The European Central Bank (ECB) aims to upgrade or redesign its banknotes on a regular basis to stay several steps ahead of ever-more-sophisticated counterfeiters. With that goal in mind, the ECB has embarked on an ambitious project to give all six denominations of euro banknotes a major makeover. (The 500-euro note is no longer being produced, but previously printed notes remain in circulation.)

The ECB also sees this as an opportunity to refresh and revamp the visual design of the euro notes to make them more relatable to consumers living in the European Union.

In this article, you’ll learn about the future vision for euro banknotes and, for context, a brief look back at how the euro has evolved to the present time.

Euro banknotes with a new visual design

Even as the digital payment trend grows in popularity, cash remains a popular form of payment, and many central banks are issuing colourful new banknotes with creative design elements that depict national points-of-pride. Stuffy, dull-looking banknotes are falling out of favour while lively-looking designs that depict themes and features that resonate with consumers are catching hold.

To boost the banknotes’ appeal to consumers, the ECB aims to design notes that reflect themes and features that European Union residents can relate to. The new look will replace the bridges, windows, and arches with no physical existence on the first and second series.

The European Union was formed in 1993 with a half dozen member nations, and the first euro notes were launched in 2002. Today the EU has grown to include 27 European countries, from Austria through Sweden. Christine Lagarde, President of the ECB, states that, “After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds.”

Henrik Ibsen coined the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words” and the ECB has taken this to heart by surveying the public to learn what images and ideals they want their currency to portray.

The public is invited to weigh in on design themes

Between December 2021 and March 2022, the ECB spoke with focus groups comprised of people in all the euro area countries to hear their opinions on possible themes for future banknotes. This process resulted in the ECB’s Governing Council shortlisting the following seven themes:

  • Birds: free, resilient, inspiring
  • European culture
  • European values mirrored in nature
  • The future is yours
  • Hands: Together we build Europe
  • Our Europe, ourselves
  • Rivers: The waters of life in Europe

On July 10 of this year the ECB invited the general public to express their preferences about these themes for the future euro notes. This open survey will run through the end of August. But public input won’t end there. The ECB explains, “The outcome of the surveys will be used by the ECB to select the theme for the next generation of banknotes by 2024. After that a design competition will take place. European citizens will again have the chance to express their preferences on the design options resulting from that competition. The ECB is expected to take the decision on the future design, and on when to produce and issue the new banknotes, in 2026.”

Main Steps in the Euro Redesign Process

(Courtesy of European Central Bank)

A look to the euro’s history to date

To understand the magnitude of the current redesign process, it helps to reflect on the history of the euro to date. The ECB made minimal design changes to the second, upgraded series of euro banknotes. Instead of introducing a completely new series after the first issue, the ECB chose to refresh the design and security features. As a result, the second series was very similar to the first, with the introduction of the mythical Europa (added as an image embedded in a security feature) to “personalize” the notes.

In his 2013 article, “Spotting the Differences,” author Hans de Heij’s explained that, “The Euro system has followed the upgrade policy of two other world currencies: the US dollar and the Japanese yen” by ensuring the design of their banknotes didn’t change dramatically from one series to the next. In that article, de Heij also pointed out and illustrated the subtle differences between the first 5-euro note and the subsequent “Europa” note.

The images below illustrate the similarities and differences between 20-euro notes in the first and second series.

20-euro banknote (original series, 2002) 20-euro banknote (second series, 2015)


State-of-the-art security features: A tradition in euro banknotes

From the beginning, the ECB has integrated modern security features into its euro notes. The first series was protected by security features such as the Kinegram® and the AlphagramTM, both diffractive optically variable image devices (DOVIDs). In fact, in a 2022 article, Dr. Paul Dunn, Chairman of the International Hologram Manufacturers Association, statedabout:blank that, while other countries had added diffractive optically variable image devices (DOVIDs) to their banknotes, “The most significant driver in the widespread adoption of  DOVIDs on banknotes was the decision to include them on the euro, launched in 2002, as a security feature.”

Security features were taken up a notch with the launch of the Europa series in 2013. Additional Kinegram® elements, Spark® magnetic OVI ink, new designed watermarks and a see-through transparent window are a few examples of the security upgrades in that series. Some of these security features, in the current 100-euro note, are illustrated below.

Spark “100”     

EUROPA Watermark

Hologram on back of window

In the years since the first and second series of euro notes were produced, even more sophisticated security features have been developed. It’s a safe bet that the ECB will further enhance the euro notes of the upcoming series with several new cutting-edge security features to form an integral part of the new design.

Sustainable euro banknotes: Ecologically sound

Since the launch of the second series of euro notes, the ECB has set a goal of producing banknotes that are more sustainable. Starting in 2013, the most commonly used euro banknotes (€5, €10) have been printed on paper coated with a special coating to make them more durable. Then, starting in 2021, all new €20 banknotes have been produced with protective lacquer to make them more durable and resistant to soiling.

The ECB proudly describes its euro banknotes as “printed on cotton-fibre paper, which gives them their special crispness and wear-and-tear resistance.” Greater durability reduces the need for additional banknotes to be produced, thus reducing both cost and the impact on the environment. (The unvarnished notes are gradually being removed from circulation.)

Awaiting the unveiling of the new euro banknotes

The design of the next generation of euro banknotes remains under wraps for now. What is certain is that the new notes will incorporate upgraded security features and responsible sustainability. And, perhaps most intriguing, the notes’ imagery will reflect the diversity and unity of cultures, values, and landscapes encompassed by the many nations of the European Union.


European Central Bank

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As banknote editor at Keesing Technologies, Marijke has embraced the world of banknotes. Banknotes from all over the world pass through her hands, to eventually be included in the Keesing database, with descriptions of their security features. Marijke also graduated in French Language and Literature and has held various translation and editorial positions.

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Kristin Stanberry performs dual roles for Keesing Technologies. She’s responsible for document acquisition in North America, serving as liaison with the agencies that issue identity documents throughout the U.S. and Canada. And, as editor of the Keesing Platform, she works with experts around the world to bring their knowledge and insights to the Platform’s global audience.

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