Graphic of the BEP Seal
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
U.S. Department of the Treasury

Pictured below: Shrink-wrapped packages of one dollar notes.
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The Production Process 

How Money Is Made Today


The BEP is one of the largest currency printing operations in the world with facilities in Washington, D.C. and Fort Worth, Texas.  Current BEP currency production is quite different from its beginnings in 1862, which consisted of a handful of people separating notes with a hand-cranked machine in the basement of the Treasury building.    Technology has brought the BEP a long way to a state-of-the-art manufacturing operation producing U.S. paper currency. The production of this currency is not an easy or simple task, but one that involves highly trained and skilled craftspeople, specialized equipment, and a combination of traditional old world printing techniques merged with sophisticated, cutting edge technology.  Overall, there are numerous, distinctive steps required in the production process.


With the introduction of redesigned currency, subtle background colors were added to the redesigned notes to make them more secure and difficult to counterfeit.  The new design was applied to the $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 notes.  Circulation of the new series began during the fall of 2003, with the introduction of the redesigned $20 note.  It continued with the $50 note in 2004, the $10 note in 2006, and the $5 note in 2008.  The new $100 note is currently in production with a release date to be announced as soon as possible.  Redesign of the $1 and $2 notes is not planned.


The redesigned notes retain the same size as previous notes and use similar portraits and historical images to maintain an American look and feel.  Security features maintained in the enhanced Federal Reserve Notes include a portrait watermark visible when held up to a light, two numeric watermarks on the $5s, an enhanced security thread that glows under an ultraviolet light, micro printing, improved color shifting ink that changes color when the note is tilted, and on the newly redesigned $100 notes, a 3-D security ribbon and enhanced, raised printing.  While the percentage of counterfeit notes in circulation remains small, advances in technology have brought forth an increase in computer generated counterfeit notes.  United States paper currency is redesigned as a way to protect your hard earned money by staying ahead of advancing technologies and tech-savvy counterfeiters.


Paper and Ink


The paper and ink used in the production of U.S. paper currency is as distinct as its design.  The paper comes to the BEP in brown paper-wrapped loads of 20,000 sheets (2 pallets of 10,000 sheets).  Each of these sheets is tracked by the BEP as it passes through the production process.   And, the total inventory of 20,000 sheets is continually reconciled to make sure each sheet is accounted for.  Currency paper is specifically made for the BEP by Crane Paper Company.  The ordinary paper that consumers use throughout their everyday life such as newspapers, books, cereal boxes, etc, is primarily made of wood pulp; however, United States currency paper is composed of 75% cotton and 25% linen.  This is what gives United States currency its distinct look and feel.  For denominations of $5 and above, the security thread, and watermark are already built into the paper when it is received.


All bills, regardless of denomination, utilize green ink on the backs.  Faces, on the other hand, use black ink, color-shifting ink in the lower right hand corner for the $10 denominations and higher, and metallic ink for the freedom icons on redesigned $10, $20, and $50 bills.   The $100 note's "bell in the inkwell" freedom icon uses color-shifting ink.  These and the other inks appearing on U.S. currency are specially formulated and blended by the BEP.  Inks headed for BEP presses also undergo continual quality testing.




Bank note designers at the BEP develop the overall look, layout, and artistic details of U.S. paper currency.  The design of money starts with ideas and rough sketches.  Many concepts are drawn and considered before the Secretary of the Treasury approves the final design.


When redesigning a note, designers do not start with a blank slate.  They know, for example, that a $10 note will feature Alexander Hamilton on the face and the Treasury building on the back.  But which portrait of Hamilton, and which view of the Treasury building — that is for the designers to propose, in collaboration with the engravers.


Currency is designed with a purpose.  When redesigning a note, designers strive to convey a dignified image that reflects the strength of the American economy; retain familiar characteristics that identify a note as American currency; incorporate the latest anti-counterfeiting features; and consider how details such as outlines, tone, and shading will "translate" when engraved and printed on an intaglio press.


Traditionally, bank note designers utilized classical tools like the pencil, pen and ink, or paint brush to take their visions from concept to the final model ready for the engravers.  Today, the modern designer has the command of a wide array of tools including cutting edge digital technology.  While the processes have evolved over time, one important tradition remains in the steadfast production of America's paper currency — a designer's and engraver's exquisite attention to craft and detail.

Offset Printing Operations


With the introduction of the redesigned $20s in 2003, subtle background colors were added to the currency to enhance the security.  For these denominations, offset printing is the first printing that occurs on the "blank" paper.


Offset Plates


Before the subtle background colors of today's redesigned currency can be printed, the imagery must be transferred onto offset printing plates. That is the job of photoengravers.   The photoengraver receives the master design from the bank note designer and "steps" (duplicates) the images over a plate layout.  Then using a high-resolution film recorder, each color separation is imaged onto a sheet of sensitive film in negative form.  A thin sheet of steel, coated with a light-sensitive polymer, is exposed to ultraviolet light while covered by the film negative which contains the imagery.  The areas on the film that allow light to pass onto the plate are transferred or exposed. The unexposed areas around the images are washed away with water and soft scrubbing brushes.  This process is called "burning a plate."


To achieve the offset color scheme on a redesigned $20 face, for example, the photoengraver burns two plates. One plate contains the background pattern that will be printed in green and peach. The second plate contains the images that will be printed in blue — an eagle and the words TWENTY USA. The photoengraver takes great care to make sure the images are perfectly aligned on both plates, or else the images will not line up properly when printed on the bills.  In addition to the alignment check, each individual note on a plate is thoroughly inspected.  The slightest blemish from a dust particle or piece of lint may affect the print quality.  If it does, then a new plate is manufactured.


Offset Printing


The background colors are printed by the BEP's Simultan presses, which are state-of-the-art, high-speed, sheet-fed rotary offset presses.  These presses are over 50 feet long and weigh over 70 tons.  They are specifically designed to print security offset designs on currency paper.  Using dry offset plates, ink from the plate is transferred to an offset blanket.  The blank sheet of paper passes in-between the face and back blankets and simultaneously prints the complete image on the paper. The press has eight print units, four on the face and four on the back, with two comprehensive computer control consoles.  Many of the press settings can be controlled from these consoles and their status displayed on the computer screens. The press is capable of printing 10,000 sheets per hour; approximately every 500 impressions, the pressmen will pull a sheet and carefully examine it to ensure that all the colors are remaining consistent.


These sheets are stored for 72 hours to dry before going on to the next section, Intaglio printing.  Drying occurs in Work-In-Process security cages, otherwise known as WIP cages. On average, the BEP inventories 2,000,000 sheets (or 100 loads) between Offset Printing Operations and the Back Intaglio printing operation.

Intaglio Printing Operations


Intaglio, pronounced in-tal-ee-oh, comes from an Italian word which means to cut, carve, or engrave, indicating that intaglio images are engraved into the surface of a plate.  In the intaglio printing process, ink is applied to a plate so that it remains only in the engraved areas.  Paper is then laid atop the plate, and the two are pressed together under great pressure.  As a result, the ink from the recessed areas is pulled onto paper, creating a finished image.  Intaglio printing is used for the portraits, vignettes, scrollwork, numerals, and lettering that are unique to each denomination.




Engravers engrave a web of fine lines and grooves into steel dies, transforming designer's models into three-dimensional engravings.  Sharp tools (commonly called gravers) and acids are used to cut the fine lines, dots and dashes that uniquely describe the subject the engraver is creating.  Additionally, the engraver must cut the image in reverse to how it will actually print on a highly polished steel die. 


Engravers do not work on a whole note design at once.  They engrave separate parts of the design on separate dies.  Some engravers specialize in portraits and vignettes, others in letters and script. 




In simplest terms, siderography is the means by which multiple images of the hand-engraved die are transferred to a printing plate.


In siderography, individually engraved elements such as the portrait, border, counters and text are first combined like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to form one complete face (or back) of a note using a transfer press.  Siderographers use this machine to exert as much as 4 tons per square inch to transfer the original work to a master die. Later, individual plastic molds are made from the master die and are assembled into one plate containing 32 exact duplicates of the master die.  Plate makers will then process this plate to create the metal printing plates that go on the presses. 


After the dies are assembled and reproduced on plates, engravers cut in additional items, such as series, quadrant numbers, and signatures into the plates using a pantograph machine.  A pantograph copies the die engraving onto the plate.  As one part of the machine traces the original engraving another part engraves the image onto the new plate.


The original engraved dies are stored and can be used again and again as needed. For example, the Lincoln portrait on the Series 1928 $5 note was originally engraved in 1869, but can still be used to make new dies today.


Intaglio Plate Making


The plastic master plates are transferred from siderography and used by plate makers to create hundreds of identical printing plates — identical because they are all based on the same master.


Electroplating is how this is done. The plastic master, which is called the "basso", is sprayed with silver nitrate to act as an electrical conductor. The plate is then placed into a tank filled with a nickel salt solution, and an electric current is generated. Nickel ions leave the solution and deposit themselves on the electrically charged surface of the master. After about 22 hours, a nickel plate, called an "alto" has literally grown. The alto is separated from the plastic master, trimmed, and inspected by the engravers.  The plate contains the mirror image of the master in all its intricate detail and is an exact replica of the original engraved die.


Even this plate is not the one destined for the printing press. The actual printing plate comes from a later generation of plates grown from the alto plates in the electroplating baths. That final printing plate is coated with a thin layer of chrome to make it hard and slick. It contains the Intaglio image in recessed grooves only 2/1000 (0.002) of an inch deep — but that is deep enough to hold ink for intaglio printing.


From engraver to plate maker, every BEP employee involved in the steps leading to the Intaglio press checks and re-checks his or her work for any sort of flaw, no matter how small. Dents, seams, or scratches in the die or plate will hold ink and create a printed mark, so defects during these preparatory stages would leave a blemish on every note printed from that die or plate.


Even the thickness of the printing plate is scrutinized; the margin of error is only +/- 0.0003 (three ten-thousandths) of an inch. That's 1/10th the thickness of a human hair.


Back Intaglio Printing


High-speed, sheet-fed rotary I-10 Intaglio printing presses are used to print the green engraving on the back of U.S. currency.  Blank currency sheets for the $1s and $2s or the offset printed sheets for redesigned currency are fed into these presses and printed at a rate of 10,000 sheets per hour.   Four 32-subject engraved plates are mounted on the press then covered with ink.  A wiper removes the excess ink from the surface of the plate, leaving ink in the recessed image area of the plate.  Paper is applied directly to the plate and under tremendous pressure (approximately 20,000 lbs. per sq. inch), the paper is forced into the engraved plate, thereby removing the ink and printing the image. 


Currently, the BEP is implementing the latest Intaglio printing technology called the Super Orlof Intaglio (SOI) press which could help the BEP move from a 32-subject production process to a 50-subject environment.  Like the I-10 presses in Back Intaglio, the two SOI presses print 10,000 sheets per hour and are currently printing 32-subject sheets but have only three printing plates instead of four.  The presses are 40 feet long, 11.5 feet wide and 13.75 feet high, weighing in at just a mere 50 tons.  Most astounding is that these mammoth presses have 185,634 total parts!  In the future, because of their 50-subject printing capability, they could increase productivity by 56% by increasing the notes printed per hour from 320,000 to 500,000!  These presses also have a better integrated inspection system with ten times the resolution of the older presses, have the capability of printing one additional color, and have a more precise ink control which helps save costs by reducing ink usage.  The SOIs also feature a four-pile delivery system versus a two-pile on the older I-10's which reduces spoilage by having less weight (pressure) on the bottom sheets of each pile.




Sheets that were printed from the Back Intaglio process require 72 hours to dry and cure. During this drying process, the sheets bond and stick together. Therefore the sheets must be separated and neatly jogged before they can be printed on the Face Intaglio press.  To do this the BEP employs automated joggers shaped much like the letter "C."  Support personnel retrieve the load and place it into the jogger.  The load is turned on its side and, through the combination of vibration and forced air, the sheets are separated.  The process takes approximately 10 minutes.  Once jogged, the load is moved to the designated Face Intaglio press.


To recap, the subtle background colors are printed first using Offset print technology, then the green engraving on the back is printed second using the Intaglio printing process. The third printing operation is the Face Intaglio printing process.


Face Intaglio Printing


Once again, Intaglio presses like those used to print the Back Intaglio engraving are used to print the faces of the bills.   While the same printing process applies, one difference is how the ink is applied to the engraving.  Special cut-out ink rollers transfer the different inks to a specific portion of the engraving, thus allowing three distinct colors to be printed on the face of the note; the black for the border, portrait engraving, and signatures of the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Treasurer of the United States; the color-shifting ink in the lower right hand corner for the $10 denominations and higher; and the metallic ink for the freedom icons on redesigned $10, $20, and $50 bills or color shifting ink on the redesigned $100 notes' freedom icons.  Bills printed in Fort Worth, Texas, will also have a small "FW" printed in black ink.  The loads of these freshly printed sheets will still require 72 hours to dry and cure before they can continue to the next operation.


Mechanical Examination


Throughout the printing processes, minor printing imperfections may have occurred, either through printing or the handling process.  In order to ensure only the highest quality sheets proceed to the numbering operation, the face and back of the sheets are thoroughly examined using state-of-the-art computer technology. 




The Upgraded Offline Currency Inspection System, otherwise known as UOCIS, integrates computers, cameras, and sophisticated software to completely analyze an untrimmed printed sheet.  By examining untrimmed sheets, the BEP is better able to monitor color registration and ink density. 


As the sheets pass through the system at the rate of about 8,000 sheets per hour, a transmissive camera is used to inspect the paper by looking through the sheets to ensure the thread and portrait watermark are in the correct position.  In addition, two separate cameras take a digital picture of both the front and back of the sheets, breaking the images down into four million tiny pixels.  After the sheets are trimmed, a trim camera takes measurements of the sheets.  All data is gathered from the sheets and compared to what is considered a perfect "golden image," and within three tenths of a second, the computer decides if the sheet is acceptable or a reject, looking for defects such as ink spots, ink deficiencies, or smears.




Nota-Sav is the BEP's examining equipment utilized to examine the $1 product line.  Since those bills have neither a security thread nor a watermark, Nota-Sav does not need the technical sophistication of UOCIS.   Using electronic examination "eyes" to inspect the sheets, these inspection systems provide the automated means to process the $1 bills as they move forward on a transport. 


With either the UOCIS or Nota-Sav inspection equipment, the 32-subject sheets are trimmed and split in half to create two 16-subject sheets.  The sheets are stacked into two piles of 10,000 good sheets while the rejected sheets are reconciled and later scheduled for destruction.



COPE-Pak presses in this section utilize the letter press printing process which is the third and final type of printing utilized by the BEP for paper currency.  The acronym COPE-Pak stands for Currency Overprinting Processing Equipment and Packaging.  These presses were custom designed specifically for the BEP and are the most automated equipment of their kind in the world.  This press takes a 16-subject printed and examined sheet of currency and adds the two serial numbers, the black universal Federal Reserve seal, the green Department of the Treasury seal, and the corresponding Federal Reserve identification numbers.


Serial numbers on the redesigned currency differ slightly from those on the old currency.  The new serial numbers consist of two prefix letters, eight numerals, and a one-letter suffix.  The first letter of the prefix designates the series (for example, Series 1996 is designated by the letter A, and Series 1999 is designated by the letter B).  The second letter of the prefix designates the Federal Reserve Bank to which the note was issued. The serial numbers are overprinted in sequential order and remain in order until the 16-subject sheets are cut.  


In addition, a universal Federal Reserve seal replaces individual seals for each Federal Reserve Bank.  On the other hand, $1 and $2 dollar notes have not been redesigned.  Those notes still maintain the specific black Federal Reserve Bank seal.  Finally, the green Department of the Treasury seal is printed on all denominations.


The Treasury seal, the universal Federal Reserve seal, and the 12 Federal Bank seals are manufactured by a team of sculpture engravers, siderographers, and plate makers.  Traditionally, the Treasury and Federal Reserve Bank seals were hand engraved and duplicated in a similar fashion as the currency master die.  The siderographer used the transfer press to make many copies from one master die.  Today, technologies are emerging in this process and seals are now being manufactured using an Electronic Discharge Machine (EDM).  In this process, the engraver has prepared a digital file and sends it to a plate maker where the images are "burned" into the individual surface pieces using an electric current.  When each piece is completed, the engraver inspects it prior to releasing it for print production. 


As sheets pass through the COPE process, they are inspected by the COPE Vision Inspection System (CVIS).  Prior to this new technology, an examiner would hand-inspect approximately 6% of the finished work whereas today we are inspecting 100%.  CVIS alerts the COPE pressmen to sheets whose COPE attributes are potentially not up to standardized specifications, checking them using grayscale technology for position of the COPE features and correctness of the serial numbers, prefixes, suffixes, and bank numbers.  CVIS uses red lighting, providing optimal lighting for inspection by minimizing the Intaglio printing so that the equipment can key in on only the sheets' COPE attributes.  The computer compares the scan of the sheets against a database containing captured images and numeric qualities and, in 200 milliseconds, decides whether or not to accept or reject the sheet.  That's faster than the blink of a human eye (300-400 milliseconds)!  If a sheet is identified as being defective by the system, the pressmen will then pull the sheet in order to make a final determination as to whether or not it should continue through the process.  If they agree that in fact the sheet is defective, they will replace it with a star sheet.  In design, the star sheets containing 16 star notes are exactly like the sheets they replace; however, a "star" appears after the serial number in place of the suffix letter on each of the notes.


The currency sheets are then gathered into piles of 100.  The pile continues down the transport where it passes through two sharp guillotine cutters.  The first cut is made horizontally, leaving the notes in pairs.  The second cut is made vertically, and for the first time you see individual notes.  A denomination paper band is wrapped around each group of 100 notes to form a strap.  Ten straps of 100 notes (totaling 1,000 notes) are then banded together and machine counted before they are shrink-wrapped, forming a bundle.  Four shrink-wrapped bundles are collated together, identified with a bar code label then shrink-wrapped again to create a brick of 4,000 notes. 


In 2008, an ergonomic piece of equipment called a palletizer was added to each one of the COPE-Pak presses to eliminate the repetitive, rotating motion performed by an employee as they placed the bricks onto skids. As the bricks enter the palletizer, they are flipped over and the barcodes are scanned for information.  An air-powered arm picks up the bricks from the transport using vacuum suction in addition to forks and grippers.  The palletizer will stack 160 bricks to complete two skids and then place a lid over them.  It will then advance the full skids forward, where they will be secured and stored for the next operation.  As full skids are advanced and removed, the palletizer will continue grabbing empty skids, placing them into position to start receiving more bricks.


COPE  Total Number of Bills 
100 bills equal 1 strap   100 bills
10 straps equal 1 bundle  1,000 bills
 4 bundles equal 1 brick   4,000 bills


Packaging Operations and Federal Reserve Vault

Packaging Operations is the fifth and final stage of the currency production process before the currency is shipped to our customers, the Federal Reserve Banks.  Bricks of currency are printed with a unique numbering sequence.  Packaging operations aligns the completed skids from COPE operations and collates four bricks of currency into the proper numbering sequence for the final packaging.


Scanners read the COPE-Pak bar code on the first bundle of the first of four bricks that will become a "Cash-Pack."  The four bricks are then shrink-wrapped using a heavy, color-coded shrink film, which is then heated to about 450°F, to create a Cash-Pack, consisting of four 4,000 note bricks or 16,000 notes.  The machine then verifies proper sequencing, applies a new label, and then stacks 40 of them on a skid. Like COPE operations, Packaging operations also utilizes an ergonomic palletizer.  This palletizer is also powered by air and uses vacuum suction in addition to forks and grippers to pick up each Cash-Pack.  It can store up to two full skids (80 Cash-Packs) at a time before they must be removed from the machine by a forklift.


This equipment eliminates the physical labor and rotating motion previously performed by an employee who would stack the completed Cash-Packs onto the pallets.  Prior to ergonomic improvements such as the palletizer, the employee was required to stack approximately 7,400 pounds (or 3.7 tons) per day.  This tool greatly helps to prevent injuries and employee fatigue and has proven to be another successful ergonomic improvement at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.


The completed loads will be transferred and securely stored in the Federal Reserve Vault for future pickup and distribution by the Federal Reserve Bank.


 Federal Reserve Vault and Packaging  Total Number of Bills
 4 bricks (from COPE) equal 1 cash-pack   16,000 bills
 40 cash-packs equal 1 skid  640,000 bills*


*The value of the skid is 640,000 multiplied by the denomination contained, (e.g. 640,000 bills x $10 = $6,400,000.