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High-security printing for passport
printing security, intaglio, Processing and manufacturing of all government documents with security protection, national identity card, hologram

High-security printing for passport

In line with the fundamental principles of any secure passport design, we find the effective combination of various techniques. 

Employing technologies that are difficult to copy.

Incorporating multiple security features - so a counterfeiter will need to master them all to stand any chance of success.

Using materials, technologies, inks, and components that are difficult for criminals to source.

Using inks and components that are only sold to secure printers.


Passport end pages

End pages play a critical role in protecting the integrity of the whole passport booklet. Access to the stitching and hence the data page should be prevented by using high-security printing methods on a secure paper substrate. This should be fully bonded and secured to the cover material.


1. Passport numbers

High on the list of assets that can be utilized in the fight against counterfeiting is a document's unique passport number. When a lost or stolen document is reported to the police, this will typically end up on an international watch-list, such as the one maintained by Interpol.

Inevitably, fraudsters will attempt to change one or more of the digits, to try and ensure that the authorities are not alerted when the document is presented at a border checkpoint.

passport number

As well as the size, we can even vary the basic hole shapes forming the passport number - including circles, squares, and/or stars, for example.


Therefore, an effective endpaper design will include burning the genuine document number through every page using laser technology. This means going through all the visa pages, as well as the back cover. These numbers comprise small conical holes, the size of which varies according to the page number, making it even harder for counterfeiters to swap pages.


2. Intaglio printing

Another powerful security tool (process)

A security printing technique known as Intaglio printing provides another powerful security tool. It typically incorporates latent images that can only be seen when viewed at particular angles.

Intaglio printing

The lines to be printed are cut into a metal plate through an etching process.

The ink is applied to the surface of the plate and pushed in the recessed lines.

A rolling press is then used to apply very high pressure to push the paper into the recessed lines.

The area that prints is below the surface of the plate.


This creates a unique effect that is very difficult for counterfeiters to replicate: it requires specialized skills and dedicated equipment. It can also be checked quickly, only by running a finger over the printed page.


Intaglio remains a technique that cannot be replaced by inkjet or toner printing, at least for now. It is also barely accessible to counterfeiters. Tactile effects, in particular, are hard to reproduce. Intaglio continues to offer a high level of security compared to digital printing.

3. Anti-copying elements

In addition to intaglio printing, endpaper print design can employ several additional anti-copy elements. These include offset printing in four colors and UV 365 in two colors, and IR reactive inks.


Intricate design patterns will pose further challenges for fraudsters.

passport printing

See here a detail of the cover page of the passport under UV light. The front and back lights of cars on the roads only appear under UV and create a fantastic effect.


4. Ultra-thin security paper

Thin end papers (no more than 85gsm) represent yet another asset for passport issuers. In that case, being fragile is a strength.


Because the adhesive volume needed to bond the cover, combined with the calendaring effect of Intaglio print, means that counterfeiting attempts will be prone to glue seepage and staining. Crucially, Thales can produce ultra-thin end papers that are as durable in operation as fragile if attacked.


If a forger does try to separate the endpaper from the cover, it will be destroyed and rendered useless.

Passport front covers are shown here. With the special embossing, removing the thin inside cover paper is almost impossible.


5. Solid bond: benefits of the moire printing

Endpaper techniques that Thales employs on behalf of passport issuers:


Unique high-security papers that contain visible and invisible fibers, according to individual customer requirements.

Bonding to the embossed cover material that ensures there are no bubbles or creases on the end page.

Tiny laser-produced holes of various shapes make up the document's serial number, visible through both the cover and endpaper. Any attempt to delaminate and re-use the endpaper will be immediately evident because the holes cannot be realigned.

Endpaper aligned perfectly to the cover material, defending against the addition of a counterfeit.

Thales further reduces counterfeiting risk by using a material that features a unique, highly detailed embossing registered to the document. If split, it leaves air gaps, and the end pages will not lie flat. Also, the inside front cover incorporates a letterpress serial number reproduced using specialist inks.


Therefore all the pages are numbered securely. This process is difficult to replicate without specialist equipment; attempts to do so are recognized easily by border guards. Finally, Thales proposes a Moire movement print effect. This visual effect occurs when looking at a set of lines or dots suspended over another set of lines or dots. In this case, it is suspended over pre-embossed lines behind the print.


Moire printing creates a wave effect.


Visa pages


1. Intaglio print

For the visa pages, specific design elements available include security printing and cross-page designs. It cannot be moved to hide a travel history or official endorsements or transferred from one document to another.


2. Cross-page design

The inclusion of a cross-page design means that a forger trying to replace a single page would need to match up all the visible and invisible elements on a substrate that held the same UV reflectance level. Each page is a single sheet that passes through the central stitching. It is further locked down at this point, making extraction challenging.

cross page design as passport page numbering

Passports with pages are numbered consecutively throughout the booklet. It's an obvious way of reassuring that pages have not been removed to hide the holder's travel history.


These numbers are incorporated within both the visible and invisible design when illuminated with UV at 365nm. They're also in offset print and incorporated into the design using bi-focusing lines, deliberate errors, and a see-through print register in at least three colors.


'See-through' is a design motif made up of two parts. One image is printed on the front, the other in precise register on the reverse of the data page/visa page. Under transmitted light, both models become visible, creating a complete element.


This feature has been present in most banknotes for many years. It is adequate protection against copying since it requires a specific machine that is sold only to high-security printers. This enables printing simultaneously on both sides of the paper.


In contrast, counterfeiters will need to print one side of a page before flipping it over and printing on the reverse. This results in a blurry image – fraudsters cannot achieve a perfect alignment with the available equipment.


3. Special security printing inks and layers

Remember, the ultimate aim is to make it so tricky, time-consuming, and expensive for a counterfeiter to replicate a passport that it simply isn't worth their while to try.

UV sensitive fibers in the papers of pasport

This shows the Passport under UV lighting. The document integrates invisible yellow, blue, and red inks and UV-sensitive fibers in the papers. These fibers are approximately 3mm long and 25 decitex thick (10,000 m of thread weighs 25g).


Therefore, we add even more layers of complexity:

Close alignment of the print and cross-page designs makes the removal of a single page more difficult.

Microprinting and nano text, along with multiplex printing, make replication still more challenging.

All visa pages are printed on security paper that has no optical brightener.  

Designs incorporate at least four colors and are rainbow printed.

Special security printing inks used are IR reflective or absorbent – but look identical in white light.

We also uses randomly distributed, visible, and invisible fibers, plus candy-striped fibers, all of which can react to long-wave (365nm) UV light. Furthermore, specific threads have a multi-UV reaction, which will fluoresce in two different colors, helping to authenticate the legitimacy of the substrate.


Fibers are inserted during the paper manufacturing process and appear randomly across the paper. Counterfeiters often simulate such visible and invisible threads using printing techniques, but they tend to drop the random patterns in doing so. Consequently, similar patterns on more than one page of a passport are a sure sign that something suspicious is going on.

Fibers and multi-color UV reactive fibers

Fibers can also have a multi-color UV reaction.

4. Watermark: an essential element of robust passport design

Watermark incorporated in the paper

Commonly used in banks and stamps, the watermark is probably the most widely recognized secure printing feature. And it remains a crucial element of robust passport design.


Watermark incorporated in the paper The watermarks are a Level 1 feature -visible to the naked eye - incorporated during the paper making process using a mold specific to the customer's design. When viewed by transmitted light, it appears as various shades of light and dark, caused by density variations in the paper.


For visa pages, we employs a multi-toned cylinder mold watermark registered to the design. To ensure optimum visibility, it is usually positioned in a reveal area. Also deployed is an electrotype or bright watermark that is identical on every visa page.


This can be used to provide additional information, such as page numbering. Watermarks are best viewed by holding the document up to the light or shining one through the paper. It is easy to verify, as a genuine watermark never reacts under UV light. A chemically simulated one, however, is likely to respond, providing another tell-tale sign of counterfeiting.  


5. Embedded security threads in visa pages

Just like those used in banknotes, these are embedded directly into the paper during manufacturing.


They can be made from either plastic or metal, with customer-specific designs and covered by paper or 'windowed' (i.e., visible on the surface of the window at regular intervals).


A windowed thread can be seen below under UV and normal light in the passport. This plastic security thread inserted in the paper features a visual effect whereby images of airplanes are moving in the opposite direction when the thread is tilted.

Security threads into the visa pages


Plastic security threads into the visa pages


Edge design in visa pages

1. UV

Edge design is also used in the fight against counterfeiting of visa pages. We prints a different part of the edge of each page. 


When viewed edge-on and the pages are spread, these form words in offset print. Seen from the opposite side, UV characters are visible. Each page has floating and static pages numbers in both visible and UV printing.

High-security printing is visible at the edge – under normal light and UV light.


2. Chemical secure printing processes

Generally, there are only two main ways to remove an endorsement from a passport:


Abrading the endorsement away or scratching it off with a scalpel

Finding the correct solvent to dissolve the endorsement


Finding the right chemical is always likely to be difficult for a potential counterfeiter for the latter approach. Even then, pigmented indelible inks cannot easily be removed from the substrate. There will almost always be a trace left behind, which can be seen under UV or IR light, or through damage to the paper fibers.


Water-based inks are easier to remove: border control authorities should ensure that the inks they use for control purposes are indelible or contain elements (such as UV reaction) that make them unique.

However, such an approach cannot be guaranteed. The threat of modification must be countered by secure printing processes and unique substrate and reagents within the paper sensitive to chemical attack.


Many of the techniques already detailed in this article will make any such attempts apparent. For example, watermarks will become severely degraded or damaged should the page be split or abraded.


Furthermore, the security paper contains chemical sensitizers that react to solvents. As a result, if a chemical is used to remove a visa sticker or border entry/exit stamp, the reagents are activated, leaving a visible stain on the page.


Solvents would also damage the offset and UV elements, causing them to deteriorate. Besides, the base fluorescence around the affected area would change and become brighter.


Passport stitching and sewing

End pages play an essential role in protecting against access to the stitching, and hence the data page by fraudsters. In this article, we've already outlined how processes such as high-security printing, bonding, and ultra-thin paper make counterfeiting extremely difficult.


But we also use very fine sewing threads to secure the booklet pages to the end pages and covers. A combination of different materials and colors further guards against dismantling and reassembly.


During manufacture, an automated system uses a consistent process to sew each passport individually, to the same specification, using three different strands of high-security thread. These are pulled and twisted, giving an equal number of turns between each hole.

Sewing threads to secure paper against counterfeiting

The top and bottom three stitches are back stitched and held in place with a locking stitch.

This is further sealed with spine tape containing a heat reactive adhesive that makes re-use of the thread impossible.


All stitch segments are of equal length. As the thread is made up of discrete strands, if dismantled, they separate easily. This makes re-use extremely difficult, and any attempt at dismantling is readily identifiable.

Stitching - passport papers


Cover Material


Cover Material as a security element for printing.


We use a latex saturated cover material. As already described, this is fully bonded with a combination of adhesives that adhere to the cover and end pages to the passport permanently. The passport is stiff enough to lay flat yet flexible enough to permit secure bonding to the end pages.

Truly secure passport design is very much the sum of its parts, and that still includes a significant paper element. Above all else, what we have aimed to emphasize in this article is that features such as end and visa pages are still high on the hit list for counterfeiters.


As a result, with security printing techniques, it is entirely possible to deter even the most sophisticated efforts to modify and replicate genuine documentation.