Don’t Forget the Badges: A Guide to Third-Party Visitor Hardware
MAY 5, 2021
Choosing a visitor management system is a big decision. After all, it will create the first impression of your building and also act as your first line of defense. From our experience, clients are aware of this and thoroughly vet all software they are considering (which is great). However, what is often overlooked or misunderstood is badge-printing hardware and the various options available.
While the industry as a whole is beginning to transition to mobile— whether it’s mobile QR Codes or integrated mobile credentials— visitor badges are still used in the majority of deployments and will be for quite some time. Furthermore, certain organizations will always use badges because the visual identification of visitors is an important part of their security protocols.
Here are some of the things you need to keep in mind when evaluating your hardware:
Determine Your Needs
This is part of the software-vetting process, but make sure you are asking all the questions regarding what you need the system and hardware to do.
Some of the questions you’ll want to be answered are:
- What information will need to be on your badge?
- Is brand, look, and feel very important to your organization?
- Are you placing images on the badge or not?
- What is your average visitor volume?
- Are you scanning IDs and, if so, are you using the ID picture on the badge?
- Do you want color badges or black and white?
- Do you need multiple badge designs?
- Are you utilizing Kiosk Check-in?
- How much room is there at the various check-in stations?
- What is the lighting in the lobby like?
- Are you putting barcodes or QR Codes on the badge?
You’ll want to answer as many questions ahead of time as possible. This way, you don’t find yourself in a position where you need crisp, color badges only to find out the system you chose is not compatible with color printers.
Each visitor system has a different process when it comes to handling third-party hardware and it is important to know this upfront. Make sure the system you choose fits with your current and future hardware needs.
- Ask to see your potential vendors’ approved hardware list before purchase
- Get clarification on their integration process
- Some vendors will integrate new hardware for free, most will charge
- Some vendors will not integrate and will instead give you access to an API
- Some will only let you use their approved hardware
- What does support look like? Will they start support tickets for third-party hardware issues?
- Do you need to purchase an additional warranty?
- Can more than one badge design be used per building?
- Can more than one type of printer be used per building?
Printers and Badges
There are many different printer manufacturers and badge options. It is important to know the main options available to you and to consider the pros and cons of each.
1. Thermal Printers: These are printers that use heat to create greyscale images. Generally, they are cheaper and smaller than ink printers, are great at handling high visitor volume, and print clean barcodes/QR Codes. However, image quality tends to be lower, especially if you go with a budget option and you will get less flexibility when it comes to branding. If you like the idea of thermal, but quality and branding are important, you can design preprinted card stock to enhance your badge design and purchase higher-end models (especially those with 600dpi print capability) to greatly increase picture quality.
Pro-Tip: If you are using thermal printers, webcam quality and lighting are very important. Dark images do not transition well to paper badges. Furthermore, if you are pulling the visitor picture from a scanned Government ID, chances are it will not look great on your badges.
2. Ink Printers: These are printers that—you guessed it—use ink to create images. Ink badges create high-quality visitor photos and allow the flexibility you need when it comes to branding and different badge designs. If you are color-coding by floor, department, tenant, etc. then ink is the best option for you. Ink printers tend to be more expensive and much larger, so desk space becomes a concern, and print times are slower than thermal. It is also important to consider ink costs. You will likely run through a few cartridges per week if you have a high-visitor volume or a graphics-heavy badge. It is not unheard of for some buildings to spend $60,000 or more on yearly ink supplies.
3. Card Stock: This is the quality and thickness of your badges. The higher the thickness or quality of your stock, the higher the cost. Card stock is often overlooked, but can really change the feel and functionality of your badge. For example, if you have a DIP barcode reader in your turnstile—or anywhere for that matter—a thicker visitor badge will make it easier for your guest to insert. An additional benefit of nicer card stock is the ability to get badges pre-printed with colored designs and logos. This allows you to have many of the benefits of ink without the cost. Another option related to cardstock is plastic. This is most often associated with printing employee access badges, but it can also be used for visitors. Some clients like the heavier look and feel, and it is also a great option if visitors are using a badge for more than one day.
Pro-tip: Ask any potential visitor management vendor if they help with the badge design process or if that is your responsibility.
4. Self-Expiring Badges: Certain badges have stickers or tabs that will begin to change color when exposed to air. They will slowly transition from white to red and generally have a 24-hour time limit. These can be a great option for facilities where a visual verification of visitors is part of the security protocol. It is important to note that the transition process doesn’t happen all at once, the hue of a badge at 21 hours will look pretty similar to a badge at 24 hours. Therefore, do not use these for more than one day, even if a visitor is coming back tomorrow.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of every consideration or feature when it comes to visitor badging hardware, but it should help get you thinking about what you need and what options are available to you. Your hardware decisions should be part of the vetting process and you want to make sure you are choosing a software solution that gives you the hardware flexibility and support you need.