Banknotes and their security features

Banknotes and their security features

Last year we posted a blog about the The symbolism of five cash notes around the globe and how art plays an important part of making up the design of a bank note. We wanted to take this topic further and discuss some of the key security and design features of bank notes.

Banknotes and their security features

Banknotes from around the globe all have varying elements of security features on them to reduce the chance of being fraudulently replicated. Some of the most common features include:

Note material – polymer or cotton?

A large portion of global bank notes are still made using cotton, linen, or other textile fibres. Polymer notes are relatively new to the bank note market. In 1996, Australia was the first country to adopt a full denomination set of bank notes after attempts by Costa Rica and Haiti, using Tyvek as a note option and the Isle of Man using Bradvek. These notes were withdrawn due to issues with the ink and its durability.

Watermarks/Image splitting

These are the most common security features on banknotes and are created during the print process. Essentially a watermark is only visible when holding the note up to a light source. Some watermark subjects include flowers, birds, architecture, and people. 

On the South African Rand, the image of a lion has been split into different printed elements on each side of the note. This is only visible as a whole image when held up to the light. 

The UK cotton notes did have a similar feature showing a pound (£) symbol until the launch of their polymer currency.


Over 97 currencies use holograms as a security feature. They can be found as a form on notes as seals, patches, security stripes or window features and can be used on most types of bank note material.


This is small text, that can only be read under high magnification. It can be found as part of an image, shape, or line.

For instance, the €1000 Singapore note has their national anthem written on the note and it can only be read with a magnifying glass. Microtext/Microscript is difficult to scan or copy and is a common safety feature on most global banknotes. 

Colour Changing Features

Over 40% of bank notes that have been issued since 2011 have colour changing elements.

All the current Euro notes have this feature where the denomination amount changes from purple to green or brown when the note is moved backwards and forwards.

Invisible marks

Some notes will use invisible ink or marks that are only visible under fluorescent or infrared lights. These marks are invisible to the naked eye under normal lighting. 

An example of this can be found on the Australian $5 note. Under UV lighting, the image of the Eastern Spinebill is displayed and only under infrared, the right-hand side of the €200 note is the only part of the note that is visible.

Usability for the visually impaired

Being able to differentiate the note value for the visually impaired is also a considered feature on banknotes, from braille, raised printing and note size. 

The new UK polymer notes have raised dots on the left edge of the note, the US dollar has different areas of raised printing as does the Singapore dollar, and the South African Rand had raised printed slashes on the edges of the notes to help determine the note value.

Global bank notes analysis

So, with all the bank note security features considered, there’s also a huge amount of thought that goes into features such as the colour of the note, the layout, any dominant figures, or animals etc., created a comprehensive report and analysis on global bank notes and here’s what we learnt…

Using the closest denomination to the £20 (approx. 157 global notes), 154 different colour tones were used, and the preferred colour on 23% of the notes was green.

Widening the banknote choice (1,383 in total) the report then goes on to advise that:

  • 547 political figures
  • 320 royals
  • 153 writers

Have been chosen to appear on banknotes. Queen Elizabeth II is the most featured figure showing up on 45 different notes from 11 countries.

So, with all of this information, and if we had to have one global banknote, what could be expected? If a global note was to be designed and created, the key features (based on the report results) would be:

A predominantly green coloured note, showing a male politician, with an eagle by a castle…

Go figure!

To find out more about cash and ancient payments, please click here to read our blog on unusual forms of ancient currencies.  

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