The Layered Look: The Latest Trend in ID Card Security

While microprocessors raise the digital security of cards, printing and designs keep up with the high-tech push


Coupling holographic foils with holographic overlaminates provides the ultimate in cross-authenticating layering security. Holographic overlaminates are more expensive than seals and may require a minimum production run of 10,000 images or more. While this cost may be prohibitive for smaller organizations, overlaminates remain the holographic industry's gold standard. Overlaminates are created by applying a clear polyester patch to an already-printed ID card, improving the card's resistance to surface abrasion, dye-migration and tampering. By customizing the holographic image on the overlaminate, organizations can provide yet another layer of security.

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Deciding what type of security element to include in your custom design can be the most difficult part of the layering process. Some elements are visible to the naked eye; others require sophisticated devices to read them.

Overt Visual Security

Popular overt visual security elements are available today and are viewable with the naked eye. They include the following:

  • Morphing Images, either custom or standard, in which two images blend to create a third, giving the illusion of animation,
  • Fine Line Design, which incorporates complex patterns that appear to be moving when viewed at certain angles,
  • Pseudo Color, an element that shows metallic tones when the card is tilted one way and true colors when tilted another,
  • 2D/3D Ribbon, providing a complex background image of flowing ribbons that often interact with other images on the card, and
  • Flip Images, featuring left/right, top/bottom artwork that provides a sophisticated level of animation when the card is tilted.

Covert Visual Security

The next layer in security images can only be seen with a peripheral device to interpret and visualize the image. Such peripherals may include easy-to-source devices such as hand-held magnifying glasses or inexpensive (under $20) laser pens. Training those who are authenticating IDs is important to ensure they know how and where to look for these elements. Two of the most common covert elements are:

  • Hidden Text, sometimes called Laser Text, using invisible alphanumeric type, and
  • Micro Text, placed within a line or an element of artwork.

Forensic Visual Security

Perhaps the most unique is the forensic element of nano text, viewable only under high-powered magnification. Nano text typically involves a string of microscopic alphanumeric type placed within the lines of the artwork. Often one of the repeated words is spelled wrong to provide yet another level of covert detail. To view this type of security feature, lab-level peripherals are needed such as a high-powered microscope. Authentication at this level is on a highly sophisticated basis, with highly trained staff.

What's Next?

While holograms have been around for decades, gaining popularity in the 1960s with the rise of laser technology, they clearly are still providing important layers of ID card security. Yet other forms of even more sophisticated technologies are not far behind.

Biometrics, for example, is no longer a "security element of the future". In 2003, the research firm of Frost and Sullivan predicted that fingerprint and facial recognition biometrics applications would grow to $3.5 billion by 2009. The U.S. Department of Defense is already matching biometric data stored on its Common Access Card with a live image from a biometric sensor, testing the application for future use.

As new technology comes to the market, new laws are being enacted to punish those who seek to falsify ID cards. The Secure Authentication Feature and Enhancement Identification Defense (SAFE ID) Act became law in April 2003. It criminalizes possession or use of authentication features such as watermarks, holograms and other security features to make false IDs.

How secure are your organization's ID cards? Keeping one step ahead of criminal activity is an ongoing challenge, but organizations that embrace a layered approach to security have a much better chance of outsmarting the counterfeiters.

About the author: Alan Fontanella serves as director of product marketing, secure materials for Fargo Electronics Inc., where he stays current on what the manufacturing community is doing to prevent counterfeiting of ID cards and other documents.