Security printing of covert quick response codes using upconverting nanoparticle inks

Nanotechnology. 2012 Oct 5;23(39):395201. doi: 10.1088/0957-4484/23/39/395201. Epub 2012 Sep 11.


Counterfeiting costs governments and private industries billions of dollars annually due to loss of value in currency and other printed items. This research involves using lanthanide doped β-NaYF(4) nanoparticles for security printing applications. Inks comprised of Yb(3+)/Er(3+) and Yb(3+)/Tm(3+) doped β-NaYF(4) nanoparticles with oleic acid as the capping agent in toluene and methyl benzoate with poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) as the binding agent were used to print quick response (QR) codes. The QR codes were made using an AutoCAD file and printed with Optomec direct-write aerosol jetting(®). The printed QR codes are invisible under ambient lighting conditions, but are readable using a near-IR laser, and were successfully scanned using a smart phone. This research demonstrates that QR codes, which have been used primarily for information sharing applications, can also be used for security purposes. Higher levels of security were achieved by printing both green and blue upconverting inks, based on combinations of Er(3+)/Yb(3+) and Tm(3+)/Yb(3+), respectively, in a single QR code. The near-infrared (NIR)-to-visible upconversion luminescence properties of the two-ink QR codes were analyzed, including the influence of NIR excitation power density on perceived color, in term of the CIE 1931 chromaticity index. It was also shown that this security ink can be optimized for line width, thickness and stability on different substrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.