Security hologram stickers are found in all kinds of locations and across all kinds of products. From tax seals on scheduled items such as bottles of wine and spirits to anti-fraud labels on frequently counterfeited items such as DVDs and physical media, these hologram stickers are a common sight and have been for quite some time.
Let's look at the history of these security features and learn more about how they work in today's digital age.
Holograms have provided great fun to people of all ages for over half a century, after the invention of the laser in the 1960s enabled the creation of these interesting images. In fact, the technology behind this form of imaging has been in development for almost double this timeframe, originating with research into X-ray crystallography conducted in the 1920s. But it was not until more recently that holograms began to emerge in formats that are more recognisable to the modern eye.
The concept of a hologram is relatively simple — it is simply a representation of a seemingly three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional surface, achieved using a dot matrix system, electron-beam lithography, or, more recently, computer imaging. The hologram itself is a set of nanostructures represented on a flat surface. These nanostructures then refract light in a specific way to project an optical illusion based on the pattern.
There are several different companies who manufacture security holograms — many of whom use proprietary technologies and keep these technologies secret with trademarks and other protections. However, the general principle is largely the same. A matrix of dots is used to build up the set of micro-nanostructures, utilising textures and colour densities that refract light in specific patterns.
Computer imaging techniques and technology make these dot matrixes easy to create — far more so than they once were — which has led some to lose faith in their suitability as security devices. However, additional features can be added to bolster this security and foster peace of mind among users.
Security holograms are popular for many different reasons. They are easy to deploy, easy to recognise, and relatively difficult to counterfeit. There are various security features that make these additions very useful to businesses seeking to stop fraudsters in their tracks.
The most obvious security feature of a hologram code is the optical illusion itself. A customer can look at the hologram with the naked eye and see a pattern hidden within. This pattern gives them an indication that the item they are dealing with is legitimate.
As holograms have become relatively easy to make — compared to the older methods of production — it has also become relatively easy to forge the holographic image itself. However, covert features that can only be read by specific pieces of equipment — such as the engage™ app — allow businesses to reinforce the level of security.
Serial numbers can be added to the hologram design, making them easier to verify for the relevant authorities and intellectual property owners.
Holographic QR codes and other scannable features can be inserted into the hologram security sticker to provide customer engagement data to manufacturers and producers. This also serves as an additional level of security. RFID/NFC — radio frequency identification and near field communication — are other options that can be built into the label.
Holographic technology can be used in several use cases. We're going to focus on the security-oriented use cases here.
Holographic security labels can double up as anti-tamper solutions. When these labels are properly attached across product seals — for example, on expensive products such as bottles of wine or spirits — they cannot easily be removed and replaced intact. This serves as an indicator that the product has been opened or otherwise tampered with before the point of sale.
Product verification is a very common use case for holograms. Even without specialist equipment, users can quickly spot a hologram. While this represents only an overt level of protection and not an infallible one, it does help to increase customer trust and peace of mind. A simple scanner — for instance, a smartphone with the engage™ app installed — can draw even more information instantly.
Many items have specific tax requirements, particularly during import and export. This can be verified with a holographic sticker as well as other built-in security elements, enabling quick and easy assessment and approvals by tax authorities.
Many countries use holograms on their banknotes — Mexico and Sweden have embraced this technology, to name just two examples, while the USA's reluctance to do so has been a cause for concern among some security experts. Also, all denominations of the EURO banknotes are protected with security holograms. You have probably already seen this technology protecting the security and fidelity of currencies in different locations across the globe, and it is a commonly used aspect of many international anti-fraud and anti-counterfeiting operations.
While holograms were initially developed to be a solely visual medium, suitable for use with the naked eye alone, they have since evolved. This evolution has kept them relevant in the digital age. We've already discussed covert security measures, and it is these parts of the design that make holograms so useful when deployed alongside digital technology such as mobile apps.
We had this in mind as we developed our engage™ app and platform. Businesses can register product information via the platform and then attach this information to the holographic label, ready to be deployed on the product itself. The customer can then use their smartphone — with the engage™ app already installed — to scan this item and verify its status.
It's not just customers that will be able to scan the item. Everyone from tax authorities and product vendors through to couriers and promotional teams will be able to check this validity, and there is no need for expensive hardware or complicated training procedures. The technology is designed to be easy and intuitive to use for anyone with a smartphone device.