Scientists at Northwestern University in the US have created new fluorescent printer inks that could one day be used to help fight the sale of counterfeit goods. Snapping a picture of the multi-coloured barcode with a smartphone will help consumers identify whether or not the product is genuine or not.
The inks, which can be printed using a standard inkjet printer, are only visible under UV light and could be used to authenticate anything from luxury handbags, expensive whiskey or printer cartridges by giving consumers and manufacturers an authentication tool that counterfeiters would find very difficult to mimic.
One reason for this is the control that manufacturers will have over the colour of the inks. They can be made in single colours or multi-colour gradients. The ink’s colour depends on the amounts of and the interaction between three different ingredient molecules. A tiny tweak to the recipe results in significant colour change, providing a built-in “molecular encryption” tool.
“We have introduced a level of complexity not seen before in tools to combat counterfeiters,” Sir Fraser Stoddart, the senior author on the paper, said. “Our inks are similar to the proprietary formulations of soft drinks. One could approximate their flavour using other ingredients, but it would be impossible to match the flavour exactly without a precise knowledge of the recipe.”
Even the inks’ inventors would not be able to replicate the colour information encoded in the printer barcodes, QR codes or trademarks that a manufacturer prints without a detailed knowledge of the recipe used to create them in the first place.
They have also developed an authentication mechanism to help verify the protected information created by the fluorescent inks. Users can simply wipe the top of the fluorescent image with a wet authentication wipe which will cause the fluorescent image to change colours.
Counterfeiting is a huge problem worldwide, with manufacturers losing up to $650 billion (about R7785 billion) a year, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. By adding an extra level of authentication, consumers and manufacturers will be able to save a significant amount of money every year.
Source: Northwestern University