Start a Security Printing Business

International Security Products  

(289. Start a Security Printing Business

Security printing is the field of the printing industry that deals with the printing of items such as banknotespassportstamper-evidentlabels, product authenticationstock certificatespostage stamps and identity cards. The main goal of security printing is to prevent forgery, tampering, or counterfeiting. More recently many of the techniques used to protect these high value documents have become more available to commercial printers whether they are using the more traditional offset and flexographic presses or the newer digital platforms. Businesses are protecting their lesser value documents such as transcripts, coupons and prescription pads by incorporating some of the features listed below to ensure that they cannot be forged or that alteration of the data cannot occur undetected. 

A number of technical methods are used in the security printing industry. 

Government and corporation document printing

Types of documents and techniques to protect them

Governments and corporations require high security documents to prevent tampering, alteration and to allow for easy recognition of the genuine item.
Such products include tax documents, financial documents, government bonds, examination / company certificates, fiscal stamps and ballot papers for local and national elections.
The strength of a document is in the combination of security features. If your document contains 5 or more elements of security and other institutions are only using 3 you can be fairly certain that they will be targeted before you. The counterfeiter will always look for the easiest and most cost-effective route. Skimp on budget, you skimp on security.
We're not recommending you have every possible security feature known to man, the cost of production would be prohibitive. What we do recommend is that you need to balance the cost against security. The question you need to ask yourself, as a security printing buyer, is "how much it would it cost to remedy a breach of security?".
Is it going to cost you money, or is it going to cost you in trust?

Finding the balance of security vs budget

If people are aware that their driving licences can be easily compromised, it could easily lose the trust of the government body and your job! This could cause a huge problem that could have been prevented by allocating an extra £0.02 per document for added security.
From our experience, people are very quick to discount (so called) expensive security features that are non-essential until the time comes that illegal copies are being distributed. Only then does the budget increase as you "can't afford the embarrassment again" and increase the security on the second version of you document.
Enough of the lesson, let's get down and dirty with the features that you should be looking for when buying for your company or government department.
You need to make a check list of the different elements that you feel would be suitable for your job. Important considerations need to be made on the following:-
  1. Security Papers or Security Label Stock
  2. Printing technique
  3. Security Inks
  4. Holograms or OVD
  5. Serialisation and numbering
  6. Personalization
  7. Quantity
Once you have chosen the different elements you are ready to contact suppliers for quotations on your work.
You need to understand that low-volume production is usually very expensive (per unit) and it is difficult to get these jobs at reasonable prices due to the amount of set-up involved.
Typically a job that is A4 in size and has about 4 to 6 colours with a quantity over 50,000 units would get reasonable prices. When you go over these quantities you will start to see good savings. When under, expect the unit price to increase dramatically.

Brand Protection and Asset Management

Products used in asset and brand protection environments

Asset management products are used in a variety of applications in order to prevent the copying or counterfeiting of branded products. The can also be used to identify grey market imports and to track and trace products in different geographic environments.
In general, asset protection is applied to the packaging of branded products and is designed to be difficult to replicate using standard printing and copying facilities and equipment. In many circumstances, they provide features that are almost impossible to reproduce easily.
The solutions are usually provided in a format that allows hand or machine application (to compliment existing manufacturing or production facilities).
Products that are available incorporate a wide range of secure technologies such as secure tags and labels that include both OVD's (optically variable devices, such are holograms) and secure print features.
In addition to this, and in most circumstances, variable data is printed and can be provided by the security printer (from your supplied database) - or the labels can be provided on rolls for you to personalize with your own equipment in-house.
To reinforce the printed security, we recommend you look closely into types of label substrates and physical security measures such as security cuts and high-bond adhesives. There are many types of solutions out there and you may find that your supplier may recommend processes that only they can provide.
Quite often a label supplier will have a new product that may fit your needs perfectly so the first step is what is the label or tag being applied to. You can then choose suitable label stocks - from this you can choose a suitable printer to work with it.
If you need ultra-security it is not unknown for multiple security printers to get involved - this gives you the option of adding many different features .. but at a cost!
Applications for these products include automotive parts, pharmaceutical products, branded apparel, cosmetics and entertainment (CD, DVD and Video).

Holograms and optical variable devices

What is a hologram or OVD and why should I use this technology?

The term 'OVD' (Optically Variable Device) is used to describe both laser generated hologram images and electron beam generated images.
These optically variable devices are created in highly-secure facilities and are at the forefront of overt asset and brand protection programmes.
The OVD can be used as a stand-alone feature or can be combined with printed security features to create devices that are extremely difficult to replicate using conventional photocopy or scanning technologies.

OVD technologies
The list of technologies below is by no means exhaustive. It is simply meant to act as a guide to the most frequently used OVD technologies.
2D/3D - a laser generated holographic image that has depth and parallax. It uses two dimensional artwork to build a three dimensional picture.
3D - is a laser generated image that depicts an object in 3D. It can be computer generated or created using a micro-model.
Dot Matrix - generally flat, rather than three dimensional, but highly kinetic holographic image. It can be high resolution and is ideal for containing optical forensic features such as microtext.
Filmed Stereogram - a 3D moving image created from a filmed subject. Ideal for high security work and can also be computer generated.
Combination Images - As the name suggests, a combination of some of the above single technologies in order to create an image with increased security.
Ebeam Image - this is an image created without the use of a laser. The underlying structure of the image is written at the microscopic level with an electron beam generator. This type of image can include three dimensional and highly kinetic elements with forensic features within one image. It is highly secure, but commands a high price.
Designing a hologram
From your supplied artwork (line art, colour separated or a computer file) a hologram can be chosen to suit your application. This takes into account the substrate onto which the hologram will be applied and the existing graphics with which the hologram will interact.
The design proof is usually supplied as both hard copy colour print (where the security features contained within the hologram will be detailed and shown in magnification) and as a fully animated video file that can be played on a desktop PC.
Providing your supplier offers these stages it will allow them to engineer any changes whilst the OVD is still in its design stage. The OVD is not 'originated' until the hard copy colour print and video file have been agreed by you. Once you have approved the inital designs, the OVD is then originated (created) and manufacturing can commence.

Registered Images, continuous images and stripes
When the OVD is designed it will be either a registered image or continuous image. You will make your choice, governed by cost, application speed, security of the image and aesthetic appearance.
A registered (specific) image can be described as a single discreet picture (image a portrait of yourself). Even though the requirement may be for millions of images, all the images will be 'separate' items but each is exactly the same as the next. During application, the registered image is applied in exactly the same position on each document that passes through the application press. This is the type of OVD seen on credit cards and passports.
A continuoius image is often called a wallpaper pattern. This is because the image is designed so that wherever an impression is taken, all of the elements will be included, although not necessarily in the same position as the preceeding impression. in general, continuous images are designed for cost-effectiveness rather than overall aesthetic or security concerns.
A recent development has been the introduction of the OVD stripe. Generally the stripe is an OVD continuous pattern applied at a width of 10mm or less. The benefit of strips is that application speeds are very high and thus the unit cost is lower. This makes OVD stripe application ideal for large runs. An OVD stripe can be seen on the £20 note and the Euro banknotes.

Metallised, demettalised and selectively demetallised
The embossed hologram is metallised using a vacuum deposition process. This gives the hologram its silver appearance. Lacquer coatings can be used in the production process to alter the colour of the hologram, giving gold, red, blue etc.
It is also possible to use high refractive index coatings in the metallisation process instead of aluminium. This allows the OVD to be transparent at some angles of view yet fully diffractive at other angles. This type of product is ideal for ID applications where the transparent hologram is used as a security device to protect a photograph or important data.
A further process that can significantly increase the security of the OVD is selective demettalisation. In this process metal is removed from the OVD image after metallisation. Fine detail patterns can be achieved, including micro text. This process, when allied to a high security image creates a product that would be almost impossible to copy accurately.

Carrier Medium
The OVD's that are in general use today are created as embossed, metallised images. This is the type of OVD as seen on a bank card, cheque or bank note.
The OVD can be supplied as a pressure sensitive (self adhesive) label or as a transfer foil suitable for hot or cold stamping by rotary or platten application. The OVD images can also be supplied as a lamination film suitable for packaging applications.
In most cases, the OVD's that can be seen on bank cards, banknotes, tickets, printed documents and cheques have been produced as hot stamping foils which are applied with high-speed precision equipment.

Hot stamping foils
Most security printers use a large volume of security hot stamping foils. They are produced to high specifications and are applied using specialist equipment onto products that are produced in their factories. They can apply registered image, continuous image and stripe as some have platen and rotary application methods. In general, hot stamping foils are used in conjuction with paper or polymer (plastic) substrates. A pre-printed material is passed through an application press at high speed and the OVD is applied onto the surface of the material. This process is used to apply OVD's onto cheques, labels, tickets and financial documents. The application process is usually accurate to +/- 0.25mm ensuring consistency throughout the production run.

Hologram Labels
OVDs can also be supplied as labels that are tamper evident. These can be applied by hand, by hand-held applicator or by high speed labelling machines. The basic types of tamper evident labels that you can purchase exhibit their tamper evidence either by delaminating, voiding or by fracture/crumbling if an attempt is made to remove them.
Suppliers can also manufacture labels that combine security features with OVDs in order to enhance their products' performance and to allow the end user to perform a simple test of the label. The combination of print and OVD can offer a much more aesthetically pleasing product than an OVD only label. The labels can also be indelibly numbered and the larger labels can have variable data and barcodes printed.

Cheques, Event Tickets, Gift Vouchers, Lottery Tickets, Swing Tags, Labels for tamper-evident use, Labels for Brand and Asset Protection, Taxation Documents, Parking Permits, Identity Documents, Access Control Passes.

Value documents and cheques

What can I do to protect my cheques and value documents from forgery and counterfeiting?

Cheques, bank drafts and value documents are highly susceptible to fraud as they usually have a high value to counterfeiters.
With the increased security of chip and pin introduced in the UK for credit card security, forgers look towards weaker and less protected items.
Cheque printing is governed by APACS (see accreditation bodies) and they work closely with the high street banks to come up with standards to make the copying of these documents as difficult as possible.
There are two types of forgery methods for these documents;
  1. Printing of the entire product - from blank paper to finished, signed document ready for presentation.
  2. Alteration of existing numbers, words and account details on an existing document.
The latter is the easiest to undertake as most of the hard work has been completed already. The security paper has been sourced, the colours of the logo and security backgrounds are spot-on and the signature is already there. All you have to concentrate on is the overprinted elements which need to be changed.
So many company, corporation and institution buyers seem more focussed on the security of the item itself that they can overlook the fact that the personalization of the document is poorly protected.
It's great having an electron beam hologram origination, with UV fibre and watermarked security paper printed with split duct workings. But if the area that holds the valued information is not sufficiently protected, you are essentially making the job of counterfeiting even easier for the casual forger.
At redemption, the admin clerk is looking to make sure that the hologram is authentic, is checking the paper and print but overlooks the alteration to the payee and amount information as the area is not protected properly.
Talking about personalization, you also need to make sure that the printer used is of APACS approved quality as certain toners on laser printers are easier to 'lift' than others. This is an important consideration in itself.
So to get back to the document/cheque itself, yes, it is important to have good security protection of the general item itself. The paper, security design and security inks forms the backbone of the security and an OVD will increase the security of the item - which will make it look less appealing to the forger but you do need to concentrate on the overprinted area(s).
We recommend that the standard security APACS features are implemented such as the fugitive, invisible, solvent sensitive and water soluable inks along with a fine detail guilloche design - this will make the area more secure .. but we also recommend that you print an all over invisible ink panel (which has been mentioned by APACS before under the codename of Pimpernell) over the written areas as a secondary measure. This is invisible to the forger (unless they use a black light / UV lamp - Note: Which most of them will have!) however it is difficult to replicate easily without the correct inks and any attempt at alteration will be revealed at redemption when a UV lamp will show tampering has ocurred.
For additional security why not consider overlaying a self adhesive transparent hologram panel over the amount box? We have recommended supply of these to countries in Africa and with tremendous results.
The clear panel has an obvious holographic design and the adhesive is optically clear so that you can read what is printed underneath - however when removed it will a) Damage the substrate, b) Usually lift the printing directly underneath it, c) Damage or destuct the hologram label itself.
You do need to remember though that the security of any printed product is that ability to identify any alterations or forgeries at redemption. If a clerk doesn't know that a hologram is more than a piece of aluminium foil, then you can guess the outcome.
Cheques and value documents are usually printed using offset-litho printing methods and will use CBS1 security paper.

Special paper

Most banknotes are made of heavy paper, almost always from cotton fibres for strength and durability, in some cases linen or speciality coloured or forensic fibres are added to give the paper added individuality and protect against counterfeiting. Some countries includingRomaniaMexicoNew ZealandIsraelSingapore and Australia produce banknotes made from polymer, in order to improve wear and tear, and permit the inclusion of a small transparent window a few millimeters in size as a security feature that is very difficult to reproduce using common counterfeiting techniques. In November 2011 Canada joined the list of countries using polymer currency as it began the rollout of a new banknote series.

watermark is a recognizable image or pattern in paper that appears lighter or darker than surrounding paper when viewed with a light from behind the paper, due to paper density variations. A watermark is made by impressing a water coated metal stamp or dandy roll onto the paper during manufacturing. Watermarks were first introduced in Bologna, Italy in 1282; as well as their use in security printing, they have also been used by papermakers to identify their product. Watermarks can also be made on polymer currency, for example, Australia has its coat of arms watermarked on all its plastic bills.

Intaglio printing

Intaglio is a printing technique in which the image is incised into a surface. Normally, copper or zinc plates are used, and the incisions are created by etching or engraving the image, but one may also use mezzotint. In printing, the surface is covered in ink, and then rubbed vigorously with tarlatan cloth or newspaper to remove the ink from the surface, leaving it in the incisions. A damp piece of paper is placed on top, and the plate and paper are run through a printing press that, through pressure, transfers the ink to the paper.
The very sharp printing obtained from the intaglio process is hard to imitate by other means. Intaglio also allows for the creation of latent images which are only visible when the document is viewed at a very shallow angle.

Geometric lathe work

guilloché is an ornamental pattern formed of two or more curved bands that interlace to repeat a circular design. They are made with ageometric lathe.


This involves the use of extremely small text, and is most often used on currency and bank checks. The text is generally small enough to be indiscernible to the naked eye. Cheques, for example, use microprint as the signature line.

]Optically Variable Color-changing inks

Color changing inks are inks containing pearlescent pigments that change color when viewed at a different angle. The color of the ink does not actually change, but the angle of the light to the viewer's eye changes and thus creates the change in color. A number of types are available, including green to purple, gold to green and green to lilac.


hologram may be embedded either via hot-stamping foil, wherein an extremely thin layer of only a few microns of depth is bonded into the paper or a plastic substrate by means of a hot-melt adhesive (called a size coat) and heat from a metal die, or it may be directly embossed as holographic paper, or onto the laminate of a card itself.

Security threads

There are two kinds of security threads. One is a thin aluminum coated and partly demetalized polyester film thread with microprinting which is embedded in the security paper as banknote or passport paper.
The other kind of security thread is the single or multicolor sewing thread made from cotton or synthetic fibers, mostly UV fluorescent, for the bookbinding of passport booklets.

Magnetic ink

Because of the speed with which they can be read by computer systems, magnetic ink character recognition is used extensively in banking, primarily for personal checks. The ink used in Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) technology is also used to greatly reduce errors in automated (or computerized) reading.
Some people believe that the magnetic ink was intended as a fraud prevention concept, yet the original intent was to have a non-optical technology so that writing on the cheque, like signatures, would not interfere with reading. The main magnetic fonts (E13-B and CMC7) are downloadable for a small fee and in addition magnetic toner is available for many printers. Some higher resolution toners have sufficient magnetic properties for magnetic reading to be successful without special toner.

Serial numbers

Serial numbers are not difficult to forge, but make legitimate documents easier to track and audit.

Anti-copying marks

In the late twentieth century advances in computer and photocopy technology made it possible for people without sophisticated training to easily copy currency. In an attempt to prevent this, banks have sought to add filtering features to the software and hardware available to the public that senses features of currency, and then locks out the reproduction of any material with these marks. One known example of such a system is the EURion constellation.


Sometimes only the original document has value. An original signed check for example has value but a photocopy of it does not. An original prescription script can be filled but a photocopy of it should not be. Copy-evident technologies provide security to hard copy documents by helping distinguish between the original document and the copy.
The most common technology to help differentiate originals from copies is the Void Pantograph. Void Pantographs are essentially invisible to the untrained, naked eye on an original but when scanned or copied the layout of lines, dots and dashes will reveal a word (frequently VOID and hence the name) or symbol that clearly allows the copy to be identified. This technology is available on both traditional presses (offset and flexographic) and on the newer digital platforms. The advantage of a digital press is that in a single pass through the printer a void pantograph with all the variable data can be printed on plain paper.
Copy-evident paper, sometimes marketed as ‘security paper’, is pre-printed void pantograph paper that was usually produced on an offset or flexographic press. The quality of the void pantograph is usually quite good because it was produced on a press with a very high resolution and when only a small number of originals are to be printed it can be a cost effective solution however the advent of the digital printer has rapidly eroded this benefit.
A second technology which complements and enhances the effectiveness of the Void Pantograph is the Verification Grid. This technology is visible on the original, usually as fine lines or symbols but when photocopied these lines and images disappear; the inverse reaction of the Void Pantograph. The most common examples of this technology are on the fine lines at the edge of a cheque which will disappear when copied or on a coupon when a symbol, such as a shopping cart, disappears when an unauthorized copy is made. Verification Grid is available for either traditional or digital presses.
Together the Void Pantograph and the Verification Grid complement each other because the reactions to copying are inverse, resulting in a higher degree of assurance that a hard copy document is an original.

Prismatic Coloration

The use of color can greatly assist the prevention of forgeries. By including a color on a document a color photocopier must be used in the attempt to make a copy however the use of these machines also tends to enhance the effectiveness of other technologies such as Void Pantographs and Verification Grids (see Copy-evident above).
By using two or more colors in the background and blending them together a prismatic effect can be created. This can be done on either a traditional or a digital press. When a document using this technique is attempted to be photocopied the scanning and re-creation by a color copier is inexact usually resulting in banding or blotching and thereby immediate recognition of the document as being a copy.
A frequent example of prismatic coloring is on checks where it is combined with other techniques such as the Void Pantograph to increase the difficulty of successful counterfeiting.


Carefully created images can be hidden in the background or in a picture on a document. These images cannot be seen without the help of an inexpensive lens of a specific line screening. When placed over the location of the image and rotated the image becomes visible. If the document is photocopied the Halo image is lost.
Halo can be printed on traditional or digital presses. The advantage of traditional presses is that multiple images can be overlaid in the same location and become visible in turn as the lens is rotated.
Halo is used as a technique to authenticate the originality of the document and may be used to verify critical information within the document. For example the value of a coupon might be encoded as a Halo image that could be verified at the time of redemption or similarly the seat number on a sporting event ticket.

False-Positive Testing

False-positive testing derives its name because the testing requires both a false and a positive reaction to authenticate a document. The most common instance is the widely available counterfeit detector marker seen in many banks and stores.
Counterfeit detector markers use a chemical interaction with the substrate, usually paper, of a document turning it a particular color. Usually a marker turns newsprint black and leaves currency or specially treated areas on a document clear or gold. The reaction and coloring varies depending upon the formulation. Banknotes, being a specially treated substrate, usually behave differently than standard newsprint or other paper and this difference is how counterfeits are detected by the markers.
False-positive testing can also be done on documents other than currencies as a means to test their authenticity. With the stroke of a marker a symbol, word or value can be revealed that will allow the user to quickly verify the document, such as a coupon. In more advanced applications the marker creates a barcode which can be scanned for verification or reference to other data within the document resulting in a higher degree of assurance of authenticity.
Photocopied documents will lack the special treating of the substrate so are easily detectable. False-positive testing generally is a one time test because once done the results remain visible so while useful as part of a coupon this technique is not suitable for ID badges for example.

Fluorescent dyes

Fluorescent dyes are dyes which fluoresce under ultraviolet light or other unusual lighting. These show up as words, patterns or pictures and may be visible or invisible under normal lighting. This feature is also incorporated into many banknotes and other documents - e.g. Northern Ireland NHS prescriptions show a picture of local '8th wonder' the Giant's Causeway in UV light. Some producers include multi-frequency fluorescence, such that different elements fluoresce under specific frequencies of light.

Registration of features on both sides

Banknotes are typically printed with fine alignment between the printing on each side of the note. This allows the note to be examined for this feature, and provides opportunities to unambiguously align other features of the note to the printing. Again, this is difficult to imitate accurately enough in most print shops.

Electronic devices

With the advent of RFID, it is possible to insert extremely small RF-active devices into the printed product to enhance document security. This is most apparent in modern biometric passports, where an RFID chip mirrors the printed information.


Security ink with a normal "trigger" temperature of 88 degrees F, which will either disappear or change colors when the ink is rubbed, usually by the fingertips.

Latent Images

Pressure sensitive or hot stamped labels characterized with a normal (gray or colored) appearance. When viewed via a special filter (such as a polarizer) an additional, normally latent, image appears.


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