Iris Photonics to Commercialise Secure Photopolymer Technology

May 2020

Iris Photonics, a UK start-up founded in 2018, has completed work on a new, fully self-contained, reflection hologram production system which is now ready for commercialisation. The system allows security printers to independently produce serialised, full-colour photopolymer reflection holograms.

This latest innovation from Iris produces holograms with a strikingly different visual appearance from the traditional embossed surface relief holograms and from monochromatic reflection holograms. In addition, the technology makes a clean break from the silver-embossed surface relief rainbow holograms that have dominated the security print and product authentication sectors for 30 years and are now widespread.

According to Iris, the development retains the strong emotive links with tried and tested holographic security technology whilst also keeping the trusted ‘hologram’ definition. Moreover, the system enables every individual hologram produced to incorporate unique personalised data in the form of diffractive graphics, alphanumeric characters or machine-readable codes.

Photopolymer holograms – a disruptive technology

Smithers PIRA predicted at the beginning of the last decade that photopolymer reflection holograms would be the ‘leading disruptive technology’ in security print in the following ten years, although very slow progress has been actually achieved in this sector. Dai Nippon, Kurz, Bayer/Covestro, Du Pont, Krypten, Polygrama, Zebra, XYZ, Xetos, TU Dublin and others have made significant strides in photopolymer hologram technology, but to date the technology has not gained significant market share in the security document and authentication industry.

More recently, however, De La Rue’s Izon photopolymer technology acquired from Du Pont (see HN December 2016) has proved that the technology is commercially viable, as have Krypten’s photopolymer holographic products and others within the security industry, albeit late into the predicted ‘decade’.

Contrastingly, in the holographic display sector Colour Holographic, Yves Gentet, the Hellenic Institute of Holography (HIH) and others have enjoyed success and carved out a niche that displays the full potential that reflection holographic technology offers.

A new term – ‘OptoClones’ – was introduced and trademarked by HiH for a Denisyuk colour hologram recorded with a minimum of three RGB lasers that set a new standard of realism in reflection hologram display technology.

Iris’ new approach

Iris recognised that one of the limitations of existing holography processes is the time needed for the origination process. Any product manufacturer or packaging group keen to embrace surface relief embossed holography is routinely faced with a delay of many weeks before a proof hologram can be viewed, and of course the associated costs involved. Iris says that, through its innovative engineering techniques and knowledge of hologram technology, it has managed to reduce origination times from weeks to days.

Not only has Iris reduced the time necessary for origination but, thanks to its novel engineering solutions for the mastering process, the level of expertise necessary for the operation of the system is also lowered. Given the relative ease of the physical mastering process, and the shortened lead time to mass-produce a large order, modifications to the original proof can be made at relatively low cost and on a more realistic timescale.

Process integration

Iris’ approach enables the production of master holograms within an ‘ordinary’ factory working environment, by eliminating the traditional requirements for isolation tables and strict environmental controls. The approach involves a new method to the processes previously employed in traditional holography mastering facilities.

As a result, a much smaller physical space footprint is required. The new process integrates the origination, mass production, personalisation and adhesive lamination processes into a single integrated system that requires minimal floor space and without the need for cleanroom facilities.

The integrated four part web-based process involves the following:

1. An automated camera system that rapidly creates hologram artwork from real-life objects or models. Imaging software can be used to edit and embellish the artwork/photography with graphics and/or alphanumerics;

2. A compact laser-powered unit then produces two generations of master holograms, automatically converting stereographic camera data into three-dimensional full-colour contact master holograms;

3. A mass production unit replicates full-colour master gangs (stepped and repeated master images) onto photopolymer film. During the laser scanning process, unique diffractive personalisation data is added to each individual hologram;

4. The holographic photopolymer film is then laminated with a special adhesive to produce rolls of film ready for die-cutting and finishing to produce labels or laminates.


Iris’ technology provides the following benefits:

  • The ability for security printers to originate and mass-produce photopolymer reflection holograms in-house at production speeds compatible with the printing, without contracting out the mastering technology;
  • The production of reflection holograms in full and stable colour. By eliminating the rainbow effects of embossed surface relief holograms, realistic colour portraits can be made, opening a route to apply this technology in identity documents;
  • A new differentiated security feature for use in product authentication and identity systems;
  • The incorporation of unique personalised/serialised data can be included within every individual hologram;
  • The creation of a thin, transparent overlay with permanent pressure-sensitive adhesive that can be easily finished to labels or laminate formats without the use of new or additional processes or equipment.

Example of full colour photopolymer reflection holographic passport overlay film with individual holographic data authentication.


Materials and diffractive data

To record the volume reflection holograms, Iris utilises a photopolymer film (Bayfol® HX photopolymer film from Covestro, formerly Bayer MaterialScience) which has polychromatic sensitivity and provides a consistent full colour 3D image matrix space that can be enhanced with graphics, variable alphanumeric or machine-readable QR codes. These features can over-write or eliminate the main 3D image in the film surface and can therefore appear within the 3D image space, or at the margins of the image.

This ability to write diffractive data in real time into a full-colour hologram, using a reel-to-reel film transport system, particularly lends itself to the process of protecting identity documents. This would be a state-of-the-art application of the technology. In the illustrated example, a holographic portrait authenticates the adjacent identical photographic image.

Next steps

Having created this fully integrated, stand-alone, highly advanced technology, Iris Photonics is seeking partners within the security print industry to complete its commercialisation.

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