Did you know that out of the entire world’s currency, only 8% of it is actually physical cash? That’s a huge amount of the world’s currency that isn’t physically circulating between the populations’ hands. In the USA alone, an estimated amount of around $650 million USD is printed every single day! Now not to worry, that doesn’t mean that every day there is an additional $650 million USD being put into circulation. According to FactMonster.com, 95% of these U.S bills are used to replace the bills already in circulation.
So, yes, there is indeed an intended timeline for these paper bills and each bill will eventually be pulled out of circulation and replaced with freshly printed ones. Usually the higher the denomination, the longer the intended lifespan. Let’s explore how these paper bills are usually made and each step of its process. Each nation and their currency will have a slightly different process, so for this article, we will look at the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing for our example.
In the United States of America, the different departments that are “in charge” of the money-making processes are the U.S. Treasury and the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The procedure starts with the banks within the country. When a local bank begins to “run out of cash”, that branch will then send a request to the country’s central bank. In the USA’s case, this is the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve will then send out the request money, but when it runs out, it will then send a request to the U.S Treasury.
Then, the U.S Treasury will determine how much money is needed to be printed before they start the production. Before you read on, it’s important to note that every detail of the production steps is not revealed to the public. The complete “recipe” and production process is top secret in order to minimize counterfeits of the currency.
So, the entire process begins with the material that the money would be made out of. Despite the fact that it’s common to call it a paper bill, paper money is not actually made out of paper. As we’re using the USA as our example for this article, it would be mainly cotton with some linen in the mix. The process starts with a very large amount of cotton (somewhere around 6000 lbs. worth) that is dumped into a giant boiling pot, where it sits in a boil for over 2 hours.
Cotton and Linen Fact from StatisticalFact.com
The freshly boiled cotton is then moved and dumped into huge containers where it will begin undergoing a cleaning and bleaching process. This step is necessary as the cleaning will get rid of any unwanted pigments that usually come with natural vegetable fibres such as cotton. The bleaching is also used to aid the process of decolourization so that later the ink can be applied with greater effect.
After this is done, the freshly cleaned and bleached cotton move into a pressing machine. Which somewhat resembles a giant pasta machine, as it rolls and presses the cotton into thin long strips. This is done to help flatten the raw material before it’s then dropped into giant blenders called pulpers.
After the blending process, the raw cotton will then be ready to be rolled up again, this time into preset roll sizes before being shipped off to be made into currency via the papermaker machines.
Before money can be printed, there needs to be a steel engraving of the denomination. Each one of these steel engravings is in a way a sort of “template” for future paper currencies being printed. These engraved steel plates are done by professional engravers, who spend over a decade learning their craft before they’re allowed to start working on these money plates.
Each money plate can take a few hundred hours to complete, as each line and each dot is made with the intention of making it more and more difficult for potential counterfeiters to copy. These tiny engraved lines and dots make up the images of the money, including the portraits and every small detail. Once the money plates are ready, then machines can start the printing processes. It’s worth noting that ALL engraving is done by skilled human hands and machines are not involved at that stage of money production.
Machines can now get involved and the firsts ones are usually large specialised printing machines. The USA’s bureau main printer is named the Simultan and stands over 3 meters tall and weighs almost 46 tonnes! The Simultan is the only press in the world that can print both sides of the cotton sheet simultaneously. The press prints ink onto the cotton “paper” by stamping in the important and key images on the currency.
Once these key features have been stamped in, the batch that has been stamped is left for 72 hours so that the ink can fully dry. Once dried, it is then ready for the next step of the process which involves the Intaglio engraving press. This is the step that involves the engraved steel money plates, as the cotton paper is pushed into the inked filled plates, embedding the look and designs onto the paper. This machine can only do one side at a time, and the drying process is just as long as the first drying process, requiring another 72 hours to dry each side of the bill.
This time, however, the drying process is even more important because the ink is “raised”. Even the slightest pressure can smudge the ink. Once the back side has been stamped and fully dried, it can be run through again to do the front side. The front side requires some different variations from the back side though as a lot of the anti-counterfeit features are on the front side.
One particular feature of the magnetic ink that slightly shifts colour depending on the angle that you view the paper note at. The same 72 hours to dry is required once the front side of the bill is complete. The Bureau has an average of 12 presses operating at one time, which allows up to $650 USD to be printed each day.
Once everything has been printed and each sheet is fully dried on both sides, the sheets of money have to then go through a thorough inspection. Literally, every single bill has to be inspected, and if there is any kind of flaw or even the smallest imperfection, the bill will not be passed. These inspection machines can inspect 37 sheets at any one time, and each sheet takes on average just 1 second to pass through these inspection machines.
The computer does the inspection by comparing every single note to a master image. If there is any sort of variation or flaw, the computer will flag the bill to be removed. Though imperfections and mistakes such as this are very rare.
When the sheet has passed inspection, then the Federal Reserve Seal and the Banks serial number is added onto the bills. This allows the Bureau to track the money as well as identify the origins of that particular note. The series, serial number and seal will allow for systems in the future to determine when and where the money was created, as well as where it was first issued to (Which bank the bills were sent to).
Cutting and Storage in the Vault
The sheets of money are finally moved to a room where it can be cut into individual bank notes. The notes are stacked upon one another, shrink-wrapped and neatly stacked onto a moving rack. The moving rack is then securely placed into the Bureau’s vault where it can later be shipped off to the needed destination.
And that basically concludes the production process of the U.S.A paper money. While other nations might have similar processing methods and production steps, each nation is slightly different and every detail of production is never released to the public. For example, the EURO is made out of cotton fibre and does not contain any linen. Some different steps of the EURO production include silk screen printing and multiple quality control and different stages of the production.
Some nation’s currencies even have cool applications such as the Swiss franc, which plays a hologram from the banknote when viewed with your phone via a specific app. Check it out below!
Links and References
Cover illustration artist Pandaxninja, DeviantArt