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RFID Paper Turns the Page on Label and Card Printing

ISBC's new standard paper, with embedded NFC, HF or UHF tags, can be designed, ordered and printed according to customer demand, so that the tags can be cut directly from the paper as needed, and at a low cost.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 09, 2019

Russian RFID technology company ISBC Group has released a solution known as RFID Paper, which is intended to enable companies to inexpensively print customized RFID labels in-house and on demand, as an alternative to label-conversion machines or third-party service bureaus and the long rolls of tags typically purchased from such businesses. Since its release earlier this year, ISBC's HF- or UHF-enabled paper has been used predominantly to print RFID-based cards and badges. RFID Paper can be printed via HP Indigo printers to produce several rows of ready-to-use RFID tags.

The paper is intended to serve one of the company's largest customer sectors: smart cards that can be used as contactless payment for transportation, access to lifts at sky resorts, or access to loyalty or other services by retail chains. The cards can also be utilized as badges, says Ivan Demidov, ISBC Group's CEO and founder.

ISBC Group's RFID Paper
ISBC has 17 years of experience in the contactless smart card market, Demidov says, and also provides other RFID solutions. In many cases, he explains, the company has found that its customers needed a more flexible method to print customized RFID cards, labels or badges as needed, rather than in bulk, generic terms.

For years, ISBC's customers have purchased RFID tags in rolls that came from a limited number of production sites which operate high-value, heavy industry equipment to print and encode the labels. This process meant fast and low-cost access to tags when they were needed was not always possible. "It was clearly impairing the spread and development of the RFID ecosystem," Demidov recalls.

To solve this problem, Demidov says, ISBC created a simple paper solution with RFID chips and antennas built into ready-to-print sheets. "We aim at making RFID technologies as available and affordable as any usual sheet-to-sheet printing," he states. The RFID Paper sheets, measuring 8.5 inches by 11 inches, can be set up for printing according to a customer's particular needs, in order to create tags ready for distribution or use. The paper is certified for use on digital HP Indigo press printers, though it will also work with other traditional digital printers.

Some other companies have developed printable RFID paper, but the paper has not yet become commonplace. There were some technical challenges that ISBC says it had to work around to make RFID tags that could be printed using standard readers. The tags must be flat within the paper, so that they can pass the tracks inside the printing equipment. They also must be able to withstand heating and cooling during the printing process. The sheets should be tolerant of the impact of logistics and storage, as well as able to survive the cutting, embossing, punching and folding equipment used with paper. What's more, the printer ink needs to be able to adhere properly to the substrate.

Meeting all of these standards took a lot of experimental work, Demidov says. "We spent three years and more than a €2 million [$2.2 million] investment just in development of the technology." Although the RFID Paper appears as simple as a standard piece of paper, he adds, "[The] RFID Paper production method is highly complicated, with a lot of our unique know-what and know-how in it." He declines to explain what the engineering has consisted of, but notes, "It comes in highly precise-sized paper sheets with accurately positioned RFID tags inside. The product has been carefully tested by dozens of printing and post-printing processing and is ready for the market."

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