Any form of brand protection – hologram or not – depends on developing a holistic anti-counterfeit strategy, including the underlying IT systems that your company already has in place. The challenge is turning away from the usual slate of visible safeguards.
Instead, the more mature approach is to demand that your organization take a step back from relying on anti-counterfeit measures like holograms, which criminals can readily fake with minimal equipment. Maybe there was a time when using holograms was both efficient and effective? But those times have gone by, and security holograms no longer work for several reasons, which we’ll discuss throughout this post to give you a better idea of why you need the right defenses to thwart and deter counterfeiting.
As holography developed in the early 20th century, the applications of this new photographic technique were numerous yet still theoretical. However, the bottom line is this: the inventor of the hologram – Dennis Gabor – never intended it to be used as a packaging label to verify the authenticity of physical goods. That’s a modern use case for complex holograms, yet holography didn’t develop as a means to battle copyright infringement. Instead, it came to light as a two-stage method for forming optical images to improve the performance of electron microscope images.
Indeed, Gabor essentially stumbled upon the discovery while trying new image capture techniques. The process involved using the phase and amplitude of light waves to give an image spatial characteristics. In others, holograms appear three-dimensional when light reflects off the surface at the proper angle. Until the 1960s, holography progressed far enough to display clearer images with noticeable three-dimensional features. The technology has improved further in the digital with more sophisticated techniques now in use.
Generally speaking, you can divide security holograms into two categories: basic and complex, both of which refer to the imprinting process and the level of technological sophistication required to produce them. Nevertheless, for the purposes of counterfeit protection, holograms come in a few essential varieties, including:
- Multilayer (i.e., 2-D and 3-D combined)
- Hidden images
- Electron-beam lithography
- Computer-generated, three-dimensional images
- Dot-matrix holograms
- Hot stamping foil
- Nanotexts and micro texts
- True color
The difference between each kind lies in the process used to create them, how to apply the images properly, and the complexity of the production techniques themselves. It’s standard to use software and lasers to create the holographic images necessary to make security seals, yet the effectiveness of such counter-measures depends on many factors. In particular, the price of the implementation often influences an organization’s decision on which types of protections to deploy and which won’t work well.
Cheap vs. expensive Holograms – What is the difference?
As alluded to above, the difference between cheap holograms and expensive holograms lies in how sophisticated the underlying technology is. For example, you can use tamper-resistant stickers to add two layers of security to packaging. If the package is unsealed or the hologram sticker is damaged in any way, the product is more likely to be fraudulent – as long as customers follow up and do their part, which we’ll discuss shortly.
No matter which techniques you apply, creating holographic images involves complex processes, and security solutions vary. For instance, hot stamping foil is a dry print method where pre-dried foils and ink impart images on surfaces but only at high temperatures. Thus, this method requires specialized machinery for imprinting and verification.
The difficulty of verifying a hologram
Brand protection – hologram or not – relies on developing safeguards that a counterfeiter can’t readily replicate. An expert in holography might be able to spot likeliness on sight, but the vast majority of consumers won’t be able to distinguish between an expensive hologram and an unauthorized duplicate. At a glance, you can’t determine which holograms are fake and which are genuine because criminals will go to extraordinary lengths to create passable look-alikes using less expensive methods.
True color hologram stickers are technically more difficult to counterfeit, but it’s entirely possible to replicate them with the right equipment, patience, and determination to fool consumers into believing they’re authentic. Anyone with a working knowledge of creating holographic images can produce cheap replicas of expensive holograms.
Making matters worse, hackers can go as far as breaking the law to steal the copyright information and sell it to fraudsters, who then use the information to duplicate the hologram. Thus, overt measures like holograms are insufficient for security labels and packaging.
A hologram is overt
Holograms work best when covert protections are necessary, yet many solutions on the market rely on an overt, visible shield instead of invisible images. Imprinting holographic images on physical products still rely on a human to interpret whether or not the verification image itself is fake. Ideally, you’d want software to do the verification, not a person.
Furthermore, once a passable look-alike hologram starts circulating, the real hologram becomes essentially useless from a verification standpoint. In addition, the brand owners may still have to pay for the anti-counterfeit measure despite its clear lack of performance. The criminals, on the other hand, only need to pay $0.18 or less per holographic packaging label, which means they can profit from fake holograms at a significant scale with minimal upfront investment.
There’s also the option of semi-covert measures, such as smart embossing technology alongside secured QR codes, which work best as an alternative to overt labeling when visible features are required.
This would avoid the downside when you combine these holograms with QR codes; i.e. provide a false sense of security.
The truth is that you can fake holograms easier when there is no system in place to check for authenticity automatically. That’s basically how the ideal approach would work, but the best anti-counterfeit defenses are totally covert, and some are entirely invisible to the naked eye, making them harder if not impossible to duplicate.
Most of the time, covert would be more appropriate.
Moving along, the next question is this: would covert defenses be more appropriate? And furthermore, what are the advantages of secret technologies over visible protections? Always keep in mind that counterfeiters are sophisticated con artists, and they are constantly trying to find ways to circumvent anti-counterfeit solutions and the law. So, we developed two complementary systems at AlpVision to provide a viable and incredibly effective anti-counterfeit defense: AlpVision Fingerprint and Cryptoglyph.
AlpVision Fingerprint – Physical Products Protection
AlpVision Fingerprint is essentially a holistic solution that pinpoints fake items down to the product level, which was once difficult to achieve at a reasonable cost to the organization. The technology spots intrinsic defects in the molds for plastic components and cross-references the goods to determine whether or not similar inconsistencies exist. If they are not present, the product isn’t genuine.
But when you combine both protections in one defense – AlpVision Fingerprint and Cryptoglyph – you’ll have a complete anti-counterfeit strategy, which makes it significantly more challenging for fraudsters to fake product components or entire items in some instances.
Cryptoglyph – Packaging and Label Protection
Moreover, Cryptoglyph – AlpVision’s digital anti-counterfeiting solution – works well for packaging and labeling security. At a high level, the solution world by punching thousands of microscopic holes in the varnish layer of labels, packaging, or certificates. Counterfeiters can’t easily fake those kinds of measures.
When implemented correctly, Cryptoglyph affords you the benefit of scaling up counterfeit protection and deploying them at a lower cost. When you combine Cryptoglyph with AlpVision Fingerprint, you can create an even more vigorous defense, and best of all, the systems integrate well with business-grade IT systems.
If you’d like to learn more details about our suite of anti-counterfeit software,Download our latest white paper for more information.