Production

  • New banknotes
  • Current banknotes

New banknotes: Design & production Video Transcript

We started the research and development process for the upgrade with an extensive list of nearly 200 features that we'd gathered from all sources around the world: industry, research institutes, suppliers to the industry and started with that and then cut it back. We can't put 200 features on the note, we don't want to, so we cut it back to a very short list that we took forward into design.

In the design process we have two distinct parts, there's the concept design and the 'banknotisation' design. The concept design is where we look at the artwork, how we want it to look more general aspects; the 'banknotisation' design is where we actually integrate all the features into that and get the banknote to a level where its functional, has security and durability.

So the process starts with a plastic film, which is essentially some polypropylene that we melt, stretch, blow into a big bubble and then squash it back down to get a film.  So on top of that clear film we apply white coatings on both sides, obviously leaving out the bits where we want to have a window and that produces for us a banknote substrate sheet we can then put into the rest of the printing processes.

So on top of that, the white layers on the banknote sheet, we apply strong colours on both sides of the note, and this is done in very fine detailed print. It gives it the bold, vivid colours, it has built in security in terms of the fine detail and microprint that goes within that.

Within the top-to-bottom window, which is new on the series for us, we integrate a number of features in there, particularly stuff that goes in the foil that's transferred across.  It's a very complicated process that involves transferring that foil across with heat and pressure, somewhat akin to ironing it on, and that transfers those across to the banknote and you have them in the top-to-bottom window.

The next process we apply is the rolling colour effect. Again, this done partly across the window and across some of the coloured areas where we apply a thick layer of a coloured ink. And then we structure the way the pigments sit within that ink to get the coloured effects that you see on both sides of the note.

The way we structure the pigments within that rolling colour effect to give the artwork is that we apply a series of magnets on to the ink while it's still wet and that magnetic fields rotate the pigments within the ink and then we lock it in place with the UV lamp to cure that, and then we get the rolling colour effect in the design that we're after.

The intaglio print comes after that, which is a very traditional process used for many, many years all around the world in banknotes.  Applied on both sides of the note, it gives the note texture, gives the note body, something that really helps with the way people authenticate the note. They will often feel the difference between the note with or without intaglio.

On the new five dollar banknote, space was really a constraint. We were after a lot of security and one of the things that had to go was the second serial number. So we've still got one, consistent with the same sort of numbering formats we've used in the past so you can see the year of print that comes out of that, and we've also matched that against an invisible year of print which you can see when you hold the note under a UV lamp.

One of the last printing processes is to apply an overcoat over the whole note. This adds both durability and it helps with the slip characteristics of the note. So how it feels when you're counting it, the way the notes can slide against each other.

One of the final processes then is the tactile feature, the tactile dot, where we're not printing anything in this case. We're just actually hitting the film with an embossing stamp, it actually deforms it and pushes it out and you get the tactile dot that you then can feel on the note for the vision impaired. 

So in finishing, we take everything up to this stage and have banknote sheets. Then we have to cut it into the individual banknotes and making sure that's done consistently so you get the right height, the right length, the image in the right position and then it's put through a high speed machine inspection system that does quality checking on all the banknotes.

Once the notes have been through processing they get bundled into you know bundles of a hundred and bigger bundles of a thousand and they all get packed into containers with a sort of automated robotic system so then those containers have some 100,000 notes that get sent out to banks.

To replace all the notes in circulation we've needed to print around 170 million of the five dollar banknote.  Normally we'd not print that many in each year but it's the volume that we need to replace everything.

Coming to the end of the process, we've got to the stage now where we've incorporated a large number of new security features, some of the most advanced in the world, on to this new design. And you know where once we led the world in polymer banknotes, our view is certainly, this new design with the embedded features and the way we've designed it together, certainly puts us back at the forefront of polymer note technology in the world.

Australian Banknote Production Video Transcript

There are over 50 billion dollars worth of Australian banknotes in circulation, all of which have a range of special security features that make them a lot harder for criminals to counterfeit.

But did you know that although many banknotes from around the world are made from cotton or paper fibres, our banknotes are made from a type of plastic, or polymer, this means they're tough and durable.

Australian banknotes start out as these plastic pellets.

We first melt them down, and then blow up a huge bubble.

The walls on the bubble are pressed together and run through a roller to form a long thin roll of clear plastic film.

After cooling, this film is cut into sheets and printed with a white ink.

The white print helps other ink stick to the plastic.

This is also when the clear window in the banknote is formed.

Now these sheets are ready to run through a press that prints on both sides simultaneously.

This way, the images will always line up perfectly.

You can see this when you look at the Federation Star image on this $50 note.

When you hold the banknote up to the light, diamond-shaped patterns printed on each side of the banknote combine perfectly to form a seven-pointed star inside a circle.

Next the sheets have the raised printing applied.

This is called intaglio, and it gives our banknotes their distinctive feel.

There's another intaglio feature applied at this stage called micro-print.

Microprint's a very small text that appears on various places on different banknotes, which most of us need a magnifying glass to read.

Then there's the serial number.

All of the banknotes are printed with a unique serial number in special ink that fluoresces under ultra violet light.

You can also use the serial number to tell when the banknote was printed.

Look at the first two digits on this $50 note.

This one was printed in 2009.

The banknote sheets are now given a protective coating, this helps to keep them clean and last longer.

And finally, the sheets are cut into individual banknotes … checked to make sure they were printed without errors… stacked … wrapped … and packed onto pallets.

This pallet has $48 million dollars worth of $100 banknotes on it.

These banknotes will be used mainly to replace worn or damaged notes which are taken out of circulation every day.

The worn and damaged banknotes are then shredded into small pieces, melted and reformed into plastic beads.

These beads can then be used to make other plastic products.

Well, there you have it.

From pellets to pallets, that's how Australia's distinctive and durable banknotes are made!

Where Australia's Banknotes Are Made

Photo of the Note Printing Australia builiding in Craigieburn.

Australia's banknotes are printed by Note Printing Australia Limited (NPA), which is located on a 26 hectare site at Craigieburn, Victoria, 25 kilometres north of Melbourne. Since July 1998, NPA has been a separately incorporated, wholly owned subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia.

NPA's main production building is a purpose-built four-storey, reinforced concrete structure. The NPA site is bounded by high-security perimeter fencing, has an armed guard force protecting it around the clock and is supported by a range of highly sophisticated electronic security and surveillance devices.

How Australia's Banknotes Are Made

Image of Plastic roll

Australian banknotes are printed on sheets of polymer substrate in NPA's printing hall using various printing plates, processes, machines and inks.

Australian banknotes start out as plastic pellets, which are melted and blown into a three-storey bubble. The walls of the bubble are pressed together and cooled to form laminated polymer film. Special inks are applied to make the film opaque, except for certain areas which are left free of ink to create the clear windows, before it is cut into sheets.

Different sized sheets are used for each denomination and the number of banknotes printed on a sheet varies. A sheet of the new $5 banknotes has 54 banknotes. For the first polymer series, there were 45 polymer banknotes on a sheet of $10 banknotes, 40 banknotes on a sheet of $5, $20 and $50 banknotes and 32 banknotes on a sheet of $100 banknotes.

The first printing process involves the background colours and patterns being printed onto both sides of the polymer sheets at the same time by simultan printing machines. These machines can print up to 8,000 sheets per hour.

Photo of a banknote printing plate.

The new series of banknotes has two security features not previously used on an Australian banknote, which are applied at this stage. The multiple security features in the top-to-bottom window are applied as a continuous strip and then the rolling colour effect is applied on a screen-printing process using an optically-variable ink.

Major design elements such as the portraits and narrative elements are printed next using intaglio printing machines. In this process, the ink is transferred to the sheets under great pressure using engraved metal plates. Separate print runs are required for each side of the sheet. The resulting raised print is one of the important security features of Australia's polymer banknotes. Some of the microprinting and embossed features are also produced during this process.

Serial numbers are then added to the sheets using a letterpress printing process.

Photo of a banknote printing plate.

A protective overcoating ink is applied to the banknotes using an offset printing press. This overcoat contributes to the extended durability and cleanliness of polymer banknotes.

For the new series of banknotes, the tactile feature is applied in a final print run. The tactile feature has been developed to assist the vision-impaired community to identify different denominations. It is made up of different numbers of raised bumps on the long edges of the banknote next to the top-to-bottom window.

Printed sheets are then guillotined into individual banknotes and inspected to ensure their quality meets the required standard. The finished banknotes are then shrink-wrapped, packed into containers  and stored in a strong-room prior to distribution around the country.

Serial Numbering

Photo of a serial number printing machine.

Since 1993, Australian banknotes have been numbered using a 'Year-Dated System'. Under this system, each banknote on a given sheet has a different letter prefix (e.g. AA or AB).  The first two numbers of the prefix, which indicate the year the banknote was produced, are the same for all banknotes printed in the same year. All banknotes on a sheet will have the same suffix, which decreases by one from one sheet to the next. While the first polymer series has a six-digit suffix, the new series of banknotes has a seven-digit suffix to accommodate the possibility of larger print runs.

For details about the serial number ranges used for any given year go to: Serial Number Information