What Is Involved in Banknote Design?

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  • Written By: K. Kinsella
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 14 January 2020
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Bank notes and other types of currency are typically produced by mints that are operated by central banks. Several considerations have to be taken into account during the banknote design process and these include aesthetics, durability, the verbiage that appears on the notes, and the security features designed to deter counterfeiters. Additionally, designers have to ensure that new banknotes will not be confused with existing notes that have previously been issued domestically or in a nearby nation.

In many countries, banknotes feature images of prominent political or historical figures. Therefore, the banknote design process often begins with the designer creating or locating the portrait of such an individual. Some mints use colored ink on banknotes so that bills of different denominations can be easily distinguished. The designer must attempt to produce an appropriately colored note that includes any necessary logos, portraits and other features that is athletically pleasing.


Consumers spend money every day which means that a single banknote may change hands multiple times over the course of a week. To reduce costs in the long run, mints attempt to produce notes that are sufficiently durable to remain intact over the course of years or even decades. While banknotes are typically made from paper, many mints use composite materials that also include plastic and certain types of fiber. During the banknote design process, sample specimens are put through rigorous testing to ensure that the bills are strong enough to withstand exposure to different temperatures, some liquids, and general wear and tear.

Prior to the invention of banknotes, precious metals such as gold or silver were commonly used as currency in many countries. Consequently, many banknotes contain verbiage that explains that the bill is a promissory note and that its worth is tied to a particular currency or commodity. Additionally, most banknotes can only be used within a particular nation in which case the banknote design should include an explanation stating the location within which a particular note can be used. Most importantly, the value of each banknote must be prominently displayed on the face of the note. In many instances, designers include both the alpha and the numeric value of the bill on the front of each note.

Criminals sometimes attempt to create counterfeit currency which means that security features are an important part of banknote design. In some countries, metallic strips are embedded in the composite material that the notes are made from. Many mints include watermarks in the design or even microchips. As criminals become more technologically savvy, people engaged in banknote design have to take advantage of new technologies to ensure that the security features are difficult to replicate.


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