What Does It Take To Design A Banknote?

When it comes to designing a new banknote, aesthetics are just one aspect to be considered. The challenge goes well beyond the initial concept – it is to innovate and compose all the visual elements in perfect harmony while incorporating a selection of complex security features. Banknote designer Carlos Almenar walks us through the process, which at times can be a maze and requires thinking at multiple levels.

What is the role of concept design in today’s banknote industry?

A banknote designer is a person capable of interpreting the culture and identity of a nation, to then translate these semantic concepts into the specific techniques required to build a banknote.

The banknote designer is also an architect who works with a team of specialists in the banknote industry. Their thoughts and reflections must focus on the designs, substrates, security features and printing techniques.

The banknote designer advises central banks regarding the architecture and manufacturing of a banknote – its aesthetics, colours, sizes, security features, substrates, etc. They guarantee that the banknote design will go beyond the aesthetic concept – as a true work of art, the design will be adapted to the complex techniques involved in banknote manufacturing.

In my opinion, today’s banknote designer must adapt and transform the design techniques and concepts to a new dimension of our present and future.

Should it be a concept or an actual illustration of the fiŸnal note?

A banknote design or concept must be conceptualised with manufacturing in mind. The banknote designer sits between their central bank customer and the manufacturing industry. The design concepts that are created and presented to the central bank must correspond exactly to each step of the manufacturing process. For this reason, there must be fluid and open lines of communication between the banknote designer and all the key groups responsible for the security features.

How much detail should the concept contain?

The banknote designer must consider many diff‘erent details, especially since a design cannot just be “beautiful”. The design must go beyond the aesthetic so it can become a truly functional feature that adapts perfectly to the expectations of the central bank. And above all, the banknote design must be fully compatible with the substrate manufacturing and printing techniques.

How much freedom is there to change the concept as the project progresses?

Freedom to introduce changes in a concept design will always be present, although the problem is not its freedom but the time it takes to complete these changes in the design.

When a design project is at a late stage in its development and the need to change it arises, time plays a very important role. If the proposed changes are based on subjective reasons, work can continue for hours on end and it may never reach any conclusions. However, if the reasons are objective and based on sound logic, a positive outcome can be reached in a short time.

How do you cater for the different expectations of various stakeholders?

For me it is important to listen to the diff‘erent views and opinions that participate in the design process towards the creation of a banknote, especially since banknotes are normally made using very complex systems and every note has its own identity and specific security codes. But the most important part is to listen and understand the needs of the central bank. Each country has its own economy and specific needs regarding cash management. It is very important to understand that banknotes are di‘fferent in each nation or issuing authority of circulating currency.

In your experience, are there many differences between designing a concept banknote in polymer versus designing for paper?

The basics of banknote design are simple; however today there is a diversity of substrate technologies propelling the evolution of design into more complex e‘ffects.

Paper substrates have existed for centuries and evolved, not in the raw materials, but in the development of watermarks, security threads and durability. Today there are other substrates such as polymer, and this specifically has made banknote designs a lot more dynamic and complex due to its wide array of alternatives in transparency and opacity integrated in highly detailed security features and printing.

Today polymer has evolved in an incredible manner and the creation of a design has evolved accordingly. The security features and composition of the many design layers that form a polymer substrate inspire the designer to focus their activity in the synchronisation of polymer and the associated security features. But beyond this, all these elements must be adapted to the printing systems and therefore an integrated concept design can be achieved: substrate, design architecture, security features and printing. This enables the design to off‘er a variety of products adapted to new technologies that whilst highly-secure, pose greater challenges for would-be counterfeiters.

How do you deal with these differences yourself?

I have had the privilege of designing banknotes on both paper and polymer, which includes working at the Central Bank of Venezuela Print Works, Oberthur Fiduciaire, and now as Banknote Designer at Innovia Security. These experiences have enabled me to understand and appreciate the diff‘erences between the processes used to create a banknote in paper or polymer.

Currently, my work involves an increased use of technology and therefore I must integrate the concepts developed for the substrate and interact in more detail with the experts in polymer substrate design, as well as with the scientists behind the complex security features. Personally, I think this harmony enables me to create true works of art using leading-edge technology.

This is my biggest challenge: to achieve distinct dimensions of e‘ffects, transparency and opacity that can be understood by the central bank and accepted by the public. Users must be able to quickly authenticate the note, and banknote accepting machines must also be able to decode security features immediately.

This article was originally written by Innovia Security in their The Biannual Journal of Guardian publication, Specimen, Issue 4, Pgs. 4-5.

This is a guest article. The thoughts and opinions in the piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.


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