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Additive manufacturing – Threat or opportunity for secure documents?



Alan Hodgson

Printing Consultant, Alan Hodgson Consulting, UK


  • The printing of tactile information will add to the capabilities of intaglio and engraved features;
  • The printing of optical elements could produce full colour personalised optically variable features;
  • Printed electronics technologies can generate continuous printed lines and the potential of novel conductive features.

New innovations in printing have the potential to generate novel security features fit for the future. They could, however, also be a near-term threat to existing features. Additive Manufacturing is one of these innovations.

This presentation outlines the concept of additive manufacturing and then illustrates the potential in three areas where additive manufacturing is poised to make a difference to secure document production.

The printing of tactile features

A number of academic groups are exploring additive manufacturing for creative applications. This work has the potential to replicate features currently produced by intaglio printing. The technique could, however, go much further, forming a variety of variable features that are not possible by established techniques.

The printing of optical elements
The potential exists to digitally print lenses, leading to optical features personalised in manufacture. Combined with Integral Imaging technology, this could lead to full colour personalised optically variable features.

Printed electronics
The potential of printed electronics has been well documented and often overstated. In the short term technologies being developed here are a threat, generating continuous printed lines that could easily be mistaken for conventional secure print. Opportunities opening up in pharmaceutical packaging could take this technology much further.



Alan Hodgson has 30 years’ experience in printed hard copy and a background in photography and image science. Alan previously managed R&D and Technical Services groups active in inkjet application development. As Alan Hodgson Consulting, he has worked on printing and optics consultancy projects that often crossed over into security applications. In November 2008, he joined 3M in the UK as Technical Development Manager, specializing in print solutions for high-security documents such as passports and visas. With the closure of 3M Chadderton, he has returned to his consultancy business working in secure print solutions, printed electronics and inkjet printing.

Alan has a BSc in colorant chemistry and a PhD in instrumentation, both from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manchester. He has served as session chair, short course instructor, and presenter at international conferences in Europe, USA and Asia. He is President of the Society of Imaging Science & Technology (IS&T), a Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society, and received the 2012 HP Image Permanence award.

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