Holographics is an approach that provides higher security, according to Ed Dietrich.

The counterfeiting of passports, green cards, driver’s licenses and other forms of ID is a multi-million dollar global criminal activity with major implications for national security – and one that is regarded as a key challenge by those agencies tasked with tackling it.

However, despite the scale of the problem, the emergence of sophisticated hologram technology over the last 60 years – including holograms, whose effects could not (and still cannot) be replicated or simulated by normal reprographic methods – is playing a seminal part in the battle to thwart counterfeiters.

The first products to feature holograms as an anti-counterfeit measure were MasterCard credit cards back in 1983, shortly followed by Visa. Since then, holograms have been applied to an ever increasing array of items for authentication purposes, with the first metallized holograms appearing on United Nations’ passports in 1984 – as simple authentication devices on the cover.


However, times change and we must not be complacent. The industry is working hard to remind people that even the most sophisticated holograms can be reproduced to some extent. The question is just how well can they be copied? The answer is not very well – and this is where the real value of holograms designed for ID security applications should be appreciated.

The intrinsic features of holograms mean that the techniques and visual effects make it difficult to completely copy an authentic security hologram. This has ensured their success – the document they protect may have been counterfeited but a poorly copied hologram suggests that all is not what it seems.

And therein lies the rub. The role of a hologram is not solely to prevent counterfeits, but instead act as an effective detection device, making it easier for the trained eye to distinguish the real thing from the fake.

Future developments

The specific requirements of passport production and personalization have proved technically challenging for the holographic industry, but one that the industry is meeting.

The next generation of holographic technology for passports and other forms of ID, meanwhile, is already underway – and lies in the personalization of the hologram itself – as opposed to using a generic, albeit country-specific design for all of that country’s passports.

The key to this development is personalized photopolymer holograms that match the biodata in the passport. Unlike the embossed variety with which most people are familiar, the production of these is based on a process more akin to photography in that the images are exposed into the film rather then pressed. Individualized photopolymer holograms known as Identigrams – which take the form of overlays that carry both a holographic and a digitized image of the bearer – are already being used on the German passport and ID card.

In other developments, the same underlying technology is being used to create holograms of the biometric data – for example, fingerprint or retina scans – alongside the portrait. Meanwhile, a new photopolymer material has been developed in Germany, which is being used to make encrypted holographic records of such biometrics. This needs appropriate equipment to decode the data but could prove to have beneficially uses for passports.

Undoubtedly, the past six decades have seen holograms come of age; demonstrating a unique ability to deter counterfeiting and play a seminal role in securing the integrity of identity documents. The focus in recent years has been on securing the provenance of the original data and creating systems that seamlessly integrate this data – including biometrics – into passports, as well as developing systems that first capture this data and then enable it to be interrogated.

Physical features such as holograms have taken somewhat of a backseat, but the need to protect the data once in the passport, and hence the passport itself, is as strong as ever.

So, with the seemingly remorseless march of technology and the resolve of governments around the world to remain steadfast in the face of global terror and international crime, there’s no reason why holograms should not continue to evolve and play a pivotal part in the on-going battle to stay one step of ahead of the counterfeiters and criminals.