Last year, the Bank of England signalled the potential end to 320 years of printed paper bank notes when it announced that the UK will be switching to plastic notes in 2016 for £5 and £10 denominations. Polymer notes are already valid currency in more than 20 countries, following Australia’s pioneering development and introduction of them in the 1980s.
Notes are typically made from a biaxially oriented polypropylene substrate, which is non-fibrous and non-porous. The thin film is then coated with multiple layers of formulated ink, on which designs can be printed. Areas can be left unprinted, remaining as clear windows which are hard to counterfeit. Further difficult-to-copy security features can also be overlaid or embedded – such as iridescent images produced by diffraction gratings, the ruled surfaces used to split sources of light in spectrometers and lasers as well as CDs and DVDs.
Plastic bank notes last, on average, at least 2.5 times longer than paper ones. They are harder to tear and are even washing machine proof.
The UK’s 70,000 ATMs will also need upgrading, as the new £5 and £10 notes will be 15% smaller, and more in line with some other countries’ notes. Sterling denominations will continue to be tiered up in size to help the visually impaired. The first UK plastic bank note will be the £5 note featuring Winston Churchill, followed by a £10 note picturing Jane Austen in 2017.