How U.S. Money is Printed — Printing History

printing money

While we don’t actually print money (wouldn’t that be nice?), as a company who has specialized in print for over 70 years, we enjoy researching history as well as the future of our craft. In this edition of Printing History, we’re going to look into how money is printed.

Old Printing Styles for New Bills

For a currency used the world over, you’d imagine that every step of the printing process for United States currency would be state-of-the-art. While there are certain high tech security features of the latest editions of currency, much of the artistry of the bill is contained in traditional techniques. Rather than using modern ink cartridges or laser printing technology, the main images on US currency are still stamped in a printing press. The currency designs are, for the most part, manually engraved into metal plates by engraving specialists. This painstaking attention to detail is evident on every US bill. Using the technology of yesteryear makes it even more difficult for counterfeiters to replicate. The additional of color-shifting designs that only appear in certain angles and with types of light also add to the currency’s complexity and hinder reproduction.

“Paper” money isn’t paper at all.

If the “paper” that paper currency was printed on was indeed paper, it’s strength would probably make you want to use it for your own documents. The paper used for US currency isn’t actually paper, but rather a paper-like fabric comprised of 25% linen and 75% cotton. If you’re a fan of the paper, too bad. This paper-like fabric is especially made by the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) for currency only. Aside from its obvious strength benefits, it being fabric allows modern security features to be built into the paper itself. A unique security thread, as well as intricate watermarks, are added to the paper before the main images are printed onto each bill. Several printing cycles, each added in a specific order, add to the extreme complexity of the design of currency.

Currency Serial Numbers

The BEP’s division called Currency Overprinting Processing Equipment and Packaging (COPE-Pak) is responsible for adding the different seals and serial numbers on US currency. The Federal Reserve seal in black, the US Treasury seal in green, and the Federal Reserve identification number account for each bill. The latest serials numbers contain two prefix letters — one indicating year series, the other denoting which bank issued the bill. They also contain eight numerals and a suffix letter. The suffix letters adjust with every 99,999,999 bills. After running through a rigorous quality assurance checking and categorization process, bill sheets are ready to be cut and packaged. The sheets are sliced using a large mass cutter and packaged in batches of 4,000. The next time you hold a US bill in your hand, make sure.