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Design Trends and Manufacturability

As technology continues to touch just about every aspect of our lives, it also has an impact on how we perceive the physical payment card. Over the years, the card has been continuously evolving. The origination of the payment card started with a single paper or cardboard slip. Shortly afterwards, it was common to use a metal charge plate. The plastic charge card emerged in the mid-century, and since has held steady as the material most commonly used for cards. In recent years, it has become common for cards to come equipped with smart technology such as antennas, contact chips, digital displays, and lights. The security elements on the card are key components to keep cardholder information safe and ensure that fraudulent cards are unable to be reproduced. The design goes much deeper than the graphic printed on the face of the card. Strategically, it is important to be mindful of the things to come, but we also need to keep our eye on the present and the reality of the card in the market today. What happens today drives tomorrow’s trends.

When designing cards, it is very important to be cognizant of industry guidelines. These industry guidelines specify parameters the payment card must meet such as size, thickness rigidity, the magnetic stripe, signature panel and contact chip technology. It is imperative that these guidelines are followed to ensure that the card will function properly in the field. They also provide structure that helps to confirm the card is constructed in a way that will last. A credit card travels with us wherever we go. Cards must be able to withstand being taken to the top of a ski hill in freezing conditions as well as tolerating very warm humid climates. Sometimes they are carried loose in our pocket, they get wet or could be exposed to abrasives such as sand. They will need to be able to function to make payments and still get us into our hotel room at the end of the day all while maintaining a look that speaks well to the brand marks that it possesses. The long list of industry and association guidelines can be enough to quickly overwhelm any designer. There are so many things that need to be considered when you actually dissect the card that it is important to create a design that will not cause an adverse effect to these items. The key is keeping the integrity of these elements while finding a differentiator for the look and feel of the card. The card needs to have something to make it stand out from the others.

Finding that differentiating factor starts with determining the overall look and feel of the card. Graphical elements certainly play a role, but it's the materials and the processes the card goes through in manufacturing that makes it a reality. It is extremely important to be cognizant of materials such as the PVC and the inks that are used. This is where the importance of innovation and research and development comes into play. If a new material, ink or process comes into the mix, it is crucial that it is run through a full gamut of testing to confirm that the card will meet industry guidelines. In many cases the cards are constructed in multi-layers. It is common practice to sandwich the front and back of the card together along with the overlay material and then laminate the card using heat and pressure to fuse it into one solid form. The lamination could mute out the effect. It is all a result of how the materials work together and how they withstand the heat from lamination. Another important aspect in designing the card is to consider the smart technology that is present in so many of today’s cards and how it interacts with the materials that have been selected to construct the card. Sometimes the strongest differentiating factor can be a simplistic detail, something sleek and elegant that can catch the eye and set the card apart from the rest.

Current industry trends have been cards that possess a metallic element, or emulate depth in some way. Cards with brightly colored edges have become a popular identifying factor that sets the card apart from other cards in the wallet. Processes that create depth or visible layering of inks on the card can be an effective way to add pop to the graphical elements of the card, or create a subtle visual effect or texture to the card. The best part of designing on plastics is the various combinations of inks, materials, processes (foil stamping, lamination or silkscreen treatments) that add sparkle or texture to the card. Many trending effects in card design are effects that determine the surface reflectivity of the card. The key items that determine the surface reflectivity are the materials that the card is composed of, the silkscreen inks and how they are applied within the design. Matte finish has become more and more popular. Hot foil stamping can be an effective way to add a metallic element to a card. Most importantly, lamination, and the plates used in lamination, can be the single most important factor that determines if the card will have a glossy high shine or a smooth matte finish.

Overall, when designing a card, it is very important to be mindful of trends. Trends can work for or against a card design. A trend can become popular very quickly and used in many types of cards. The differentiating factor can easily fade when trends take over, and all of the sudden many cards possess a very similar look and feel. It’s important to respect trends. They become trends for a reason. The ultimate goal in card design is that people are more likely to gravitate to a particular card. The card makes a statement about the brand that it represents. It is important to remember where card design started, back with the metal charge plates. Sometimes the most impactful designs and processes have been there all along.


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