A long time ago, a person’s identification lived on a piece of paper. The only way to judge a document’s legitimacy was through the quality of the paper, the seal or signature on it, and the fancy handwriting. Unsurprisingly, it was not too hard to forge these documents in a way that made them indistinguishable from the real thing.
Eventually, our society wised up and stopped taking things on good faith. As time progressed, so did the methods to make sure identification was hard – if not impossible – to forge. In countries like the US, the use of polycarbonate has now been adopted to make IDs. So, how does it hold up?
ID Materials in the Early Days
Some of the earliest uses of any official identification stretch as far back as the 15th century. Back then, all you really needed was a piece of parchment paper with some details and the official seal of your kingdom. It would have been incredibly easy to fake one of these proto-IDs, but no one really had any reason to.
There wasn’t any need for identification other than for things like owning property. The real use of IDs began to grow around WWI. The need for IDs grew to avoid scams and scandals, but no method was standardized. Some of these IDs required pictures, while others didn’t. Some could be multipage documents, while others were as small as a sticky note. Suffice it to say, it was a big mess.
What we know as the modern-day ID card was not standardized until 1985. Everything from the size to the shape and look of the ID card became a standard that was to be followed. In the early days, ID card was made from PVC plastic. It was cheap, easy to produce, and durable enough which made it the ideal candidate. However, eventually, the switch was made over to polycarbonate for making ID cards.
The Use of Polycarbonate for IDs
Soon after its prominent use, it turned out that PVC was a victim of its own creation. Since PVC was so easy and cheap to produce, it led to easier forgeries across the country. The final nail in the coffin was the fact that PVC just wasn’t as durable as it was once considered. Once it became apparent that using simple PVC was not going to cut it, the switch was made over to materials like polycarbonate for making IDs.
Polycarbonate was a better choice not just on paper. It was much more durable than PVC, which meant even if you drop it, run a car over it, or subject it to any horrors, it would still stand the test of time. Best of all, it was bendable, which made it easier to handle than the previous rigid designs. This made it so that these IDs would not form cracks or split under stress. It was setting itself up as the gold standard of ID materials.
If you ever thought about dabbling into fake IDs, you might notice there are levels of quality. You can buy a cheap reproduction from a random local or you can get one made from someone who has the proper infrastructure to manufacture ID cards.
The difference in quality can be the difference in being turned away with a laugh or being handed a drink. Most fake IDs are made with older materials that feel unlike any actual ID card. They are incredibly easy to spot, and a trained employee can spot them at a glance. All it takes is a few seconds of holding the ID in your hand to be able to determine the difference.
Bad fakes use outdated or cheap materials that make the ID look and feel second-grade. A simple bend test can sometimes be enough for someone to realize what is going on. Bendable fakes, on the other hand, don’t have this problem. This makes them much easier to pass off as legitimate ID cards.
Why Is Polycarbonate Being Adopted to Make US IDs?
Polycarbonate IDs seem to be the only way forward if you want to improve ID designs for the future. But why is the US suddenly adopting polycarbonate as the primary material for IDs? Well, because they are better and we are here to find out why they are better. Hence, that is why the state of Wisconsin’s Driving licenses are now printed on Polycarbonate. With that in mind, let’s look at some key reasons why polycarbonate IDs are a better option.
1. High-Quality Details
Typical ID card materials have been the barebones of what an ID should be – a physical medium for your personal information. Very rarely have they served as anything other than that. However, polycarbonate is taking things to a completely different level.
One of the unique properties of polycarbonate is that it allows for higher-quality detail to be printed. This makes it easier to scan IDs quickly, even if you are using an old-school image scanning software. What’s even more surprising about polycarbonate is how it allows you to print high-resolution pictures on it. What used to be a smudgy blur of a face can now be seen with the utmost details. This level of detail paves the way for facial recognition.
2. Long Lasting
You know how your ID has an expiration date and needs to be renewed every couple of years? That isn’t just for keeping information up to date. IDs are made on physical materials, and those materials have a= tendency to degrade over time. One of the more important aspects of polycarbonate is just how long lasting it is. While your traditional ID may start to fall apart over years of use, polycarbonate will easily be able to survive decades without any major damage.
It is important to remember that when we talk about degradation, we don’t always mean the materials themselves. Sometimes, all it can take is a few years of having your ID rubbed against your wallet or pockets to make the details on it fade away. An ID with illegible details might as well just be a random hunk of plastic.
3. Better Durability
Durability is also a key factor when you are trying to decide on the materials for an ID card. It may not take decades, years or even months to have your ID be unusable. Sometimes, all it takes is an unfortunate accident to render your ID card practically useless.
Going by the theme so far, you might have guessed that polycarbonate would be better at this, and you would be absolutely right. Not only does it stand up well to long-term abuse, but it can even take short-term mistreatment and still come out completely unscathed.
The reason why this is the case is actually related to the material itself. The almost sci-fi sounding polycarbonate material actually belongs to a class of materials called thermoplastics. These materials are forged and molded until they are basically indestructible.
However, it is not necessary that polycarbonate is a strong base material by itself. Rather, it can be forged to be such. Layers of this stuff are sandwiched together by pressure, heat, or a combination of both. It is the same process used to make bulletproof glass, and it makes for one tough ID card to rule them all.
4. Improved Security
When you factor in the processes that polycarbonate has to go through to become a legal ID, it also translates to better security. The material you are using has multiple layers that need to be compounded together with specialized equipment.
Not everyone has access to these kinds of facilities, so it is quite easy to say that polycarbonate IDs are much safer than their previous iterations. After all, you can’t just lodge a piece of paper between multiple layers of plastic. Not without knowing what you are doing, of course.
In the current millennia, it seems that polycarbonate is rising to become one of the most used ID card materials. That does not mean it is foolproof, but it does mean it edges over closer to a future where our identification will be put on a space-age material.