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Design and production of canadian bank notes

By Bank of Canada | Friday, February 11, 2011

It takes several years to design a series of bank notes. Once the designs have been approved, the Bank contracts the printing of the notes to two security printing companies, Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited and BA International Inc. The bank notes are printed 45 to a sheet, cut, and delivered to the Bank.


The Bank of Canada must supply financial institutions with enough bank notes to satisfy public demand. Financial institutions obtain notes through the country's bank note distribution system and return to the Bank any notes that are considered unfit for further circulation. These bank notes are verified on high-speed, note-processing equipment and then shredded for disposal.


  • 1935 and 1937 issue: 152.4 by 73.025 millimetres (6.0 by 2.875 inches)
  • All other issues: 152.4 by 69.85 millimetres (6.0 by 2.75 inches)

Paper Composition

Today's bank notes are printed on 100 per cent cotton paper. The paper-making industry has long acknowledged the superior quality of cotton-based paper over woodpulp paper. It is both more durable and more resistant to fading. For these reasons, cotton paper has been used for bank note production for several centuries.

The Bank of Canada's first series of bank notes (1935) was printed on paper made from 75 per cent high-grade flax and 25 per cent cotton. During the Second World War, the composition changed to 25 per cent flax and 75 per cent cotton to conserve linen for the production of uniforms.

The change to 100 per cent cotton came in 1983 to conform to Quebec regulations on pulp and paper mill effluents.

Approximate Life of a Bank Note

  • $5: 1 to 2 years
  • $10: 1 to 2 years
  • $20: 2 to 4 years
  • $50: 4 to 6 years
  • $100: 7 to 9 years

Bank note printing

Once a bank note design has been finalized, the process moves to production. Production standards and specifications established by the Bank of Canada ensure that available printing technology is fully exploited to produce bank notes of high and consistent quality.

First, a set of initial plates is made and tested for quality on small, hand-operated presses. When the Bank of Canada is satisfied with the print quality of a single note, large lithographic and intaglio plates are made to produce sheets of notes. (Bank notes are printed on large sheets of paper, 45 to a sheet.) The lithographic plates provide the smooth multicoloured portion of the design, while the intaglio plates provide the relief. Each plate carries a part of the total design of the bank note, with a total of eight plates required for a typical note.

More printing tests are then conducted to ensure that the quality of the printed sheet is acceptable. When the sample sheets have met quality standards, the go-ahead is given for the presses to roll. Sheets are carefully examined before being cut into single notes and delivered to the Bank of Canada's operation centres in Montreal and Toronto for distribution to financial centres.

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