Polymer banknotes are banknotes made from a polymer such as biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP). Such notes incorporate many security features not available to paper banknotes, including the use of metameric inks; they also last significantly longer than paper notes, resulting in a decrease in environmental impact and a reduction of production and replacement costs. Modern polymer banknotes were first developed by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), CSIRO and The University of Melbourne. They were first issued as currency in Australia in 1988 (coinciding with that country's bicentennial year). In 1996 Australia switched completely to polymer banknotes. Countries that have since switched completely to polymer banknotes include Brunei, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Romania, Vietnam, Fiji, Mauritius (printed by De La Rue), Canada and Israel. Cape Verde and The Gambia are the latest countries to introduce polymer currency notes into circulation.
In 1967 forgeries of the Australian $10 note were found in circulation and the Reserve Bank of Australia was concerned about an increase in counterfeiting with the release of color photocopiers that year. In 1968 the RBA started collaborations with CSIRO and funds were made available in 1969 for the experimental production of distinctive papers. The insertion of an optically variable device (OVD) created from diffraction gratings in plastic as a security device inserted in banknotes was proposed in 1972. The first patent arising from the development of polymer banknotes was filed in 1973. In 1974 the technique of lamination was used to combine materials; the all-plastic laminate eventually chosen was a clear, BOPP laminate, in which OVDs could be inserted without needing to punch holes.
An alternative polymer of polyethylene fibres marketed as Tyvek by DuPont was developed for use as currency by the American Bank Note Company in the early 1980s. Tyvek did not perform well in trials; smudging of ink and fragility were reported as problems. Only Costa Rica and Haiti issued Tyvek banknotes; test notes were produced for Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela but never placed in circulation. Additionally, English printers Bradbury Wilkinson produced a version on Tyvek but marketed as Bradvek for the Isle of Man in 1983; however, they are no longer produced.
In the 1980s, Canadian engineering company AGRA Vadeko and US chemical company US Mobil Chemical Company developed a polymer substrate trademarked as DuraNote. It had been tested by the Bank of Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, test $20 and $50 banknotes of which were found auctioned in October 2012. It was also tested by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing of the United States Department of the Treasury in 1997 and 1998, when 40,000 test banknotes were printed and evaluated, and being evaluated by the central banks of 28 countries.
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Polymer banknotes were developed in Australia to replace paper banknotes with a more secure and more durable alternative.
The BOPP substrate is processed through the following steps:
- Opacifying – two layers of ink (usually white) are applied to each side of the note, except for one or more areas deliberately left clear;
- Sheeting – the substrate is cut into sheets suitable for the printing press;
- Printing – traditional offset, intaglio and letterpress printing processes are used; and
- Overcoating – notes are coated with a protective varnish.
BOPP is a non-fibrous and non-porous polymer. Compared to paper banknotes, banknotes made using BOPP are harder to tear, more resistant to folding, more resistant to soil, waterproof (and washing machine proof), easier to machine process, and are shreddable and recyclable at the end of their lives.
Polymer bank notes can have three levels of security devices. Consumers can recognise Primary security devices, these include intaglio, metal strips and the clear areas of the banknote. A machine is required to detect Secondary security devices. The third level of security devices can only be detected by the issuing authority when a banknote has been returned. 
Traditional printed security features applied on paper can also be applied on polymer. These features include intaglio printing, offset and letterpress printing, latent images, micro-printing, and intricate background patterns. Polymer notes can be different colours on the obverse and reverse sides.
Like paper currency, polymer banknotes can incorporate a watermark (an optically variable 'shadow image') in the polymer substrate. Shadow images can be created by the application of optically variable ink, enhancing its fidelity and colour shift characteristics. Security threads can also be embedded in the polymer note; they may be magnetic, fluorescent, phosphorescent, microprinted, clear text, as well as windowed. Like paper, the polymer can also be embossed.
Polymer notes also enabled new security features unavailable at the time on paper, such as transparent windows, and diffraction grating. Since 2006 however the development of the paper transparent window technologies by De La Rue (Optiks) and G&D (varifeye) have reduced that advantage.
The transparent window where the OVD is located is a key security feature of the polymer banknote. It is easily identifiable, allowing anyone to be able to authenticate a banknote.
Because the polymer bank note contains many security features that cannot be successfully reproduced by photocopying or scanning, it is very difficult to counterfeit. The complexities of counterfeiting polymer banknotes are proposed to act as a deterrent to counterfeiters. The substrate BOPP film, metalized or otherwise is widely available from European and Chinese suppliers, as are the metameric inks used.
Adoption of polymer banknotes
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Trading as Innovia Security, Innovia Films markets BOPP as "Guardian" for countries with their own banknote printing facilities. Note Printing Australia (a subsidiary of the RBA) prints commemorative banknotes and banknotes for circulation and has done so for 20 countries.
As of 2014, at least eight countries have converted fully to polymer banknotes: Australia, Bermuda, Brunei, Canada, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Romania and Vietnam. Other countries and regions with notes printed on Guardian polymer in circulation include: Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile,Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Hong Kong (for a 2-year trial), Indonesia, Israel, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Solomon Islands (no longer issued), Samoa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Zambia. Canada released its first polymer banknote ($100) on 14 November 2011, followed by the $50 banknote on 26 March 2012 and the $20 banknote on 7 November 2012 and finally, the $10 and $5 banknotes on 7 November 2013. Countries and regions that have issued commemorative banknotes (which are not in circulation) on Guardian polymer include: China, Taiwan, Northern Ireland and Singapore.
In August 2012, Nigeria's Central Bank attempted the switch back from polymer to paper banknotes, saying there were "significant difficulties associated with the processing and destruction of the polymer banknotes" which had "constrained the realisation of the benefits expected from polymer banknotes over paper notes". However, President Goodluck Jonathan halted the process in September 2012.
The latest country to launch polymer bank notes is the State of Kuwait, on 29 June 2014. The currency notes are available in denominations of KWD 0.250, KWD 0.500, KWD 1, KWD 5, KWD 10 and KWD 20.
The polymer notes in the Republic of Mauritius are available in values of Rs 25, Rs 50 and Rs 500 polymer notes. The Fiji $5 was issued in April 2013.
On 18 December 2013, the Bank of England announced that it would begin producing £5 polymer notes with a picture of Winston Churchill in 2016 and £10 polymer banknotes with a picture of Jane Austen a year later. The Bank of England announced the appearance, despite being 15% smaller, will be similar to current banknotes. However, businesses operating in the UK cash industry have opposed the switch to polymer, citing a lack of research as to the cost impact of its introduction. In 2014 Clydesdale Bank announced that it will begin to issue polymer Sterling £5 notes in March 2015, to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the building of the Forth Bridge.
Timeline of adoptions and withdrawals
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- In 1982 and 1983, the American Bank Note Company printed banknotes for Costa Rica (20 colones dated 1983 and trial notes of 100 colones) and Haiti (1, 2, 50, 100, 250 and 500 Gourdes) on DuPont's Tyvek polymers. These had fairly limited release, but did circulate in each country. Additional trial and specimen banknotes were developed for Honduras and El Salvador. Unfortunately, in tropical climates, ink did not bind well to the polymer and the notes began smearing quite badly.
- In 1983, the British printers Bradbury Wilkinson produced a promotional version of polymer banknotes which were marketed as Bradvek. The Isle of Man issued a 1 pound Bradvek banknote which circulated from 1983 to 1988. Another British printer, Harrison and Sons also produced a promotional banknote, but did not have any buyers.
- In 1988, Australia issued a commemorative 10-dollar banknote, the first of many issues.
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- In 1990, Western Samoa (later renamed Samoa) issued a 2 Tala commemorative banknote honouring 50 years of service by His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II. This banknote was placed in circulation and has the distinction of having the longest period of circulation, as of 2006 it had been circulating for 16 years, and has been reprinted with minor variations at least 7 times.
- In August 1990, Singapore issued a $50 commemorative banknote, and in 2004 issued its first circulating $10 banknote, followed by a $2 issue in 2006. The $5 banknote and the commemorative $20 banknote were issued in 2007.
- In June 1991, Papua New Guinea issued a commemorative 2 Kina banknote, its first polymer issue.
- In 1992, Australia began issuing polymer notes for general circulation.
- In February 1993, Kuwait issued the first of its commemorative banknotes, a 1 Dinar issue honouring the liberation of Kuwait during the First Gulf War. In 2001, a 1 dinar note was also issued to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Liberation of Kuwait.
- In 1993, Indonesia issued its first polymer banknote, the 50,000 rupiah note commemorating 25 years of development A paper equivalent was also available at the same time.
- In 1996, Australia became the first country with a full set of circulating polymer banknotes in each denomination, from 5 to 100 dollars.
- In 1996, Thailand issued both a 50 and a 500 baht note commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reign of Bhumibol Adulyadej.
- In February 1996, Brunei issued 1, 5 and 10 ringgit banknotes. These were the first non-commemorative banknotes issued outside of Australia (and the 1982 issues).
- In 1997, Thailand issued a 50 baht note as its first polymer note for general circulation.
- In February 1998, Sri Lanka issued a 200 Rupee commemorative polymer banknote to celebrate Sri Lanka's 50 years of independence.
- In 1998, Malaysia issued a commemorative banknote in conjunction with the XVI Commonwealth Games; it issued a 5 ringgit circulating banknote in 2004. In July 2012 it issued a new series of banknotes, of which the 1 ringgit and 5 ringgit denominations are in polymer.
- On 3 May 1999, New Zealand released the polymer $20 note. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand switched all of its notes to polymer in the following twelve months: with the $100 note on 26 July, the $5 and $10 note simultaneously on 18 October, and finally the $50 note on 20 March 2000.
- In 1999, Romania was the first European country to introduce a full set of circulating polymer banknotes (the banknotes were issued between 1999 and 2001). These included the commemorative 2000 lei note which was issued to celebrate the last eclipse of the millennium.
- In 1999, Indonesia for the first time issued 100,000 rupiah polymer note for general circulation.
- In June 1999, Taiwan issued a 50-dollar note to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the issuance of the New Taiwan dollar.
- In 1999, the Northern Bank, one of five banknote-issuing authorities in Northern Ireland issued a 5-pound commemorative note celebrating the year 2000; this note was placed in circulation, and was also sold at a premium to collectors with a Y2K serial number prefix.
- In April 2000, Brazil released a 10 real polymer bill to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese arrival in America. Casa da Moeda do Brasil printed 250 million banknotes, around half the 10 real bills in circulation.
- In November 2000, the People's Republic of China issued a 100 yuan note to commemorate the millennium.
- In December 2000, Bangladesh issued 10-Taka polymer notes.
- In 2000, the Chatham Islands issued the first of three sets of commemorative banknotes for the collecting market.
- On 1 January 2001, Australia issued a commemorative $5 polymer banknote. It commemorated the centenary of federation.
- In June 2001, the Solomon Islands issued $2 polymer banknotes, however they reverted to paper notes in 2006.
- In the summer of 2001, Vietnam issued a 50-dong commemorative banknote.
- In February 2002, Nepal issued a 10 rupee polymer banknote, commemorating the new King Gyanendra. In 2005 it issued a version for circulation without the commemorative text.
- In September 2002, Mexico switched 20 peso banknotes from paper to polymer banknotes. Two more new polymer notes issued in 2006, for the 20 pesos (new design) and 50 pesos.
- In 2003, Zambia was the first African country to adopt polymer banknotes, with 500 and 1000 kwacha denominations.
- In November 2003, Papua New Guinea issued a 20 kina banknote, and began the process of issuing all denominations in polymer format. The only remaining denomination not in polymer is the 5 kina note.
- From December 2003 to August 2006, Vietnam adopted polymer banknote in 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000 đồng for general circulation, becoming the fourth country to fully convert to polymer notes.
- In September 2004, the 2000 Chilean peso bills began to be issued in polymer banknotes
- In 2004 it was estimated that there were over 3 billion polymer notes in service.
- In 2004, the only polymer note for general circulation in Thailand, the 50 baht note issued in 1997, was reissued in paper format. Commemorative notes continue to be issued in polymer format.
- In 2004, the only polymer note for general circulation in Indonesia, the 100,000 rupiah note issued in 1999, was re-issued on paper.
- In 2005, Papua New Guinea issued the new 100 kina note, its first denomination that was never printed in paper format.
- In July 2005, Romania became the first country to issue a full second generation of plastic notes of each of its denominations; the notes bearing the same design format as the old notes, but their size brings them in line with euro banknotes, and are denominated in a reformed currency where 1 new leu = 10,000 lei
- In 2005, Bulgaria issued the first hybrid paper/polymer banknotes, denominated 20 (new) leva, featuring two plastic "windows" and a hologram.
- In November 2006 Mexico issued a new 50 pesos polymer banknotes.
- In 2006 CSIRO, the Australian Government agency issued a non-legal tender polymer note to celebrate the 80th year of the formation of CSIRO. These notes were issued and distributed to staff members and at selected public events.
- On 28 February 2007, Nigeria issued the 20 naira note as polymer banknotes. On 30 September 2009, the Central Bank of Nigeria issued 5-, 10-, and 50-naira banknotes printed on polymer. On 29 September 2010, a 50-naira note was issued to commemorate the nation's 50th anniversary of independence.
- In mid-2007, Hong Kong issued the polymer 10-dollar note for a 2-year trial period.
- In June 2007, Brunei became the fifth country to fully convert to polymer notes.
- In August 2007, the Bank of Guatemala issued a 1 quetzal polymer banknote. On 14 November 2011, a 5 quetzal banknote was issued in a polymer substrate.
- On 13 April 2008, Israel started to issue 20 NIS Banknotes, due to the high deterioration of 20 NIS paper banknotes. The Israeli polymer notes are printed by Orell Füssli Security Printing of Zürich, Switzerland.
- On 15 April 2008, Papua New Guinea issued 5 and new 10 kina banknotes for general circulation. 5 Kina being the last denomination for Papua New Guinea on polymer.
- On 1 December 2008, Romania started issuing a revised version of the 10 lei banknote..
- On 15 May 2009, Nicaragua released new polymer ten and twenty Nicaragua córdoba banknotes to replace their paper counterparts. After an announcement from the Central Bank of Nicaragua in 2008 stated that a new 200 Córdoba banknote would be in circulation, it took the country an additional year to prepare its new set of banknotes. A new polymer two hundred and a hundred córdoba banknote was first issued on the first of June 2009. In December 2009, a new 50 banknote was released, later followed by a new 500 C$ banknote that was issued on 12 January 2010.
- In September 2009, Reserve Bank of India announced that it will introduce 1 billion 10-rupee notes.
- In September 2009, Central Bank of Chile introduced the new series of the Chilean Peso, starting with the redesigned 5000 Pesos banknote.
- In November 2011, the Bank of Canada introduced the Frontier Series $100 polymer banknotes to modernize the currency and reduce counterfeiting. $50 banknotes were put into circulation in March 2012; the $20 note was put into circulation on 7 November 2012 with the $10 and $5 denominations released on 7 November 2013.
- In June 2010, The Central Bank of the Dominican Republic announced the introduction of a new polymer based 20 pesos bill.
- On 28 July 2010, the Reserve Bank of Vanuatu issued a 10,000 vatu polymer banknote to celebrate the nation's 30th anniversary of independence.
- In October 2010, The Central Bank of Chile announced the redesigned 2000 Pesos that will be on circulation on 20 November, as a program to change the old designs and make them more secure.
- In October 2011, the Banco de Moçambique began printing of the 20-, 50-, and 100-metical banknotes on a polymer substrate.
- On 16 July 2012, the Bank Negara Malaysia put a new RM1 and RM5 polymer banknotes into circulation.
- On 2 January 2013, the Reserve Bank of Fiji introduced a new series of Fijian dollar banknotes that depict the nation's flora and fauna instead of the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Among the denominations is the five-dollar note, which is now printed on polymer instead of cotton paper. They were printed by De La Rue.
- In April 2013, the Reserve Bank of India introduce plastic/polymer currency note of Rs 10 on a field trial basis in five cities in India. RBI proposed to conduct field trials of Rs 10 polymer banknotes in five cities - Shimla, Kochi, Jaipur, Bhubaneswar and Mysore.
- On 22 August 2013, the Bank of Mauritius issued new 25-, 50-, and 500-rupee polymer banknotes which will circulate in parallel with the existing paper notes of the same denominations. The new polymer notes have almost the same design as the preceding paper banknotes, but contain numerous new security features such as transparent windows showing the image of the dodo, numbers printed with magnetic ink which become fluorescent under ultra violet light, and swing features printed in iridescent ink, which change to a different color when observed in transparency or when tilted. The 25-, and 50-rupee notes are printed by Oberthur Technologies on Innovia Security's Guardian substrate and the 500-rupee note is printed by De La Rue on its Safeguard (formerly Flexycoin) substrate. External link.
- On 22 November 2013, the Bank of Lebanon issued a 50,000 livre banknote in polymer to commemorate the country's 70th anniversary of independence.
- In 2013 the Bank of England announced that it would adopt polymer notes.
- In 2014, the Bank of Lebanon will issue a 50,000 livre banknote in polymer to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Banque du Liban.
- The Reserve Bank of Vanuatu introduced polymer banknotes in denominations of 200, 1,000 and 2,000 vatu.
- On 5 August 2014, the National Bank of Poland will issue 50,000 20 złotych polymer banknotes to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Polish Legions.
- In 2014, the Central Bank of the Gambia will issue a 20 Dalasis banknote printed on De La Rue's Safeguard polymer substrate. It will commemorate President Yahya Jammeh's 20 years in office as President.
- In 2014, the Central Bank of Mauritania issued a 1,000 Ouguiya banknote on Innovia Security's Guardian substrate.
- On December 15, 2014, the Central Bank of Trinidad & Tobago issued a $50 note printed on polymer to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Central Bank of Trinidad & Tobago.
- On December 23, 2014, the Banco de Cabo Verde issued a new family of escudo banknotes that honor Cape Verdean figures in the fields of literature, music, and politics. One note in the new series is the 200 escudos banknote, now printed on polymer.
- The Reserve Bank of New Zealand is set to introduce a new family of notes with improved security features, with the $5 and $10 notes in October 2015, and the $20, $50 and $100 notes in April 2016.
- In 2015, Clydesdale Bank plans to issue two million 5 pound notes, which will be printed in polymer. It features a portrait of Sir William Arrol and an image of the Forth Bridge.
- The Royal Bank of Scotland plans to issue a 5 pound note, which will be printed on Giesecke & Devrient's "Hybrid" polymer substrate. It is issued to commemorate the Ryder Cup.
- In 2015, the Reserve Bank of India plans to introduce polymer banknotes on a pilot basis and improve security features to defeat the efforts of counterfeiters
The use of the term "polymer" in place of "plastic" to describe banknotes was introduced on 1 November 1993 by the Reserve Bank of Australia, at the launch of its $10 note. Jeffrey Bentley-Johnston and his firm were retained to assist in the launch of the $10 note after the $5 note received a cool reception. Having earlier worked in a firm that designed and constructed synthetic fibre plants, Bentley-Johnston recognised the polymer nature of the new banknote and so proposed use of the term.
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