Some businesses require staff members or visitors to carry identification (ID) cards, typically for security or accountability purposes. Creating your own cards can be economical and convenient. Don't worry – in this context, making ID cards is legal. Think in terms of a reporter granted a press pass by an authority figure for access to a crime scene, not an underaged person making fake ID to get into a nightclub.

How detailed your business's cards must be usually depends on the complexity of your company or organization. To make basic or slightly intricate cards, you probably already have most of the required materials in your office or supply room. However, if you'll be making numerous membership cards or you require high-security ID cards, it's probably wise – or even necessary – to invest in a commercial printer or program.

Making Basic Visitor ID Badges

If you're a small-business owner or you run a non-profit organization and seldom need to provide ID cards to visitors, there may be little point in using elaborate or costly products. In some cases, cost savings are a key to survival. To keep costs down, you could simply hand out peel-and-stick name tags and pens and have visitors write their own names. Tags designed for this purpose have a tacky side that won't damage fabric when they're removed from a shirt or jacket.

Creating Simple Staff ID Cards

As for staff ID cards, it's smart to go with something durable for everyday use. Although you can design cards using a standard word processor, and then transfer them to appropriate heavy paper using a printer, they should be protected from wear or damage inside a badge holder. Match the size of the card to the holder. Badge holders normally come with clips or magnets to keep them in place on a shirt or jacket.

When creating individual cards for staff members, include pertinent information. For example, you might choose to print the business name or logo along the top of the card, copy the staff member's picture in the middle and add each person's name and title or position underneath.

Using ID Card Software

Rather than using a word processor, you might prefer to download ID card software online for free or with a paid subscription – normally, you get more features by upgrading to paid software versions, so explore the options. Beyond being able to add cardholders' names, photos and titles, some software comes with design tools to add graphics, a feature to manage cardholder records, and customer or technical support. How you use the software will vary by brand, but basically, after downloading or launching it, you will:

  • Follow the prompts to select a template or create a custom design
  • Add text and shapes
  • Insert images and a bar code, if applicable
  • Save your work
  • Print or order cards online. 

How to Choose a Commercial ID Printer

More complex businesses that issue numerous membership cards – such as fitness centers or high-security companies that restrict access – should consider investing in a commercial printer designed for making ID cards. Research various such printing machines to narrow down one with all the features your venture requires, such as:

  • A bar code or encoded magnetic strip to use with card readers or scan to unlock doors.
  • Proximity and access control to allow or deny access to parking areas, elevators and offices.
  • A dual-sided function, so that you can print the cardholder's information on one side and your company's disclaimer on the other. 
  • A program that can import data and photos from an employee database to make the process faster and more efficient.  
  • Technical support, preferably live, 24/7. 

Stock Up on Accessories

After you decide which type of ID card you, your associates, employees and visitors will use, look for suitable accessories to go with them. You may need lanyards, wrist coils, badge holders, reels or clips, or one-time visitor badges, for instance. To boost brand awareness, you could opt for customized accessories, such as lanyards that feature your business name, company colors or logo.