How to design beautiful banknotes

The design is fundamental / practical starting point in Banknote fabrication processing .

The first step in every printed product is the design stage, therefore special security designing software should be used in order to design and produce highly secured print products.

There are several companies which are specialized in producing and developing security design software, which are used by all kinds of security printers, in designing and producing highly secured designs, that are very difficult to copy, scan, print or reproduce, because of using very fine lines, special patterns, backgrounds, elements, micro lettering, anti-scan and anti-copy elements.

high master generation software can produce banknote design & layout in perfect accuracy principle

Great banknote designs

Confidence in banknotes is entirely based on trust in the currency, the organization behind it and the authenticity of the note. The authenticity may be verified by an authenticity check, one of the four main user functions of a banknote; the others are value recognition, handling and (communication) message. Central banks may follow different banknote design policies, like putting ‘authenticity check’ first. In all combinations the final banknote identity is made by the ‘design sum’ of all functions. Scientific literature to support these decisions is not available and banknote identity issues are rarely discussed at conferences on banknotes. This study addresses this lack by looking into development metrics and contributing to a better understanding of identity subjects. Once the desired identity of the banknote has been described, the banknote may be designed. These two concepts, banknote identity and banknote design, are brought together in general. Several design methods are introduced to support the development of an identity policy, like positioning and balance diagrams, familiarity and design freedom. To be perceived as a banknote, a new design has to carry several prototypical banknote design elements that has to carry out in security principle.

important elements of banknote designing

A banknote is a powerful symbol of the history, culture and sovereignty of a nation, so there’s a great deal of responsibility in getting its design right.

In designing the note, we don’t just mean creating beautiful and intricate images, we also have to take into consideration how the new banknote will be stored, processed, distributed and used locally to determine whether it’s produced on polymer or paper and what security features are included to combat counterfeiters.

This is why designing and producing a banknote takes a great amount of time, knowledge, patience and cultural sensitivity. At dns-secure, our history of banknotes administration design has given us a huge amount of insight and expertise, which we share with banks around the world today.

Designing for Samoa

When the Central Bank of Samoa said they wanted to create commemorative 10 Tala note to honour Samoa’s hosting of the Pacific Games, we knew we had to create something unique and memorable.

This was the start of a close design collaboration, bringing together best practice and experience from De La Rue’s design team with local knowledge and creative ideas and input from the bank.

Our design journey began with a bespoke creative workshop which we hosted in Samoa. This gave our designers the opportunity to talk through all aspects of the new note’s lifecycle, from its circulatory environment and usage, to how it would complement the existing notes (including the 10 Tala) already in circulation.

While the bank didn’t have its own design team, we were lucky to be working with some really creative and enthusiastic people there, including Lole Tualaulelei in the currency team, who was our main contact and design collaborator.

Our time in Samoa proved invaluable, not only to gain a deeper level of understanding and connection with the Governor and the bank, but also for the opportunity to spend time on the island meeting Samoans from all walks of life. We were also able to get a true sense of the vibrancy, abundance and rich culture and heritage of Samoa and its people, which helped to inspire our designers back in the UK.

From our initial meetings, we knew as a commemoration of the Pacific Games, this note was going to focus on sport. Our joint challenge was how to translate this into a design that reflected Samoa’s sporting excellence and legacy, especially in its most popular sports of rugby, rowing and women’s weightlifting.

Our senior designer Andy Macey started to sketch freehand some ideas based on those that Lole had created around Samoa’s sporting traditions and cultural heritage. We find that doing freehand drawings initially rather than using the computer gives us more freedom and expression.

After a number of iterations, the design concept was agreed and delivered, with Andy spending time in Samoa to help with the final sign-off process.

The creative concept was based around the connection between children playing sports for fun around the island on one side of the note and adults competing at the highest level in some of Samoa’s most popular sports on the other. The bonds between young and old, and the sporting passion felt so deeply across the whole of the Pacific reflected in the images chosen.

Every element of the design has a connection to Samoa, its culture and natural environment; from the tattoo patterns (reflecting the ‘rite of passage’ tattoo ritual) created by our pattern specialist at De La Rue, to a circular swish representing a circle of fire seen at traditional Samoan dances, which forms a design’s focal point.

The boys on the back of note are using a coconut as a rugby ball, a familiar sight on Samoan beaches, and a hollowed-out trunk as a canoe for fishing. The adults on the front of the note are competing in weightlifting, rugby and rowing to demonstrate the importance of these sports in Samoan culture.

By using these instantly recognisable and important cultural and traditional references, we were able to create an authentic, powerful and emotive design that the bank felt would resonate with Samoans and make them feel proud.

Building security into the design

When designing a bank note it is important that all the safety features are incorporated into the overall design concept from the outset. The note is printed on De La Rue’s Safeguard® polymer substrate, as this is a better defence against counterfeiters, and this dictated the security innovation we integrated.

We were able to use the see-through window, unique to polymer notes, to depict the Pacific Games logo. We also included the De La Rue MASK™ feature, a simple ‘hide and reveal’ effect that cannot be easily replicated by scanning or printing and is highly durable. As part of the design to aid the visually impaired, we also included a tactile embossed feature to help easily identify its denomination.


Creating and producing a new banknote is a highly skilled and specialist challenge, and one that works best with insight and engagement that comes from a close partnership throughout the design journey. This approach certainly paid off helping the Central Bank of Samoa to create a popular and treasured note, with positive feedback from Samoa’s Minister of Finance, the Chairman of the Pacific Games as well as from many Samoans.

The design process

A new banknote may need designing as part of a mandatory project, in that the notes are being converted to polymer, or it may be that a traditional note is merely being updated. Nevertheless, deciding on the theme of the note is a crucial initial stage.

Jan Kercher is creative design manager at De La Rue, which is the world’s largest commercial banknote printer. She says: “It’s extremely important to agree with the customer at the start about the theme. It’s something you really need to firm up in order for the designer to start the research.”

The designers can then begin preparing sketches and mood boards and discussing the look and feel of the note. A lot may depend, however, on the country the note is being designed for, as there might be a colour or style which isn’t suited.

Alongside the theme, it’s also important for designers to understand the security and manufacturing features required, as the note undergoes multiple printing processes and details may shift depending on where the elements are layered on the notes. Kercher mentions the “marriage between the aesthetics and the functionality” of the notes.

“Designs are reviewed all the time by our technical design team for the consideration of the manufacturability,” she says.

“As the designer starts to move on from sketching ideas, they will start to work in Photoshop, building this note in a very specialised way, in order for it to be realised in the manufacturing at the end of the process.

“The designer’s role is to think about how that design can be broken up into all the layers.”

Attention to detail

Scotlands Fabric of Nature notes
Scotlands Fabric of Nature notes

The process of designing a banknote can be long and arduous, so the idea of producing millions of copies of error notes constitutes a designer’s, manufacturer’s and bank’s nightmare.

O Street was one of a number of design collaborators involved in the creation of the Scottish Fabric of Nature banknote series, recently nominated for the 2016 IBNS award.

O Street founder David Freer says: “If you’re doing a note design it’s not something like a brochure – where if you have a typo or something wrong you can just reprint.

“They’re going to print millions and millions of these notes and they’re going to be around forever, so you need to make sure the details are right.”

Attention to detail is thus a key component of the design process. The Fabric of Scotland banknotes include animals, textiles and fonts specific to Scotland, and the designers worked alongside experts and academics to ensure absolute accuracy in their visual depiction.

Building the notes

Once a design is rubber-stamped by a senior associate at the bank, the next stage is to prepare the note for manufacturing. Various specialist designers at the banknote manufacturers are in charge of that task. Kercher refers to the components team, the pattern specialists and the engravers, to name some.

Designing the Fabric of Nature banknotes
Designing the Fabric of Nature banknotes

She says: “The components team might draw up the watermark. They are very technically skilled artists who understand the different shades of grey to produce a mould for the watermark. They can design all the substrate layers for our polymer notes and they finish the security features,” she said.

“We have a pattern specialist who can design the background pattern work of a banknote. The idea comes from the initial designer, then the pattern worker designs it in bespoke software that we have here.

“They work in collaboration with the designer the whole time to make sure the banknote really meets the customer’s expectation.”

Future of banknotes

The arrival of polymer notes means there’s a window of opportunity for banknote designers. Colour palettes can be more vivid and durability will be enhanced. Yet the future of banknotes remains uncertain as technology advances.

Interestingly, in the early stages of Fabric of Scotland, it was discussed how the visuals could be translated into a digital world and Freer admits he has pondered the importance of paper notes in the future.

He says: “There’s something in the back of my head asking whether people will be using money in 10 to 20 years’ time, with contactless payment and paying with your phone. I do wonder whether banknotes will be as important as they are now.”

Designing the Fabric of Nature banknotes
Designing the Fabric of Nature banknotes

Either way, he feels that collaboration in the design process can be a major factor in producing a successful banknote design.

“The banknote is something which should have a lot of collaboration [in the design process] because it’s something which is going to be used by everybody,” says Freer.

“Other designers input really strengthened it [the Fabric of Nature project] in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to do on our own.”