Many businesses are already leery about accepting large-denomination bills because of the number of counterfeits out there, so they'll likely be even more wary when people start trying to pay with the unfamiliar new banknotes that will start circulating through ATMs and bank tellers in November.

But while the new bills may cause some awkward moments in the checkout line in the short term, the government says they have a number of high-tech features that should actually help reduce the counterfeit problem in the long run.

The new $100 bills went into circulation Nov. 14. They have two portraits of prime minister Robert Borden, as well as an image of a researcher using a microscope and a depiction of a strand of DNA.

The Bank of Canada's new $50 bills are scheduled to be released in March 2012. New $20 notes will be issued before the end of 2012, according to the BOC, followed by new $10 and $5 notes in 2013. 

Redesign

The Bank of Canada periodically redesigns Canada's banknotes, aiming to make them easier to check and harder to copy. It says the rate of fake bills was at an all-time high of 470 per million before a redesign done 2004, when Canadians were introduced to holographic stripes and other security features. The rate has since fallen to 35 bad bills per million today.

The BOC says the new polymer bills have a radical new look and enhanced security features that are designed to reduce the rate of counterfeits even more.

The difference between the old and new bank notes is in the details:

  • The film that coats the new bills, each made from a single piece of polymer, has a smooth, plastic feel and two clear panels.
  • The clear panels feature metallic images as well as hidden numbers, visible when the bill is held up against a light source.
  •  The BOC advises people to "feel, look, and flip" the new bills to experience the new security features. This interactive graphic has the details of what the new bill design includes.
  • Sir Robert Borden is still featured on the $100 note, and William Lyon Mackenzie King remains on the $50 note. But now both former prime ministers look you straight in the eye.
  • You'll no longer see the tribute to the "famous five" of women's suffrage on the $50 bill, nor the discovery-themed miscellany on the back of the old $100. The new theme is "frontiers," with the back of the $100 bill showcasing medical innovations by depicting a scene connected with the discovery of insulin, and the $50 paying tribute to Arctic research with the CCGS Amundsen.
  • The other denominations will take us from battle frontiers like Vimy Ridge to space frontiers with the Canadarm.
  • The BOC states that the polymer in the new notes has a lighter environmental footprint. The bills are 2.5 times more durable than their cotton-based counterparts and can be recycled after they are taken out of circulation.
  • Security features now include more sophisticated holograms and raised ink on the prime ministers' shoulders, on the biggest number and on the words "Bank of Canada."
With files from The Canadian Press