Does Photoshop and Your Scanner Stop You From Copying Money?

I've always heard that Adobe Photoshop will not allow you to import pictures of U.S. currency because you could potentially be using the software to "copy money." Today I ran across a video that also claims that all current copy machines will not copy currency due to a hidden pattern on the bills. I decided to put this to the test.

First I decided to test Photoshop. I went to Google and searched for "20 dollar bill." I copied two different images of $20 bills and imported them into Photoshop without any issue. I wasn't sure that these images were doctored so I decided to take my own picture. I pulled a $20 bill out of my wallet and took a picture of it. I was able to import this image into Photoshop as well without any issue.

I then tried to take a screenshot of Photoshop open with money being edited. When I tried to copy that screenshot into a new Photoshop Document, I finally got the error.

For some reason Photoshop did allow me to edit three different $20 bills but wouldn't allow me to import them again as a screenshot. To get that first shot of the bills in Photoshop I had to import my screenshot into Microsoft Paint, crop it, and save it.

We have a black and white printer/copier/scanner in our office and I decided to test that next. I took my $20 and was able to make copies of both sides of the bill without any issue.

So what's going on here? Why is Photoshop only blocking me part of the time? Why does my copier, which is new, still allow me to make copies? Is it because it's black and white? If you know the answer I'd love to hear it.

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24 Comments

Anonymous's picture

Did you actually look at the link in your Photoshop error message? There seems to be nicely explained who and why ask SW and HW manufacturers to implement a "copy protection".

Photoshop most likely has only a bitmap image of banknotes to block them, hence the screenshot was refused. Maybe printing on color printer would not work either.
A copy of a banknote made by a black and white copier will easily be detected as a fake (i.e. not a real note) because of the lack of color....

Eric Pare's picture

hehehe ... Lee, you have too much time in your hands :)

Hah ya slow day at the office for sure

Spy Black's picture

It would be interesting to see how an open source app like GIMP, Krita, et al would handle this. Actually, it would be interesting to see how pay apps like Pixelmator, Affinity Photo, Corel PhotoPaint, Corel Painter, StudioLine Photo Pro 4, etc. would handle this situation.

Where could that special type of paper be purchased, you know the type that feels alot like money bills between your fingers?

Check out whitehouse.gov

Crane Paper Co from Dalton, MA.

Hometown is where all the paper for US currency is made.

Pat Black's picture

didn't you just get a Jet ski? what are you doing in the office!?

Anonymous's picture

Trying to make some cash to pay for the gas!

Most colour printers and photocopiers have technology to block copying money and in Europe have special metallic threads to both be a visual indicator of a fake as well as creating hot spots in an image.

Been there for a long time, ever since I worked for Xerox/HP/Ricoh 16 years ago so probably even earlier. One such system for detecting fakes is the European Constellation:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EURion_constellation

I was going to reply with the same. I actually purchased way back in '94 a Canon Color Copier CLC100 and a year later the CLC300, which if I'm not mistaken received the copy protection firmware update in the Spring '95. It was actually controlled after-the-fact by the local police here in Germany.

Spy Black's picture

Back in the 80s a group of counterfeiters in Queens NY made use of a Canon Color Laser printer to do exactly that. The ring was busted, and were probably the catalyst for the copy protection updates.

The funniest part is that it would've been the greatest endorsement Canon could have gotten for the image quality of their printers! Imagine the ad campaigns! :-D

If I remember correctly the Ricoh NC305 (analog color) would do a very nice copy. Nice enough to fool our Coke machine. I started in the industry in 1997 and that machine was fairly new for us. As for the digital color machines, scanning currency, death/birth certificates, some checks, etc have been restricted at least for a 1 to 1 scale.

Michael Kormos's picture

Lee, I'd love to know about your average day, and the random thoughts that go through your head every morning, which ultimately find themselves published on fstoppers :-)

Patrick Hall's picture

I live this day every day and trust me....it's kind of weird

LOL!

I simply see where Boredom takes me

Burt Johnson's picture

I did this same test a long time ago. Circa 2000 or so.

At that time, Photoshop would not let me open a 300dpi scan of a bill (don't remember the denomination I used, but probably a $20, since that is where most of the fuss was and is). I worked around that with some other software (don't remember which one), but when I tried to print the result on a color printer, the printer rejected it.

So these blocks definitely did exist at one point. I am sure your printer allowing is simply because you did it in B&W. Odd that PS would allow edit of the scan but not the screen dump. Sounds like a bug to me...

Ryan Graham's picture

I see counterfeits quite often where I work, it's Vegas after all, and can at least say that it doesn't SEEM as difficult as this video describes it. Might be they're not using Photoshop? I couldn't say as I've never tried and don't intend to. Most of the bills we get look pretty bad, though, since you would need a very high DPI printer or get a lot of moiring and other muddy details.

Don't even try with the newest blue $100 bills. Nobody has been able to make a perfect one of those yet. :p The older, standard money color ones, yeah. Look up Super bills or superdollars.

Incredible how millions of computers are slowed down by this check every time you copy something.

You got me curious:
My scanner (Canon 9000 F Mark II) scans it without problems. Apple Viewer shows it without a problem.
Affinity Photo does not care about restrictions and imports the file without problems.

Only Photoshop refuses to open it. But I know there was a trick to get PS to import the file.
I just forgot how it worked.

The only reason why I would do it was to use it (of course clearly marked) in ads. That is to my knowledge allowed to a certain extent in Germany - on the contrary to the US.
And if you are in the graphics department and you have to build an ad with money you have to "get it inside" a computer somehow.

EDIT:
And my printer prints it as well. At least in BW. I did not want to waste the color catridge.

Joshua Boldt's picture

Our big Toshiba copier won't let me scan money as a high res color electronic file, but it will let me make a low res black and white COPY with the basic copier function. It also won't scan checks as high res files if they have one of those safe check security symbols on them, but again if I need just a cheap copy for our records it will do a crappy black and white copy.

Joshua Boldt's picture

I've seen a few fake 100s when I worked at a local liquor store, but by the time I reported them other places had already reported fake money in town and the feds were already here confiscating the bad bucks and interviewing people. I live in a small state; they love it when we find something for them to do. :)

dale clark's picture

I read somewhere, a long time ago that, that most people encounter/use counterfeit cash all the time without knowing it. Maybe not as big today since cash is not as big as it once was.