Glossary Terms


Below is a list of terms relevant to product security solutions and anti-counterfeiting technology.


Algorithm: an iterative mathematical procedure used to combine information to create a cipher or secret code; the basis of many proprietary coding systems.

Authentic: real, genuine, valid, of undisputed origin. Authentication is the process of confirming that a product, document or even person is authentic.


Barcode: a series of vertical printed bars of controlled thickness and separation representing variable data information in a linear format. A 2D barcode consists of a representation of solid and clear images (usually squares) in a matrix format over a specific two dimensional structure.


Color shift: an optically-variable effect whereby the material usually a thin film or ink changes from one color to another, or from one color to clear, when the viewing angle is altered.

Counterfeit: an imitation of a document, product or its packaging that is made with the intent to deceptively represent the item as the genuine article.

Covert: a concealed or hidden feature that is not apparent and can only be viewed via with special reading or lighting equipment (see overt).


Datamatrix: a barcode consisting of many lines of linear barcodes arranged into a rectangular or square format. Its advantage is that it can carry much more information than a single, linear barcode. It is also known as a 2D barcode.

Decryption: the process of converting encrypted data back into its original form (see encryption).

Digital printing: the reproduction of digital images and data on physical surfaces via inkjet, laser or dot matrix printers. The images are transferred directly to the printer and the process is particularly suited for documents, labels, etc., with variable data.

Diversion: distribution of genuine goods outside of and often in violation of authorized distribution channels (also known as parallel trading).


Embossing: the transfer of a raised pattern from a hard plate to a softer material. This mechanical transfer is usually facilitated by means of heat and always with pressure. Holograms are produced by such a process, but here the raised pattern is extremely fine and cannot be felt by touch but can be seen by the eye as a colored image. The hard plate used to produce the embossed effect is usually nickel and the material to which the pattern is transferred is usually polyester.

Encoding: the recording of information into a receptive medium that is hidden, when used for security purposes.

Encryption: the encoding of information so that unauthorized access is restricted.

E-pedigree: an electronic statement of a product’s history and passage through the supply chain, with each movement and trade recorded so that, at any point in the chain and at its end, the lineage of the product can be obtained.


Flexo printing (flexography): the method of printing whereby a mirrored 3D relief of the required image is made in a rubber or polymer material. A measured amount of ink is deposited upon the surface of the printing plate, the print surface then rotates, making contacting with the print material (substrate) and transferring the ink.

Foil: a material comprising a polyester carrier with one or more coatings, a release layer and an adhesive layer. The foil is transferred generally by heat onto paper, labelstock, textiles, etc., and the carrier is stripped away, leaving the coating which is bonded to the substrate by the adhesive. This coating can be color shift, iridescent , metallized, holographic, etc. Also known as hot stamping or transfer foil.


Gravure printing: a method of printing using a plate with many small etched recesses.


Hologram: optically variable image that is created through the interference of two laser beams. Holograms are the most common type of diffractive optically variable device (or DOVID) and the term hologram is frequently used as a generic one in place of DOVID - not only because it is easier to pronounce but because the effects of holograms are similar to those of images created by the other, non-interference based, techniques.


Intaglio printing: the area of the image to be printed is recessed into the surface of the printing plate via engraving or etching and the recessed areas filled with ink. This area is filled with high viscosity inks, the excess is wiped from the plates and heavy pressure is applied to transfer the ink to the paper. The resulting raised ink profile gives intaglio-printed documents their characteristic tactility.


Level 1, 2 and 3 security features: a commonly-used means of grading security features.

  • Level 1 refers to features that can be verified by the public and untrained examiners with the naked eye.
  • Level 2 refers to covert feature that require some form of reading device or took, and typically deployed for use by, for example, cashiers in banks, product distributors and retailers, inspectors or customs officials.
  • Level 3 refers to features that can only be identified under forensic examination in laboratories and used by the IP owner or manufacturer to provide forensic authentication of a product or document that could, for example, be used as proof in a court of law.


Microprint: print that is so small that it cannot be reproduced by photocopying or scanning, and which can only be read under magnification


Nanotechnology: the science and technology of precisely manipulating the structure of matter at the atomic and molecular level (one nanometer is one billionth of meter) and, in the authentication arena, is being used to explore and develop unique optical phenomena for use in new material and security features.


Offset printing: the technique whereby ink is spread on a metal plate with etched images, then transferred to an intermediary surface such as a rubber blanket, and finally applied to paper by pressing the paper against the intermediary surface. Also known as lithography.

Optically variable device (OVD): visible features with dynamic characteristics that change according to the viewing angle for example from one color to another, or from one image to another.

Overt: features that are apparent and visible, and can be viewed without additional readers or instruments.


Piracy: illegal reproduction and distribution of works protected by copyright, generally taken to be audio and video content.

Planchettes: microscopic discs made of film or plastic coating features such as UV, IR and even holograms. They can be visible or invisible and are embedded into paper during manufacture.

Polarisation: the orientation of light waves into a predominating angle. If all the waves in a beam of light move up and down or from side to side together, the beam is said to be plane-polarised. Some materials have the ability to filter out all light waves except those in a particular direction. Other materials are said to be optically active if they are able to change the angle of a plane-polarised beam of light. Liquid crystals often have this property and this enables them to be detected.


RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Device): small microchips containing, or able to contain, unique and individual information related to the item to which the chip is attached. The chip, and therefore the information, is addressed by means of radio waves which are conveyed to the chip by means of an attached antenna. These devices are now so small that they can be neatly implanted into plastic cards or paper. They can typically be detected at distances ranging from a few millimeters to several meters. Long range detection requires large antennae.


Screen printing: a process that uses a fine mesh with an impermeable coating, selected areas of which have been removed to allow the ink to pass through.

Serialisation: the application of a unique identifier to each unit in a lot or batch. The identifiers are numbers but might be printed as alphanumerics or barcodes or might be embedded in a chip activated by radio frequency (RFID). The numbers may be sequential or randomly generated; what is important is the same number should not be used twice.

Spectroscopy: the analysis of the wavelength and intensity of a specific area of the electromagnetic spectrum in order to undertake a qualitative or quantitative analysis.

Security threads: polyester threads that are either fully- or partially-embedded down the length of the paper into paper during the paper forming process. Fully embedded threads typically less than 1.8mm wide - can only be viewed when the document is held up to the light. Partially embedded threads appear intermittently on one side of the paper. They are typically up to 4mm wide and act as carriers for a range of overt or visible security features.

Security fibers: small fibers randomly distributed throughout the paper while it is still in the pulp form. The fibers may be colored or impregnated with fluorescent dyes only visible under UV light.

Substrate: the material or base, e.g., paper or film, to which a feature is applied, or in which it is incorporated.


Taggant: molecular or microscopic particles that can be organic or inorganic in composition and exhibit specific and unique physical, biological, chemical or spectroscopic properties. Also known as forensic markers.

Tamper-evident: devices such as seals and closures that demonstrate that the product or packaging has been opened or otherwise accessed.

Tamper resistant: a product, package or system that provides a barrier to tampering by either normal users of others with physical access.

Thermal printing: a process which produces a printed image by selectively heating coated thermochromic paper, or thermal paper as it is commonly known. The coating turns black in the areas where it is heated, producing an image. Thermal transfer printing is a related method that uses a heat-sensitive ribbon instead of heat-sensitive paper

Track and trace: the process of monitoring and recording the past and present whereabouts of a shipment, as it passes through different handlers on its way to its destination, through a distribution network. Tracing refers to where the product has been, while tracking refers to where it is going next.


Up-converter: a material that absorbs energy at a longer wavelength outside the visible and emits in the visible spectrum. The materials that can achieve this effect are rare and therefore used for security marking.

Contributed Content

Information contained on this page was provided by the Product Security Task Force