Reports that China is flooding the United States with high‑quality fake driving licenses and other similar incidences remind us constantly that the battle to beat the identity document counterfeiters and criminals continues unabated. However, governments, security agencies and brand owners are fighting back with the latest in advanced hologram technology. Ian Lancaster, general secretary of the International Hologram Manufacturers Association (IHMA), looks at some of the latest developments ensuring that holography continues to add value on the anti-counterfeiting and authentication frontline.

Over the last 30 years, since they first appeared in UN passports, holograms have made rapid gains in ID anti‑counterfeiting, moving initially from an authentication device to the protection of personal biodata contained within the passport. This has been further underpinned by the EU, when in 2004 its draft security standards for passports were adopted. This saw incorporation with EC Regulation No 2252/2004 for minimum standards, stipulating that: “An optically variable (OVD) or equivalent device, which provides the same level of authentication and security as currently used in the uniform visa format, shall be used on the biographical data page and shall take the form of diffractive structures which vary from different angles incorporated into the hot‑sealed or an equivalent laminate (as thin as possible) or applied as an OVD overlay, or stickers on a non‑laminated paper inside page (as metallised or partially demetallised OVD with intaglio overprinting) or equivalent devices.”1

Another major driver for the inclusion of holographic technology on ID documents came when in 2002 the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) specified that passports should feature OVDs such as holograms to combat counterfeiters, particularly in the wake of 9/11. ICAO Doc 9303, Part 1, Volume 1 states: “When the biographical data page of a passport book is protected by a laminate or overlay, an optically variable feature (preferably based on diffractive structure) should be integrated into the page. Such a feature should not affect the legibility of the data (…). The inclusion of a diffractive optically variable feature is recommended to achieve an enhanced level of protection against reproduction.”2

Big business
The identification document market is big business, worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to designers, producers and suppliers of passports, driving licences and pass cards. The demand is driven by events such as 9/11, increased security in the wake of the threat of increased global terrorism, a more transient and migratory population, and the need for better and more effective identity confirmation for all types of access or services. Today, holography remains a security feature of choice to secure the critical personal data in a passport or an ID card against interference, tampering, alteration, forgery or counter-feiting. Keesing Reference Systems estimated back in 2012 that more than 55% of passports use an OVD to protect data, and of this 67% were DOVIDS.3
   The overall production of passports, which is currently estimated to be upwards of 300 million per year, may fluctuate, but undoubtedly continues to grow as populations increase, and more and more people travel abroad. This allied to the fact that all ICAO member States must now issue machine readable passports with ICAO recommending the use of OVDs, all but guarantees a growing market for a security holography industry that has moved to meet the challenge thrown down by those with responsibility for producing and administering identity documents over the last 13 years, with a range of high‑quality, state‑of‑the‑art, benefits‑led security products for all types of documents, which perform to high standards.

Role of the hologram
The role of a hologram on a passport and other identity documents is principally to shield against the forgery of the photograph and personal data, otherwise known as the ‘variable information’. However, the ability of the hologram to provide effective protection lies in the continuous innovation, invention and evolution of holo-graphic techniques. Both optical effects and material science techniques have created authenti-cation devices that are easily recognised yet difficult to copy accurately. They can be safely integrated within the production process and stand up to the rigorous demands of being in use for a period of anything up to ten years. 
   Virtually anything can be copied, and the holography industry continues to work hard to get the message across that even the most sophisticated holograms can be reproduced to some extent. The real issue is just how accurately can holograms be copied? The answer is that the intrinsic features of holograms mean that the techniques and visual effects make it difficult to copy 100% accurately a well‑designed security hologram. This is where the real value of holograms designed for security applications should be appreciated. This has ensured their success – the document they protect may have been counterfeited but, whereas it can be relatively easy to simulate the effects of other overt features, a poorly copied hologram is more often than not the telltale sign that all is not what it appears.
   Authentication alongside the protection of personal data (name, date of birth and photo) must be guaranteed, whether that data is on a passport, driving licence, national ID card or any other ID item. Effectively, holograms serve not only as a deterrent and secure means of protection and authentication, but also as a warning that a document might be counterfeit. There-fore, a hologram is not solely to prevent counterfeits but acts as an effective detection device, making it easier for the trained eye to distinguish the legitimate from the fake.

Recent developments
Passport production and critically, personalisation,is exacting and has proved technically challenging for the holography industry. However, it is one that manufacturers are responding to, with recent developments including a whole new generation of personalised photopolymer holograms which match the biodata contained within the passport.
   Today, both material science and optics are playing
a significant part in the development of holography. Indeed, a data page with a holographic thin film overlay is so tamper‑proof that the illicit trade in false passports has moved to attempting to match a person to the photograph rather than trying to alter the actual pass-port. Polycarbonate technologies are also taking a larger share of the passport and ID market and, here too, the holography industry has shown its capacity for inno-vation and technical competence through the creation of products that are so fully integrated into the data page or card structure that it cannot be delaminated. 

figure 1

Lippmann hologram transfer foils
Elsewhere, manufacturers continue to showcase innovation in passport and ID holograms. For example, the Japanese printing company Dai Nippon Printing (DNP) has developed what it claims to be the world’s first Lippmann hologram transfer foils (Figure 1), positioning the range as the next generation OVDs offering substantial advantages over embossed OVDs when it comes to security and authentication.

This latest move takes DNP’s advances in Lippmann hologram material to a new stage, with the developments necessary for the die‑efficiency of the spot transfer foils. Up until now, photopolymer materials for passport and ID card applications have been subject to barriers preventing their use: inadequate heat resistance of the material, thickness of the photo-polymer layer and transferability quality. However, DNP believes it has overcome these with a foil in thickness of 5-10 µm that can be applied through continuous lamination by card and personalisation machines, or die‑cut with sharp edges, while retaining a good quality photographic image.
   This has been achieved through boosting the tensile strength of the material and improved photopolymers for greater brightness and heat resistance, creating a material able to withstand roll transfer temperatures up to 140°C and spot transfer temperatures of 150°C. Passport examples produced by DNP using its Secure Image® range reveal a multitude of integrated features, including a full parallax 3D image as well as flipping images or the switch effect, contrasting colour elements, guilloche patterns with high brightness, microtext and covert laser readable image. This is part of a strategy to make Lippmann holograms highly secure and virtually impossible to be reproduced by any other means – a welcome development for document security applications.

figure 2.

KINEGRAM® security technology
Holograms continue to play an important part in moving hitherto successful identity documents to the next stage of development as authorities and security agencies look to remain one step ahead of the fraudsters and criminal gangs. For instance, Interpol has now raised the bar even further with the introduction of its second generation passport as it seeks to take advantage of the most advanced features available. The new passport has been enhanced with Kurz’s KINEGRAM® security technology – an example of how the industry creates innovative anti‑counterfeiting solutions based on established and successful products. In particular, there are ongoing developments to use the technology to link with and protect the RFID chips now used on passports to improve security levels. The KINEGRAM® is a product of OVD Kinegram AG, Switzerland, who is a member of the Kurz Group.

figure 3.

Other innovations
At the recent Cartes exhibition in Paris several hologram companies were showing new developments in holograms for ID cards, in particular for polycarbonate cards. As mentioned before, Dai Nippon Printing has developed its Lippmann holograms so they can be embedded as a secure patch within the body of the card, while Czech company Optaglio introduced a new production line for its patented OVMesh™ solution (Figure 2) for polycarbonate sheets. This enables 100% of the card or passport surface to be available for bicolour designs, while a surface relief DOVID with a mosaic structure enables the design to migrate into the polycarbonate to ensure that it cannot be removed without destruction of the card (Figure 3). It is also possible to combine OVMesh™ structures with OVImage solutions – creating a unique combination of micro-holograms (40-1,000 µm ), metallic microparticles with DOVID features and coding.
   Holography has also gained further traction as an integral part of the UK’s much vaunted Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS) after the recent launch of a new 18+ PASS card design that features on 18+ CitizenCards. The new design displays the PASS hologram together with the logos of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Trading Standards Institute and the Security Industry Authority (SIA) that licenses bar and club door staff across the UK. Welcoming the new design, Andrew Chevis, CitizenCard’s Chief Executive, said: “The police and door staff are literally on the cards and every major bar and club operator has welcomed the new design. Any adult across the UK should be able to use these cards in bars, clubs and elsewhere without any difficulty. The new card is a fitting way to celebrate CitizenCard’s 15th Anniversary.”
   Recently commended in the Best Applied Security Project category at the Excellence in Holography Awards 2014 was Hologram Industries for its high‑security laminate as used on the Estonian passport. This demonstrates the security of incorporating several advanced optically variable features including unique personalisation components into the laminate to protect the passport data page. In this example the laminate incorporates an optically variable version of the passport number.

Assured future
The holography industry never stands still for long it is clearly driven by a quest for innovation and commercial opportunity but also by the chance to find ever more interesting applications for this most versatile and adaptable of security devices. It is clear that holograms remain not only the single most used overt authentication device but, increasingly these days, multifunction devices that include covert features, codes and smartphone reading capabilities; reinforcing their role as an effective, eye‑catching and value‑added security feature of choice for safeguarding the critical personal data in a passport or on an ID card against tampering, alteration, forgery or counterfeiting. 

Issued on behalf of the IHMA by Mitchell Halton Watson Ltd. For further details contact Andy Bruce on +44 (0) 191 233 1300 or email

1 Council Regulation (EC) No 2252/2004 of 13 December 2004 on standards for security features and biometrics in passports and travel documents issued by Member States. Accessed on 22 April 2015.
2 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Doc 9303: Machine Readable Travel Documents, Part 1: Machine Readable Passports, Volume 1: Passports with Machine Readable Data Stored in Optical Character Recognition Format. Current version: sixth edition 2006;

3 Clerc, R. (2012), Adoption of features in identity documents, Keesing Journal of Documents & Identity, Overview of Travel Documents 2006-2011, pp. 3-10.

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Ian Lancaster is a holography specialist and consultant with considerable experience in the field of anti-counterfeiting, security and authentication. He has served as General Secretary to the Interna­tional Hologram Manu­facturers Association since its foundation in 1994, and was recently appointed Chairman of the new CEN Workshop on Protocols for Detecting Counterfeits. Prior to founding Reconnaissance International, which offers consultancy services, he established Third Dimension Ltd, a company that manu­factures holograms. Ian has served as Executive Director of the Museum of Holography in New York.

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