technology that makes your license possible. Perhaps you can do this while waiting in line. After all, too often we take technology for granted.


About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
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1 Response to Photo Panels, Driver’s Licenses, and Dye-Sublimation

  1. Katherine says:

    It means we can print anything through sublimation printing process that ranges from coffee mugs, clothes and even motor vehicle and even a driving license. It clearly shows that we can use sublimation printers on multiple objects.

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