New Zealand’s bank notes
Until 1999, New Zealand’s bank notes were printed on paper made from cotton. On 3rd May 1999, the Reserve Bank started circulating polymer (plastic) bank notes. The main reasons to change to polymer were:
- The average polymer note lasts four times as long as a paper note. That keeps the cost of producing money down;
- Polymer notes are stronger and non-porous, so they do not get as dirty as paper; and
- It is easier to make secure a polymer than a paper note, thus deterring forgers.
Although paper notes can incorporate security features such as watermarks and threads, the introduction of modern sophisticated imaging technologies placed these features under increasing threat of widespread forgery.
The Reserve Bank decided to print the next issue of bank notes on polymer plastic. This had the benefit of introducing new security features like a transparent area, as well as producing notes that would last longer and stay cleaner, due to the non-porous nature of polymer.
Disposal of polymer notes is environmentally friendly. Polymer notes are destroyed by being shredded. The shredded notes could be recycled into other plastic products instead of being buried or burnt.
The design of these new notes changed slightly to incorporate some new security features, but the size and colours stayed the same as the paper notes.
The planning, printing and production of the New Zealand bank note is a very complex business employing many skilled operators for up to two years before the date of issue.
First of all, decisions have to be made with regard to the sizes of each denomination. Then rough designs are drawn up to incorporate the various features of the note, including the:
- pictures of people, birds, plants
- Maori ornamentation (tukutuku patterns)
- numbering, and
Once these features are agreed upon, a group of artists get together to produce an exact picture of the back and front of each denomination. These pictures are produced in the correct size and colours with the aid of a computer-based design system. This picture must also satisfy printing capabilities and security requirements against forgery. The picture is then sent back to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand for approval.
New Zealand's polymer bank notes are produced by Note Print Australia Limited in Melbourne. The substrate plastic is a multi-layered structure, which comprises a core layer of polymer film. It arrives as a large roll of clear plastic film, and is then processed through the following steps:
- Opacifying: Two layers of ink (usually white) are applied to each side of the note apart from an area that is deliberately left clear.
- Sheeting: The opacified substrate is cut into sheets suitable for feeding into printing presses.
- Printing: The note printing presses are known as ‘simultan’ machines, because they print both sides at the same time – and at up to 8,000 sheets per hour. The sheets are then passed to special ‘intaglio’ printers. These apply the ink under great pressure, creating the ‘raised’ feel on the surface of a note. Next a letterpress, set by hand, adds the serial numbers.
- Overcoating: The notes are treated with a protective varnish. This makes them more durable and helps to keep them clean longer. These complete sheets of notes are then inspected for faults.
- Guillotining: The printed sheets are guillotined into individual notes. After that, they are put through a computer-controlled system for counting and banding.
- Transportation: The notes are shrink wrapped, loaded onto pallets in a strong-room and finally, they are transported to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
There are two transparent windows in the current notes. There is a transparent fern on the left-hand side of the note and an ovoid shape with the denomination of the note etched on the window on the right-hand side. These two windows make it very difficult to counterfeit the note.
Security features also incorporated are:
- intricate background patterns;
- a see-through feature that will match exactly when viewed from either side of the note;
- visible and invisible fluorescent and phosphorescent features; and
- metallic ink.
Information about handling the polymer notes and how to tell if the notes are genuine can be found in the polymer bank notes brochure. (PDF115KB)