Polycarbonate: Gemalto and IDEMIA Pioneer Laser Color Security Solutions

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By Sam Gazeley | 1Q 2019 | IN-5378

While mobile and digital credentials are finding an area of growth in the government ID market, physical credentials and related security features are still significant for regions that either have no facility to introduce digital identities or have no need for them. Technological advances implemented on the increasing popular polycarbonate documents in the smart card security market are being championed by Gemalto and IDEMIA, arguably the biggest players in the government ID arena, commanding a combined government ID smart card market share of more than 45%.

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A New Age for Polycarbonate


While current adoption trends support digital features, security features related to physical documents will remain a significant requirement within the government ID market. A more evident move toward polycarbonate (a material considered more secure and tamper resistant than its Polyvinyl Chloride [PVC] counterpart) is a testament to this fact.

Polycarbonate credentials are built from the ground up to be impenetrable; by constructing layers of polycarbonate that are completely enmeshed, the Integrated Circuit (IC) within the card and the photo (if applicable) are impossible to tamper with, as any attempt to access them will irreparably damage the card and make it useless. Further, the material supports the use of Diffractive Optically Variable Image Devices (DOVIDs) as another layer of security.

Industry-leading smart card vendors Gemalto and IDEMIA have developed a new layer of security for polycarbonate credentials. Powered by color lasers hitting a special ink in the document’s inner structure, this new issuance solution achieves the highest levels of resolution and counterfeit protection for securing a color photo within a polycarbonate ID document.

Laser Coloring: Benefits Across the Value Chain


The new security measures—Gemalto’s Color Laser Shield (CLS) and IDEMIA’s LASINK—will fit naturally with business processes while document personalization is available for a range of credentials, including passports, ID cards, and driver’s licenses—meaning that the technology is applicable across a range of verticals. Further, the laser coloring will be combined with already present security features like surface embossing and Ultraviolet (UV) guilloche lines to provide a credential that cannot be counterfeited without alerting the authorizing agent. Regarding alternative form factors, the technology synchronizes flawlessly with the Level 1 security of blank documents, particularly the reactive ink within the photo region. CLS and LASINK are used to print the photo in the designated area to a quality that other printing technologies such as inkjet and Dye Diffusion Thermal Transfer (D2T2) cannot match, and even if it was feasible, any attempt to remove the photo panel would damage the document beyond credibility.

The CLS and LASINK technologies bring a range of benefits to both the credential issuer and the end user, including:

  • Clearer image definition:With a minimum resolution of 800 Dots per Inch (dpi), the process of authenticating an image against the bearer of the document is made easier and quicker, enabling the technology to be used in identity authentication scenarios with a high flow of travelers.
  • Decreased convolution of excessive security features:With the photo supported by advanced security and the preexisting measures built into the polycarbonate itself, there can be less reliance on additional layers of security. This has the effect of a simpler underlying design of the document and increased familiarity for the issuing organization.
  • Laser module standardization:The personalization step of the manufacturing process is streamlined as the laser module to implement the colorized imagery can be adapted to work with standard personalization infrastructure. Further, as these technologies sport a lower cost than inkjet, this will go a long way tooffset the cost increase related to credential migration projects from PVC to polycarbonate.

Is Polycarbonate a Must-Have Material?


For countries looking to implement a credential program using the CLS and LASINK technologies, there is a range of benefits to migrating to a polycarbonate document:

  • The new technology guarantees full compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) specifications, enabling polycarbonate pages within travel credentials to be as secure as possible.
  • The new technology makes it nearly impossible for the issuing country to counterfeit the document, securing confidence in the vertical in which the credential operates. For example, using a CLS or LASINK polycarbonate electronic ID for voting purposes decreases the likelihood of tampering in elections.
  • The robustness of the polycarbonate credential ensures a longer field lifetime and cuts down on reissuance cost and replacement.

Gemalto and IDEMIA already have a commanding position in the government ID market, and both have established themselves as market leaders in smart card vending and technological advances in credential design. By creating a technology that meshes with a contemporary trend—in this case, the rise of polycarbonate as a construction material—the market leaders are positioning themselves to be available to any country that seeks to migrate or upgrade documentation. This will encourage growth within the government ID market since nations will be provided with a proven and simplified solution to what is usually a large-scale operation.

However, it is also worth noting that a government ID project may not necessarily require expenditure on polycarbonate credentials, as emerging countries and those that do not need the additional functionality of a smart document may opt for traditional PVC. As a forecast, it is likely that the majority of credentials will have an embedded IC at some point in the near future, and when this happens, ABI Research recommends that vendors and issuing countries be positioned to take advantage of the lower printing personalization cost of polycarbonate over PVC as well as the more contemporary security features (including CLS and LASINK) that accompany it to ensure that credential migration programs are kept in line with rising international standards.


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