There are a great many security features that can be placed on identity documents – holograms, laser engraving, embossing – but not all card materials are able to handle the different security features available to issuers.
Modern issuers are looking at their identity credentials and doing a cost-benefit analysis of the card material and security features, says Pierre Scaglia, global segment manager for Secure Credentials at PPG Industries. Issuers need to look at how long they want the card to last, combined with the security features they want to use and then figure out the best card materials for the document. “The security of the card is derived from embossed features, microtext, holograms and unique program-specific security features,” he explains.
But each of these security features has different requirements from the card materials and production process, says Scaglia.
Card issuers need to do their homework. If they want laser engraving, a smart chip and 10-year lifespan it might require a specialized card substrate. “You can’t assume that every personalization will work with each substrate,” says Mary Olson, senior marketing manager for government solutions at Entrust Datacard.
Identity cards are not made of a single piece of plastic, but rather they are comprised of numerous thin layers of plastic. These layers are often made of PVC, but more durable and secure cards can be made combining different materials to create a composite card.
Identity credentials typically need to last 10-years for adults, Scaglia says. This means they need to actually be able to physically survive for that long and the security features need to remain unassailable. To achieve this goal, security-conscious issuers layer different security features onto one document so counterfeiters have to combat or clone many different features.
But to utilize multiple security features, an issuer must build the card from feature-friendly materials. Some security features work better on different materials and using different card printer technologies, says Carla Boria, director of supplies & secure technologies product management at Entrust Datacard. “Unfortunately, there is no one card type that gets good grades across the board,” she adds.
For example, PVC is low cost, widely used and compatible with the majority of printing technologies and laminates. On the downside, it’s not very durable and has only a three-year average lifespan.
Composite cards – made from PVC and a polyester material such as PET – are more expensive but last longer than cards made only from PVC. But these cards can delaminate and are not compatible with embossing, which means they can’t be used for payment cards that require that feature.
Adding synthetic materials – such as Teslin – to a composite card can increase efficiencies and significantly boost card durability through flexibility, resistance to delamination and protection for embedded electronics, says Scaglia.
Polycarbonate cards are another common choice for secure IDs. These cards are durable and enable fraud resistant laser engraved personalization. They do not require laminates so delamination is not an issue. The cards are typically more expensive, and via typical laser engraving they can only be personalized in black and white.
Layering variable data
When it comes right down to it issuers need to layer variable data throughout the card, Boria says. Traditional variable data includes photo, date of birth and ID card number. “You take this standard variable data and by using something unique, like laser engraving, make it extremely difficult to recreate,” she explains.
Another option would involve digital printing of variable data on the Teslin layer within a composite card. Because the layer is embedded below other layers, it is very difficult to alter or counterfeit.
By using different techniques such as these – along with traditional holograms, optical variable devices and other security features – counterfeiters would have to defeat multiple strong features. “By the time they add these things up, most counterfeiters find it’s too costly and move on,” Boria explains.
Issuers also need to make sure the quality of the card substrate is good as manufacturers are using different formulas to create these substrates, Olson says. “People think if they have a polycarbonate card they’re always going to see quality results,” she explains. That’s not always the case and issuers would be wise to test the card substrate with the personalization equipment prior to rollout.
For years, composite cards have been the standard for high security identity cards and government IDs. Today, financial institutions are considering these substrates for payment cards as EMV is making these cards more expensive to produce and banks want to make sure they last, Boria says. “Chips are changing the whole construction of the card and becoming 80% of the cost,” she explains. “Banks are worried that the cards won’t last three years.”
Clearly, composite cards are becoming more popular and nudging out PVC because of their longer lifespan and their ability to better handle embedded electronics, such as contact and contactless technologies, Boria says. “Composite cards are crossing over into different uses, and issuers are using two or three of these substrates to achieve great results,” she explains.