NEWS: Creating hidden images with commercial inkjet printers


Researchers have developed a way to use commercial inkjet printers and readily available ink to print hidden images that are only visible when illuminated with appropriately polarized waves in the terahertz region of the electromagnetic spectrum. The inexpensive method could be used as a type of invisible ink to hide information in otherwise normal-looking images, making it possible to distinguish between authentic and counterfeit items, for example.

"We used silver and carbon ink to print an image consisting of small rods that are about a millimeter long and a couple of hundred microns wide," said Ajay Nahata from the University of Utah, leader of the research team. "We found that changing the fraction of silver and carbon in each rod changes the conductivity in each rod just slightly, but visually, you can't see this modification. Passing terahertz radiation at the correct frequency and polarization through the array allows extraction of information encoded into the conductivity."

Depending on the polarization of the terahertz radiation, different concealed images appear. Researchers used the technique to conceal both grayscale and 64-colour QR codes, and even embedded two QR codes into a single image, with each code viewable using a different polarization. To the naked eye the images look like an array of identical looking lines, but when viewed with terahertz radiation, the embedded QR code image becomes apparent.

With the very inexpensive (under $60) printers used in the paper, the technique can produce images with a resolution of about 100 microns. With somewhat more expensive but still commercially available printers, 20-micron resolution should be achievable. Although the researchers used QR codes that are relatively simple and small, the technique could be used to embed information into more complex and detailed images using a larger canvas. The researchers are also exploring the possibility of developing additional capabilities that could make the embedded information even more secure. While this is at the research stage at present AIPIA believes it could have packaging applications due to the low cost and mass production potential.

The article Hiding multi-level multi-color images in terahertz metasurfaces appeared in the Optical society journal.