How has technology influenced banknote designs?
olo’s latest fictional banknote. Also on pixiv.
- Do you draw the designs yourself?
I choose artwork from copyright-free materials. I would also go to bookstores everywhere and look for them at the dedicated section. Other artwork would also include copperplate engravings of banknotes. It’s hard work to search and filter overseas websites to find materials using the ‘engraving’ search term.
One of the books that olo has used.
The patterns are done by myself on Illustrator. These intricate patterns, also called guilloche, are decorative and also a way to prevent forgery. That’s why they are made to be difficult to replicate.
The Japanese yen currently in circulation used CG for its banknote patterns. But before this, e.g. Souseki Natsume’s 1000 yen bill and Inazou Nitobe’s 5000 yen bill - the guilloches were created using the ‘geometric lathe’.
Geometric lathe is a machine that has many cogwheels which, mathematically draws the lines, patterns that you want. Changing a cogwheel will alter the pattern. And once you put multiple patterns together, you are able to design a guilloche that would be difficult to be replicated.
- So these unique patterns with a bilateral symmetry are made with mathematical equations.
Yes. Guilloches can be made using computers and it’s now even possible to make guilloches that previously were impossible to be produced with the geometric lathe. This has probably changed the way banknotes have been designed.
I went to a museum exhibition a few years ago where a geometric lathe was on display. Seeing how it’s put together further increased my interest in using guilloche as a form of expression.
- That’s fascinating! This also means that you might be going through the same process as the National Printing Bureau.
If you change the design, the colors and inks that you use also changes… Ah, that means that regardless of past banknotes, there will be more freedom in design depending on the technology of that time period - which is possible for the reason of implementing a new set of banknotes.
It’s something that I suddenly thought of, during our interview.
- Such quick observations (laughs) Is this why you continue making fictional banknotes - to find out ‘what makes a banknote’?
That’s true for the present. Back then, I simply liked the pattern of it, how the colors are matched and the design which spurred me to try making it myself. I still feel the same way but it’s not as simple as that anymore… Perhaps it’s better to say that in order to gather the evidence and hypothesis to unravel this mystery, I am actively pursuing it (in various aspects).
The wonders of identifying a foreign banknote as ‘money’
A fictional banknote made in the style of a foreign country.
- Have you asked whether your fictional banknotes look ‘realistic’?
Only as a manner of reference but I don’t take them seriously. Even when I’m told that ‘it doesn’t look like money at all’, I’ll only react with an ‘I see…’ (laughs). Most reasons tend to be ‘it doesn’t look like the money from my own country’.
- Does it mean that it’s judged by people’s familiarity towards them?
In the past, the U.S. dollar is printed in green with the words in black. In the midst of their change to a new design, they added color to the pattern* woven onto the banknote. Even with the slightest addition of color, one’s impression of it will be different.
And so, for those who used the green-colored banknotes, the new U.S. dollars or even Japan’s will look really ‘colorful and rather toy-like’ to them.
*pattern - this refers to a pattern that’s woven onto the surface of various printed legal tender as a security feature.
- Come to think of it, the banknotes are green in foreign anime.
Precisely. Which is why in reverse, the Japanese who have been familiar with colorful banknotes would feel that U.S. dollars look like ‘play money’. I think that could be attributed to Monopoly’s influence (laughs).
Relying on the cultural aspect alone wouldn’t solve the mystery but still, if it doesn’t look like a gift certificate means that there’s at least a common and universal denominator in the design of banknotes that makes it look like money but I’m still wondering what that is...
Old banknotes of Japanese yen and U.S. dollars.
- I can see that they are all real banknotes and I think I finally understand what you are trying to say.
Yes! By following a certain pattern or arrangement while experimenting, even without identifiable elements such as alphabets or characters that you are able to make it look like an actual banknote...
It’s something like that I often think about.