The Technology in Document and Check Security
Secure documents are absolutely necessary for effective governing and the administration of daily business transactions. The risks associated with accepting fraudulent documents are substantial, both financially and legally. Many think that document security is only needed for titles or certificates, however, much more is at stake.

World commerce today is under attack from counterfeiters and criminals at all levels. In some countries, as much as 40% of certain goods sold are fakes, especially items such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, watches, liquors, apparel, videotapes, and computer software. This is a growing problem which hurts both legitimate manufacturers and consumers. As an example, medicines which are faked can be lethal to one's health.

Much of the success of the counterfeiters is due to their ability to produce product labels, packaging, and supporting documents which pass for originals. As members of the graphic arts community, it is our duty to become aware of the extent of this problem, and to offer solutions to protect our customers. For these reasons, SecureDoc contains a comprehensive set of graphical features to add security safeguards into a printed document. The FineLace Design Feature will increase the security of any document. This unique program allows you to create original geometrical fine-line raster designs which are extremely difficult to forge or counterfeit.

An array of high technology features (built-in and printed on documents) is continuously being developed to defend documents (especially checks) against chemical alteration, erasure, toner removal, photocopying and counterfeiting.

The key to selecting intelligent combinations is to include both overt (visible) and covert (hidden) characteristics in order to alert check handlers.

Four Methods for Document Security

Document security is achieved through four techniques. For maximum security, all four techniques should be used simultaneously.

  1. The first is related to the paper stock chosen for printing. Many special stocks are available which have security features and restricted distribution. 

  2. The second technique is to treat the paper with special inks, coatings, and/or chemicals to either "overtly" dissuade someone from tampering, or "covertly" detect the result of tampering or counterfeiting. 

  3. The third technique is to print a unique number, bar code, or identifier on each document, so that no two are exactly the same. When used with a registration or tracking system, this technique is highly effective. These three techniques share a common drawback: they add greatly to the manufacturing cost. Although the level of security possible from employing one or more physical security methods is high, not all documents warrant the added cost.

  4. FineLace Features
    The fourth technique is to use HOML's FineLace to add security through complex and elaborate graphics. Graphical effects can be used to add security to almost any document. Unlike most of the security features mentioned earlier, graphical effects in general do not add to the overall production cost of a document. Of course, not every document needs expensive physical, chemical, or mechanical security features to perform as intended, if the risk of fraud is minimal. An example where graphical features alone are usually suitable are rebate coupons and gift certificates.

Given two documents which have the same value, a forger will most likely try to counterfeit the one with the least number of security features. In many cases, just adding a few of the graphic effects listed below will protect a document:

  • Subtle images

  • Micro-text

  • Prismatic colored backgrounds

  • Lacey geometric patterns

  • Anti-copy text

  • Fine-line relief of logos

  • Layered borders

  • Printed warning bands

  • Flexible patterns

In North America, it is usually easy to verify a document via an on-line computer or telephone call. This reduces, somewhat, the dependence on the printed document for absolute security. However, even in the U.S., there are many situations which are not conducive for any verification other than a quick "look" at the document, such as tickets and passes. In many other parts of the world, communications technology is not readily available, making the document itself a crucial element in a security effort. Documents which can not be easily verified need to have the highest level of security.

The creator of a secure document should use as many graphical security features as possible to produce a verifiable document which is difficult to forge, and resistant to photocopying. Complex graphics and colors, along with fine-line lacy borders and anti-copy's are difficult to forge. The warning band also makes it clear to the forger that the producer of the document is committed to fighting fraud. Graphical features which are verifiable are micro-text and details, hidden images and messages, and subtle coloring.

Counterfeiting with Color Photocopiers

Simple counterfeiting has never been easier, because new color copier technology makes it easy to replicate any document. However, color copiers do have limits in resolution and color gamut, and by understanding these limitations, documents can be graphically protected. The most effective copy-resistant graphical techniques are fine-line reliefs, micro-text, and simulated watermarks which can be seen only by holding the original document at an angle to the light.

Subtle images, anti-copy text, and lacy borders and backgrounds are effective if used with other graphical features because the copier can be adjusted to render fine detail with over-saturated bright colored areas, or adjusted to render the saturated color with some loss of subtle areas. We always try to examine a customer's need for security in their printed forms, labels, tags, and packages. By helping the customer to understand the risks, we gain the trust and appreciation of our customer as well as his or her business


We will review SecureDoc's security capabilities starting with the easiest to create and following through to the most complex. The first technique is not really a unique graphical feature, but its importance should not be overlooked. Click on labels below to get magnified images


Warning Bands

The warning band is a simple statement of the security technologies that are present within the document. Although it is the simplest thing to add, the warning band is one of the most effective deterrents to a potential counterfeiter. Every security feature in the document must be defeated and criminals are more likely to abuse an insecure document than one boasting of multiple security features. Most often, the warning band identifies measures such as colored backgrounds, the appearance of micro printing, artificial watermarks, thermo chromatic ink, foil stamps, and other overt features. Warning bands are common on checks, stocks, and titles, because they alert the receiver of the document as to what features should (or should not) be present in a valid original document. Warning bands on titles and certificates typically state that the document may become null and void with any attempt to erase or alter information.

Subtle Logos and Images

The inclusion of a subtle logo or image on any document is another easy method to add security. However, the subtle image must be used in contrast with other graphical effects. For example, place a lightly screened logo image within a document's background adjacent to fine-line borders. This combination can quickly frustrate an amateur counterfeiter's attempt in copying. When adjusting the brightness level on the copier or scanner to pick-up the subtle image, the borders of the document become muddy and lose definition.

To further enhance the appearance and complexity of the document, include gradient screens within the subtle image. Again, this will make the effort of photocopying even more tedious and frustrating. Whether the gradient effect is contained within a single image, or applied to a step-and-repeat background, the digital capture process can become too cumbersome for the amateur counterfeiter.

With SecureDoc, subtle images can be generated from simple line art, scanned images, or from photographic sources. When placed at strategic locations on the document, such as signature lines, amount boxes, or name fields, these areas are less likely to be altered on the original document. 

Prismatic Color Blending

Prismatic Color Blending is the technique of overprinting multiple ink colors to create a blended color effect. The overprinting of 2 ink colors will visually blend together forming a third blended color. When applied to a document, this effect can become quite difficult to match during color copier reproduction. SecureDoc creates the prismatic color effect by generating multiple printing plates. These in turn are overprinted, creating a new blended color. Due to the nature of overprinting screened images, each separation must contain complementary dot angles to avoid flexible patterns on the final product. Prismatic color blending is visually similar to that of split-fountain printing, however, differences between the two printing methods become apparent during magnification of the final printed material.

The prismatic printing method requires that a minimum of 2 ink towers overprint screens on the final product. Whereas split fountain printing require that 1 ink tower be loaded with multiple ink colors printing from a single plate. The multiple colors on the ink tower are separated by a "dam" at the inking rollers. When magnified, the prismatic blend method shows multiple sets of ink dots on the printed product. Magnifying the split fountain method shows that only 1 set of ink dots are present. As the dots are viewed across the blended area, the color of the ink dot actually changes. Color consistency throughout a large print-run is more difficult to control with split-fountain printing than with prismatic color blending.

Again, when placed at strategic locations on the document, such as signature lines and cheque amount boxes, these areas then become less likely to be altered on the original document.

Microtext and Micro printing

As color copier technology improves, some of the most popular graphical security effects are being defeated. Not so with micro printing. Created from type that is too small for the naked eye to clearly see, it is perceived as a printed line. When viewed under magnification, the line becomes legible as tiny letterforms spelling out a message. Most attempts to photocopy or scan micro-text produce illegible results due to its small character size. Micro-text in its simplest form is typically used for a line or a box frame. It is now commonplace for signature lines on checks to be made up of micro printing. In more elaborate documents, micro-text is used within the background image itself. With SecureDoc, the application of micro-text is as simple as picking a path to follow and inputting the wording. Also revisions to the wording of the micro-text are minor edits with SecureDoc.

To increase the level of security within a document through the use of micro printing, the illusion of a background screen or inside fill can quickly be created. Since micro-text can follow any path or shape with SecureDoc, the creation of these complex backgrounds is quick and easy. By combining the usage of micro-text with SecureDoc's relief print feature, the level of complexity within the security document greatly increases. A relief print pattern is generated within a document's background. Micro-text is then applied to the pattern resulting in an incredibly complex background image.

Fine Line Relief

The addition of relief lines can instantly increase a document's level of design complexity. SecureDoc's relief pattern is a series of lines and curves that originate from a high resolution scanned image. The resulting lines are overlain upon the original image, creating the illusion of depth similar in appearance to that of embossing. Once the relief lines have been generated from the high resolution image, that image is typically discarded. With SecureDoc, the characteristics of the relief lines are controlled through a visual dialog panel. Attributes such as line spacing, drape height, front and back angle, drape effect, and draw direction are controlled by the user. Other characteristics available to the operator are line thickness, density and ink color. Once the designated image is identified, the application of the relief pattern is almost instantaneous. For further complexity, the relief lines can be solid or screened, and can be reversed-out of another background color or image.

Altering the origin offset allows the relief lines to be shifted to any position for final pattern adjustment. Overlaying multiple sets of relief lines at varying angles and spacing creates intricate background images that are extremely difficult for the counterfeiter to reproduce. Adjusting values such as positive and negative drape angles, often create very interesting effects within the relief patterns. The relief pattern can alternate between positive and negative drape angles through the use of an oscillate feature. Once created, relief lines can be further enhanced if desired, such as replacing with micro-text or by applying a distortion effect to the overall relief pattern.

Hidden Messages or Images

To make a document even more complex, you can insert hidden images within a pattern. The use of hidden or latent images within a document can be an effective tool in its verification process. Images or words can be embedded within a document's border, background, or ornament where only a trained document receiver knows to look. Visually subtle, the hidden message is often overlooked by the untrained eye. Under magnification, it becomes obvious that a message is present within the document. The SecureDoc software has the ability to create these hidden images or messages.

For example, a series of multi-angled rules are often used to create a hidden message as a graphic object. Then the area surrounding the message is covered with lines at a contrasting angle. Adjustment to the thickness of the rules allows the message to become more or less hidden within the background pattern.

Anti-copy Feature

Although not fail-safe due to enhancements in copier technology, the anti-copy background is effective against the casual counterfeiter using a photocopier. Messages hidden within the background appear when attempts to duplicate the original are made. This feature is most commonly found in checks, but many additional applications for the anti-copy technology exist in documents today.

The Anti-copy phenomenon is based on the copier's inability to accurately reproduce screen densities of differing resolutions and dot angles. The naked eye sees an even color density while the copier sees a glaring difference. Several techniques of the anti-copy background feature exist, some are patented processes requiring licensing, while others are in the public domain. HOML's SecureDoc software allows a wide variety of void background methods to be generated. A large library of standard anti-copy patterns exist with SecureDoc for use in the superimposition of a anti-copy message, but unique custom security background patterns can be created for use with anti-copy as well. Messages that are to be hidden in the background, can vary in font, style, and point size.

The designer has full control over the final appearance of the Anti-copy text and background pattern during its creation. Variables such as screen density, lines per inch, dot shape and dot angle are fully adjustable. All are important factors in obtaining optimum results whether the anti-copy background is designated for black- and-white or color copier protection.

Wave Ornament Patterns

The Wave Ornament pattern is a unique non-repeating spiral design. The usage of a Wave Ornament pattern as a background can be an effective deterrent against a counterfeiter's attempt to cut-and-paste information since the pattern is non-repeating and unique, especially in areas of critical concern.

With the powerful tools available in the SecureDoc software, the creation of a Wave Ornament pattern can be achieved easily and quickly. You begin with a single pattern cell drawn through the use of SecureDoc's standard drawing tools. The ability to scale and copy simultaneously allow for an individual segment of the Wave Ornament to be created. Then using the rotation feature, the base section can be duplicated to create the Wave Ornament background. Simple shapes such as circles or ovals can be quickly converted into a complex background Wave Ornament pattern. Simply copying a single circle and then using the Shearing feature to distort the section creates a unique pattern segment. Mirroring the segment creates a pattern section for the final Wave Ornament. Again, using the rotation feature this section is then replicated around a central point of origin. Once the desired background effect has been generated, the powerful clipping mask tool allows the Wave Ornament pattern to be applied to any document as a background or within an individual shape.

Custom Geometric Patterns

The SecureDoc can transform a simple geometric shape into a highly complex design pattern. Due to the fact that the originating shape can be freely designed, each resulting transformation then becomes a unique custom creation.

Almost any shape that can be created on SecureDoc can quickly become a complex design pattern. Items such as curves, ovals, circles, spiral shapes and even straight lines can create some of the most unique designs. By simply adjusting the amount of rotation and cell spacing, a single shape can create many varying and interesting results. Once a geometric pattern has been generated, it can quickly be used for several different purposes. By merging several patterns, the complexity level of a design increases. Using SecureDoc's masking feature allows a geometric design pattern to be quickly produced for use as a one of a kind custom border for any document.

Point Shaker

The point shaker feature can take a computer-generated geometric design and give it human imperfections. A custom uniform pattern can be very effective when placed upon a document, but sometimes it is desirable to disrupt the uniform pattern with a small imperfection that a trained document receiver is knowledgeable about. This then becomes a visual indicator of the document's authenticity. The Point Shaker option within the SecureDoc software allows a designated region to receive a distortion effect. This effect can be applied as a global feature or constrained within a specific region. The amount of both horizontal and vertical displacement becomes user-defined as well as the method of displacement. When applying the feature to a uniform patterned background, a new custom non-repeating background pattern is generated. Using the effect within a constrained circular region, the amount of displacement can be maximized to either the center or tangent edge of the designated boundary.

If used in a situation that requires the overprinting of multiple colors to create a color blend, the effect can be applied to a single color if desired. This in turn creates the illusion of misregistration at the press, but only within the designated area. As a document receiver, this becomes a visual key as to whether the document is an original or counterfeit attempt. 

Custom Patterns

Other types of backgrounds, borders and ornaments can be created through the Spiro and sine wave generators. As we have seen, the inclusion of a custom created ornamental design to a document reduces its chances of being successfully counterfeited. Images which contain highly detailed fine line designs and patterns become extremely difficult to digitally or photographically capture. The creation of a new ornamental design is achieved through the use of SecureDoc's Spiral and Sine Wave Generator features. Originating with a base contour design of the ornament, either a spiral or sine- wave pattern can quickly be applied. The appearance of the generated pattern is fully controllable by the designer during the creation process. Features such as wave height, wave width, cycle count and boundary offset are just a few of the controls available. Additionally, other options allow the appearance of the wave shape, spiral perimeter, and pen position to be adjusted if needed. In addition, the geometry that generates the pattern can never be replicated, even by the same designer using the same SecureDoc system.

While generating sine-wave patterns, controls allow the wave to follow along a simple outline path or be contained within the framing of an inside and outside boundary. Both the spiral and wave patterns can be applied either to the interior or exterior of any path designated. Within an ornamental design, combining both the spiro and sine wave features, result in a highly complex image which can be quickly customized for any document. The use of fine-line relief printing, superimposing hidden messages, original fine-line detailed borders, unique geometrical designs, prismatic color blending, and also quick touches such as micro printing and phantom photo images, create a highly effective counterfeiting deterrent, especially when used in conjunction with security papers, inks and other treatments.

Keep in mind that graphical effects can be used to add security to almost any document. Unlike special papers, coatings, and inks, graphical effects in general do not add to the overall manufacturing unit cost of a document. Given two documents which have the same value, a forger will most likely try to counterfeit the one with the least number of security features. In many cases, just adding a few of the graphic effects described in this presentation will protect the document and keep it safe from criminals.

Other Document Security Features Available

True and Artificial Watermark —Watermarks are a very effective method of verifying that a document is an original. Security papers are available with artificial and true watermarks. Custom artificial watermarks can be printed with your logo or name.
security check printing: artificial watermark

Bleed Through Numbering The red Arabic number on your checks and forms will bleed through to the back of the document thus verifying it's authenticity.

Thermo chromic Ink — The use of Thermo chromic Ink in combination with a pre-printed warning border serves as a highly effective deterrent to criminals intending to duplicate or counterfeit sensitive documents. It also provides a quick and simple method for bank tellers and officials to confirm its authenticity. These inks are specially treated to provide a color changing sequence when heated to a defined temperature range.

Border Copy Warning — A notice or warning designed to advise document handlers and potential fraud artists of specific overt and covert safeguards present. Commonly printed in reverse type on face of document above background screen or pantograph.
security check printing:  border copy warning
Embossing — Pattern or logo formed into paper resulting in raised or three-dimensional image. This gives a distinctive and affluent appearance to documents, especially when combined with foil stamping. Tactile property of feature provides immediate verification.
security check printing:  embossing
Micro printing — Miniature print or text which appears as screened line or border. Type commonly consists of a company name or warning message, verified with a magnifying glass. Copied or scanned attempts appear plugged and/or unreadable
security check printing:  microprinting
Padlock Icon — A symbol which indicates the presence of security technologies used to prevent copying, alterations, counterfeiting, or other fraudulent methods. The icon is a certified mark of the Financial Stationers Association, and is printed on the face of documents in conjunction with a "warning box" commonly printed on the back.
security check printing:  padlock icon
Ultraviolet (UV) Ink — Image (s) printed in invisible ink which, when exposed under a black light, appears as glowing. UV ink can be used as a second color in pantograph designs and/or as an artificial watermark.
security check printing:  Ultraviolet (UV) ink