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Producing and Securing Banknotes: A Niche Market that Requires a Certain Know-How

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Technology is all around us, supporting us in our daily lives, it can even be found where we least expect it. Banknotes are a prime example. The manufacturing of banknotes is a highly complex process that leverages a plethora of innovative technologies that have been developed to combat the threat of fraud and counterfeiting. Security is crucial, and only a few expert firms in Europe really have the know-how to produce banknotes of the highest quality with the most state-of-the-art security features.  

The production of banknotes involves a collaborative effort between national central banks and printing firms with the necessary expertise to assure the production of safe, secure notes. In Europe, the European Central Bank plays a key role in this combined effort, notably with regards to the forecast of or unexpected surges in demand. The printing is then shared between different NCBs, who in turn leverage their trusted printing companies. This results in a significant yearly output of banknotes. The German, French and Italian central banks produced 1.7 billion €50 banknotes in 2017, for example. 

The printing process  

Let’s take the example of euro banknotes. The production of banknotes in the eurozone takes place across 11 specific locations, which between them print between 5 and 6 billion banknotes per year. Production takes place in highly secure facilities, where every scrap of paper, waste or otherwise, and every drop of ink is documented and accounted for.  

The process begins with the production of a very specific cotton-fibre paper and a paper mill. It must be noted that there have been moves to introduce polymer-based banknotes, alleged to have improved properties including durability, but their ecological impact has been brought into question. Polymer has been proven to be a false solution, that does less than commonly believed to increase security and has a long-lasting, negative environmental impact (plastic is plastic). Cotton remains the most sustainable, resistant material for banknote production, and is preferred by the ECB.   

Once the paper has been produced, a high-tech, impossible-to-copy watermark and security thread are added, including a metallic foil that is printed using pressure and heat. The paper is then transported from the paper mill to the printing works, where it goes through four stages of production: offset printing, silkscreen printing, intaglio printing and letterpress printing. An increasing number of banknotes are then varnished to extend their durability. Each of these processes involves the use of a specific technology and requires a niche expertise, with security features being added and verified throughout the production process. Only a few expert firms have the know-how to undertake this process.  

Leave it to the experts  

In Europe, there are a few, but highly experienced firms that oversee the production of banknotes across the different locations, from paper production to printing. Security is of the utmost importance throughout the manufacturing process, and this means mastering and optimizing scalable substrate solutions that meet the various requirements of different currencies.  

De La Rue, for example, the British banknote printing and currency-solutions firm, has been operating for over 200 years and provides banknotes for many central banks. It has developed several solutions such as the NEXUS™ security feature, or the GEMINI™ ultra-violet print feature.   

“The future of cash is safe,” said Clive Vacher, De La Rue CEO, explaining that he expects hard currency to continue to play a vital role in global economies. “Cash is incredibly resilient. There is significant population growth, and we see currency notes as symbols of national identity.”  

Another example is the Munich-based firm Giesecke+Devrient (G+D) has over 170 years in banknote printing experiencing and is therefore well-placed to understand and develop the specific security solutions required for the secure production of euro notes. This involves adaptation, innovation and a deep understanding of the technologies and materials required, such as embedding security features into the substrate and hot-stamping holograms, among others.  

“We provide comprehensive solutions for secure end-to-end cash management. This means, G+D designs and produces banknotes, security substrates, and highly secure counterfeit protection solutions. Our portfolio also includes banknote processing systems in different performance categories and complete solutions for cash centers and currency circulation,” said Ralf Wintergerst, G+D CEO.  

A French touch  

Across the Rhine, one large firm comes to mind when it comes to the fiduciary industry. Oberthur Fiduciaire has been a stalwart in banknote and security printing since 1842 and has been printing banknotes for decades. Its expertise has been leveraged in over 70 countries globally, and owns two printing sites in France and Bulgaria, as well as a paper mill in the Netherlands. A big player in the banknote industry…  

“Cash is a time-honoured instrument, appreciated by people at large, and which has given every proof of proper functioning. Given such conditions, visions of a purely electronic system are an illusion, or else the best method for incurring serious risks. I’m thinking particularly of privacy protection. Pushed to its extreme, electronic payment constitutes a continuous incursion into the individual’s personal sphere,” said Oberthur CEO Thomas Savare.  

Committed to the importance and stability of secure hard cash, Oberthur is famous for incorporating some state-of-the-art security features in its banknotes during the production process. These include its Relief solution, its innovative generation of 3D threads, its Pulsar colour shift thread which integrates ingenious micro-optics, or its Avalon reversible fluorescent security feature. These are updated and reworked on a regular basis. “Every year we devote a sizeable budget to research and development. Whether in paper, printing techniques, ink or security elements, our different fields of activity are constantly making technological advances,” according to Savare.  

 Banknotes remain, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a crucial part of our daily economic lives. Producing secure, infallible banknotes using the latest technologies and modern innovations is not an enterprise that can be undertaken by just any old printing company. It demands decades of experience, a unique printing infrastructure and highly trained experts to make sure our banknotes are safe and secure from the omnipresent threat of fraud and counterfeiting

Brought to you by Lauren Williams

Global Banking & Finance Review


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