How Do Currency Counting Machines Work?

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a currency-counting machine; it was in Bad Boys II, a Will Smith classic, when the bad guys were conspiring on how to count their money faster and more accurately, because they were just RAKING in the drug money, and had too much to count.

Then, Will Smith’s love interest, an undercover agent, provides the perfect solution: a top-of-the-line currency counting machine, and proceeds to give the drug lord a demonstration. Trust me, it’s a lot better than how things used to be.

As I watched the money whipping through that machine, counting a stack of cold hard cash in different denominations in a matter of seconds, I was blown away. The question I had then, and one that many people probably still have, is how do currency-counting machines actually work?

The Science of Counting Cash

The most common place to see a currency-counting machine is in a bank, as almost all now use some type of machine to speed up the process of counting cash, while others are even designed to detect counterfeit money. There are many varieties, including coin-sorting, coin-counting, banknote and coin counting, banknote only, etc. The list goes on and on, but we’re interested in how the actual feat is achieved!

Photo Credit: Andrey Arkusha / Shutterstock

Photo Credit: Andrey Arkusha / Shutterstock

Banknote Counter

Once a banker sticks a wad of cash into the front arm of a banknote-counting machine, the process moves very quickly – which is the whole point! The bills are mechanically pulled through a microprocessor scanner one at a time, and based on how many times the beam of light is interrupted, the machine knows how many bills it pulled through.

The second layer of technology is based on pattern recognition, which helps the machine determine what denomination each bill is, based on the unique designs of each type of bill. Take out a $1 bill and a $100 bill; there are a lot of differences that a computer can spot in an instant!

Finally, most banknote counting machines also use black light technology to illuminate the bills, which have florescent symbols printed on them. This is a very effective way to tell if a banknote is counterfeit.

All of these processes happen in a split-second to dozens or even hundreds of bills, providing you with a completely accurate count of your money, and informing you that it is, in fact, real money!

Coin Machines: Counting and Sorting

Although many people look at loose change as an annoyance in this age of debit cards and cash, coins are still acceptable currency, and when you have a lot of it, finding an effective way to sort and count it is essential.

Some coin-sorting machines can accept a wide range of coins and separate them into different denominations based on size, as coins can only pass through their correctly-sized hole. For American currency, for example, the holes would be in ascending size order: dime, penny, nickel, quarter. Essentially, a quarter wouldn’t be able to enter any hole except the last one it reaches. Similarly, a dime, which could fit in all the other-sized slots, will drop into its appropriate hole first. Pretty simple, right? These separated stacks of denominations can then be passed through a coin counter.

Coin counters come in a variety of functionalities, but the best ones serve both roles (sorting and counting). More advanced coin machines use the weight of coins to identify specific denominations, and can rapidly calculate the total amount. However, the most modern machines use a similar system to the banknote machine; when the coins pass through their appropriately-sized hole, they go past a light-beam counter, so each time the light is interrupted, the receptor knows that a coin has just passed.

Some “top-of-the-line” currency-counting machines include both banknote and coin-counting abilities. However, due to the fact that the benefit of these machines is their portable, small-scale nature, these combination machines often skimp on other tech books, such as the counterfeit detection scanning.

Now that you understand the science of currency-counting machines, and the different options, you can eliminate that long-standing confusion about how those bankers are right every time.

Also, if you’re planning on counting a lot of illegal cash, in the hopes of a cameo in Bad Boys III, you know what details to look for when shopping around for your own currency-counting machine!


  1. Currency Counting Machine – Wikipedia
  2. Ehow
  3. Banknote counter – Wikipedia


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John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer who earned his English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois. He is the co-founder of a literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, an arts nonprofit based in Denver. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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