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Best practices on how to make digital printing your security printing friend and counterfeiting foe


by Patrick Helskens

Like anyone who works in security printing, Xeikon understands that the problem of counterfeiting is a significant concern.

Keeping up with the latest security regulations and requirements is essential to develop and apply digital printing features and solutions that prevent counterfeiting successfully.

When the International Tax Stamp Association (ITSA) commented on security features recommended by the European Union Tobacco Products Directive (the EU TPD), this particular statement caught our attention:

"Looking to the future, a revised version of the EU TPD should include 'significant' improvements. A more prescriptive approach {to tobacco tax stamp security] would lead to greater clarity around the choice of security features, thereby avoiding countries adopting too many different features, which only creates confusion. Responsibilities assigned to the tobacco industry should be limited to ordering, applying and reporting the use of tax stamps, with all other responsibilities reassigned to independent providers selected by government authorities."

To Xeikon, this recommendation makes good sense, but we do urge the association to take a very close look at the wide array of digital print features that exist in security printing before restricting the industry to a limited set of features only.

And when one uses the specific security features that only a digital Xeikon environment can deliver to minimize counterfeiting, bear in mind that the end product needs to be designed for digital from the start. Not an easy task if you don’t know upfront which 100% digital-only features can be applied.

What is security printing and how does it prevent counterfeiting?

Security printing is the collection of (digital) (print) features that will transform any official document in such a unique manner that it is virtually impossible for dubious parties to duplicate it so it can be mistaken for the real deal.

However, no one unique (print) feature can prevent all eventualities of counterfeiting from happening. Instead, printers must combine several techniques to produce secure “documents” such as tax stamps, entry tickets for big high-risk events, lottery products, postage stamps, and certificates of registration.

This combination of different production techniques is what we call the AND AND AND of security printing; the more features a printer combines, the better the protection.

The method used to produce a secure document typically requires multiple elements; special substrates, custom toners, several variable data fields, unique backgrounds, not to forget meticulous attention to design details. No one size fits all, and every process needs to be tailored to perfection depending on the use case. An exhaustive list would take us too far, but these are some best practices one can consider when integrating digital print in an information security process.

1. Roll-Fed vs. Sheets – roll with it, don’t stack it

When it comes to digital security printing, a roll-fed press is considered more secure for various reasons.

A. The size of the roll has a distinct advantage. It is much harder to steal a roll than a couple of sheets. Moreover, rolls have the benefit of being less expensive than sheets.

B. Some security applications, such as tax stamps, must be printed on very lightweight substrates, which is way easier when printing from rolls.

  • All Xeikon presses, for example, can print on substrates between 40μm (40gsm) and 550μm (350gsm), and some customers print applications on even much thinner substrates, which is only possible when printing on rolls.

C. Roll-fed presses generally have higher uptimes than sheet-fed presses. Jumbo reels allow for long periods of uninterrupted printing, especially with the Xeikon one-pass duplex technique, meaning we print both sides of the substrate simultaneously. Bonus points – it makes it impossible to mix up front & back variable data, it offers the opportunity to incorporate stable (variable) keyhole security features and it comes with a varying repeat size.

D. When printing from a roll, it is also far easier to integrate the full finishing required for many security documents.

Does this rule out sheets entirely? No. But for all the reasons mentioned above, roll-fed printing is the most efficient way forward.

2. Ink vs. Toner – which one marks the safe spot?

This should be a no-brainer. Dry toner technology brings undeniable key benefits to the world of security printing.

A. Secure documents often contain elements printed with one or more spot colors, or better still security toners. Custom dry toners can be created, like a clear toner which is transparent but will light up under UV lights. Or more high-level security toners that are tagged to be read using different wavelengths (laser).

B. Toner can also create custom colors not available to other printers.

  • Find yourself a toner R&D lab that is set up to assist customers in creating these special spot colors and security toners. All R&D should be done in the labs and is to always remain confidential. (no compromises!)

C. Your substrate selection also contributes to the choice of dry toner technology for secure documents. That’s because, as mentioned before, security documents can be printed on very thin substrates, but also on synthetic materials such as PET, Tyvek, Teslin, waterproof materials, non-tearable, and flame retarding. Electrophotographic toner presses let users print on these substrates without the need for special pre-treatment like primers or coatings. Save on processes, save on overall cost.

D. Dry toner is also safe, durable, and eco-friendly, combining security with sustainability. No need for a separate waste stream within your organization.

3. Embrace the security variable data feature – keep your feet on the ground, and your data encrypted

Variable data is increasingly becoming a “must-have” security feature. The increased demand comes as more products need to be tracked throughout the complete supply chain. Documents require unique identifiers and in most cases personalization. Products need to be certified upfront and linked to databases to reliably avoid identity fraud.

If the security document is produced digitally, variable data will play a crucial role in creating print that is much harder to counterfeit. But - again - to truly use the power of variable data it should be designed for digital and incorporated into the artwork from the get-go. Security printers should really stop overprinting Black & White variable elements on top of a pre-printed design.

  • When you use variable data on a Xeikon press, the full design is not captured in one PDF. Instead, each part of the final document lives in a different “space,” waiting for variables such as backgrounds, guilloche patterns, seal vectors, hidden screens, alphanumeric personalization, bar code content, timestamps, etc., to be added. The variability of the data means there is no single document that could be stolen and reproduced; different document parts are only brought together at processing time on the press.

Needless to say, you need a cybersecure partner in crime who knows how to handle, treat, store, exchange, and encrypt all that data.

4. Microprinting – the devil is in the details, so make them hellishly clever

Another anti-counterfeiting feature is microprinting, which produces recognizable patterns or characters in a printed medium at a scale that requires magnification to read with the naked eye. Microprinting includes guilloches, micro text, seal vectors, dot patterns, and other very small elements.

These microprinting elements require a press able to produce very fine lines and small stable dots. That means using a press that can generate the smallest pixels and reliably transfer them to the paper.

The hardware also defines print resolution. At Xeikon, for example, our presses have a native resolution (and addressability) of 1200dpi across the web and 3600dpi along the web, and a pixel size of 21µm.

This combination of hardware and process stability for transferring a dot onto a substrate produces the quality needed to use microprinting as a feature that prevents counterfeiting.

Forget IFTT, it’s the AND AND AND that adds up to security

You get how digital printing includes a range of features printers can use to prevent fraud and create truly secure documents. However, these features by themselves will not achieve that goal; success requires the practice of AND AND AND.

Documents are more secure when produced with a combination of the right techniques. Think roll-fed, one-pass duplex AND toner types AND variable data AND quality microprinting AND finishing capabilities AND some very security-specific workflow possibilities. When used together, these features enable print providers to succeed in the world of secure document production.

This selection of best practices is just one of the AND AND AND combos that works. There is plenty more to tell, and it translates even better when we can show it.

Here’s where you can book your demo, watch a video, or reach out to us for tailored information.

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