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Are traditional security printing techniques and design becoming obsolete?



Martin Fürbach
Forensic Document Examiner, Forensic Science, School of Criminal Justice, University of Lausanne, Switzerland



  • Design and conventional printing vs. applied features;
  • New threats – acquisition, re-origination, relief printing;
  • Design ‘friendly’ for forensic examination of counterfeits.

Are traditional security printing techniques and design becoming obsolete? Can current conventional printing techniques, together with design, still be considered a sufficient barrier to counterfeiting? Or should we consider design and printing, which were the only security features in the past, to be obsolete and replace them with applied security features?  

In the first section, offset, intaglio and letterpress printing are revisited, followed by the evolution of security printing, which can be hardly characterised as an improvement in many cases. Technology and materials used in genuine production have improved, but other aspects, mainly related to cost of production, are critical and lead to reduced quality. A particular focus is on the role of simultaneous printing processes and intaglio printing; these techniques were considered sufficient barriers and an obligatory part of secure design for decades. The wider availability of software for vector graphics, the increasing resolution of commercial printing techniques, their wider colour gamut, and solutions for the acquisition and production of 3D-relief are among the biggest threats. The advantages and disadvantages of the design-based security features in comparison to the applied security features are evaluated, while aspects of design that make forensic analysis easier are also discussed.
Martin Fürbach obtained his Master of Science in analytical chemistry, Faculty of Science, Charles University (Prague, Czech Republic) in 2003. From 2004 he worked at the Department of Criminalistics, Police Academy of the Czech Republic, mainly focusing on forensic science and documents examination.

From 2009 he was employed as a PhD student at Institute of Forensic Science, University of Lausanne. In 2012 he joined the Institute as an expert in the document section. His major interests are counterfeited banknotes in relation to modern digital devices, reverse engineering, history of state-supported counterfeiting, inkjet printing and paper analysis. His research deals with the systematic application of image and metrical analysis to the forensic intelligence of counterfeits and documents.

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