CARD systems firm Ultra Electronics was today hailed as one of the best in the country with a royal seal of approval.

The Granby-based company has been awarded a Queen's Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category - making a hat-trick of the prestigious awards.

The accolade was approved by the Queen and announced on her birthday today after a recommendation from the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Ultra was chosen for the award because of its innovation in developing low-cost identity card systems.

Managing director Ray Coles said: "We have been developing and manufacturing thermal transfer printers here in Weymouth for omore than 20 years, and this is our third Queen's Award.

"Initially the technology was developed for military applications, but now the technology can be used by anybody who needs a secure way to prove their identity.

"We sell many thousands of our Magicard printers throughout the world each year, and we also provide the key colour film supplies which allow the thermal printing process to produce photographic image quality."

Mr Coles added: "I am particularly pleased that our latest entry-level printers have been recognised in this way, because our design teams have been very innovative in their use of plastic mouldings to reduce cost.

"We have filed many new patents to add to our earlier security patents which have already set us apart from our competitors in the USA and the Far East."

Ultra Electronics Card Systems is a division of Ultra Electronics Holdings Plc and is one of two Ultra business units based in Weymouth.

The award will be formally conferred by a grant of appointment which will be presented to Ultra Card Systems by the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset later in the year.

The low-cost ID card printers enable the computer generation of full-colour plastic identity cards or badges without specialist training and at low cost.

The printers utilise patented anti-counterfeiting technology to print customised watermarks across the face of the card, and can be supplied with a magnetic stripe encoder to program the card with digital information. Ultra says that its new family of printers uses innovative electronic and plastics technology to reduce the cost of printing and to bring the technology within the reach of schools, clubs and small businesses for the first time.

The printers complement Ultra's Magicard Professional printer range, which is sold throughout the world for printing national ID cards, drivers' licenses, and access control security badges.