Dr Paul Dunn, chair of the International Hologram Manufacturers Association, considers the development in authentication and anti-counterfeiting holograms in South America.

Since its invention in 1947, the hologram has emerged against a background of growing global piracy, counterfeiting and diversion to become one of the most successful overt anti-counterfeiting technologies available today, so critical in the fight to preserve brand integrity, consumer safety and corporate reputations.

Today, holograms are used as a highly effective anti-counterfeiting feature on nearly half the world’s banknotes and fiscal stamps. They are also used for passport and ID document protection and over the years, have seen their role expand to protect the world’s largest software brands, automotive parts, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and industrial goods against counterfeiters and organised crime.

Advances in production techniques and nano-technology based visual effects make it difficult to accurately copy an authentic hologram. This has ensured its success – the hologram acts as an alarm bell, alerting authorities and law enforcement to the possibility that all is not what it seems and the product could be a counterfeit. In other words, the role of a hologram is not to prevent counterfeits – that would be impossible – but to act as an effective detection device, making it easier for the trained eye to distinguish the real thing from a fake. And, thereby, an effective deterrence.

Ongoing threats, increased illicit trade and counterfeiting will continue to drive hologram growth, particularly for authentication purposes. Indeed, growth in security devices such as holograms appears ‘strong and potentially lucrative’, following ‘The Future of Anti-Counterfeiting, Brand Protection and Security Packaging to 2026’ and other reports predicting increasing incidences of global counterfeiting alongside heightened awareness of tracing technologies.

The inexorable rise in counterfeiting is a result of several factors: the globalisation of manufacture, industry and trade; extended supply chains; the growth of brands, inadequate enforcement and weak criminal penalties; the rise of the Internet as a conduit for counterfeit goods and the advent of modern reprographic equipment that makes the reproduction of such brands – and in particular their packaging – so easy and lucrative. The current global economic situation, with a cost-of-living crisis, soaring inflation, shortages of commodities and OEMs and many countries on the cusp of recession, if not already in one, only exacerbate the problem.

Protecting ID

However, despite the challenges, holography is responding and today we see its myriad deployment across the security industry. For example, governments and passport agencies continue to be impacted to the tune of billions of dollars each year in lost revenue by counterfeit documents and ID fraud. Recently, the problem has been exacerbated by the impact of Covid, which has accelerated digital transformation in every industry, accompanied by a dramatic increase in fraud.

Providing innovative and sophisticated solutions for security documents requires not only a design that will make a document attractive; it also means enhancing the intrinsic security of that document. Secure document conception can be achieved for ID cards and passports by integrating security features with exclusive designs that highlight attack attempts and facilitate controls, for example, checking that an ID document matches the bearer.

Holograms protect and authenticate, alerting issuers and those checking the documents to counterfeiting attempts. Indeed, in the wake of the Covid pandemic, countries around the world continue to examine ways to make their document(s) more secure. This has paved the way for a new generation of high security holograms that push the envelope when it comes to ID document security and protection, providing highly effective tools to help law enforcement to better fight the criminals.

One of the firms at the forefront in this sector is Monterrey-based Intelligent Forms whose high security hologram products are used by governments, banks, universities and commercial enterprises to protect and validate documents or products that require authentication. The company produces tickets for events and sports matches that feature holograms alongside special papers, inks QR codes and variable folios as part of a package of state-of-the-art anti-counterfeiting and brand piracy measures. Its holograms are also incorporated onto environmental and climate resistant high security labels that come into contact in food packaging and labelling applications.

Another company at the forefront of holographic label development in South America is Colombia specialist Combustión Ingenieros S.A.S. Its labels are used in myriad applications across the continent for the identification, protection and promotion of packaging to prevent counterfeiting of products and brand items, including fresh and canned food, medicine, replacement parts, alcohol, software, electronic equipment, books, clothing, beauty products and cosmetics, jewelry and accessories, barcode and expiration date labels. These are supplied in rolls with contact adhe-sive for manual or automatic application, and when a label is removed from the protected item the hologram is partially destroyed, leaving evidence that the product has been compromised and prohibiting the label from being used again.

In Brazil, the first major redesign of the country’s passport for over 20 years has used holograms and optically variable inks (OVIs) to provide improved security features. The new-look, award winning e-document integrates a suite of security features while each page features a different design both in print and watermarks illustrating Brazil’s biodiversity. The biodata section has an offset security background, bar code, bearer’s biodata, laser perforation, secondary image and holographic security laminate. The passport was a joint winner of the best new passport category at the 2023 High Security Print LatAm Conference awards.

Holography has helped to bring smartphone digital interaction in the brand protection and authentication space closer as the technology discovers new outlets and innovative applications. In turn, this is driving continued expansion as increasing numbers of organisations accept the advantages holograms offer and invest in digital-based interactive solutions for their products to protect against global brand piracy and counterfeiters.

In particular, we are seeing opportunities appearing for brand protection and anti-counterfeiting through hologram validation using computer vision on smartphones; the use of smartphones with integrated cameras has been transformative, and image and video content captured on these devices dominates so much of contemporary life through social media, entertainment, recognition and validation. So called ‘computer vision’ has become both ubiquitous and familiar; a powerful tool for the validation and recognition of holograms when linked with the connectivity of smartphones to central data repositories against which the hologram and other information can be matched

For example, the consumer can validate the integrity of hologram while a unique identifier links it to an information system (track and trace) which confirms the authenticity or not of the product. Furthermore, the use of a mobile app in the consumer’s smartphone can ‘interrogate’ the hologram and search for all the embedded security elements by examining the interaction via reflected light.

Computerforms is another leader in the sector whose hologram products are used to protect official document forms. The firm offers a wide range of products that include school certificates, birth certificates, identification cards, vehicle control stickers, firearm licenses, and much more. Ensuring the authenticity and security of official documents is a priority for the firm’s commercial focus – it takes extensive measures to protect documents against counterfeiting and unauthorised duplication with technology incorporating intricate designs, tamper-evident elements, UV reactive inks, variable printing, serial numbers, and lenticular technology within the holograms. These measures provide customers with reliable solutions to effectively safeguard their brands, products, and reputation.

Countering healthcare counterfeiting

In the wider context of tackling illicit healthcare activity, regional law enforcement agencies are urged by the IHMA to step up their investment in anti-counterfeiting measures to stem the trade in fake medicines and drugs. This comes on the back of warnings from the Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM), which has found that Latin America appears in second place, surpassed only by Asia, as the region that produces and markets the most counterfeit medicines.

WHO has previously said that access to fake medicines is a problem across South American countries, where the high demand for medicines and lack of local production opens up opportunities for counterfeit products. Counterfeiting is a multi-billion-dollar problem but the current situation remains of concern to the IHMA as criminals continue to take advantage supplying fake pills and tablets to people unable to afford genuine healthcare products and medicines.

However, packaging featuring security devices can ensure quality and check the distribution and smuggling of illicit products, while items not displaying security devices like holograms can be quickly seized and destroyed. In South America, we are seeing authorities inexorably moving towards the inclusion of biometric technology in their anti-counterfeiting plans, in an effort to stem the rising tide of identity fraud.

Holograms used for these applications protect customers from worrying safety, quality and reliability issues surrounding sub-standard counterfeit products. Innovation in this form can help also to remove the financial risks associated with the counterfeiters’ use of sub-standard materials and tolerances leading to shortened equipment life, higher running costs and potential threat to life through fire or catastrophic equipment failure.

It’s clear that South America offers exciting opportunities for holograms as manufacturers look for new markets and applications for their technologies. Moreover, the use of well-designed and properly deployed authentication solutions, as advocated by the ISO 12931 standard, enables those with brand protection responsibilities to verify the authenticity of a legitimate product, differentiating it from counterfeits.

For example, Hologramas de Mexico is a manufacturer and supplier of optical security solutions and has created a new generation of high-quality holographic labels used to protect clothing and sports merchandising – its technology allows holograms to be applied to garments to authenticate and certify their originality. In another interesting development, these labels can be used to prevent counterfeiting of military or police uniforms – as well as clothing brands – extending holography’s potential to reach new markets and add even more customer value.

Even those that carry a fake authentication feature can be distinguished from the genuine item if the latter carries a carefully thought-out authentication solution. The advantages holography offers will only continue as ever more advanced digital and mobile-based technologies gain more and more traction.