Production of passports in the digital age

Marc Graindourze  

Today’s passports are much different from what they used to be 20 years ago. Not only do they look different, they are also produced in a different way and no longer examined on a merely visual basis.

Most all information needed for international passports is stored in digital format and resides on various online databases. What is physically printed must accommodate the automatic ID scanning tools used by border security personnel and therefore requires marking techniques with high resolving power for the finest details.

Production of today’s passports has therefore become a sophisticated process that is taken on by specialized system integrators. One of the leading players in this field is Zetes, a pan-European company offering solutions and services for automatic identification of goods and people.

In the first quarter of 2014 Zetes will install two Bookmaster One systems at its Brussels personalization plant to print the variable data of the Belgian passports by means of a full color industrial inkjet engine that prints the personal data on all pages of the document. Both systems will our Agfa Graphics’ Altamira Pack SUV ink set.

The Bookmaster One performs the entire personalization process in one pass. This is an extreme example of variable data printing, i.e. each single passport has a content that is different from the other. To sustain a reproducible production level a variable data printing technology is needed that can keep up with the high bandwidths currently used for streaming the data retrieved from various online sources. For such purposes inkjet turns out to be the technology of preference.

In that process ink drops are ejected from a print head cartridge onto the substrate. UV inkjet inks have the capability of curing on the substrate surface by the action of UV light and render text and images as a controlled pattern of fine dots. The addressability as well as the reproducibility of this dot formation process is therefore of paramount importance for obtaining the desired image resolution. Agfa Graphics’ understanding of the interactions between the ink, the substrate, and the electrical pulse mechanism within the print head allows for a dedicated R&D on UV inkjet formulation. Our previous experience in applying functional liquids on various substrates gives us a leading edge over other ink manufacturers and results in customized inks that can be formulated according to the technical specifications of the application.

Thanks to our understanding of the various tunable parameters, Agfa Graphics can formulate UV inks that accommodate a wide variety of functional requirements. Rather than a one-size-fits-all solution, their UV inks tend to become more specifically designed to the application they are intended for.

As such our Altamira Pack SUV ink set has been formulated with wetting properties that are specifically tuned for printing on paper-based substrates and cartons to deliver the highest image quality and crisp rendering of text in the smallest point sizes.

We are rapidly expanding our position in industrial inkjet applications as a supplier of an extensive range of high-performance industrial UV inks produced in our manufacturing facilities in Mortsel, Belgium. Now and for the future Agfa Graphics focuses on being a preferred partner for system integrators, which develop digital printing solutions for many types of applications, such as packaging, label printing, product decoration and security printing. These applications enjoy very optimistic future perspectives as these print markets remain unchallenged by the proliferation of electronic information delivery and consumption through Internet, social media etc.

Come and see us at InPrint.

Marc Graindourze