Tools For Strengthening Visual Security On ID Cards

Tools For Strengthening Visual Security On ID Cards

ID Cards and Badges are commonly used not just to identify people, but to enhance enterprise security by protecting four areas:

  1. People Identify and distinguish management, employees, contractors, visitors.
  2. Property — Control and monitor access to areas, facilities, buildings, computers, warehouses, utilities, vehicles, etc.
  3. Processes — Control and monitor access to confidential information, intellectual property, procedures, policies, data, strategy, etc.
  4. Products — Govern access to product inventory, and service tools and information.

To enhance enterprise security, cards and badges can incorporate visual security elements—both on cards and on card accessories like lanyards. What is a visually secure ID card?

Answer: One that incorporates enough visual security features to ensure the ID card accomplishes enterprise security objectives.

Read on to understand the most common ID visual security features you can add to ID cards to make them more secure and reliable. ID card visual security can be strengthened in several ways, depending on the ID card printer’s capabilities, and users’ other strategic card-related decisions. Each of the elements below are valuable components of visual security in ID cards worthy of consideration.

Printing Style — ID card maker software typically permits users to print complex, difficult-to-duplicate card designs. Investing some effort and focus on card design is an important first step in rendering an enterprise’s ID cards unique, distinguishable, and visually secure. Learning to use design software features effectively can enable users to create unique designs with subtle features that don’t lend themselves to easy forgery.

Digital Photos — This may seem obvious, but user photos on ID cards are a major security enhancement and a baseline of security defense. Unfortunately, many enterprises don’t bother to include a user photo—maybe for expediency and convenience. Yet a simple-to-take photograph is a fundamental security feature easily added to ID cards.

Any secure ID card design starts with a minimum 300 dpi color photograph. Larger and more vivid images—as design elements—are easier to authenticate. A big value-add in the security department. User photos effectively and quickly confirm a person’s identity.

Despite their value as a basic security element that reduces fraud risk, photos aren’t foolproof because they can be recreated using optical scanners and copiers.

Biometric Data — Beyond photos, biometric data can be added to ID cards (e.g., fingerprints and digital signatures), which provide supplemental verification options/challenges. Just like photos, this additional biometric data can be readily stored as images in cardholder files.

Micro-Text — Micro-Text appears on ID cards as a regular thin line, but it is really repeating text (key words like “valid,” “authentic,” “genuine,” etc.) in very fine print not discernable by the naked eye. To see the text requires a magnifier, which reveals known key words preprinted on the original card stock by the card manufacturer (not by a card printer, which have physical limitations in thermally printed image resolution). Typically, this security feature must be designed and specified when ID card stock is ordered from the manufacturer. Micro-text is very difficult to reproduce (replicate/falsify/counterfeit) and is commonly used in passports and currencies. It can also be found on highly secure ID cards created by higher-end holographic security overlaminates.

Watermarks — Software-based design features can include watermarks, these can be “stock” watermarks provided by printer manufacturers, or customized watermarks created by altering or manipulating the ID card overlay panel. Using these onboard ID card printer software features offer cost-effective visual security elements to ID cards and increased security. However, one drawback to manipulating the protective overlay panel is that depending on usage, the watermark and printed imagery tend to wear off quicker.

Ghost Images — A “ghost image” is usually a smaller, semi-transparent duplicate of the primary photograph or image featured on the ID card. These half-translucent background images are created by changing the opacity of a second usually smaller photo produced through the ID card software before printing as part of the design. Users can create ghost images to suit their style and needs using the ID card printer and its design software (and supplies).

Holograms — Holograms are 3D images added to ID cards by way of holographic laminates that help reduce the possibility of successful card reproduction. They are versatile and can add diverse visual security elements to ID cards that allow for quick visual authentication. The laminates are thin transparent films that contain holographic text, images, and patterns (created by the user or preconfigured). To be visible or appear, holograms are typically viewed at an angle by tilting the card. To produce holograms users need ID card printers with a laminating module and holographic overlaminates.

Printer makers offering over-lamination capability also provide holographic versions of their overlaminate material. These vary, but commonly employ a holographic image embedded on the overlaminate’s surface. Some preconfigured holographic overlaminates also feature microtext printing within the holographic image to enhance fraud protection and security. On higher-level standard and custom holographic overlaminates, custom micro-text printing is an option. Generic hologram designs developed by the overlaminate material manufacturers are most common (these are considered “off-the-shelf”), but if you’re looking for highly customized holographic security, custom holographic solutions can be developed, and many ID card printers with overlamination capability allow users to create custom holographic designs for even greater security—and brand enhancement.

Holographic Foil ID Cards – Cards can also be embedded with holographic foil, which allows image customization, making it unique and hard to duplicate. Holographic foil ID cards effectively enhance visual security but are limited to PVC or composite plastic card stock (they aren’t compatible with proximity cards, smart cards, etc.).

Tactile Impression – This feature uses a heating process to place a stamp on the card’s laminate during the printing process—leaving a physical impression on the cards that you can feel. It doesn’t require customized consumables, but uses a mechanical die within the card printer’s lamination unit that can be stock or customized. This is an advanced security enhancement.

Ultraviolet (UV) Printing — Ultraviolet (UV) or Fluorescent (F) printing—available with select printer models—requires a ribbon with a UV/fluorescent panel on it that can place a customizable image or text on the card. These UV images and text are only visible under a black light, which makes difficult to copy because ID forgers can’t copy what they are much less likely to know is there. UV or fluorescent text or images are invisible to the naked eye and optical scanners—and only become visible under special light.

UV/fluorescent overlays allow users to create highly secure and durable ID cards without the added cost of lamination or overlay.

Encoding Options Barcodes, encrypted information, magnetic stripes and chips make ID cards even more difficult to tamper with or forge.

  1. Barcodes are a widely used way of encoding ID cards, and are very simple to create. The information within a barcode is encoded onto an ID card during the basic ID card printing process. Of all the card technologies available today, barcodes are the least expensive to add to an ID card issuance program. Barcodes are very useful for encoding short strings of ID information like an ID or account number to an ID card.
  2. Magnetic stripe cards are PVC cards with a magnetic stripe embedded on the back of the card. Magstripe cards store updatable information, which is read when the card is swiped through a magnetic stripe card reader. ID information is encoded onto the magnetic stripe using special encoders during printing. Without the encoded information, counterfeit cards can’t validate when swiped.
  3. Proximity/RFID/smart cards use radio frequency (integrated circuit technology / microprocessors and memory chips) to store and transfer data. They can be reprogrammed over and over, and also require specialized readers to access encoded information. Smart cards can store more information than the more affordable magnetic stripe cards, including encryption certificates. Smart cards won’t authenticate without the appropriate decryption software or security certificate, and so are deemed more secure than magnetic stripe cards.

These are just a sampling of the security features you can add to your existing ID card program to make them more secure. While no single technology offers 100% security, you can use these security features in combination to attain the security that meets your needs.