Art Studio

An illustrated school building with a pencil and paint brush for columns and easels in front with drawings on canvases showing a green dollar sign, a yellow star, and a red square.
An illustrated hand holding an engraving tool and etching a portrait of Ben Franklin into a metal plate.
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Who Designs the Bills?

Bills are designed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which is a part of the U.S. Treasury. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is in charge of designing and printing the bills we all use every day. Artists at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing work together to create every bill.

The first thing an artist does is to draw what he or she wants their bill to look like. The next step is to create an engraving. The artists who do this are called engravers. They use special tools to carve the drawings into metal plates.

An illustrated seal with a question mark inside.
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Did you know?

Because the engraver's job is so difficult, they must study and practice for 10 years before they can engrave their own plates. They actually learn from other artists who already know how to make bills.


Sections of the $1 and $50 bills zoomed in to show ovals, stars, and circles in the art.
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Shapes

Have you ever noticed that all bills are exactly the same-sized rectangle? They must all be the exact same size to pass inspection. Speaking of shapes, you can also find ovals, stars, and circles in the art on bills.

Five circles showing zoomed-in areas of bills that depict fine lines in the art.
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Lines

Look closely at a bill and you will see thousands of tiny lines. Some are thick and some are thin. They all do different things. Some lines are straight and others have curves and swirls. Some are drawn very close together or even overlap to create a pattern.

Illustrations of an American flag, a Bald Eagle, and the Status of Liberty above a zoomed-in example of each from the art on bills.
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Symbols

America has a lot of important symbols from history built into the artwork on the bills. For example, you will see stars and stripes from the American flag, Bald Eagles, and even the Statue of Liberty.

Three colorful picture frames containing close-up images from bill art depicting the portraits of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Ben Franklin. Two picture frames below the portraits show the White House and Capital building.
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Pictures

Every bill has a drawing of a statesman from history on the front. A statesman is a well-known person whose work has shaped the direction of the country. This can be a president or someone who ran an important part of the government. Drawings of famous buildings are also on bills, like the White House and the Capitol building in Washington, DC.

Close-ups of design flourishes from bills, showing detailed banners and edge designs.
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Design

The artwork on every bill is quite fancy. When you look at the shape of the numbers and the designs around the edges, you will notice that they are detailed and very beautiful. Artists work very hard to make every bill look like a unique piece of art.

An illustrated paint brush next to four circles showing examples of color from bill art: orange, yellow, purple, and blue.
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Color

Color is used in different ways on bills. One way is the use of color on some of the symbols and numbers on bills. There is a purple 5 on the $5 bill and there are blue stars and red stripes on the $50 bill.

Another use of color is in background of bills. Part of the background on $100 bills is blue, while part of the background on the $20 bill is orange.

A $20 bill with zoomed-in portions to show raised printing, and a pie chart showing 75% cotton and 25% linen.
Raised Printing
75% Cotton
25% Linen
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Texture

If you feel the paper a bill is made of, it doesn't feel like regular paper. It feels rough and a little thicker because it's a special paper made with cotton and linen.

You also might feel texture on the bills in the form of little bumps and ridges. This is because you are feeling the raised printing in some of the artwork. You will learn more about this in the Science Lab.

An illustrated seal with a question mark inside.
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Did you know?

Because this special paper is made with cotton and linen, it makes the bills much more durable. Durable means that something is made to last a long time. This is why bills don't fall apart if they are left in your pocket and wind up in the washing machine.


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Looking at the Real Bills

Now that you are familiar with all the artistic features on a bill, let's take a peek at some real bills. See if you can spot the different kinds of art on all the bills, like color, design, pictures, shapes, and symbols.

Photos showing a $1 bill front and back.
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The $1 Bill

The front of this bill has a picture of our 1st president, George Washington. On the back, there are pictures of a pyramid and an eagle.

Did you know?
An illustrated seal with a question mark inside.

The design you see today on the $1 bill has been in print longer than any other bill – more than 50 years.

A close-up of the semi-transparent word 'SPECIMEN' repeated in three rows across a bill
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Why do all the bills say "specimen?"

I bet you noticed the word "specimen" all over the official photos of the bills and are wondering what it means. Well, specimen means "example" or "sample." This word is written on pictures of bills on this website so people can't print them and try to use them like real money.

Photos showing a $2 bill front and back.
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The $2 Bill

On the front of the $2 bill, there's a picture of President Thomas Jefferson. Before he was our 3rd president, he wrote the Declaration of Independence. That explains why there is a famous painting about the Declaration of Independence on the back.

Did you know?
An illustrated seal with a question mark inside.

You rarely see $2 bills because not that many are printed. When people do actually find them, they like to collect them instead of spending them.

Photos showing a $5 bill front and back.
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The $5 Bill

Many Americans consider Abraham Lincoln to be one of America's greatest presidents. That is one reason he is on the front of the $5 bill. On the back of the bill, there is a picture of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was built to honor him.

Did you know?
An illustrated seal with a question mark inside.

Before 1914, Abraham Lincoln wasn't on the $5 bill. Back then, Alexander Hamilton was on the $5 bill. You will learn about him next…

Photos showing a $10 bill front and back.
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The $10 Bill

Alexander Hamilton is on the front of the $10 bill because he was the first person to run the U.S. Treasury. On the back of the bill, there is a picture of the U.S. Treasury building.

Did you know?
An illustrated seal with a question mark inside.

The $10 bill is one of only two bills that doesn't have a president on it. The other is the $100 bill. Keep reading to learn about it.

Photos showing a $20 bill front and back.
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The $20 Bill

Andrew Jackson, America's 7th president, is on the front of the $20 bill. On the back, there is a picture of the White House.

Did you know?
An illustrated seal with a question mark inside.

If you look closely at the front and back of this bill, the word "twenty" appears five times. Can you find all of them?

Photos showing a $50 bill front and back.
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The $50 Bill

America's 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant, is on the front of the $50 bill. On the back, there's a drawing of the U.S. Capitol building.

Did you know?
An illustrated seal with a question mark inside.

The $50 is the only bill that has a red and blue American flag on it.

Photos showing a $100 bill front and back.
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The $100 Bill

On the front of the bill, you will find Benjamin Franklin. One of the many things he is famous for is printing some of America's very first bills. On the back of the bill, you'll see Independence Hall, which is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Franklin was a community leader.


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Now that you know all about why American paper currency looks the way it does, it's time to go to the School Store. There, you'll become an expert on how these beautiful bills are used to pay for the things we need every day.