"Waterless really shines when you’re talking about printing four-color process and putting a lot of jobs on and off the press."
When people think about plastic cards they’re more likely to think about molding and manufacturing than they are about printing. And yet Bristol ID Technologies is a leading printing company, and what it prints are plastic cards. And what a range: these days plastic cards include phone cards, gift cards, membership and loyalty cards, hotel key cards, ID badges, and many more applications.
Bristol ID Technologies was founded in 1975 as Bristol Graphics, a family-owned business, in the town of Bristol, New York. The company started as a trade laminator—a laminating and die-cutting company—working with local print shops. The processes evolved over the years, becoming more efficient and offering higher production values. Moving into card manufacturing was a natural evolution for Bristol.
In 1998 a group of investors bought the company and renamed it Bristol ID Technologies. In 2004 the company moved into a custom-built, state-of-the-art facility located in Lima, New York, just south of Rochester. Bristol ID has 80 employees. The company now specializes in short- to medium-volume runs for the card industry, and also in custom shapes and sizes.
Jim Morsch joined Bristol ID in 1996 with a degree in printing. “I’ve had various positions, working in prepress, customer support and sourcing software,” Morsch says. He soon moved into an R&D role, “researching capital equipment and different materials and analyzing how everything worked together.”
“Our R&D is hands-on, in-house,” Morsch explains. “Depending on the project, we draw up what’s going to happen and then hand that off to production. They’ll run the order as listed and we’ll review the results and adjust as necessary.”
That hands-on approach may be the secret to Morsch’s success. “My approach is really just to learn on the job,” Morsch says. “We figure things out as we go.” He must have figured things out pretty well: he’s now Bristol ID’s Director of Operations, overseeing day-to-day operations all the way from production through to shipping.
Waterless Makes a Difference
Waterless and plastic card printing are not always mentioned in the same breath. “Traditional water-based printing is very common in this industry,” says Morsch. “Your normal Heidelberg or Komori presses are common. Most card manufacturers are using UV-cured inks” he says, “although a lot of them are still using water-based systems.”
But Bristol ID was seeking a close match between production and its customers’ requirements. A focus on shorter runs is often matched with tighter production deadlines, and meeting those deadlines is a major plus in favor of waterless.
“It’s a simpler process,” Morsch notes, “and it really shines when you’re talking about printing four-color process and putting a lot of jobs on and off the press.”
Bristol ID installed a KBA Genius 52 UV waterless press in 2008, and it uses Toray waterless plates on the press. “Our particular setup helps us support what we pride ourselves in: short lead times with an average of less than 9 days and an average on time delivery record of 99 percent. That level of service along with a high quality product and a can do approach to manufacturing cards with demanding specifications is where our niche is.”
Quality is not an issue. “The waterless process that we use to print on plastics is really well suited for four-color process,” Morsch explains. “We’re also successful using spot colors. But where the bang for the buck really comes in is the quick turn: getting jobs on and then back off the press. Short run. We’re up to color quickly.”
At Bristol ID they’re not relying on oxidation to dry the ink. “It’s not just that the plates and inks are waterless,” Morsch stresses. “For us it’s the combination of waterless and UV curing. So waterless works to keep the balance; there aren’t ink keys on our press—it’s a consistent, metered amount of ink that’s transferring, for ease of use on the operator’s side. Yes, and being UV cured, the product is ready to move through the next part of the operation—to collation and lamination right away—without any additional need for drying.”
Where Cards are Headed
The global card market reached $16.1 billion in 2013, and growth continues in areas such as government ID and health cards, gift cards and in RFID cards for many different applications.
“We’ve experienced steady growth in the last few years,” Morsch says. There’s no sound of bragging in his voice. He’s focused on improving the product.
Bristol ID tries to be proactive in understanding market needs, and in understanding what alternate materials might be used in the future. Morsch illustrates with the example of an ID card project that is currently being manufactured on polycarbonate cards where traditionally they would have been on PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and polyester blend.
Morsch says that he’s always looking for and trying to develop new decorative or security-based inks and coatings. “That might include things like color shifting inks or additional spot colors; it could be any number of different visual effects that you can get from the printing process. There seems to be a trend for full-faced foil, a lot of metallic inks with heavy screenprint and large particle size for sparkle effects, pearlescent inks, interference inks in general, inks that yield color effects that seem to be changing dynamically depending on which angle you look at them,” Morsch explains. RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) is another area of continuing innovation and growth.
An Industry Association That Succeeds
Involvement in industry associations is important to Bristol ID. The key group for them is the International Card Manufacturers Association (ICMA). “We’re active in ICMA,” Morsch says. That’s an understatement. Bristol ID’s president, Keith Yeates, is currently president of the ICMA. (Tellingly, Yeates has a doctorate in industrial engineering from Aston University in Birmingham, England.)
Morsch has earned the coveted Advanced Card Education (ACE-M) accreditation through ICMA. But he shares the honor with others at Bristol ID. “We’re happy to have a few of us certified with the ACE designation. It’s a broad-based exam that covers all aspects of card manufacturing. It’s difficult to wing that test if you don’t have experience in the industry.”
Bristol ID has been recognized for its work by the association. It has won multiple ICMA Élan Awards, honoring card manufacturers and vendors for world-class achievements in card design and technological innovation. Most recently Bristol ID won Best Access Control/ID Card for the Little League World Series 2013 VIP Credential Card.
The Future for Bristol ID
Bristol ID continually looks to bring new technologies to new sets of customers in new markets. “We’re always looking at different markets, different verticals, and evaluating different possible sales channels and resellers,” Morsch explains. “Once we’ve determined a vertical market, it’s not just about obtaining those customers but about retaining those customers—building relationships, making sure they understand our full range of products.”
Bristol ID has proven itself to be innovative and highly involved in the industry in which it serves. By combining technology, expertise, smart management, strategic partnering, and continuous process improvement, the company has excelled in meeting the needs of the plastic-card specialty market. ￭
Bristol ID Technologies
1370 Rochester Street
Lima, NY 14485
Toll Free: 800-215-5865