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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

Note Printing Australia building

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

Banknote printing plate

Australian banknotes are printed on sheets of polymer substrate in NPA's printing hall using various printing plates, processes, machines and inks. Different sized sheets are used for each denomination and the number of banknotes printed on a sheet varies with 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.

Following the simultan printing the major design elements such as the portraits are printed using intaglio printing machines, with ink being transferred to the substrate under great pressure. 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.

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

In a final print run, the banknote sheets are given two coats of a protective overcoating ink using an offset printing press. This overcoat contributes to the extended durability of polymer banknotes as it protects the printing. It also helps to keep the banknotes clean.

Printed sheets are then guillotined into individual banknotes and transported through computer-controlled machines for final counting, removal of imperfect banknotes, and banding.

The final stage of the process sees the finished banknotes shrink-wrapped, moved onto pallets and stored in a strong-room prior to distribution around the country.

Serial Numbering

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) but the 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 six-digit suffix, which decreases by one from one sheet to the next. If more banknotes are required when all possible suffixes have been used, serial numbering will continue with a new set of prefixes.

This information does not take into account planned gaps in the serial numbers used or banknotes that were destroyed and therefore not issued. For numismatic purposes, the first and last prefixes are those at the beginning and end of the entire prefix range used for each denomination in any given year.

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

Serial Number Information