OGF:Making realistic currency

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This page is intended to help users design paper currency that looks realistic.

Basic skills

This tutorial assumes basic skills in a drawing program such as Inkscape or GIMP — for example, the ability to duplicate objects, rotate them, adjust transparency, import images, clip objects, blend edges, etc. For those who take the time to learn these very basic skills, it is remarkably easy to create banknotes that look decently realistic.

Bear in mind that there are many ways to design realistic banknotes. This is just one very simple method, out of many.

Selecting a pattern

Many banknotes around the world have some kind of complex background pattern, going back to the olden days before photocopiers and scanners, when such patterns were actually useful to help prevent counterfeiting. So the first step is to find a pattern you want to work with, one that you think would represent the 'style' of your country well. Fortunately there are lots of free geometric patterns available online. You can also create a unique geometric pattern by drawing your own simple line shape and rotating/duplicating it several times (see box at right). If you do use a pattern from the Internet, make sure it's free to use (public domain or Creative Commons license) and remember to copy the URL of where the pattern came from, so you can include it when you upload the image here. If a pattern isn't complex enough, you can rotate it as shown in the left hand example below.

Currencytutorial2a.jpg Currencytutorial1a.jpg
This pattern came from here, in this section of Wikimedia Commons. This pattern came from here, in this section of Wikimedia Commons.

Selecting a color scheme

Once you have your basic pattern, you can start thinking about color. Often times paper currency will be limited in the number of colors it employs, not only because printing costs were traditionally lower for fewer colors, but also because bills are easier for people to quickly identify if they have just one or two dominant colors.

Currencytutorial2b.jpg Currencytutorial1b.jpg
This banknote will use deep red and gray colors. This banknote will be primarily yellow and green.

Duplicating the pattern

The pattern can be duplicated in different places throughout the background, in different yet similar colors. Note that banknote backgrounds are usually light in color. The reason for this is that when you add darker images and text on top of a light background, the important images and text will stand out clearly and distinctly.

Currencytutorial2c.jpg Currencytutorial1c.jpg

Selecting a main drawing

This is important. The main drawing will be the banknote's primary focus, so choose one that you like and that really expresses the "flavor" of your country. If you are a talented artist, you may be able to draw this image yourself. But for most of us, finding an image online will give us a more realistic final product. As with the background pattern, there are plenty of images on the Internet featuring people, plants, animals, landscapes, etc, that are free to use. Be sure that the image you select is public domain or Creative Commons licensed, and remember to copy the URL of the place where you found the image, so you can include it when you upload the image here. Often times drawings make better currency images than photographs, because drawings were traditionally used on currency in the past. Not all drawings will help with realism, however. For example a cartoon-style drawing won't make a believable banknote.

Currencytutorial2d.jpg Currencytutorial1d.jpg
This drawing came from here in this section of Wikimedia Commons. This drawing came from here in this section of Wikimedia Commons.

Adding security feature(s)

Most bills nowadays have security features such as watermarks, holograms, and metallic strips.

Currencytutorial2e.jpg Currencytutorial1e.jpg
This banknote contains a hologram on the lower left and a metallic strip on the right. This banknote contains a watermark on the right.

Adding text

Text goes on top of everything else. Make sure it's written in your country's language(s). Note how the colors echo those of the images and background patterns, and the same font will be used multiple times. Normally the bill will include the denomination (often written in numbers and words, and in multiple places on the bill). Often times the numbers are made very large, which is greatly helpful for people with poor eyesight.
Many bills also include:

  • serial numbers, sometimes in more than one place
  • the country's full name
  • the name of the bank or authority issuing the note
  • signature(s) of relevant officials
  • a statement of "this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private" or something
  • printing marks
  • issue date
  • a seal, or coat of arms, representing the nation, the bank, or issuing authority
  • a tiny description of the main drawing

The key is to add enough content so the banknote looks 'full' and 'balanced' but not overly 'crowded.'

Currencytutorial2f.jpg Currencytutorial1f.jpg

Playing around

Once you complete all the above steps, save a copy, then go back and play around with it for a while. Experiment with moving parts to different locations, trying different layouts, etc. You may find that you improve on your original design.


When you upload your banknote to the OGF wiki, be sure to include links to any images you used when making it. For example the banknote on the left should have this in the description:


and the banknote on the right would have this in its description:


Questions or comments? Things you would add or subtract? Feel free to share your thoughts on the Discussion page.