TOKYO — A trio of Japanese manufacturers have developed a process that makes it possible to laser-print nearly invisible markings onto synthetic yarns, a technology that could be used by apparel manufacturers to help identify counterfeit merchandise.

The technology has been developed by Shikibo Ltd., a leading textile manufacturer based in Osaka, in a joint research and development project with Clariant (Japan) KK, a Tokyo manufacturer of chemicals, and Navista Co., a major manufacturer of transfer printing machines based in Sakai City south of Osaka.

It can be used to inscribe tiny letters and characters on a piece of yarn that are practically invisible, a Shikibo spokesman explained. Law enforcement agencies and others charged with stopping counterfeiting often complain that it’s hard to identify counterfeit apparel as such because of the absence of serial numbers or other distinctive and traceable markings.

The technology has been applied initially to polyester fiber but the process is applicable to other types of man-made fiber yarn, the spokesman said, noting the markings, unaffected by washing, are practically permanent.

In the new technique, polyester was mixed with a special type of laser-reactive chemical agent while being spun into yarn. Once that process is completed, a laser beam can be used to burn tiny markings into the yarn.

The group, in collaboration with the Hamamatsu Industrial Research Institute of Shizuoka Prefecture, is continuing research to develop an improved type of laser system intended for laser-printing textile fibers, the executive noted.

The system could be used to print letters, images, logos, messages, names of purchasers or dates of purchase onto the yarn or fabric. The system would also make it possible to print a serial number on each dress or suit sold by a manufacturer to help detect counterfeits.

In that case, the system could produce markings “so tiny that they are invisible by the naked eye,” according to a Shikibo company statement.

The companies have applied for patents on the new manufacturing process and products, Shikibo said.

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