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What Happens If You Photocopy Money?

As a child, this question has troubled you more than once. If money was just made from pieces of paper, why couldn’t you just make copies of it? We could just print more color copies using a laser printer, right? With the technology available today, we could scan the bill and print it in high definition. In fact, with state-of-the-art 3D printers, our generation’s  printing skills are at a completely different level.

So, can we do that?

It might seem like an easy way to get rich, but you’re not going to be able to do it successfully. Not only legally, but literally. Yes, you can’t use a photocopy machine to copy money. If you try to print currency notes using any modern printing or scanning device, they will refuse to assist you in this criminal effort. Some might even have shut down completely.  No matter how much you’re crumbling or folding a note, the machine will still detect the fact that you’re trying to falsify your hand.

Decoding this oddity

When Xerox ‘s new color photocopier machine arrived at Cambridge University’s lab at the turn of the millennium, it became the center of interest for all budding computer scientists at this prestigious institute. Markus Kuhn, a Ph.D. student back then, was one of the scientists who was particularly struck by this new machine. He felt that printing money would be the best use of this new-tailed machine. He tried to photocopy a banknote along with his batchmates.

Kuhn took a 20-pound British banknote from his pocket and put it on the glass surface to scan. He closed the photocopier ‘s lid and clicked the copy button on the printer ‘s side. The photocopy machine was whirled. There was no replicated banknote copy on the output slot, but rather a warning note in a few popular languages. The warning was that the printer had detected the currency of the banknote and had stated that it was illegal to copy the currency using a photocopier.

That surprised Kuhn and his company. They wondered how, in the name of Gates and Jobs, this printer had detected the currency of the banknote! Kuhn was especially intrigued by the strange behavior of the photocopier. He started investigating the banknote in order to get some clues. Kuhn realized that the banknote had a recurring pattern of circles.

Kuhn then began to examine currency from other countries, and to his surprise, this pattern was also present in them! Although there were music or flower symbols instead of circles, the pattern was pretty much the same. He realized that this was a recurring pattern of five circles (sometimes disguised as musical notes or flowers) and that their arrangement was similar to the Orion constellation of stars. Due to its unusual resemblance to the Orion constellation, Kuhn decided to call this pattern the EURion constellation, as this pattern had never been made public or given an official name. It’s also referred to as Omron rings or doughnuts.

How does it work?

Well, photocopiers have a way to detect that what they’re copying is actually money. This is because all major economies around the world have adopted this or similar pattern, the EURion constellation, on their currency notes. The EURion constellation is a pattern of disjointed circles visible on most of the notes. If the circles are not clear, the pattern can also be disguised as numbers or musical notes.

The EURion constellation is a pattern of symbols incorporated in the design of many notes around the world. Although there is no certainty at the time when banks began implementing this feature, experts believe that this has been in practice since the mid-1990s.

So, as you can see, global governments have been able to keep this pattern a secret for a number of years. It was only in 2002, when the computer scientist Markus Kuhn discovered this eccentric pattern, that their secret was revealed.

Most photocopiers will detect this EURion pattern and immediately stop printing in an attempt to stop counterfeit attempts. A nifty little trick, isn’t it? Well, today, an even more robust security feature is in place that even prevents you from using currency note images on popular imaging software, such as Adobe Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro.

By Geraoma - Own work, Public Domain,

EURion constellation

Since the time the photocopier machine was invented, central banks have been wary of its potential misuse in forging currency bills. They managed to come up with a protection mechanism very early to prevent forgery. They issued special orders to Xerox and other imaging companies to ensure that their machines could not be used for counterfeit currency bills.

It’s actually quite interesting how governments and central banks around the world have managed to do this. The main defensive weapon used to deter counterfeiting was the use of the EURion constellation.

Are You Looking for a Photocopier Near Concord, California?

Office Machine Specialists has been servicing and selling office equipment since 1995. A family run business that has dedicated our efforts to providing the best equipment options and after-sales service to our clients. Our goal is to ask the right questions and guide our customers to make smart decisions about new machine leases and purchases.  We were servicing copiers long before the internet was a viable resource, and have transitioned to the digital workflow environment of color printing, scanning, account control and fleet management. With over 20 years in the industry we have extensive experience with many brands and consider OMS to be a valuable resource to any organization. Contact us for all of your copier needs here!