WASHINGTON--On Road Trip 2010, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman is getting the chance to visit a lot of very interesting destinations. But there may be few that can top his visit last week to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and a behind-the-scenes look at how the brand-new line of next-generation $100 bills is made.
On April 21, the bureau unveiled the new bills, which feature a set of new anti-counterfeiting measures. But they're also very beautiful, perhaps the most interesting and colorful American paper money in years.
These two giant stacks of bills amount to $38.4 million, divided into four stacks of 24 bricks of $400,000 each.
At the beginning of the production process of the new $100 bill, the future currency is no more than special paper. Here, large stacks of the paper sit on a pallet at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington D.C. Many of the anti-counterfeiting features that the bureau has designed into the new bill come embedded in the paper.
One of the first sets of features to be added to the bills are these, which include a feather pen; an inkwell; the date July 4, 1776; and several other elements, all of which are designed to make it more difficult to counterfeit the bills.
The next step in the process is known as "intaglio," where the first lettering is printed, along with the bills' faces and backs.
Here, we see sheets of bills coming off the presses, where the backs have just been printed.
This is what is known as a "smear sheet," which is used by the technicians to look and see what is missing from a print job. By examining the smear sheet, they can see if the patterns that are supposed to be on every sheet have been printed properly.
Now, we've reached the point in the process where the bills have gone through offset, dried for 72 hours, had their backs printed, dried for another 72 hours, and are now getting the faces printed. Here, we see the sheets--still with 32 bills per sheet--coming off the press.
This might be a highly-engineered, tightly-monitored process, but a printing press is a printing press, and there are still going to be paper jams, such as the one that is being cleared out of the machine here.
Here, the machine separates good sheets from bad. The determination is made automatically by a computer that scans the sheets. If the computer senses a defect, the sheet is automatically directed straight through here, while good sheets are routed upwards. About 85 percent of the sheets are determined to be good at this point.
Each sheet has 32 bills, but toward the end of the production process, they are first cut in half down the middle, meaning that they are now in two sheets of 16 bills. Then, they go through this part of the process, where they are first cut into two stacks, and then a single stack.
Now, for the first time in the process, we have actual $100 bills, and here, we see a technician examining stacks of a hundred of them, looking for defects. If any stack of 100 has a defect, the entire stack will be pulled out, destroyed, and replaced with bills that have stars printed at the end of their serial numbers to denote that they are replacements for defects.