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

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

We illustrate some of the significant milestones polycarbonate IDs have experienced in these infographics in the last 20 years.


More than two decades of innovation in secure ID documents

Polycarbonate for IDs
​<< Enlarge I​nfographic>>


Why polycarbonate for IDs?

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 polycarbonate layers fuse to form a solid monolithic structure.

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

So what does it mean?

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

The layered structure is also ideal for deploying security features that 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 blue edition.

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 significant impact and heat resistance with overall excellent durability.

Superior to other plastics, composite materials, or costly metal and alloy reserved for 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 elements, and ID document holder data are integrated so that they protect each other from any fraud attempt.

For example, the holder's photo, laser engraved in the card body,  is wholly 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 elements such as positive/negative embossing, Changeable or Multiple Laser Image (CLI/MLI), or tactile laser.

There's more.

The photo can be protected by embedded Diffractive Optically Variable Image Devices (DOVID).

A good example is the new UK travel document launched in 2020 with its new passport identification page in particular.

Another interesting 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 the front side or back side plastic layer grinding before modifying the personalized data and recombining the ID document using material from a second identical document. This requires a highly sophisticated process, and evidence of tampering is usually visible.

Video Transcript

"Get ready for a new driver's license. Marylanders will be getting new protections with the latest issue of the state driver's license and WJZ's Pat Warren reports on the change and what will be expected of all of us. Pat?

Of all of us is right. However first and foremost this is going to make Maryland one of the most secure driver's licenses in the country. Getting a driver's license or state IDs are practical necessity for most Marylanders which also means there is a lot of information floating around out there along with for the market for fakes.

These are counterfeit licenses that ONE officer in Howard County has collected. One officer!

Maryland's current technology makes not only subject to counterfeit but identity theft and fraud.

That's about to change!

You see how you tilt it: that's a changeable image. There's that changeable image in addition to more new images, raised print, unique barcode and other features.

Those are things we know about. So if you try to pass off a fake license to any law enforcement official, we know right away based on the security features that they have in place. The MVA will begin issuing the new licenses and IDs next month, June 20th. That's right and up till June 20th, there is nothing for you to do and then after June 20th, you only have to expect a new license when your old one comes up for renewal. I'm Patt Warren reporting live now back to you.

Patt, thank you for explaining to us. There will be no changes though in the licensing fees."​

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​.

Incorporating a laser-engraved ghost image is recommended to provide additional protection to the bearer's primary photo. 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 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 backward by the citizen end-user despite the photo's high resolution.

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

As a result, Thales has developed Color Laser Shield,​ a new personalization solution based on a revolutionary new printing technology that combines all the best polycarbonate with a color photo.

Announced in 2014, the technology was effective in 2016 for the Cameroon ID card's national roll-out.


More about polycarbonate documents

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 significant milestones polycarbonate IDs have experienced in the last 20 years.



Get in touch with us

For more information regarding our services and solutions contact one of our sales representatives. We have agents worldwide that are available to help with your digital security needs. Fill out our contact form and one of our representatives will be in touch to discuss how we can assist you.

Please note we do not sell any products nor offer support directly to end users. If you have questions regarding one of our products provided by e.g. your bank or government, then please contact them for advice first.