​​​​​​Polycarbonate (PC) polymers or simply polycarbonate is an increasingly popular choice in many countries across the world, as it significantly enhances the level of ID document security.

It has won the trust of many governments around the globe.

In this infographics we illustrate some of the major milestones polycarbonate IDs have been experiencing in the last 20 years.

More than 2 decades of innovation

Polycarbonate for IDs : a short history »
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Why polycarbonate?

What makes polycarbonate so unique?

First you can hear the difference!

Polycarbonate cards are so rigid they sound like a compact disc when dropped.

What sets it apart from other materials is the non-delaminable property of a full polycarbonate ID card. When used in pure form and not mixed with other plastics, the different layers of polycarbonate fuse together to form a solid monolithic structure.

At Thales, we recommend 100% polycarbonate data page or cards​.

So what does it mean?

It is impossible to separate the layers of polycarbonate when fused. Which is one of the reasons why polycarbonate is so secure: the intertwined layers of plastic make it virtually impossible to swap document information or photos without completely destroying the document and making it useless.

The layered structure is also ideally suited to the deployment of security features which can be safely located and protected within a genuine polycarbonate ID.

  • The Swiss id card was one of the first ID (also used as a travel document) using polycarbonate.
  • The UK passport​ is the latest document to integrate polycarbonate for its new 2020 edition as recently announced in April 2018.

There's more.

Interesting optical properties

This transparent material discovered and patented by Bayer in 1953​ has interesting optical properties, is very flexible, and has a very good impact and heat resistance with overall great durability.

Superior to other plastics, composite materials or costly metal and alloy reserved to high-end metal credit cards, these unique properties allow for the production of long lifespan ID documents.

And no surprise this material is also used to make… bulletproof glass.

Let's see why polycarbonate is a perfect match for security features.

Your ID fraud protection champion

This is the so-called 1-block concept: all features, secure element and ID document holder data are integrated in such a way that they protect each other from any fraud attempt.

For example, the holder's photo, laser engraved in the card body,  is fully or partially interlocked with the secure artwork, printed features are in between the document surface and laser engraved layer, the photo side can be protected by tactile features such as positive/negative embossing, Changeable or Multiple Laser Image (CLI/MLI) or tactile laser, and the photo can be protected by embedded Diffractive Optically Variable Image Devices (DOVID).

A good example can be seen with the new Finnish passport launched on January 1, 2017.

Yes, it's true.

  • Any attempt to change the photo destroys a portion of the printed features. The same is true for attempts to separate the document surface and the laser-engraved layer.
  • Any alteration of the document requires front side or back side plastic layer grinding before modifying the personalized data and recombining the ID document with the use of material from a second identical document. This requires a highly sophisticated process and evidence of tampering is usually visible.

Laser-engraved personalization of the polycarbonate document offers additional security feature possibilities to protect personal data such as on the Maryland new driver's license​.

The incorporation of a laser-engraved ghost image is recommended, to provide additional protection to the primary photo of the bearer. The ghost image can be combined with other security features, such as a secure window.

Macao ID card was the very first ID document to use this ghost image feature.

There's more.

Laser marking now in color ​

Colour for polycarbonate laser engraving

Robust enough to resist intensive usage and extreme climates, polycarbonate is the most reliable and secure material for ID documents. We said it.

But the main drawback was the fact that the document holder's portrait could only be reproduced in black and white.

When compared to previous versions of the ID document, where the photo was either glued on or digitally printed, the black-and-white image may be perceived as a step backwards by the citizen end-user despite the photo's high resolution.

Thales has made considerable investments in the development of colour pictures for polycarbonate.

As a result, Thales has developed Color Laser Shield​ a new personalization solution based on a revolutionary new printing technology which combines all the best of polycarbonate with a colour photo. Announced in 2014, the technology was effective in 2016 for the national roll-out of Cameroon ID card.

About this infographics

Given the broad scope of topics, this paper does not purport to provide an exhaustive assessment. It gives a basis for understanding some of the major milestones polycarbonate IDs have been experiencing in the last 20 years.

If you want to know more, we further develop the 1-block concept in our report on security design.