Designs and Counterfeit Prevention Technologies:
By Prof. Lim Chae-Suk* and Dr. Lim Yang-Taek**
This is a comparative study of banknote designs of various countries, and how a balance between aesthetics and technology is achieved. For this study, the banknotes of 51 countries, including OECD member nations, were examined. The components of banknote design addressed in this study include dimensions, subject matter, pattern, watermark, color, denomination, and signature or seal.
at Multimedia Department,
** Professor at Technological Economics,
As a form of visual art, banknote design is based on the principles of formative art, incorporating visual elements and letters within the specific dimensions of the paper, to which a certain economic exchange value has been allotted. Hence, a banknote is a work of art that represents the history, culture and art, and counterfeit prevention technology of a nation.
The basic views of this study on banknote design are as follows: First, a banknote is a product designed for a daily function as currency with visual elements and letters, characters or numerals applied within specific dimensions based on the principles of formative art, to which a certain value is assigned. Accordingly, a banknote, considered from the aspects of its production and design elements, is a work of art by which a nation’s historical, cultural, artistic, scientific, and technological achievements can be measured.
Second, except for the requirement of security features, a banknote (paper money as well as checks) is similar to other consumer products in that it is also aimed at achieving customer satisfaction. Accordingly, the note printing facilities or the issuing authorities should implement quality management to enhance customer satisfaction. In other words, they must monitor how well their products or services (banknote, check, coin, etc.) perform in achieving customer satisfaction; how much interest the consumers have in their products or services; and how much or how well they are doing to create and maintain good relations with clients through follow-up services.
Third, banknote design should include three attributes: functional, social, and aesthetic. Functionally, bank note design should foster a sense of familiarity among the public while the subject matter and color should aid in distinguishing the genuine from counterfeit. Socially, the image or the subject on the banknote should be well chosen to express and represent the cultural and social ethos of the nation. Aesthetically, banknote design should contain visual elements, artistic originality, and aesthetic touches.
For banknotes to function properly (as a means of payment, a medium of exchange, and a measure of value), they must meet such basic requirements as a certain form, a unified design, an indication of its value, and legal force. Among these requirements, unified design is the result of extensive work that entails choosing the right subject matter, pattern, color and dimensions.
The purpose of this study is to examine how different banknote designs around the world succeeded in combining respective artistic tradition and (anti-counterfeit) technology. For the present study, the banknotes of 51 countries, including OECD member states, were examined, focusing on design elements such as dimensions, subject matter, pattern, watermark, color, denomination and orientation, signature or seal, and security features.
II. A BRIEF HISTORY
While it is difficult to mark the precise chronology of banknote design development, it is generally divided into three stages: the early period (18th century), the ascending period (from 19th to mid-20th century), and the advanced period (from post-WWII to present). In the early period, banknote design was in its elementary stage, displaying only letters or numerals to indicate denominations and terms of exchange. Portraits, landscape and architecture began to appear in banknote design in the ascending period, breaking away from the past trend of letter- and numeral-centered design. The unembellished contour and letters of the past were replaced with Romanesque vignettes and Rococo motifs, adding a refined look to the banknotes. Moreover, with the advent of sophisticated machinery following the Industrial Revolution, there was a shift in printing methods, from lithography or letterpress to copperplate or intaglio, paving the way for more intricate and subtle details.
After WWII, when countries began to adopt the Central Bank system and to issue new and diverse banknotes, designs for banknotes moved away from the conservative, classical forms of the past and began to take on the visual brilliance of formative art and functional elements. The backdrop to this modern trend in banknote designs in European countries was the Bauhaus movement, which placed equal emphasis on both art and craft.
Recently, formalism was abandoned in banknote design, giving way to new free-form motifs. With computer graphics and state-of-the-art printing technologies, there is now greater freedom and diversity in banknote design. Moreover, Central Banks of different countries are taking heed of public opinion and consulting historians and other experts in the choice of subject matter and materials for banknotes, while the note printing facilities are in charge of adding functionality and aesthetics to the final product.
Anti-counterfeit security features are the most important considerations in the functional aspect of banknote design. A banknote represents a means of credit transaction guaranteed by a nation, and if banknotes can easily be forged, the very foundation of credit transactions would collapse. Hence, the security features protect and maintain the functional role of banknotes.
However, counterfeit deterrent features have been constantly challenged by advancements in counterfeit and forgery technology. Prior to the 1990s, anti-counterfeit technology focused on preventing counterfeiting of the offset printing itself by using methods (intaglio, watermarks, micro lettering, see-through registers and fluorescent inks) that used the visual and tactile senses to identify counterfeit money. With rapid advancements in reproduction technology, however, there has been a significant rise in the circulation of counterfeit money produced using a color copier or color scanner and sophisticated computer graphics.
In response, note printing facilities around the world have added various high-tech counterfeit deterrent features, such as optically variable device (OVD), optically variable ink (OVI), and iridescent stripe ink. The primary purpose of OVD and OVI is to make it easy to authenticate a banknote with the naked eye. However, the advent of reproduction technology has rendered these two methods less effective. Such challenges raise the following fundamental question: How can the balance between aesthetics and anti-counterfeit technology be maintained?
III. ELEMENTS OF BANKNOTE DESIGN
The primary elements of banknote design are size, subject matter, motif, color, denomination, signature or seal, and security features. For convenience of analysis, security features will be discussed later in section IV.
Size is a major element in banknote design. Since portability, convenience in handling and processing by financial institutions, and cost-effective printing by the currency issuing agencies are important considerations in selecting the dimensions of a banknote, much emphasis is placed on this functionality.
Among the banknotes of the 51 countries examined in the study, the 1000 Swiss franc note, the highest denomination of the Swiss franc, was the largest banknote at 192mm by 86mm. On the other hand, the 1000 lira note, Italy’s lowest denomination, has the smallest dimensions with 112mm by 61mm. The average banknote dimensions for the G-10 countries are 149mm by 74mm.
Certain rules apply to banknote dimensions. The dimensions currently used by countries around the world, with variations by denomination, can be divided into the following three categories: fixed length and width, varied length and width, and varied length, but fixed width. The scheme for banknote dimensions for each country is listed in Table 1.
Table 1. Scheme for Banknote Dimensions
If dimensions are too large, it is not only inconvenient to carry the notes, but also means a rise in production cost. Banknotes that are too small, on the other hand, will not only be difficult to count and store but also easily lost. With the introduction of machine-readable devices, banknote dimensions are selected to accommodate the computer processing systems of financial institutions.
2. Subject Matter
Next to size, subject matter is the most important element in banknote design. The subject matter on banknotes is a key to distinguishing one denomination from another. Aesthetic placement of subject matter on banknotes is one of the most important processes in banknote design.
There are three categories of subject matter for banknotes: primary, secondary, and auxiliary. The primary subject matter, a motif that represents the banknote as a whole, generally consists of portraits. For secondary subject matter, historical landmarks, landscape, national treasures, and other illustrations are chosen in relation to the primary subject matter. The role of auxiliary subject matter is to complement the primary and secondary subjects and to enhance the overall design composition.
As for the primary subject matter on banknote fronts (Table 2), portraits made up 83.2 percent, followed by other motifs such as engraving, architecture, plants and animals. For portraits, political figures dominated with 66.9 percent, cultural figures and artists 30.7 percent, and the general public 2.4 percent. As for subject matter on the reverse side of notes (Table 3), 70.4 percent were architecture, cultural relics, portraits, plants and animals.
Table 2: Design for the Front Side of Banknotes
Table 3: Design for the Reverse Side of Banknotes
A motif refers to diverse patterns and designs that directly or indirectly embellish or circumscribe the primary subject matter. Accordingly, motifs play an important role of enhancing the overall artistic value of the banknote design with subtle expressions of aesthetics, balance, and restraint. As with other elements of banknote design, motifs cannot place emphasis only on the aesthetics but must also address functionality by facilitating authentication through intricacy and subtlety in design. Among the most popular motifs used to decorate the banknote background or borders are Guilloche, arabesque, and traditional motifs of respective countries.
Guilloche patterns refer to both regular and irregular web-like geometrical patterns that are composed of straight lines, curves, ellipses, and waves in intervals and are used as counterfeit-deterrent devices for banknotes. In particular, Guilloche patterns are often used to decorate borders of banknotes. Arabesque patterns, one of the most popular patterns in the world, composed of intertwined floral and foliate shapes, give an expression of depth, brilliance, and beauty. On recent banknotes, however, more geometric and abstract variations of patterns are used instead of the traditional arabesque patterns. The different characteristics and trends in banknote design in various countries are listed in Table 4.
Table 4: Guilloche Trends in Various Countries
While social and aesthetic considerations play an important role in choosing the subject matter and motif in banknote design, other considerations play a key role in color selection. These include differentiating one denomination from another and adding counterfeit deterrent features. Prior to the nineteenth century, banknote colors were achromatic and extremely dull; however, with advancement in printing and printing ink technology in the late nineteenth century, chromatic colors, such as solemn, yet strong greens and browns, were used on banknotes. However, after WWII, this trend shifted to more brilliant colors that add elements of visual or formative art.
Generally, two color tones are primarily used on banknotes: the basic overall color and individual color to express various subject matters and motifs. The recent trend in color selection shows that one or two more supplementary colors are used in addition to the basic overall color, moving towards multi-colorization of banknotes. On the whole, the basic colors are bold and bright, while there is a pastel impression to the final visual result. Even the security features on the banknote are designed with visual aesthetics in mind, producing multiple color effects.
A survey of basic colors used on the banknotes of selected countries (Table 5) shows a wide diversity; however, green, violet, blue, and brown make up two-thirds of the colors used on banknotes. The sense of visual stability generated by these colors explains their prevalence. Moreover, the four colors go well with other colors of different schemes. Of the 196 currency denominations of the principal countries, 42 are green (21.4%) and 40 violet (20.4%), followed by blue (15.8% with 31 denominations), brown (12.8% with 25), and red (11.7% with 23).
Table 5: Basic Colors for Banknotes
1 yellowish green included, 2 purple included, 3 pink included
Worth noting, in the choice of colors for banknotes, all the countries selected colors that express their respective national and traditional colors. With variation in basic colors for each denomination as a way to minimize confusion in identifying different denominations, similar colors are often used for the background Guilloche patterns, as well as using ornate colors with rainbow printing.
5. Denominations and Orientation
A banknote without a denomination indication is nothing but a drawing. There are three widely used methods to indicate denomination: (1) use of numerals and representative word forms; (2) value indication near the edge of the note; and (3) value indication near the center of the note.
Although most banknotes use both the Arabic numerals and the word form to indicate denomination, more visual emphasis is placed on the Arabic numerals in banknote design. Most countries use the same size Arabic numerals in the opposite corners of the banknote or on the banknote borders. Dutch notes, on the other hand, are exceptions in that they have the denomination indicator at the center of the notes.
As for the orientation of banknote
denominations, there are three schemes: [1, 2, 5], [1, 5] and [1, 2.5, 5], with the [1, 2, 5] scheme the most preferred.
That is to say, 35 of 45 countries use the [1, 2, 5] scheme, while three
Table 7: Banknote Orientation Scheme
1) [1, 5] scheme: (1,5), (10,50), (100,500) denominations
[1, 2, 5] scheme: (1, 2, 5), (10, 20, 50), (100, 200, 500) denominations
[1, 2.5, 5] scheme: (1, 2.5, 5), (10, 25, 50), (100, 250, 500) denominations
2) The number enclosed in parentheses indicates the number of countries; the EU is counted as 12 countries
6. Signature or Seal
A signature or seal assigns value
to the banknote and is a legal or symbolic indicator that the issuing authority
guarantees the notes will be honored as legal tender in all transactions. In countries,
IV. BANKNOTE SECURITY TECHNOLOGY
1. Anti-Counterfeit Security Features
Central Banks and banknote production facilities around the world continue to search for ways to deter counterfeiting. Specialization of banknote paper and ink, sophistication of design elements, diversification of colors, implementation of special printing methods, and application of special chemicals have contributed to deterring forgery and facilitating authentication.
Recent counterfeit deterrent technologies have application in all areas of banknote manufacturing, such as paper and printing, providing double and triple layers of security. From the early stage of manufacturing, such counterfeit deterrent features as watermarks, security threads, and special fibers are added to banknote paper. In the printing process, additional security features such as intaglio, micro lettering, rainbow printing, see-through registers, moire patterns, offset/intaglio latent images are applied to paper with security features. The next security layer involves the use of special inks, such as metal ink, OVI, metameric ink, iridescent stripe ink, and transparency ink, as well as machine-readable inks including magnetic, fluorescent, infrared, and X-ray inks.
Banknotes come in white or colored paper, to which watermarks, security threads, mottling paper, and confetti are added as security features.
Watermark: a design or lettering engraved on a banknote using a special technique. The design or lettering is visible only when the note is held against the light.
SPAS (Special Press and Soldering): Depth expression is added on existing watermarks and the pattern is visible the naked eye. Exfloriation forgery is difficult.
(b) Metallic Thread
Security thread: A thin thread incorporated into the banknote paper. Visible when held against the light.
Windowed thread: Unlike security threads, it is visible to the naked eye through a “window” incorporated into the note. The color of the window cannot be reproduced when photocopied.
Fluorescent security fiber: By incorporating a special fiber with a fluorescent element to the banknote paper, the banknote fluoresces under a UV lamp. Authentication is possible using a UV lamp.
Security fiber: A special fiber embedded in banknote paper and visible only under a special light.
Multicolor security fiber: A fiber of two or more colors.
Planchette: Embedding tiny disc-shaped foils in the banknote paper.
(d) Plastic: A polymer note is a banknote made of plastic. Once bent, it does not easily return to its original form, and the high cost of manufacturing is a disadvantage. The polymer note is used for durability (its lifespan is four times longer than paper notes) and acts as a deterrent against counterfeiting. The transparant window, one of the characteristics unique to these notes, adds elegance and aesthetic appeal to the banknote.
(a) Printing Methods
Intaglio printing: A principal anti-counterfeit technology, numerals, words, and patterns are printed using intaglio to add texture to banknotes.
Micro lettering: a printing method using micro lettering, the letters are not discernible with the naked eye and require the use of microscopic lenses. When reproduced with a copier or printer, the letters become diffused.
Rainbow printing: a printing method using different colored inks to create a rainbow color effect. Different colors are placed at intervals and the inking rollers oscillate to produce a natural blend of colors.
See-through register: a separated symbol or design is printed simultaneously on both sides of the note, and the consistency of the pattern can be seen when the note is held against the light.
Moire pattern: This feature affects the scanning line of the scanner if reproduction by a computer scanner or color copier is attempted, and it distorts the pattern during the counterfeiting process.
Braille point: Printing raised figures or patterns on banknotes so that the visually impaired can use touch to identify different denominations.
(b) Latent Image
Intaglio latent image: A printing method that makes letters or patterns visible depending on the viewing angle and the position of the light source.
Offset latent image: A printing method using an offset-printed vignette to incorporate covert security features (letters, numbers, or patterns) that are not discernible to the naked eye but appear when reproduced using a copier.
Filter through latent image: a special latent image printing method that makes letters and patterns invisible when seen with the naked eye but made visible through a special filter.
OVI (optically variable ink): an ink made with special pigment that reflects different colors at varying angles.
Iridescent stripe ink: made with two different color tones, the colors vary at different angles, creating a similar effect as OVI, but cannot be reproduced using a copier.
Transparency ink: a type of OVI, the image is made both visible and invisible depending on the position of the light source.
Metallic ink: made with a pigment with metallic elements to give off metallic color but appears black when reproduced with a copier.
Metameric ink: two different colors are applied to letters, numeral, or patterns so that they appear as one color under sunlight but as a different color under artificial light (such as the light source from a copier).
d) Machine-Readable Elements
Magnetic ink: a readable ink, it can be read using a magnetic detector.
Fluorescent ink: As colors appear different under a UV light, it is used for self-authenticating (with machine-readable elements) purposes as well as enhancing currency quality.
Infrared ink: an ink that reacts to IR and can be machine-read using IR injection.
X-ray ink: a substance with the capacity to block x-rays, it is used for fluoroscopic identification.
C. Other Security Features
OVD (optically variable device): Application of special pigments (diffractional grating or optical security device) on the surface of the banknote to create variable optical features depending on the viewing angle, making it difficult to reproduce using a copier or printer.
Metallic Foil: Gold, silver, or green foil is applied to the surface of the banknote and is reflected when the note is tilted. The foil appears black when reproduced using a copier.
Microperf: a laser method to create letters or patterns using microscopic perforations in banknotes. The letters and patterns are difficult to reproduce and can be verified by holding the banknote up to the light.
Clear window: a feature of polymer banknotes, it leaves a certain section of the note transparent, creating a clear window. It is extremely difficult to reproduce.
2. Counterfeit Deterrent Technology Currently Used in Various Countries
Technological progress and innovations continue in all areas in the modern world. Numerous state-of-the-art technologies have been introduced in printing as well, and a wide-range of anti-counterfeit methods and devices are available.
29 OECD member states examined, a total of 27 security features are found in
their highest currency denominations. With the exception of
five countries (
Table 8: Anti-counterfeit Security Features
Used on the Highest Denominations of 29 OECD States
Source: Adapted from a document of Bank of Korea (1998), Currencies of OECD Member Nations.
Along with the traditional security features such as intaglio printing, watermark, micro lettering, and see-through register, OVD and OVI are some of the state-of-the-art counterfeit-deterrent technologies adopted by banknote-issuing authorities around the world. Among many security features available, intaglio printing, watermark, micro lettering, see-through register, fluorescent ink, and latent image are the more traditional anti-counterfeit devices used by many advanced countries. Although only a handful of countries have used the more advanced anti-counterfeit technologies, such as OVD, OVI, and iridescent stripe ink, the number of countries adopting these technologies is rising sharply.
The purpose of this study is to compare the component elements of banknote designs (size, subject matter, pattern, watermark, color, denomination and orientation, signature, and seal) of the 51 countries, including the OECD members states and to examine how banknotes of various countries have achieved a balance between the traditional art (visual aesthetics and uniqueness) of respective countries and high-tech anti-counterfeit technology.
There are several general trends and characteristics in banknote design that can be deduced from the analyses above. First, visual aesthetics (composition, color, pattern, etc.) and originality are two aspects strongly emphasized in modern banknote design. With the advent of computer graphics and high-tech printing technologies, banknote design has moved away from formalism to constructivism, giving way to more freedom and diversity in visual or formative aesthetics.
Second, traditional aesthetics of respective countries are mainly represented in the subject matter. A survey of early nineteenth century banknotes shows that national emblems and bank insignias were the most popular subjects for banknote design. Since the late nineteenth century, various subjects such as portraits, architecture, landscape, and ancient relics appeared on banknotes, while authority figures, such as kings, rulers, and military generals, consistently dominated as portrait subjects.
However, this trend began to change after WW II. Although portraits were still the primary subject matter, power elites were replaced by scholars, artists, and other figures who had contributed to the advancement of human civilization. Secondary subject matter for the reverse side of banknotes also changed from historical buildings and sites to native plants and animals or illustrations.
Third, more brilliant and chromatic colors are used instead of the dark, plain colors that dominated in the past. Moreover, with two-thirds of the countries using green, blue, and brown color tones as the basic colors for their banknotes, more countries appear to be opting for visually stable colors.
Fourth, with a shift from traditional arabesque or ornate patterns to crisper, machine-generated geometrical guilloche, other patterns and guilloche are not just used for visual or formative aesthetics but also as anti-counterfeit devices.
Fifth, great strides have been made in anti-counterfeiting efforts in the areas of paper, printing, and other special devices. For example, watermark, security thread, and fiber are some of the latest developments for banknote paper; intaglio, micro lettering, rainbow printing, see-through register, interference pattern, offset and intaglio latent image, special ink technology (metallic ink, optically variable ink, metameric ink, iridescent stripe ink, transparency ink), machine-readable elements, such as magnetic ink, fluorescent ink, infrared ink, and X-ray ink for printing; and optically variable device, gold and silver foil, microperf, clear window for the other special devices category.
Sixth, practicality is a quality much
emphasized in modern banknote design. Many issuing authorities are making
changes to improve banknote utility by adopting more portable
sizes, various elements necessary for mechanization for efficient handling
and processing, color selection for easy differentiation between denominations,
and tactile and auditory differentiation devices for the visually or hearing
impaired. In particular, banknote dimensions are chosen based on not only such
considerations of appropriateness for the design and color but also convenience
in computer processing at financial institutions. As for denomination
indicators, the trend is toward large Arabic numbers for maximum visual effect
and away from using letters. Finally, the signature or seal indicates the issuing authority’s guarantee of the currency
as legal tender.
and Management Department of Bank of
Department of Bank of
Department of Bank of
Ettlie, J. E. (1997), "Integrated design and new product success", Journal of Operations Management, Vol. 15, pp. 33-55.
Kwak, Kil-Sang (1992), “A
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in Industrial Management at
Lim, Chae-Suk and Lim, Yang-Taek (2004), “A Positive Analysis of the Causal Relationship of Product Design and Design Management in the Model of Evaluating Quality Competitiveness,” The Korean Society for Technology Management and Economics, June. (in Korean)
Moon, Dong-Ki (1984), “An
Analytical Study on South Korean Banknote Design,” a thesis for M.A. in the
Education Department at
Pawar, Kulwant S. and Driva, Helen (1999), "Performance measurement for product design and development in a manufacturing environment", International Journal of Production Economics, Vol. 60-61, pp. 61-68.
Roland Nitche (1983), History
Stephen, Lars and Bergström, Max (2002), "Integrated design and production of multi-storey timber frame houses - production effects caused by customer-oriented design", International Journal of Production Economics, Vol. 77, pp. 259-269.
Swink, Morgan (2000), "Technological Innovativeness as a Moderator of New Product Design Integration and Top Management Support", Journal of Product Innovation Management, Vol. 17, pp. 208-220.
 Roland Nitche (1983); Currency Issue
Department, Bank of
 Budget and Management
Department, Bank of
Bauhaus is the name of school of architecture, design, and craftsmanship founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius. Bauhaus is the inversion of the German hausbau, meaning ‘to build a house,’ with the main idea being a combination of art and craft centered on architecture. Herbert Bayer, a typographer of the Bauhaus, presented a partition composition for banknotes in 1923, which is still used in banknotes around the world.
 For example, in 2002, the first year when the euro became the official currency of 12 European countries, some 170,000 counterfeit euros were found, and the number sharply increased to some 550,000 in 2003. Antti Heinonen, the 9th International Currency Conference, May 2004.
 See Moon Dong-ki (1984), Kwak Kil-sang (1992), and Currency Issue
Department of Bank of
Recorded in the Guinness Book of World Record, the largest
banknote every issues is the 1 Kuan banknote of China’s Ming dynasty issued
between 1368 and 1899, whose dimensions are comparable to a sheet of A4 paper
at 228mm by 330mm. On the other hand, the smallest banknote ever issued was 1
to 3 pfennig, issued in
 Confetti: embedding of discs of 1 to 1.5mm in diameter in banknote paper as a security feature.
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