Security print: are breath-activated images the next big thing?

Researchers from the University of Michigan and South Korea have pioneered a new printing technique allowing them to print breath-activated images that could be used for security print purposes.

The images are created using a new nanoscale printing technique which can create a ‘watermark’ of sorts on a variety of materials including plastic, fabric, paper and metal. The image is invisible until breathed upon, which reveals the hidden security print.

It works through the addition of tiny nanopillars to the surface of an iridescent material. The nanopillars are a hundred times smaller than a human hair so can’t be seen until activated with breath. A thin waterproof coating is printed onto the material everywhere except where the image should appear. When water droplets from breath condense on the sheet, the non-printed areas become more transparent, revealing the picture.

Traditionally hologram labels have been the go-to security print technique for protecting products against counterfeiters, could this new technique offer a viable alternative? Although it sounds promising, consumers commenting on the news story were not convinced brands should start using the new technology to protect products. Many expressed concerns around hygiene – it’s unlikely that you would like to take home a product that could have been breathed on by hundreds of people in store to activate the image.

So far this security print technique has only been tested by researchers, so it remains to be seen if this method is commercially viable. However the researchers are confident that it could be adopted commercially due to the use of ordinary inkjet-style printers to apply the nanopillars.

The other area to consider is how difficult it would be for others to fraudulently replicate the effect. Once the materials and printers required are in the hands of those who produce counterfeit goods, it may prove too easy to replicate to provide robust protection.