The credit card is made of many plastic layers, laminated together. The center is commonly made from a plastic resin known as polyvinyl chloride acetate (PVCA). This resin is then mixed with other materials, such as dyes and plasticizers to give it the appropriate look and feel.
A variety of inks or dyes, in various colors, are also used for printing credit cards. These inks and dyes are especially made for use on plastic. Special magnetic ink is also available to print the magnetic stripe (magstripe) on the rear side of the card. The inks are made by dispersing metal oxide particles in the appropriate solvents. Card issuers, such as VISA, which have their own holograms, use additional special printing processes which are involved for cards, like VISA, with featured holograms.
The manufacturing of the credit card takes place in the following steps:
1. Plastic compounding and molding: The plastic for the core sheet is made my melting PVCA with other materials. This molten mixture is put in the appropriate molding equipment, and is flattened to the right thickness by passing it through rollers. This sheet is then allowed to cool down.
2. Printing: Each card sheet is then printed with text as well as graphics. Silk screening and magnetic ink printing are the processes used. The magnetic strip can also be created using hot stamping. Magnetic heads are used to code and decode the iron particles in the strip, so that relevant information can be stored in them. However, the magnetic particles can only be useful if they are on the surface of the card, therefore this step is performed after the lamination.
3. Lamination: Essentially, lamination protects the card, and improves its strength. Lamination is done on both sides of the card.
4. Cutting and Embossing: After lamination, each sheet is cut into a set of cards. Each sheet gives a yield of around 63 cards. The sheet is first cut into seven sections longitudinally, and then each of the seven sections is cut into nine cards. Each card is now a separate credit card, and will be embossed with account numbers, and other information. The cards are now ready for shipment to the cardholders! Each card has to be of the premium quality. Customers cannot be given cards which will break or be damaged after a certain period of time. Key quality issues are linked with the compounding of plastic and color matching of the inks. The American National Standards Institute has a standard for plastic raw materials (ANSI specification x4.16-1973). Ingredients have to be correctly weighed, mixed and blended under the proper temperatures and other manufacturing conditions. Similarly, the molding process must be scrutinized to avoid flaws and defects, which could cause the cards to crack or rupture. The final quality check is to make sure the right numbers are stamped on the cards through the embossing process.
The many evolving technologies in this area will help create the credit cards with better quality and make them more cost effective in terms of manufacturing. New generations of credit cards might carry integrated computer chips, containing a variety of valuable information, making the card more useful, as well as secure.