Skip to Content

What does fake money look like when marked?

Counterfeit currency has been around for centuries, dating back to when coins were first minted. While methods for producing fake money have become more sophisticated over time, so too have the techniques for identifying counterfeits. Let’s take a look at some of the ways genuine currency is marked and how those markers appear on counterfeit bills.


Watermarks are one of the most common anti-counterfeiting features on real paper currency. They are created by varying the thickness of the paper in certain areas during manufacturing. This creates a lighter or darker image when the bill is held up to a light source. Watermarks are difficult for counterfeiters to accurately reproduce.

On authentic bills, the watermark should be clearly visible when holding the note up to a light. The image will look seamless and natural. On counterfeit notes, the watermarking is often missing, incomplete, or obviously digitally printed on the surface of the paper instead of being embedded within it. The lines may appear jagged, blurred or pixelated rather than smooth.

Security Threads

Many countries also include security threads in their currency. These are plastic strips embedded into the paper that say things like the currency denomination and country. Under UV light, these threads will glow different colors on real bills.

Counterfeiters will try to simulate security threads by printing them onto the surface, but these can be rubbed off or scratched. Genuine threads are seamlessly integrated into the paper and impossible to remove. The writing should be clear and sharp when magnified, not blurry or illegible as you’d see on many fakes.

Raised Printing

On authentic paper money, certain elements like the treasury seal and serial numbers are printed with raised ink. This creates a noticeable texture you can feel by running your finger over the area. This is very difficult to imitate.

On counterfeit notes, the printing will feel flat against the paper. The ink won’t be raised up and may smear or rub off easily. Under magnification, the edges around the numbers and letters will appear less defined on fakes.


To help thwart photocopying, real currency uses microprinting for things like the denominations written around the portrait. The text is so small that it appears as just a line to the naked eye. But under magnification, the tiny words are clear and legible.

On counterfeits, this microprinting will be pixelated or blurred when magnified if photocopied. Or it may be completely missing. The lines around the portrait will appear solid without any discernable text or numbers.

Color-Shifting Ink

Many countries use color-shifting inks on their currency. These inks change color when viewed from different angles. For example, on US $100 bills, the number 100 in the lower right corner shifts from copper to green.

This effect is difficult to copy. On fake bills, the color-shifting is often not convincing and lacks the dramatic shift you see on real currency. The colors may appear “off” as well.

Security Strips

Plastic security strips are embedded vertically in some banknotes. These contain images that match the main artwork on the bill. Tilting the note back and forth makes the images move up and down on authentic currency.

On counterfeit notes, these strips will often be missing entirely. If included, the images won’t change or move convincingly. The strips may also be on the surface rather than embedded into the paper.

See-Through Imagery

Some countries have transparent sections on their banknotes that contain images or text. When held up to a light, you can see a solid image through the note.

This see-through effect is hard to recreate. Fakes with printed see-through sections will look noticeably different from the front and back. The images won’t align perfectly like they do on genuine notes.

Ultraviolet Glowing

Many security features glow when exposed to UV light. On real currency, the UV images and threads should be bright and unmistakable.

On counterfeit notes, any UV features often appear weak and faded in comparison. Or they may be missing entirely. The glowing areas won’t match what you’d see on authentic bills.

Serial Numbers

Every banknote has a unique serial number used to track the currency. On legitimate bills, the serial numbers will be crisp and perfectly aligned.

On counterfeits, the numbers may differ between the front and back of the note. They also may not stand out clearly under magnification. The font and positioning of the digits can be obviously irregular.

Embedded Fibers

Real paper money has tiny red and blue fibers embedded throughout as another security measure. These are intentionally random and should be visible when closely inspecting the bill.

Printed counterfeits lack these fiber filaments. Some fakes try to simulate them by printing dots onto the surface, but these are often in a pattern rather than random.

Metallic Strips

In addition to plastic strips, some currencies also contain metallic foil strips. Authentic ones have sharp edges and a continuous metallic appearance.

On counterfeits, these strips will appear duller in color rather than shiny. The edges tend to be blurry rather than well-defined. And you can sometimes see breaks in the strip if poorly fabricated.

Embedded Images

Some banknotes have transparent areas that contain hidden images visible only from certain angles. Tilting the bill will make a faint image appear or disappear within these sections.

This effect is nearly impossible for counterfeiters to duplicate. Fake bills with these areas will lack the embedded concealed images that should be present on real currency.


Advanced anti-counterfeiting features require sophisticated technology and expertise to produce convincingly. Examining a suspect banknote under magnification and UV light makes many of the differences apparent. Features like watermarks, security threads, raised printing, and color-shifting ink are primary indicators of genuine versus fake currency.

While counterfeiters are getting better at replicating some aspects of real money, the overall quality tends to be lower. Look for uneven printing, blurred text and images, misaligned design elements, and flimsy paper. Comparing a suspect note side-by-side with a genuine sample of the same denomination can also help highlight any discrepancies.

Staying vigilant and learning the security features of your currency is the best way to avoid being fooled by counterfeit banknotes. Carefully checking both the front and back under good lighting and magnification can help distinguish many common fakes from authentic cash.