Is owning prop money illegal?

Prop money is a professional product designed to serve a very useful goal for content creators and film production staff. When designed in accordance with US regulations, it is perfectly legal to own prop money. The trouble of course comes when people try to use prop money for something other than its intended use.

Which is obviously attempting to pass prop money off as legitimate currency. While in principle it may seem that since prop money is supposed to look real on camera, it should be easy to fool someone in real life, this is absolutely not the case. 

Prop money is very carefully designed to look real from a distance (ie on camera in a video production), but when inspected up close there are numerous distinctions. To name a few of the biggest differences: 

  1. Change the face: Prop Money usually makes distinct changes to the faces of the presidents on the bills themselves. The human brain is exceptional at recognizing faces, and even better at recognizing familiar faces. Think back to a time when you visited a friend and immediately noticed they put on some weight. 
  2. Different text: Humans read by absorbing the shape of a word instead of recognizing each character. This means, that from a distance if the same font is used, it will be hard to notice that the expected words are different. This trick is put to exhaustive use in prop money so that as soon as someone is close enough to read the text on a bill, they will immediately know it's not real.
  3. No Watermarks: Real money has ingeniously designed watermarks that when held up to light will show the face of a president or famous landmark. The techniques to accomplish this are fiercely protected secrets and extremely difficult to replicate. Furthermore, anyone that handles cash is trained to look for a watermark if there is ever a question about authenticity of a piece of currency.

If you want to read more about this topic, we have an entire blog post where we dive into all the nitty details about the security features of American currency.

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