Printing Money: Where Does U.S. Currency Come From?

Stack of MoneyHave you seen the headlines that print is dead? What about the print media we carry around in our wallets and purses in the form of paper bills? Have you ever wondered who prints our U.S. currency? If it’s true that “lack of money is the root of all evil” then it’s even more important that someone keeps printing it! Read on as we explore who prints our money, and what a daunting task it really is.

Who Prints U.S. Currency?

Currency for the U.S. is printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), which operates under the U.S. Department of the Treasury. They began printing Demand Notes in 1861, with workers handling most of the signing and trimming by hand, a very laborious process. At the time, paper notes were printed in denominations of 1 cent, 5 cents, 25 cents, and 50 cents.

By 1862, production machines were in use, and a workshop was set up in the basement of the Treasury building. Today, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing operates both in Washington, D.C and Forth Worth, Texas, and it is one of the largest print operations in the world.

Cotton Field

Your future dollar bills, ready to be harvested.

Specialty Paper

Most everyday paper is made primarily from wood pulp, which is not particularly durable when exposed to moisture and other elements. The paper used for U.S. currency is actually made from 75% cotton and 25% linen. This gives it a high degree of durability, so you can even soak your dollar bills without having to worry about ending up with a useless wad of pulp! Of course, this has a price as well, as the production costs for printed money can fluctuate with the rising price of cotton, as CNN Money points out.

While durability is a major concern, the currency also needs to be as unique as possible. By using a specialized type of paper, the BEP can help ensure that it is more difficult to counterfeit. Bills printed on standard paper would not have the right “feel”, which is just one of many ways to detect counterfeit bills.

Money Ink

The Liberty Bell and 100 imprint are printed with special metallic ink.

Specialty Ink

Not only is the paper for U.S. currency unique, but the inks are as well. The inks are blended by the BEP on site. So, they are more difficult to emulate, and continuous quality testing ensures they are consistent.

Have you noticed your bills getting more colorful with each new design? These are anti-counterfeiting measures at work. Color-shifting ink is used for counterfeit protection on bills of $10 and larger.

Every bill uses a certain amount of green ink, with a combination of black ink for most text. Additionally, metallic inks are also used on some bills, with more elaborate markings on the larger denominations for better protection.

How Much Paper Money is Printed Each Year?

Production numbers vary month to month, depending on demand. As older bills are phased out, new ones are printed to replace them. Here are a few statistics to give you an idea of the scope:

  • Over 90% of the notes the BEP produces each year are to replace worn notes that are taken out of circulation.
  • In 2012, the BEP produced around 8.4 billion notes, which could be anything from a $1 bill to a $100 bill. The average cost of producing each note was around 8.7 cents.
  • The BEP produced around 35 million notes per day in 2012, which carried a face value of around $1.5 billion!

Printing money is a complex and evolving process. As one of the largest printing operations in the world, the BEP also must continually stay ahead of counterfeiters with new methods and technologies. The next time you spend a few dollar bills, think about all of the hard work that went into getting them into circulation, all the way from a cotton field to your wallet.

Here is a video from with some tips for touring the Bureau of Engraving and Printing:


Now that you know where your money comes from, we can help you hang on to a little more of it. See our tips for Controlling the Cost of Printing in your home or office.

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