I've mentioned before that when it comes to creating prop versions of government documents it's a good idea to make them look believable without actually trying to duplicate them. That's particularly important when you're trying to reproduce the look of currently circulating documents like government ID's. Now, thanks to the rather comical release of a Transportation Safety Administration manual we have some interesting examples of what official identification actually looks like. Here's a set of authentic Central Intelligence Agency credentials taken from the PDF of the manual:
My first thought upon seeing it was "Sweet Jebus, that looks fake." It's just so...uninspired. After years of seeing cool CIA ID cards on television and in movies I expected something a lot cooler. Sadly, that plain vanilla approach applies to almost every single example of identification given in the manual. The only ones that have the appearance of a high-tech, anti-counterfeiting design are the technicolor monstrosities issued to Senators and Congressional Representatives. In those cases I can see the recipients demanding something befitting their lofty station, or at least their conception of how important they are. The grunts with the guns and actual law enforcement powers? They get ID that looks like it came from the copy center at Office Depot.
On the bright side, having examples of the real thing to work from makes it a lot easier to make prop versions. Not because it's easier to copy them, but for exactly the opposite reason. If you avoid using the design cues of actual identification you'll not only avoid any chance of forgery, but your prop ID will look a hundred times better. Seriously, wouldn't you assume CIA agents carried identification with lots of bright, scarlet red detailing? Who in their right mind would have thought burnt orange was their official color?