North Carolina solves its quest for best-in-class REAL IDs with PPG TESLIN® substrate

After recognizing the need for a comprehensive program that would ensure residents could obtain REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses, the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NCDMV) identified suppliers that could meet the state’s requirements in a timely and cost-effective manner.  The team selected secure and durable PPG TESLIN® substrate for the card material because it could accommodate their desired range of security features for less than other options and helped prevent counterfeiting, reduce identity theft risks and decrease fraud.


  • The NCDMV leveraged intensive research and other jurisdictions’ best practices to design one of the most secure REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards (DL/IDs) in the nation.
  • North Carolina selected a Teslin substrate composite card solution because of its proven ability to host the card’s numerous advanced security features, coupled with its long-term durability and adaptability – all at a cost that reflects mindful stewardship of public resources.
  • North Carolina has realized a dramatic reduction in customer card replacements and to date, has received only one report of attempted fraud. 
Torre J. Jessup, Commissioner, North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

“We designed one of the most secure REAL ID-compliant DL/IDs available using Teslin substrate because it can host all our advanced security features in a highly-durable card, at a reasonable cost. Further, its material properties are adaptable to accommodate future security enhancements.”

- Torre J. Jessup, Commissioner, North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV)


The Challenge

Passed by the United States Federal government in 2005, the REAL ID Act requires states to issue identification that meets higher security standards. By 2020, individuals without REAL ID-compliant DL/IDs need additional identification to access Federal facilities, enter nuclear power plants, or board federally regulated commercial airlines.

REAL ID-compliant IDs must include a barcode and security features that prevent card tampering or counterfeiting.  A star must be displayed in the upper right-hand corner to signify that the cardholder’s identification is TSA-approved and verified.  REAL ID also requires card security features that can’t be reproduced using technologies available to the general public.

In December 2013, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a phased enforcement plan so states could begin to increase the security of their DL/IDs for REAL ID compliance.

The North Carolina DMV (NCDMV) recognized a need to establish a comprehensive program that would ensure its residents could obtain REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses by 2017. On average, the state issues 2.4 million DL/IDs annually and wanted to become compliant as quickly as possible.

At that time, North Carolina’s DL/IDs utilized PVC that was prone to degradation and damage. Cards were prone to cracking and peeling because of the laminate being exposed to heat and cold. In addition, critical imagery and type features were fading early into the card’s eight-year lifespan.

These failures made it difficult for officials to authenticate a person’s identity. Sight inspection was compromised, and smearing prevented barcode scanning. The PVC construction was also susceptible to attacks to alter personal information.

In addition to these challenges, the PVC card construction would not support the enhanced security features required for REAL ID compliance.

The Solution

To fully understand compliance needs, the NCDMV assembled a cross-functional committee that met with the Department of Homeland Security and American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AMVA). The committee also interviewed other jurisdictions and numerous subject-matter experts to collect card design best-practices.

The committee also identified suppliers who possessed the expertise to create the state’s required standards in a timely and cost-effective manner. Throughout the process, the NCDMV’s License and Theft Bureau was responsible for ensuring that the specified features would not be compromised.

N.C. developed rigorous specifications beyond minimum REAL ID requirements to ensure even greater levels of security. Required features included:

  • High-resolution color identity photo image that will not fade
  • Ghost imaging of the photo
  • Laser engraving and perforation
  • Tactile birthdate 
  • Barcode inclusion
  • Microtext embedded within the card
  • Hologram
  • UV fluorescent ink
  • A tamper-evident substrate that will destroy if altered
  • A waterproof, bendable material
  • Card durability with a proven lifespan of eight years
  • Reasonable production costs and efficient time delivery 
  • Additional proprietary features for even higher levels of security

The team evaluated two constructions: a Teslin-PETg composite card and a polycarbonate (PC) card. After conducting in-depth due diligence, the team determined that the Teslin-PETg card option was ideal for the new design because it could accommodate the entire package of features at approximately one-third the cost of the PC option.

The new card construction uses Teslin substrate as the printed card core and PETg as the platen-laminate overlay. Color personalization of the customer photo and color ghost image on the Teslin substrate layer is printed with color xerographic technology.

A key driver for selecting the Teslin card was the material’s ability to provide superior image resolution. Color photos are exceptionally clear for easy authentication by authorities. Further, the images will not fade because ink and toner are embedded into the material. Coupling these images with laser-engraving and other secure elements enables greater protection.

North Carolina REAL ID card

With the Teslin substrate card, the NC DMV successfully integrated multiple layers of security, while providing superior bondability to the PETg overlay that renders the card inoperable if alteration is attempted. The result is a highly secure, flexible and exceptionally durable card that will meet or exceed the state’s required eight-year lifespan.

An additional consideration for North Carolina was to select a card construction that could easily adapt to the state’s continuous process of enhancing security features. The state appreciated that Teslin substrate’s unique material properties of would allow for additional security components as new technologies become available.

The state also modernized its issuing equipment and transitioned from decentralized issuance to a central processing location. Centralized issuance would provide greater security controls and cost efficiencies. The Teslin substrate solution is adaptable for either issuance model.


The NCDMV recognized that acceptance of the new ID/DLs would be critical, so it embarked on a comprehensive education and training program for stakeholders. First, the DMV’s License and Theft Bureau and DL/ID examiners increased internal issuer training several steps beyond typical minimum requirements.

The DMV then provided education materials and training to law enforcement, retailers, merchants and financial institutions so they could become familiar with the card and understand its authentication features. It also launched a public awareness program to inform residents about the new card and REAL ID compliance.

The first Teslin substrate-based REAL ID cards were issued in May 2017.

North Carolina residents quickly embraced the new Teslin substrate-based cards. Within the first three weeks, more than 11,000 new cards were issued. In less than one year, more than 445,000 North Carolinians had obtained the DL/ID.

Moving card production from 113 locations to central processing allowed for greater security controls and cost containment, without sacrificing customer convenience.  After providing the required identification at an N.C. driver license office, residents are issued a temporary card and receive their DL/IDs in the mail approximately ten days later.

North Carolina has realized a dramatic reduction in customer card replacements and to date, has received only one report of attempted fraud.

Constructed of secure and durable Teslin substrate, the REAL-ID compliant cards help prevent counterfeiting, reduce identity theft risks and decrease fraud. The NCDMV successfully met REAL ID compliance requirements in advance of required deadlines with a best-in-class card design. And, customers are satisfied; the DMV has not received a single customer complaint about the new Teslin substrate-based card.

Contact our experts to put Teslin substrate to work as a card material for your high security document and ID needs.


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