Banknote life-cycle

The planning, printing and production of the New Zealand banknotes is a very complex business, employing many skilled professionals for many years before the banknotes are issued.
A video about the life-cycle of a banknote
Life of a Banknote
The life of a banknote
2m:23s
Find out what happens to New Zealand banknotes, from how they are made, sorted and circulated, to what happens when they are no longer fit for circulation.

The process of planning, printing and producing New Zealand banknotes generally incorporates 4 stages:

  1. Selecting and integrating security features
  2. Design
  3. Printing
  4. Recycling

The life-cycle of New Zealand's banknotes from new notes being printed to old notes getting shredded and recycled

Selecting and integrating security features

Banknotes incorporate a range of security features to protect against counterfeiting, and new features are constantly being developed.

The Series 7 banknotes incorporate more sophisticated and modern security features. These include:

  • A larger window featuring a detailed metallic foil element;
  • A native bird icon which changes colour as the note is tilted, and a bar can be seen moving through the shape;
  • A small ‘puzzle number’ lines up when the note is held up to the light; and
  • Raised ink used on the large denomination number.

Other security features include:

  • micro-printing
  • intricate background patterns
  • fluorescent feature

For a full list of public security features for both Series 6 and Series 7 banknotes, please refer to Security features of New Zealand’s banknotes.

How to spot a counterfeit has information on how to tell if a note is genuine.

Design

Banknote design requires very specific technical knowledge in a range of areas, including aesthetics, printing techniques, security features and banknote equipment requirements.

The Reserve Bank makes initial decisions about the colour, wording and sizes of each denomination based on public surveys and expert advice.

Designers then draw up concept designs to incorporate the various features of the note, including aesthetics, printing techniques, security features and banknote equipment requirements.

The Reserve Bank makes initial decisions about the colour, wording and sizes of each denomination based on public surveys and expert advice.

Designers then draw up concept designs to incorporate the various features of the note, including the text, denomination, images, cultural motifs, security features, serial numbers and colours.

Once these features are agreed upon, the designer produces a picture of the front and back of each denomination. These pictures are produced in the correct size and colours with the aid of a computer-based design system.

These banknote designs are assessed by a range of people, including security experts, banknote equipment manufacturers and design, history and cultural experts, to ensure they enhance security, are aesthetically pleasing and reflect New Zealand’s culture and history.

Copyright and/or the necessary permissions have been obtained for all the images and portraits which Canadian Banknote Company incorporated into the design of the new banknotes.

A Reserve Bank Bulletin article was written to document the design process for the Series 7 banknotes and provides more detailed information.

Further information on the history of banknotes in New Zealand is explained in The history of banknotes in New Zealand page.

Printing

New Zealand’s new Series 7 banknotes are printed by Canadian Bank Note Company in Ottawa, Canada. Series 6 polymer banknotes were produced by Note Print Australia Limited in Melbourne. Both sets of notes have been printed on the same polymer substrate. Banknotes are manufactured as described in the following steps:

  • Substrate: Initially, the substrate is a large roll of clear plastic film. Pigmented ink is applied to each side of the film to provide the base for the printed designs, apart from an area that is deliberately left clear, forming the window. The roll of substrate is then cut into sheets for printing.
  • Printing: The images on the front and back are applied simultaneously via an offset printing process. The holographic foil and the native bird icons are also applied at this stage before the sheets are passed to special printing machine, applying the raised ink. On the New Zealand banknotes, this raised ink is on the front (portrait) and back. Next, a letterpress adds the serial numbers.
  • Over-coating: The notes are treated with a protective varnish. This makes them more durable and helps to keep them clean for longer. These complete sheets of notes are then inspected for faults.
  • Cutting: The printed sheets are cut into individual banknotes. After that, they are put through a quality inspection system for final inspection, counting and banding.

Testing

The new banknotes go through rigorous testing in a number of areas to ensure they are as robust, secure and durable as possible prior to release.

This includes laboratory testing to find potential areas of weakness in the design and printing, as well as testing with key stakeholders to ensure the new notes can be accommodated by businesses, retailers, banks and others key users such as banknote equipment manufacturers.

Recycling

In 2015, the Bank introduced a recycling system for the old or damaged polymer notes. Old or damaged polymer notes are destroyed by being shredded. The shredded notes are then recycled into plastic products like pot plant holders.