The Banknote Lifecycle – from Design to Destruction

Combined with the capabilities of the De La Rue Group – from high-security holograms to banknote authentication and cash handling systems – De La Rue Currency's expertise extends across the complete banknote lifecycle:


De La Rue Currency employs proprietary design software together with creativity and craftsmanship to design and originate banknotes that meet its customers needs:

  • aesthetically-pleasing and easily recognisable
  • highly secure against the threat of counterfeiting
  • sufficiently durable for life in circulation
  • machine-readable to facilitate processing

De La Rue Currency uses the cylinder mould process to manufacture the highest quality banknote paper. Banknote paper is manufactured from cotton fibre which gives the paper its strength, durability and distinctive feel. Its inherent security comes from the cylinder mould process which forms a multi-tonal paper complete with integrated watermark and thread. The watermark and thread are the two principal security features in banknote paper:

  • the cylinder mould watermark is such an effective security feature because it is simple and quick to inspect, is known and understood by the public around the world, and is difficult for the counterfeiter to replicate convincingly
  • security threads are a versatile, simple and cost-effective means to carry public, machine-readable and covert security features

Banknote printing requires a series of specialist printing processes to create the high security and intricate design of modern banknotes:

Offset litho printing is used to print background tint and fine design detail. Its perfect front-to-back registration, rainbow printing, inks and features make the litho print extremely difficult to replicate.

The intaglio process is unique to the high-security printer. It is used to print fine details in strong, rich colours and helps prevent soiling thereby increasing note life. Intaglio print enables two simple tests of banknote authenticity:

  • it creates a raised print on the note which is easily identifiable by touch and contributes to the distinctive feel of a banknote
  • it never dries completely, meaning some intaglio ink can be rubbed off a banknote
A silkscreen press is used to apply certain optically-variable features and inks as it produces the best effects and textures.
Optically-variable devices (OVDs), such as holograms, and foils are featuring more and more on banknotes as they are attractive and easy to recognise yet difficult to counterfeit. They are most effective when integrated into the design and print of a banknote.
The letterpress process is used to apply serial numbers as well as some signatures and dates.

Circulation and processing

Once produced, the banknotes are issued into circulation by the central bank and used by the public as a method of payment. During circulation, banknotes are regularly processed by high-speed cash handling machines which:

  • count
  • inspect – to assess note fitness for reissue and to maintain an acceptable note quality
  • sort – for ATM or counter dispensing
  • authenticate – to identify counterfeit banknotes
Withdrawal and destruction

Banknotes are withdrawn from circulation and destroyed when they are too dirty or damaged for further use, or if they are identified as counterfeit. The average life of a banknote is two years, though this varies across denominations: lower denomination notes are replaced more frequently than higher denominations.