Canadians Will Pay With Plastic Bills

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Canadians will all be using plastic to pay for their purchases -– not necessarily cards, either.

The Bank of Canada this week unveiled its new polymer banknotes. Plastic money is nothing new; several countries use it (the Australians were the first, in 1988). But these notes are a bit different. The bank’s scientific advisor, Martine Warren, told Discovery News they were designed to be secure well into the future, even taking into account the evolution of counterfeiting technology.

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Some of the security features are in the hologram, which appears on the front right side next to the picture of former prime minister Robert Borden. When the hologram is tilted, the color of the picture changes. The hologram appears in a “window” that has a metallic portrait matching the one on the bill. Warren noted that there were two different printing technologies used to make that image, which makes it more difficult for a counterfeiter to duplicate.

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The metallic portrait is itself a key feature. “Humans are really good at picking out faces,” Warren said.

The photo-quality portrait takes advantage of the fact that a person will spot something wrong with it instantly. Other security features include “hidden” numbers, which appear in the maple-leaf shaped figure on the left. They will show the denomination of the bill.

They're also green, in the environmental sense, not color. After they've passed their prime, the bills will be recycled into something besides new money, because the ink has to stick well and it won’t on recycled plastic, Warren said.

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The first bills introduced will be the $100, with the $50 in March and the $20 later in the year. The rest of the denominations — $10 and $5 — will follow in 2013. (Canada no longer prints $2 bills, replacing them with coins in 1997).

Another reason for the change to polymer is durability. The new bills are a lot harder to tear. Warren noted that even when folded, the bills return to their former shape. They're also washing-machine proof, though putting them in the hot dryer is probably not a good idea.

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