NFC Encoder Zebra Card Printer Integration

The GoToTags NFC Encoder software integrates with Zebra NFC card printers to allow for variable printing and encoding of NFC plastic cards using Zebra CardStudio. This allows for one-step printing and encoding of NFC enabled ID cards, business cards, loyalty/rewards cards, descriptive nameplates and many other uses. In this integration Zebra CardStudio is the primary application and is responsible for the card design, data source connection and printing; CardStudio uses the NFC Encoder software for the NFC encoding operations. This is accomplished by configuring CardStudio to pass dynamic arguments to the NFC Encoder software via the command line. This replaces the built-in generic RFID encoding operations provided by Zebra CardStudio.

Required Items

The following items are required for this integration:

  • GoToTags NFC Encoder software
  • Zebra NFC Card Printer (ZXP3, ZXP7, ZXP8)
  • Zebra CardStudio Professional v1.2 (or greater)
  • NFC enabled white PVC cards

The Zebra card printers must have the “Contactless Smart Card” encoding option; this is the extra option that includes the NFC reader in the card printer. The NFC reader within these printer is the Identive SDI0101 NFC reader. You must install the driver for this NFC reader; Windows Update will typically install the driver for you. You can verify the NFC reader is installed properly by looking in the Windows Device Manager under “Smart Card Readers”; “SDI010 Contactless Reader” should be listed. Only the USB interface on the card printer is supported; Ethernet and Wireless interfaces are not supported. CardStudio Professional is required as the Class and Standard editions do not support Contactless encoding.

Zebra ZXP Series 3
Zebra ZXP Series 7
Zebra ZXP Series 8

Step-by-Step Tutorial

This tutorial demonstrates creating a set of variable printed and encoded NFC cards driven by an Excel data file. This example will show printing a url on the card and encoding a website record to the NFC chip in the card. Other data sources besides Excel can be used using this same methodology. Images, QR codes and other UI elements can also be used. Please note that there should be only one NFC reader attached to the workstation. More than one can cause problems selecting the proper encoder, as Windows will use the first detected encoder for the application.

#1 Create the Excel Data File

The first step is to create the Excel file which will be the data source in CardStudio for both the printing and NFC encoding. This follows the typical process for variable printing in CardStudio; the only addition is an extra column in the data source for the NFC encoding. This column, “Arguments” defines the command line options sent to the NFC Encoder software for that specific card; this allows for unique NFC encoding per card. One of the command line options is the data to be encoded on the NFC tag (“records”). Each row in the Excel file has a different value in the “Arguments” column; this defines the unique data to be encoded on the NFC tag. Using the Excel CONCATENATE function it’s possible to define the website url in a separate column. This allows the column to be used both for variable printing and for the NFC encoding. This same technique can be used for other variable elements in the “Arguments” column (read only, other record properties…). To copy rows to generate the “Arguments” for each row you can use the Excel Fill Handle tool.

Value of the “Arguments” Cells

Note the Reference to the Url Cell (A2, A3)

=CONCATENATE(“–records “”{‘Url’:'”, A2, “‘,’RecordType’:’Website’}”” –returnFile “”c:\temp\result.ret”””)

=CONCATENATE(“–records “”{‘Url’:'”, A3, “‘,’RecordType’:’Website’}”” –returnFile “”c:\temp\result.ret”””)

You can test the Arguments by opening a Windows Command Prompt and executing the GoToTags.Encoder.exe application with the arguments. You will need an additional NFC reader for this.

#2 Configure the CardStudio Database

The next step is to connect to the Excel data file from within CardStudio. This is a standard CardStudio operation; nothing specific to NFC is required.

From within CardStudio, click the Database > Connect menu item…

Select “Card Software Excel Data Source”…

Browse to the Excel data file you created in the previous step…

Choose the correct worksheet in the Excel file that contains the printing and encoding data…

Verify the data…

Verify the appropriate columns are listed…

Now just click “Finish” and you will have setup the data source.

#3 Configure the CardStudio Contactless Properties

This step is a crucial step to connect CardStudio with GoToTags NFC Encoder software. At a high-level the way this works is that CardStudio is configured to call an external application (the GoToTags NFC Encoder) during the contactless encoding step rather than do the encoding itself. The integration can be configured to use either static or variable (data driven) encoding. This example shows the more complicated variable encoding scenario.

In CardStudio click the “Contactless Smart Card Properties” toolbar icon…

Click the “Encoding Setup” button (ignore the rest of this window)…

Un-check the “Encode Directly” check box to disable encoding from CardStudio. Check the “Execute External Plug-in” check box to pass control to the GoToTags NFC Encoder software…

Configure the GoToTags NFC Encoder software…

This is the most important step as it defines the actual integration between CardStudio and the GoToTags NFC Encoder software.

  • Command Line: This is the full path to the GoToTags.Encoder.exe file.
  • Variable Source: If using data driven variable encoding, select the “Arguments” column from the data source.
  • Data to Encode: Once the Variable Source has been set this will show the first card’s Arguments value.
  • Check Return File for OK: This must be checked. It tells CardStudio to continue after a successful NFC encoding operation. A successful NFC encoding operation is determined if the return file (–returnFile) contains the text “OK”. If this is not checked, CardStudio will show a modal dialog asking for the user to continue after the NFC encoding is complete.
#4 Configure the Variable Printing Elements (Optional)

This step shows how to create variable printing elements on the card. This is a normal CardStudio process and has nothing to do with NFC encoding. It’s very common, so we include it here for completeness.

Configure a variable text object…

  • Drag a new Text Object onto the card.
  • In the Source configuration (right-hand sidebar) choose Database Source/
  • Select the “Url” column.
#5 Printing and NFC Encoding

Now that we’ve setup everything it’s time to print and encode the NFC cards!
The card file in CardStudio should look like this…

Click the File > Card Print menu item to open the Card Print/Process dialog…

Click OK! The printed and encoded NFC cards will come out into the hopper.