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Polymer banknotes are banknotes made from a polymer such as biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP). Such notes incorporate many security features not available to paper banknotes, including the use of metameric inks; they also last significantly longer than paper notes, resulting in a decrease in environmental impact and a reduction of production and replacement costs. Modern polymer banknotes were first developed by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), CSIRO and The University of Melbourne.


They were first issued as currency in Australia in 1988 (coinciding with that country's bicentennial year). In 1996 Australia switched completely to polymer banknotes .


Countries that have since switched completely to polymer banknotes include Brunei, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Vietnam, Fiji, Mauritius (printed by De La Rue), Canada and Israel. Kuwait is the latest country to introduce polymer currency notes into circulation.

Polymer Bank Note

Australian Invention - 1988

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In 1967 forgeries of the Australian $10 note were found in circulation and the Reserve Bank of Australia was concerned about an increase in counterfeiting with the release of colour photocopiers that year. In 1968 the RBA started collaborations with CSIRO and funds were made available in 1969 for the experimental production of distinctive papers. The insertion of an optically variable device (OVD) created from diffraction gratings in plastic as a security device inserted in banknotes was proposed in 1972. The first patent arising from the development of polymer banknotes was filed in 1973. In 1974 the technique of lamination was used to combine materials; the all-plastic laminate eventually chosen was a clear, BOPP laminate, in which OVDs could be inserted without needing to punch holes.


An alternative polymer of polyethylene fibres marketed as Tyvek by DuPont was developed for use as currency by the American Bank Note Company in the early 1980s. Tyvek did not perform well in trials; smudging of ink and fragility were reported as problems. Only Costa Rica and Haiti issued Tyvek banknotes; test notes were produced for Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela but never placed in circulation. Additionally, English printers Bradbury Wilkinson produced a version on Tyvek but marketed as Bradvek for the Isle of Man in 1983; however, they are no longer produced.


In the 1980s, Canadian engineering company AGRA Vadeko and US chemical company US Mobil Chemical Company developed a polymer substrate trademarked as DuraNote. It had been tested by the Bank of Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, test $20 and $50 banknotes of which were found auctioned in October 2012. It was also tested by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing of the United States Department of the Treasury in 1997 and 1998, when 40,000 test banknotes were printed and evaluated, and being evaluated by the central banks of 28 countries.


Traditional printed security features applied on paper can also be applied on polymer. These features include intaglio, offset and letterpress printing, latent images, micro-printing, and intricate background patterns. Polymer notes can be different colours on the obverse and reverse sides. Like paper currency, polymer banknotes can incorporate a watermark (an optically variable 'shadow image') in the polymer substrate. Shadow images can be created by the application of optically variable ink, enhancing its fidelity and colour shift characteristics. Security threads can also be embedded in the polymer note; they may be magnetic, fluorescent, phosphorescent, microprinted, clear text, as well as windowed. Like paper, the polymer can also be embossed.


Polymer notes also enabled new security features unavailable at the time on paper, such as transparent windows, and diffraction grating. Since 2006 however the development of the paper transparent window technologies by De La Rue (Optiks) and G&D (varifeye) have reduced that advantage.


The transparent window where the OVD is located is a key security feature of the polymer banknote. It is easily identifiable, allowing anyone to be able to authenticate a banknote.


Because the polymer bank note contains many security features that cannot be successfully reproduced by photocopying or scanning, it is very difficult to counterfeit. The complexities of counterfeiting polymer banknotes are proposed to act as a deterrent to counterfeiters. The substrate BOPP film, metalized or otherwise is widely available from European and Chinese suppliers, as are the metameric inks used.