Project Description

EX NIHILO – THE WORLD’S FIRST BLACK BANKNOTES The project began with responding to the various requirements arising from the digitalisation of money, be they technological, sustainability, security or design related. Our aim was to find a new face of money that could help to distinguish new forms of money from conventional ones. We took our inspiration from the following philosophical thoughts: Yesterday we paid with cash, today with credit cards and tomorrow with digital currency. Paper, plastic, electronic information: Money is becoming increasingly independent of matter. It is approaching nothingness. Hence the name of our series ”Ex Nihilo”, which means ”from nothing”. Nothing is the absence of everything. Culturally, this is symbolised by the absence of light. So, we tried something new: together with our partners, we developed the blackest black possible and dyed our paper with it. We soon discovered that this black has three advantages: It is a new level 1 feature that prevents copying (because every copy looks greyish against it), it is more sustainable (because you do not need bleach and the contamination from recycled banknotes is irrelevant) and it is somehow more poetic: We took away as much light as possible to get the blackest black, and now we had to bring it back. We had to print light (with special pigments). We decided to create a series of four black house notes, all telling a consistent story to go with the black: the story of black carbon as it unfolds in our universe.


Design Theme

THE STORY OF BLACK CARBON The story of the series begins with the peculiar birthplace of carbon: not our planet, but the stars. As we are all made of carbon we are children of the stars. Carbon led to one of mankind’s greatest innovations: the harnessing of fire. “Fire” means Ignis in Latin. On our spaceship Earth we float through time and space. Inside our Earth something miraculous happens: Under high temperature and pressure carbon becomes transparent. A diamond is nothing else then compressed carbon. And this completes the story of black carbon.

Together with our partners, we decided that the note Ignis dedicated to mankind’s greatest innovation would be produced first. This is the house note that we would like to nominate for the competition.

IGNIS – THE FIRST HOUSE NOTE WITH A CHIP OF THE EX NIHILO SERIES ”Fire as one of mankind’s greatest innovations” links all the images on this note. From the tiniest raster element to the fireball of our sun on the front, to a piece of coal in white intaglio on the front, to a three-colour RGB-UV image underneath that makes the piece of coal glow when excited with UV light, to dynamically blazing flames in the foil, to the alchemical symbol for fire as SPARK® (a triangle), every design element has something to do with fire. Since the note is equipped with a highly secure microchip, its value becomes dynamic. Fixed denominations (such as $10 or €5) no longer make sense. Consequently, we also linked the denomination to the theme of fire: 6000°C is the average temperature of the surface of the sun.


Integration of Security Features

On a white background, an image is created by printing shadow accents. This is no longer possible on black because a black background is already shadows. So instead of printing shadow accents, we had to print light accents. To do this, we had to invert each image. But that is just one of the changes that comes with a black substrate. We had to rethink and reinvent every printing process in banknote production: from white intaglio, fluorescent features, foil application, OVMI and white numbering on the back, to silk screen on the front, we had to adapt every printing process to work on black.

The latter (silk screen) is used to create the main appearance of the front (the sun). On black, this is achieved by printing light-reflecting pigments. Reflecting light means that by overprinting colours you add more of this reflection until, when you mix all the colours, you reach the maximum amount of reflected light: a pure white. Together with our partners, we harnessed this behaviour of colours for a completely new type of origination, revolutionising screen printing for security documents. The image literally becomes light dancing across the dark background.

Chip In accordance with the theme of mankind’s greatest innovation, the note harbours a chip that allows to combine the best of both worlds: analogue and digital. A chip communicates through magnetic fields. We chose the magnetic fields that shield the Earth from solar flares as the design for a patch to intuitively draw attention to the chip’s location, because a chip is only useful if you know where it is.

And this is where the black comes in again Just as white stands for a conventional banknote, the colour black signals that it is an enhanced banknote with a bridge technology to the digital world.


Project Team

Bundesdruckerei GmbH
Landqart AG
Andreas Iten Graphic Design
Atellier für Siebdruck Lorenz Boegli
König & Bauer AG
Infineon Technologies AG
Zeiser GmbH


Other Aspects

“Ignis” – the first house note of the Ex Nihilo-series is a cooperation project of renowned representatives of the industry who are committed to the future and innovation of money. The key feature of this project is that, based on the philosophical consideration that money is becoming increasingly immaterial, we are allowing the banknotes to turn black.

Far be it from us to suggest that future money must be black. We do not intend to give concluding answers in any way as to what the money of the future will look like. We simply want to show that future banknotes do not have to be confined to the boundaries of today’s conventional banknotes. These boundaries will be constantly re-examined and renegotiated due to future needs. Our house note is an attempt to participate in this negotiation.

Ideally, the colour black could serve as a visual symbol for a new generation of banknotes in the future. Black would signal that it is a modern, alternative banknote with a link beyond the conventional world of cash. In contrast, white banknotes suggest that it is just cash with no additional functionality. Thus, black would have an important signalling function, allowing for immediate recognition of an enhanced banknote.

Like on our mobile phones a black substrate could become the dark mode of banknotes, indicating that what we are holding in our hands is

  • energy-saving (because recycling flows can be optimised)
  • perfectly copy protected (because every copy looks greyish against the blackest black)
  • equipped with enhanced payment functionality (e.g. chip in paper)
  • and maybe even slightly poetic, as light dances across darkness through reflecting pigments,
  • and with this poetry it will attract everyone’s attention

House note Image

Categories: Technical Awards 2024
Tags: Best House Note