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8 creative credit card designs that flopped

Wooden, fluorescent and scented cards are among companies' design duds

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To convince consumers to grab one card out of their wallets over all the others, credit card companies have gone out of their way to spice up those utilitarian pieces of 2-inch-by-3-inch plastic.

Though creative designs in the credit card industry have led to innovations such as microchips and create-your-own-card designs, there have also been many flubs along the way. In this slideshow, we'll look at eight of those designs that failed to find their place so far in wallets across America -- and some that never even made it out of the lab.

3D cards

3D is all the rage in movie theaters across the country, but to this point, attempts to latch on to the extra dimension have eluded credit card companies. "These haven't actually gotten into the marketplace in large amounts because of the difficulty of producing them in large amounts," says John Kiekhaefer, research and development manager at Perfect Plastic Printing. "A little while ago, Visa introduced Serigraph printing technology that involved flat printing, but because of the technology, you could create an image that had some depth to it. Visa was going to license this to manufacturers to make these 3D cards, but because of the cost of the technology and also the licensing fee, very few people signed onto it."

Fluorescent and glow-in-the-dark cards

Have you ever tried using a credit card in the dark? No? Well, that’s probably why this design never took hold. "There have been some attempts to bring in cards that have fluorescent and glow-in-the-dark designs, but they're not widely accepted because it tends to create an image of being cheap," says Kiekhaefer with Perfect Plastic Printing. "At one point, we developed the glow-in-the-dark feature to the point that it was very bright, almost to the point where you could read in a dark room with it. I thought it might be something to use as an emergency lighting device, but that didn't seem to catch on either."

Eco-friendly cards

Consumer demand for greener products has trickled down to credit cards. Some labs have experimented with using card materials that are more environmentally friendly, such as materials that are biodegradable or that come from renewable resources. However, these materials do not always hold up to rigorous testing environments, says Kevin Tall, president of Eclipse Laboratories, a card testing lab. Recycled plastic is another option, but it tends to be more expensive than virgin plastic.

Wood cards

For the ultimate in "green," some manufacturers have actually turned to wood as a possible credit card material. "The wood card is a green approach, because wood is considered to be a renewable resource," says Kiekhaefer with Perfect Plastic Printing. "I don't know how far that's going to go. The wood tends to be brittle, so you can snap it in two pretty easily. The biggest use of it so far is for hotel keycards."

Thermal cards

Like the bygone "hypercolor" T-shirts of the 1980s, thermal cards that change color in different temperatures or when touched are one fad that has so far failed to take off. "I expect it is not necessarily a draw for the cardholder," said Perfect Plastic Printing's Kiekhaefer.

Keychain or "pay pass" cards

You’ve probably seen these tiny "contactless" cards or fobs that use embedded computer chip and radio frequency technology to communicate your payment information to the merchant. But if you're like the majority of Americans, you don't use this for your transactions. "Visa and MasterCard have both approved the financial use of [this] type of card, but it really has never gained mass acceptance -- probably for some obvious reasons. We're not always careful with our keys," says Steve Knapp, general manager of card production services at Fiserv. If these fall into the wrong hands, easy financial transactions aren’t necessarily a feature everyone is eager to have.

Oddly shaped cards

Ever wonder why all credit cards have the same basic shape and width? The reason is because all cards must conform to certain standards as defined by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. That doesn't mean companies haven’t tried other designs -- Fiserv's Knapp says he once worked on a bone-shaped credit card. "It was the size of a traditional credit card, but it receded in the middle," he says. "Put it in an ATM and you’re in trouble. Try it at the gas pump and it won’t be recognized. Suffice it to say it never made it."

Scented cards

Credit cards do lack that certain scent that clings to money. Maybe that’s a good thing, but some companies have created credit cards that smell like everything from cinnamon, mint, orange, coffee and citrus in the hopes of perking up your nose. But despite these aromatic advances, chances are good that your cards still just smell like -- well -- nothing. Why? "The problem with scented cards is that once you have manufactured them on your equipment, other card orders you run through will then have the same smell," says Perfect Plastic Printing's Kiekhaefer. "So no one is encouraging that technology."

See related: You think your credit smells? Cards with aromas issued, Does Spaghetti Jimmy really win? A look at credit card personalization

Published: September 27, 2011


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