Polymer money: The Canadian $100 bill is made of plastic. Security features include transparent panels and holograms. The bill’s rear face is shown.
The Canadian dollar is worth as much as the U.S. greenback. But Canadians are abuzz about something else entirely: plastic money.
Last November, Canada introduced a plastic $100 bill, becoming one of about three dozen countries that have replaced at least some paper banknotes with bills printed on polymer. Beginning Monday, the Bank of Canada will begin circulating $50 bills made of the same material, and smaller denominations will follow next year.
The switch to polymer is the result of an effort to reduce one of the highest rates of counterfeiting among the world’s 20 largest economies. In 2004, Canada was finding 470 forged banknotes for every million in circulation. The Bank of Canada says the new notes are easy to verify and hard to counterfeit.
The new Canadian $100 bill feels slick, is hard to tear, and is stiffer than paper . But the most notable difference is that it features clear plastic windows, including one in the shape of a jagged-edged maple leaf with a smaller, frosted maple leaf within it. Looking through the leaf at a point light source reveals a hologram that displays “100.”
A second plastic window, running vertically on the right side of the bill, contains a metallic portrait of a building that changes color when the note is moved. “It makes it harder for professionals to counterfeit,” says David Menzies, strategic marketing manager at Securency International, the Australian company that produces the polymer substrate currently used in all polymer bills, including the Canadian ones. Australia was the first country to introduce plastic currency, with a commemorative $10 note in 1988. It began replacing its paper money in 1992.
The substrate consists of layers of biaxially oriented polypropylene—a plastic commonly used for packaging snacks or bagging lettuce. Securency can supply the plastic with a base of printed colors, as well as some security features. Rolls of the material are then shipped to individual countries, where printers can add additional features determined by the country’s central bank.
Menzies says both the intricacies of the see-through windows and other features make it hard for a person working with just a computer and a printer to replicate the polymer notes. That immediately undermines what he calls “casual counterfeiting,” in which a person in need of cash dummies up a quick and sloppy forgery on a laser printer. They could still be copied by more sophisticated forgers in organized crime or rogue governments (North Korea has produced nearly flawless copies of U.S. $100 notes), but the polymer’s features won’t make it easy.