Polymer dollars: Fingering Canada's plastic bills

The new polymer $20 now in circulation may look and feel fake, but it's designed to stop counterfeiting.

Graven images: Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Prime Minister Robert Borden are on Canada's plastic bills. Tim Hornyak/CNET

Her majesty looks fantastic in plastic.

A polymer portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is in many Canadian wallets now that a new $20 bill packed with anti-forgery tech is in circulation.

The plastic note follows the circulation of new plastic $100 and $50 bills , but since it changes hands with greater frequently, more Canadians are taking notice.

Reactions to have been mixed. Some say the bills tend to stick together in stacks and ATMs, others have praised their security features, and some say they look like play money.

Apart from Braille-like raised dots for visually impaired users, the twenty's glossy surface is smooth to the touch, especially along its clear window, which has a metallic image of the queen.

It feels slightly slippery, as if it won't stay in your hands for long. While similar to previous twenties in some respects, the texture and gloss give it a certain Monopoly quality.

"Generally speaking, people are very pleased with it," says Michel Lebeau, a spokesman for the Bank of Canada. "The new bill is much harder to counterfeit -- the polymer substrate is not as easy to get as paper, and the large window is the first of its kind. The security features are very easy to verify if you're a teller."

As seen in the video below, the new twenty has raised ink, metallic imagery, and a frosted maple leaf with hidden details--when viewed against a small light source, "$20" can be seen.

Canada used to have a major counterfeiting problem, Lebeau notes. In 2004, there were 454 fake banknotes per million in circulation. But because the bank introduced more sophisticated bills with holographic stripes and other features, that figure is now only 34 per million.

It costs 19 cents to manufacture every new polymer bill compared with 10 cents for the old cotton-paper bills, but the polymer series is designed to last 2.5 times longer. They can be recycled when they get worn.

They're also tough to tear and won't crack even under freezing conditions of minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

They're supposed to survive 284-degree heat. Some reports in Canadian media, however, claimed they melt or fuse when left near heat sources like toasters. The bank says there's no problem with the bills when they're used under "normal conditions."

While the bank is keeping its eye on the future cashless society, cash and banknotes are still used in some 53 percent of all retail transactions in Canada, though they account for only 20 percent of the value.

"The main reason we're issuing these polymer notes is to reduce counterfeiting as much as possible," says Lebeau, adding that hiccups about sticky bills are to be expected.

"Polymer notes are a dramatic change in the currency, and it's normal to see reaction to stickiness in ATMs -- that's a normal glitch in any series of banknote."


 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Show Comments Hide Comments
Latest Galleries from CNET
Nissan gives new Murano bold style (pictures)
Top great space moments in 2014 (pictures)
This is it: The Audiophiliac's top in-ear headphones of 2014 (pictures)
ZTE's wallet-friendly Grand X (pictures)
Lenovo reprises clever design for the Yoga Tablet 2 (Pictures)
Top-rated reviews of the week (pictures)