Before passports became the world standard in identification, they were simpler, uglier things: essentially stamp pads for customs officials. Today, government agencies are working to stay ahead of counterfeiters by making it prohibitively difficult and expensive to forge documents. A single modern passport might utilize 30 different materials from 60 manufacturers. The books contain microchips, are made from special materials, and are packed with sophisticated visual features that are tough to copy—and that some countries are using to intriguing, even inspiring, effect.
Multivariate ink changes colors when viewed from different angles, and tiny fluorescent fibers or spots on the paper can glow beneath a customs official’s blacklight. Wavy intaglio-printed background designs provide a visual mesh in which microprinting and nanoprinting can hide tiny, perfectly formed, raised letters and numbers invisible to the naked eye. Holograms offer shifting three-dimensional images; embossed items and “hot foil stamping” can add bumpy texture to a flat page. Even the string binding your passport together may be microbraided with multiple colors and fluoresce under UV light. Blend these high-tech features with creativity and a dose of national pride, and you get passport books populated with animated animals, blossoming with flowers, and concealing special secret images.
Here are some of the more beautiful, fun, and surprising passports around the world.