Certificate papers are special papers used for official documents. Such papers may possess identifying marks and security features. Hidden images, or images that are only visible under certain conditions, aid in making such documents difficult to forge or reproduce. Certificate papers are also generally difficult to alter without causing damage to existing text and images. The paper itself may feature a special weave or unusual texture. Metallic borders and seals can also help to distinguish certificate paper from ordinary stock.
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Certificate papers owe their origin to a desire to set off official documents from ordinary records and correspondence. Orders transmitted on regular paper could easily be faked. There was no way to authenticate such documents. From early times, kings, noblesand business people tried impressing their seals on bits of clay or wax, and attaching these to official papers. Special styles of handwriting, such as chancery hand, could reveal a document's origin, but these, too, could be imitated. By gilding the edges of paper, and creating ornate frames, scribes and papermakers created documents that looked appropriately grand and official, and were also more difficult to forge.
Elaborately decorated certificate papers lend themselves to various uses. A central image, or themed border design, can call to mind a specific company or legal entity. Through the years, certificate paper has been used for stocks, bonds and money. Older stock and bond certificates are famous for their beautiful images. Works of art in their own right, these certificates are prized by modern day collectors. Pictures are typically corporate emblems or graceful illustrations that capture the ideals behind a company's products or services.
Most modern certificate papers feature a prominent border. These can be metallic or simply colored. Gold borders are especially common, as are patterned borders. Complex repeating patterns can be difficult to duplicate. They also add to the richness of the certificate. Sites, such as Designer Papers and Idea Art provide an assortment of intricate patterns with everything from borders with scalloped edges to those with small inset floral illustrations. Sometimes borders are found only on one side of the certificate paper, thus giving the appearance of a letter or invitation.
For many users of certificate paper, security is a special concern. Certificate papers can ensure against tempering through means of background designs and watermarks that make copying next to impossible. Counterfeit examples nearly always show mismatches in background and borders. Examined under a microscope, even the slightest deviations can reveal a forgery. Further, chemical treatments make any tampering readily visible. Attempts to alter text will result in areas of discoloration, bleaching or even obvious starburst patterns that will call attention to illicit changes.
Of course, no certificate paper can be completely tamper proof. Technology is constantly advancing. For every new development in security, there is a new device that overrides these precautions. Employees of private firms and government agencies may alter seemingly secure documents before their distribution. One way around this involves using software that creates unique watermarks each time an employee creates a document or certificate. Each certificate paper is tamped with a unique "signature" that identifies the author of any changes. Every time a certificate is printed and viewed, a new set of watermarks is laid over the existing ones. The certificate paper becomes a kind of security chain--a complete record of viewings and alterations that safeguards the original information.