Is Your Money Safe?
Optical and Tactile Anti-Counterfeiting Devices in World Currency

Travis Rollins
District Science Fair, March 10, 2001



The purpose of my project is to find which countries have the most anti-counterfeiting devices, which countries have the least counterfeiting deterrence features, and to find out what these devices are.

I thought of my project when my family and I were viewing some new foreign currency that had just arrived. I thought to myself, what kind of anti-counterfeiting devices does each one have. So when my teacher brought up Science Fair the next day, I figured I could find out what the counterfeiting deterrence features there are in the world and how many each country has. There are many countries around the world, and I was wondering what things that countries do to make counterfeiting harder and less of a problem. Some of the ways countries make counterfeiting less common and harder to duplicate is by putting watermarks, security threads, and/or fibers in their note. There is also a different kind of note called a polymer note.

A polymer note, which is a specialized plastic note, is the only kind of note that can have a clear window as part of the note. Although many polymer notes are not capable of having certain other features, a counterfeiter would require an extensive area in expertise, as well as highly sophisticated equipment, and a significant amount of money to accurately duplicate. This makes the polymer notes much harder to copy than a regular cotton and linen note with the same amount of anti-counterfeiting devices. There are some problems with a polymer note, however. Some of these problems include the impossibility of installing a watermark, fiber, or security thread into the note, as well as the durability of it. Polymer notes commonly break after extensive folding, and are often taped together in the middle. Most people know what the feel of a regular paper note is, however, it may take some time before people get used to the feel of a polymer note. Two other problems with the polymer note is that plastic is currently more expensive than paper and that many different kinds of plastic are available to the public, although the kind used for notes is not common (Sincerbox, 1993 47).

Security features in a regular note composed of cotton and linen fibers such as the United States bills. These can include watermarks, security threads, see-through, intaglio, visual impair devices, ascending serial numbers, OVIs (optically variable inks), latent images, lift twins, fibers, holograms, foils, metallic inks, moiré s, anti-copies, microprints, metameric inks, and UV (ultra violet) ink/security thread/fibers.

A watermark is the most common anti-copy feature and is imbedded into the note with a special wire mesh usually stamped by a copper die and causes a thinning in the paper fibers, thus revealing an image (Crane,1998).
Watermark with highlight 500 watermark on Lithuania note.


A security thread consists of a fine metal (aluminum foil) covered with cellophane. The electrical conductivity of the thread was also a test for counterfeiting. This has now evolved from metal into a plastic thread. The embedded security thread can be seen when held up to the light that is embedded into the note(Smith, 2000) and can only be embedded into a paper bill (Sincerbox, 1993 47). The pictures below illustrate a security thread before and after being held up to a light. This security thread also has microprinting on the thread (See microprint).
Security thread normal & held up to light on Finland note.


A see-through is a partial image printed on both sides of the note, that when held to the light, forms a complete, perfectly matched image. This is difficult to duplicate with scanners and printers because the image must be perfectly matched with the obverse side.
See-through both sides & held up to light on Czech note.


Intaglio is a tactile feature printing method that starts with a skilled engraver who engraves art into a steel plate, which is where production plates are made. Then ink is applied to the plates, wiped clean and the remaining ink left in the groves and fine lines is applied under enormous pressure to the paper (7,500 to 15,000 PSI), which gives the printed surface of the note a raised feeling.
Intalio printing on Japan note.


Visual impair devices are a type of intaglio that are raised enough that visually handicapped people know what denomination the note is, such as raised dots separated by a smooth surface. It takes time to duplicate this method and is easy for a normal person to check.
Tactile Mark on Aruba note.


An ascending serial number is a serial number to keep track of how many notes of that series are out. It is hard to duplicate because each number or letter after the next is larger (or smaller) in size. Another name for this is novel numbering.
Ascending serial number on Guyana note.


Optically variable ink is a kind of ink made up of an intaglio ink and color shifting thin-film flakes. Each flake is parallel to another flake. At one angle, the ink appears one color and at a different angle looks like a different color. This is a very affective technique against counterfeiters because it takes much time effort and a large amount of money to copy. Optically Variable inks are also durable(Sincerbox, 1993 55-57).
Optically variable ink spot from two angles on France note.


Latent image is a type of intaglio printing that does not appear to be any sort of pattern or image when held straight, but when the note is tilted, a message appears.
Latent image from two angles on Columbia note.


A lift twin is an anti-counterfeiting technique similar to a latent image, only instead of ink making the message, raised lines in the paper produce the message. These lines are perpendicular, the horizontal lines making the image itself.


Fibers are normally silk fibers added to the paper slurry and are often randomly dispersed throughout the note.
Fibers on Czech note.


Holograms are a unique counterfeit deterrence feature where one or more images or designs are etched by laser into some kind of a foil. This foil may be imbedded, but is commonly applied to the surface of the note. Holograms are an effective counterfeit deterrent feature because it takes a considerable amount of money to produce the right hologram. They also often turn black in a regular quality scanner.
Holographic strip on Lithuania note.


Foils are another affective counterfeit deterrent feature because when scanned, quite often it turns black. Foils are added to the note and are a highly reflective surface that ink can be added to.
Foil on Slovakia note.


Metallic ink is a type of ink that is metallic, or reflective. It is not as shiny or reflective as a foil, but it offers an effective anti-counterfeiting feature at a low price.
Metalic ink on Slovakia note.


A moiré is an anti-counterfeiting feature that is printed on the note that appears to be a space-filling pattern, but is a pattern that is disordered when scanned. It is formed by the formation of two different patterns with different periodicity’s.
Moire pattern on Malta note.


An anti-copy feature is a series of line structures intersecting to make block-like patterns. It is quite useful against the common copy machine counterfeiter.
Anti-copy feature on Netherlands note.


Microprint is a counterfeit deterrent feature that is printed on the note. When randomly looked at, it looks like a line, but careful examination with a magnifier would conclude that is a very fine line of wording.
Micropint on Finland note.


Metameric ink is a certain kind of ink that is designed to appear the same color under a particular illumination. When put under a certain lens, a message suddenly appears, however, it is invisible without this lens.
Metameric ink through red lens on Estonia note.


UV, or ultra-violet, inks are inks that are printed on the note that can only be seen with a black (ultra-violet) light. Some UV features include security threads and fibers as well. The first example of this was a note in the 1940’s in Bohemia-Moravia.
Ultra-Violet ink (metallic also) on Malta note.


Clear windows are a type of anti-counterfeit device that is easy for the public to recognize, excruciatingly hard to accurately duplicate, and cheaper than other devices of the same resistance to counterfeiters. A clear window is a clear area in a polymer note that can be seen through.
Clear window on Romania polymer note.


I think that Great Britain and America will both be on the top 10 list for most counterfeiting deterrence features.

For my experiment, I needed a magnifying, a black light (ultra-violet light), an incandescent light, and red lens I also needed to feel the notes. A computer was also needed to record the results and plot the graphs.
For experimentation, I felt each note for tactile features like intaglio and visual impair. I then looked at each note under an incandescent light for ascending serial number, OVI (optically variable ink), latent image, lift twin, fibers, hologram, foil, metallic ink, moiré, anti-copy, and clear window. I looked for a watermark, see-through, and security thread when I held each specimen up to an incandescent light. I used a red lens to look for metameric ink in each specimen. I also looked at each note under a magnifying glass for microprint, or microtext. After experimentation for this was done, I went back and used a black (ultra-violet) light to look for UV (ultra violet) ink, fibers, and security thread.

The controls of my project are that I used the same incandescent light, black light, magnifying lens. I used the most current and highest denomination notes I could find. I could not get all the countries’ most current and/or highest denomination notes, so these countries were omitted. However, I sampled over ninety percent of the countries worldwide and all of the industrialized countries. This amounted to 146 countries.

Table of results.

Graph of results.

People/Companies who helped with information & materials. Thanks all.

My hypothesis was technically proved correct. The United States tied with 10 other countries for ninth place and Great Britain tied with 21 other countries for seventh place. There was a distribution of 2 to 14 security devices on all of the countries experimented, with the US at 6 devices and Great Britain at 8 devices. However, out of 146 countries, the US ranked 106th and Great Britain ranked 71st. Statistically, the arithmetic mean for number of security devices was 7.7, the arithmetic median was 7, and the arithmetic mode was 8. This infers that the United States is below the statistical average in every category.

Drug Intervention
Drug Intervention