Autumn Maker School: Picture IDs

I’m running a program on my blog from October 2 to December 21: Autumn Maker School. The goal is to make ten useful things this fall, with a fairly broad definition of ‘useful’: So far I’ve made a 1) Volvelle, a 2) disk for braiding friendship bracelets, a 3) computer program to calculate the area and perimeter of a hexagon, and a 4) digital image of the Egyptian deity Khonsu.  Today brings us to number five (5): a student ID card.

My school secured a fairly prestigious invitation to a major institution early this summer, and the time is rapidly approaching for us to take a group of students to go.  A snag arose — every student needs a picture ID.  We’re a middle school, and a small one at that; I know 97% of the students on sight.  We need picture ID cards?

Making one for every kid in the school, and every adult, doesn’t even begin to qualify for minimum orders for most such cards. We need seven, ten at most.

So over the last few days, I made them. Heavy cardstock paper from the Design Lab, our color printer, the photography software on the Macintosh computers in our computer lab, some digital layout software, a big sheet of paper and some cardboard to make the background for the photographs, the kids and adults that needed photo IDs, a laminating machine, and my boss’s signature.  Seven cards, two hours spread over three days.


Making twenty or twenty-five would have been almost as easy — another hour, tops. Making sixty? A hundred seventy-five? Not so easy.  I’ve found the right solution for the scale at which I must work, at which I am working — but scaling up would be challenging.

No picture of this project, of course — there’s no point in providing either pictures of the students at my school on a private blog; or in making it possible for anyone to duplicate the school’s ID cards exactly.

But then, how to prove that it’s done?

Well, provide a procedure, of course:

  • Measure an existing ID — wallet card, driver’s license, etc.
    • Many of them are about 2″ x 3″ in the US, to fit into a wallet slot-pocket
  • Produce a base template that is 2x that size in one direction — so it can be folded over.
  • Use color, text, contrasting elements and fonts/typography to include:
    • a blank space for the student picture
    • a blank space for the student’s name
      • a blank space for the student’s grade
      • and hometown
      • and other data
    • a place for the head of school to sign
    • emergency contact information
    • school contact information
    • school logo
  • Create a photo studio in front of a computer
    • extra lighting
    • background in relatively neutral color
    • photography software & web-cam
  • Take the photos
  • crop and lighten the photos
  • Paste the photos into the template
  • Print the templates/digital cards onto cardstock
  • cut out, score and fold the ID cards
  • laminate the ID cards
  • cut out the cards from the laminate


It was an elegant and interesting process, but it had some challenges, too.  I’m glad it’s over with.

It did lead me into some interesting awarenesses, though.  I was authorized to produce seven cards.  But I produced ten or so, in the process of learning how to make them.  Did I counterfeit them? No, because they were never signed — and I never pretended that they were anything other than experimental.  They were even marked “DRAFT” in large letters, and watermarked as such.  At what point did they become “legal IDs”? Are they legal ID cards before an authority figure looks at them and accepts them as valid?

It’s a complicated set of questions, really.  And in some ways being a magician doesn’t make answering them any easier.  I mean, in a very real way I just created the illusion of an ID card — and then through a combination of competence, confidence, persuasion and usefulness convinced a bunch of people to agree to the proposition that it was My School’s Official ID Card.  

Which, when you come right down to it and think about it carefully, is a bizarre and magical thing to achieve.

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  1. Security is a placebo. It is sort of a magic that all involved have empowered these cards with such importance. I hope you explore this idea further.

    • I agree with you. It’s not particularly secure or sane that this sort of work can be accepted as a valid ID… but there you are.

    • If you squint, the veil or what we accept as society is very thin. Case in point:
      Why The TSA Doesn’t Stop Terrorist Attacks – Adam Ruins Everything

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