Counterfeits and copies – when printing goes bad

Cartridge Discount takes a look at the problem of how printers and 3D printing can be used for counterfeiting.

Printing is an industry in a constant state of flux as the digital era continues on. Just as offices are going paperless and ditching their systems for cloud-based computing, new 3D printing technologies are keeping print exciting and ever-relevant.

However, print can be a source of controversy thanks to its ability to reproduce. From illegal counterfeit cash to 3D printed weaponry, there are lots of occasions where print has gone bad…


Another lucrative area that digital printing has assisted counterfeiters with is identification. Over 30,000 fake IDs are in circulation in the UK. Even large retailers are susceptible: A few years back, Currys/PC World had to withdraw a £750 printer from sale after detectives discovered it could print replicas of EU driving licenses and ID cards.

Want to check if a license is authentic? Ensure it has the following elements:

  • Black and white and laser-engraved photograph
  • Holographic steering wheel
  • Field 1 and Field 9 data in raised characters
  • Changing images which shift as you tilt the card
  • Laser-engraved identifier under photograph

Passports, which are essential for travellers, can be identified with the following:

  • Random security fibres on all pages
  • Paper that does not fluoresce under UV light
  • A high quality finish
  • Watermark that does not react to UV light
  • Raised Intaglio ink pattern on the inside cover

Consumer goods

Even consumer goods are threatened by the misuse of print. Pokémon cards, a favourite of children all over the world, have been illegally reproduced on a number of occasions. In 2012, a shipment of 33,000 fake card sets with a value of $200,000 was destroyed by US authorities. 

3D printing

The most recent printing development is also the most worrying for anti-counterfeiting authorities. 3D printing allows users to print a huge array of objects and has already been used to print all manner of illicit goods. 3D printing has already been used to create ‘card skimmers’ that can steal details from your bank when using a cash machine.

One of the most worrying replicas created was a working firearm, printed in 2013. It was made on a 3D printer that cost just £5,140.

It’s clear that as technology improves, your own vigilance and ability to spot fakes will grow increasingly important.

Research supplied by Cartridge Discount.

Image source: Shutterstock

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