Keeping ahead of counterfeiters

50 peso banknote
Specimen of new banknote of 50 Mexican pesos, put into circulation in May, 2013.

A new generation of anti-counterfeiting banknotes has been enabled by Heriot-Watt expertise. Photonics researchers collaborated with Innovia Security to develop leading-edge optics technology for a new polymer banknote for the Mexican government. This technology significantly reduces the risk of counterfeit, enabling an effective long-term protection strategy which maintains confidence in the Mexican currency.

Governments across the world are increasingly convinced by the case for polymer banknotes. Indeed, countries including Australia and Canada have switched entirely from paper to plastic notes. A key benefit is their ability to incorporate security features such as transparent windows and microprinted watermarks, which reduce the potential for effective counterfeiting. Yet counterfeiting threats continue to rise, and technology cannot afford to stand still. The problem is that ever more sophisticated banknotes can prove impractical, for example if specialist equipment is needed to authenticate them.

The challenge is to produce [banknote] features which are secure yet which can easily be identified by the general public. The technology developed in conjunction with Heriot-Watt University meets this challenge.
Gary Power, Director of Research and Development, Innovia Security

Professor Mohammad R. Taghizadeh’s research group at Heriot-Watt has a long-standing relationship with Innovia Security Ltd (formerly Securency International), a world-leading producer of polymer banknotes. In 2006, a licence deal was agreed allowing the company to adopt Diffractive Optic Elements technology into banknotes. This technology enables the first banknotes with optically flat structures encapsulating diffractive optical elements.

The technology devised by Professor Taghizadeh’s team has now been incorporated into Securency’s Eclipse™ protection device developed by Innovia Security. This security feature can be used by the general public as well as cash handlers, since no special equipment is required. Uniquely, the device can be used at night or in dim light conditions which often make security features unusable.

In 2013 Mexico became the first country to adopt this technology. After six months of rigorous testing for resistance to counterfeiting, the new Mexican fifty peso note was launched. By the end of 2013, 600 million new banknotes were in circulation, spelling the end for counterfeited notes.