Scientists have discovered new fluorescent inks that can be embedded into product barcodes to help consumers identify counterfeit products.

The ink, visible only under UV light, could be printed onto bar codes or QR codes using an inkjet printer. It would enable consumers to identify genuine products simply by scanning labels using their smartphones.

The chemical composition and colour variants of the ink could provide a “molecular encryption” tool that would prove very difficult for fraudsters to mimic.

Senior author of the study, Sir Fraser Stoddart, from Northwestern University, commented, “We have introduced a level of complexity not seen before in tools to combat counterfeiters.”

“Our inks are similar to the proprietary formulations of soft drinks. One could approximate their flavor using other ingredients, but it would be impossible to match the flavor exactly without a precise knowledge of the recipe.”

Stoddart’s research team, led by Xisen Hou and Chenfeng Ke, stumbled across the water-based ink by accident. Follow-up research lead them to discover the unique properties of the ink and propose an encryption theory for security printing.