Why Can’t You Photocopy Currency Notes?

As a child, this question bothered me for quite a while. If money was just made of pieces of paper, why couldn’t you simply make copies of it? We could just print it out in color using a Laser printer, right? With our technology, we could scan a bill and then print it in high definition. We could even use 3D printers today!

Or can we?

It may seem like an easy way to get rich, but you won’t be able to do it. I don’t just mean legally, which is one obvious issue… I mean you physically cannot copy money. If you try to print currency notes using any modern printing or scanning devices, they will refuse to assist you in this criminal endeavor. Some might even completely shut down! No matter how much you crumple or fold the note, the machine will still detect the fact that you are attempting your hand at counterfeiting.

But how does that even work? What is it about currency notes that has the power to stop a machine from functioning?

Eurion Constellation

With the exponential growth of the copying industry, the governments of the world rolled up their sleeves and ensured that their notes were impervious to such machines. It’s actually pretty interesting how they managed to accomplish this. The main defensive weapon used against such counterfeiting tactics is something known as the EURion Constellation.

Photocopiers have a way to detect that what they are copying is actually money. This is because all the major economies in the world have a similar pattern, called the EURion Constellation, on their currency notes (the name is a portmanteau of the word ‘Orion Constellation’ and ‘EUR’. This is because the pattern resembles the stars in the Orion constellation as well as the fact that this technology was first implemented on a 10 Euro banknote).


The EURion pattern

The EURion Constellation is a pattern of symbols incorporated in the designs of many banknotes around the world. It is said to have been introduced around 1996, but we can’t be exactly sure of the date. You see, the world governments kept this pattern a secret for quite a few years. However, in 2002, Markus Kuhn tried to photocopy money and discovered this pattern. A patent application can help us trace the pattern and its detection technology back to a Japanese electronic company, Omron Corporation. However, we aren’t really sure what the actual name for the EURion Constellation is, as the information regarding it was never officially released.

It is a pattern of disjointed circles that is visible on most banknotes. If not circles, then the pattern can also be disguised as numbers and musical notes! Here are some of the examples.


On $20 US bill

£20 UK note

£20 UK note

100 rupees note

100-rupee note

Most photocopiers will detect this pattern and stop printing immediately in an attempt to stop counterfeiting. Quite a nifty little trick, right? Today, however, even a better system is in place.

Counterfeit Deterrence System (CDS)

I would love to discuss this new system in this section of the article, but here’s the deal. I, and pretty much everyone else, has no idea how it actually works! This system is incredibly secretive and also incredibly effective.

Even Photoshop will refuse to edit a picture of part of a banknote using its software. Even when you block out the EURion Constellation, the software will still detect it as money and generate an ‘Error’ sign.


So yes, the EURion Constellation is definitely a part of the CDS, but there is much more to it that we, the normal citizens of the world, haven’t managed to figure out…. at least not yet!

NOTE: This article has discussed why you cannot photocopy money, but that does not mean I encourage you to try to do so. Counterfeiting is a serious crime that should not be taken lightly. Although this is not a dangerous practice, please do not try this at home. You don’t want to deal with law enforcement just because you couldn’t curb your curiosity!


  1. EURion Constellation – Wikipedia
  2. Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group – Wikipedia
  3. The Telegraph
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Vaishnavi has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology/Anthropology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai (India) and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Global Studies (whatever that is) from Humboldt University, Berlin (Germany). She loves to read and to sing, especially to avoid awkward situations. She claims she has learned a lot through traveling but she still ends up pulling a door marked ‘Push’, so the jury is still out on that one.

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