by Abdullah Beydoun
Security features are one of the most interesting areas of innovation in currency production around the world. Each year, printers invent new ways to stay ahead of counterfeiters by enhancing the banknotes they produce, making them more difficult to accurately and consistently duplicate for criminals.
In part one of this series, we looked at some of the most common security features used to prevent counterfeiting on notes around the world. Today, we’re focusing on how these and other features have been combined to protect the American $100 bill from counterfeits. The American dollar has historically been highly valued, thanks in part to a strong economy in the United States, but also because of the difficulty presented in attempting to counterfeit this expensive currency.
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American notes are distinct from most banknotes around the world in that they are printed on a specially made material that’s comprised of blended cotton and linen. Most banknotes around the world are printed either on special paper, or on a type of plastic polymer. This basic feature prevents a lot of counterfeiting on its own – most people can immediately tell the difference when they hold an American banknote that’s been printed on paper.
Raised Print – Raised printing is a simple security feature that prevents counterfeiters from using readily available printers for printing fake notes. On the American $100, you can run your finger up and down Benjamin Franklin’s shoulder and you’ll notice that it feels rough to the touch. That roughness is due to a process called intaglio printing – ink below the surface of the plate is used, and designs can be scratched or etched into the plate, creating a 3D texturized surface.
Microprinting – Microprinting as a security feature simply means printing words, numbers, or a watermark using an extremely small, virtually microscopic font size. The printer from your local office supply store can’t support text at this small resolution, meaning that a potential counterfeiter would have to purchase expensive printing equipment to try and replicate this feature. On the American $100, you can magnify the collar of Ben Franklin’s jacket and read the text “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’ printed there. You may also notice the phrase “ONE HUNDRED USA” printed along the golden quill.
Watermarks – Watermark technology is a robust security feature that’s difficult to replicate, especially portrait watermarks like the ones found on the American $100 bank note. Hold the note up to a bright light source and look to the right of the Department of the Treasury seal – you’ll notice a portrait of Benjamin Franklin that’s otherwise invisible. What’s more – this portrait watermark is visible from both sides of the note! Can you see why a home counterfeiter would never succeed at replicating this effect?
Serial Numbers – There are numerous benefits to including serial numbers as a security feature on the American $100 banknotes. Serial numbers ensure that no two individual notes are exactly alike. Each note has its own unique serial number, so a counterfeiting strategy that produces identical replicas of a single note immediately falls flat. How far can you get producing duplicate notes that all have the same serial number? Banks record the serial numbers of the notes that they distribute, which also protects against theft and robbery – notes in a block or sequence of serial numbers can be flagged as lost or stolen.
3D Security Ribbon – Just when counterfeiters were getting their hands on high-end printers that could replicate features like microprinting and raised printing, currency innovators came up with 3D security ribbon. The security ribbon for the American $100 note is blue in color and runs down the centre of the bill. It isn’t printed there though – security ribbons are woven into the note itself, adding an extra layer of impossibility to the process of counterfeiting these notes. The 3D ribbon depicts “liberty bells” that change to “100s” as you tilt the note up and down.
Like the security ribbon feature, a security thread embedded in each American $100 note is imprinted with the letters USA and the number 100 in an alternating pattern. The thread glows pink when exposed to ultraviolet light, and is visible from both sides of the bill.
Protecting the integrity of the money supply is a crucial aspect of maintaining a stable economy and a stable society. The USA has done an excellent job of minimizing counterfeiting and protecting their currency by instituting the latest and best security features available into their bank notes. Look for these features on the American $100 bank notes in your collection, and on other bills from around the world.