2020 Card Trends: Color, Sustainability, Metal, Security

In today’s visual, experience-driven world, card design matters. The physical form and look of a card add to its “cool factor.”

In 2020, design elements that affect color, weight, sustainability and security will continue to play important roles in determining which card is top-of-wallet.

Regardless of the hype about mobile wallets and digital payments tools, cards won’t be going away anytime soon. No longer just a tool for payment, in many cases, cardholders view their cards as accessories or extensions of themselves.

The same holds true for gift cards. Despite growth in the digital realm, the demand for physical gift cards is still strong and, in most cases, preferred.

Cards are a conversation piece that deliver an experience and are recognizable for a variety of reasons. Design is both an important element and a remarkable opportunity for card-issuing companies to connect with their customers.

Card design is a matter of balancing form and function. Typically, the most innovative designs are the ones that disrupt the market. But as card bodies become more complex and technology-driven, their design elements must evolve as well to ultimately produce a successful, functioning card.

From a production perspective, the busier the design, the less noticeable the card’s antenna. In contrast to this popular approach, many customers today prefer more subtle card designs. There are many options, treatments and materials available to ensure the end product is a high-quality technological card.

Color is ‘Cool’
From a financial institution’s perspective, every card represents an extension of its identity—a marketing and branding moment that replays every time a customer takes out his or her card. Like payment cards, gift cards must deliver an experience—a shareable, feel good moment—as well.

Some of the hottest card design trends are the use of minimalistic graphics and visual effects like a smooth colored gradient. Bright, bold colors have also made an impactful presence on the face of cards, while a colored core makes the edge of the card pop—adding a vibrant differentiator that helps a card stand out. Smooth matte finishes, complemented by a touch of spot gloss to add a bit of visual appeal, are also trending.

When Adam Wahler, creative director, A to A Studio Solutions Ltd., checks the pulse of design trends in the marketplace, he says issuers want simplicity, a solid color background and understated logo treatments like N26, Revlout, Venmo and HyundaiCard.

‘Green’ Technology is on the Rise
Sustainability is another factor influencing card design, especially as consumers grow more environmentally conscious. Major players in the card industry like American Express and Mastercard are shaking things up with a variety of programs to make their cards more environmentally friendly.

The card industry has tapped into new “green” technologies and alternative materials, including the use of renewable raw and card component materials to reduce the consumption of natural resources in their production. Additionally, reduced PVC content and recycled PVC content are improving the overall carbon footprint of plastic cards and are considered part of the eco-friendly initiative.

Karen Brooker, vice president of sales at Plasticard-Locktech International (PLI), says businesses today are responding to the demands of consumers who are more educated and thoughtful in their approach toward sustainability.

“Cards are highly visible to the consumer,” Brooker said. “When a card issuer reduces its impact on the environment with a change to card construction, the value of the brand is elevated in the eyes of environmentally conscious consumers.”

While demand for greener card options increases, the industry still has several challenges to overcome before they become mainstream. The cards must be durable, secure and live up to the technological requirements of modern cards, which are no longer simple plastic rectangles.

Metal Remains Top-of-Wallet
There is a cresting metal card trend in the payment card marketplace, due in large part to the recent introduction of the Titanium Apple Card. Metal cards are sleek, luxurious and durable—remaining top-of-wallet.

Jorge Ojeda, creative director, ABCorp, said, “The metal trend has also created a desire for cards that sound like metal, but aren’t simply heavy cards with a plastic feel.” Although the functionality is the same among plastic and metal cards, metal cards are more desirable because of the sound they make when dropped on a hard, flat surface.

The swelling consumer interest in metal cards is driving innovation in card manufacturing. Metal cards present an opportunity to develop products that cardholders can tell are unique and different as a result of their design, weight, rigidity and texture.

While cost is a driving factor for issuers, designers should not shy away from including a metal card in their portfolio simply to demonstrate how they can help a brand stand out and differentiate an issuer in the marketplace. “Metal can drive more interest in a brand,” said Heather Bock, director, global marketing and innovation, VISA.

Bock encourages card manufacturers to explore using new types of metals, recycled metals or a hybrid of both. “Visa is also assessing both the eco-profile and lifecycle of metal cards, trying to determine what could be done with them after usage,” she added.

As card manufacturing evolves, new materials and equipment are available to make it easier for manufacturers to produce unique designs. According to Ojeda, these include digital presses, higher-resolution printing capabilities, laser engraving, multiple simultaneous passes, adhesion capabilities and non-conventional printing capabilities.

Enhanced Security
Security is always a top priority in card design. Secure cards need to meet card body construction requirements, which are certified by industry associations and require a particular manufacturing process. The process includes heat-sealed lamination and the use of authentic materials. Utilizing certain materials such as color-shifting inks, specialty magnetic stripes and holograms can also enhance the security features in both a visual and functional way.

Fingerprint and facial recognition are the two leading technologies offering creative solutions to secure cardholder authentication. The fingerprint sensor can be powered from the RF field without the need for an additional battery, which will greatly accelerate the adoption of this technology for cardholder authentication as contactless cards gain traction worldwide. If facial recognition is successful in other consumer applications, it may not be long before it is used to authenticate transactions, similar to fingerprint technology.

Card manufacturers can expect additional changes in card materials, functionality, graphic elements, personalization and brand requirements in 2020. Creative solutions in design and manufacturing will continue to address these challenges.

Want More Industry Insider Insights or a Glimpse into Global Card Trends?
For three decades, ICMA has represented the interests of the card manufacturing industry—which includes manufacturers, personalizers, issuers and suppliers—as its leading global association.

ICMA offers regular educational opportunities, including the web-based Card Industry Training & Education program, which provides information on key areas of the industry, as well as tutorials and webinars from industry experts. ICMA also provides reports on the card market and on personalization and fulfillment statistics to keep members informed of emerging trends and changing forecasts.

Throughout the year, ICMA members have the opportunity to share insights and knowledge by giving presentations at ICMA events, webcasts and tutorials.

The organization hosts three conferences each year. The main event is the annual Card Manufacturing & Personalization EXPO and the other two conferences are CardTREX North America and CardTREX Europe.

To learn more about the benefits of ICMA membership, click here.