What can Micro-Optics learn from Holographics?
Both micro-optics and holographic technologies used in secure documents today have their origins dating back to the middle of the last century.
Micro-optic products began to be seen/appear in the mid to late 1980s when lens-based lenticular devices became popular as novelty items fabricated using injection moulding such as greeting cards, advertising posters and bookmarks. The technology migrated into the security applications as it became thinner, with smaller lenses and thinner print lines eventually reaching the point where the technology could be integrated into banknote paper as a security thread in the mid-2000s.
Holograms (and other diffractive devices and reflective surface relief micro-structures) had novelty applications from the middle of the last century then started protecting security documents as patches on financial cards in the 1980s and then banknotes in the late 1980s and 1990s. They then/eventually evolved into other product formats for other security documents.
Holograms have therefore had a bit of a head start on micro-optics when it comes to security document applications. The inherent thinness of the foil which carries the holographic effects and the relatively low cost of holograms led to them quickly scaling to be used on a wide range of passports, banknotes, and brand protection solutions. For identity documents, ICAO 9303 specifically recommends a holographic element to be used to protect the bio-data page of all passports to avoid counterfeit attacks, with most passports incorporating a hologram. In the brand protection space holograms are by far the most frequently selected technology for any brand protection token.
Staying ahead of the counterfeiters
Today, both holograms and micro-optics based products can be found in a range of secure, novelty and decorative applications, with more novelty and decorative products of both technologies being available to purchase from multiple commercial sources. And, the commercially available products continue to evolve.
As a provider of high security features for banknotes, passports and brand protection tokens De La Rue closely monitors what is readily available to criminals whilst simultaneously evolving our technology, effects, and designs to stay ahead. In the brand space IZON®, a distinctive product using Lippman holography (or volume holography) is protected due to the proprietary nature of the equipment, photopolymer film and techniques. There are negligible commercial applications of this technology which has helped keep it secure over time. PURE™ “embossed holograms” are a result of technological advancements in surface-relief micro-structures that are noticeably better than decorative or novelty holograms.
“Holograms (and other diffractive devices and reflective surface relief micro-structures) started protecting security documents as patches on financial cards in the 1980s and then banknotes in the late 1980s and 1990s.”
Looking ahead and learning
With their earlier entrance into applications into secure documents, holograms have already gone through a cycle of patents expiring and new generations of patents being generated. In contrast, the first wave of significant micro-optic patents for security applications will start to expire next year. Given the wide range of novel and decorative products, available micro-optic technology will not have the same level of proprietary protection that benefits IZON®.
The development of new and advanced effects, coupled with strong design and integration of the physical token, has been key to ensuring De La Rue holograms stay ahead of the counterfeiters. For instance:
- Well-designed three-dimensional images remain highly robust (much more so than simple patterns or images that appear to float at depth).
- New, bright, intuitive movement effects require surface-relief micro-structures that cannot be replicated on standard commercial machines.
- SPOTLIGHT™ offers two images that appear to rotate above and below the plane of the hologram and move intuitively in response to being tilted.
- SPOTLIGHT™ also offers an authentication response without moving the hologram – under diffuse light the images appear more blurred and under torchlight from a smartphone the images sharpen – this allows brand protection checks by sharing a photograph.
As we look forward, the design, effects, and integration of secure holograms will continue to evolve and stay ahead of the counterfeiters. It will be interesting to see the next generation of micro-optic patents as they emerge.