Designing a secure banknote
Kerre Corbin, Circulation, Authentication & Counterfeit Expert, De La Rue Currency
The foundations of a secure banknote are strong security features that are well integrated into an engaging design and supported by public education.
The definition of a “strong security feature” is frequently debated, with suppliers and studies associated with suppliers leaning towards specific products or technologies. Perception studies can provide valuable insight into how a specific demographic interacts with banknotes or what they notice in a controlled experiment. But other factors also need to be considered when designing a secure banknote because the factors that combine to make a banknote secure are typically more subtle than often messaged.
Banknotes must meet the requirements of ALL users of the cash cycle, balancing aesthetics with security, functionality, capability to manufacture, machine readability, durability and cost. The security of a banknote is more than a single public recognition feature. Ultimately, the user considers the banknote holistically, which makes the design of the banknote incredibly important. There is a trend towards more security features per banknote – paper notes more frequently feature a thread and an applied feature than a decade ago and more modern polymer notes are more likely to have a security feature integrated into their window. With SAFEGUARD® ASSURE™ providing a covert feature in the very core of the polymer substrate both major banknote substrates can provide security features to meet every type of authentication need. Additionally polymer banknotes provide durable blind recognition features for central banks seeking to widen financial inclusion.
Studies recommend taking advantage of the brain’s natural methods of visual analysis, i.e. to use the features of the banknote to guide looking and information and the concept of a “navigation map” to link security features to graphic elements and encourage the public to visually travel across the banknote for ease of authentication. A balance between features is important to ensure that one ‘stand-out’ feature does not mean the other important elements are ignored. It is also important to ensure that the visual images used in different features are different, to avoid re-use of a single image by counterfeiters.
The responsibility of the design process is to bring all these together and engage people in their banknotes (whilst ensuring the banknotes are manufacturable and functional at every stage of their lifecycle). Aesthetics encourage people to look at a banknote for longer, with artistic elements capturing and holding attention long enough to engage with the different features. A feature that looks expensive and high impact will give users the belief that it is technically difficult to simulate, which provides reassurance. Such features require the appropriate secure effects and design to ensure the perception matches the reality. Additional processes such as overprinting and demetallisation can enhance the visual experience. It brings an overall coherence and visual journey to get interaction and provide users with an emotional reward. There is a reason that many people smile when they first see enhanced GEMINI™ magically appear under UV light.
The format and layout are key in ensuring the denomination and main security features are noticed. This needs to be balanced with the technical and production rules to ensure that the note is engaging and effective. The effectiveness of a security feature depends heavily on its visual effects, but also on size, position and how feature integrates with the rest of the banknote’s design. Security features positioned too closely or to distantly from interesting design elements will not attract attention effectively. Features positioned outside of the immediate gaze areas (e.g. in the corner, that can be covered by a finger) are unlikely to be seen.
The design needs to highlight the security feature and the easier it is to find and the more likely it is to be looked at directly. However, the increased saliency of one security feature may direct attention away from other security features, so this needs to be done with consideration for the overall visuals.