How does a real 100-dollar bill look? The look and feel of paper currency can be mysterious, especially when trying to spot counterfeits. If you’ve ever wondered what features make a real 100-dollar bill legitimate, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Real 100-dollar bills contain multiple advanced security features like color-shifting ink, security threads, watermarks, and more that are very difficult for counterfeiters to duplicate.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know about the distinct characteristics of authentic $100 bills, from the subtle design details to advanced anti-counterfeiting protections.

Key Security Features of Genuine $100 Bills

Color-Shifting Ink

The most prominent security feature of real $100 bills is the color-shifting ink on the number 100 located in the lower right corner of the face (front) of the bill. This ink appears green when viewed straight on but shifts to black when the bill is tilted.

This effect is very difficult for counterfeiters to reproduce and serves as a quick way to determine if a $100 bill is genuine.

3D Security Ribbon

Genuine $100 bills issued since 2013 contain a blue 3D security ribbon running vertically on the front of the bill. This ribbon contains images of bells and the number 100 that shift from one view to another as the bill is tilted.

Additionally, tiny lenses incorporated into the ribbon create a distinctive effect of the bells and 100s moving side to side or up and down when the bill is tilted.


There are two watermarks found on real $100 bills. Holding the bill up to light will reveal a faint image of Benjamin Franklin in the blank space to the right of the portrait. This watermark can be seen on both sides of the note.

There is also a second watermark visible when holding the bill up to the light – the numeral 100 located in a blank space on the lower right corner of the portrait side.

Some other advanced security features found on genuine $100 bills include:

  • Microprinting The words “United States of America” printed in tiny letters on Benjamin Franklin’s jacket
  • Raised Printing Printed words and numerals with a slightly raised feel
  • Security Thread An embedded plastic strip running vertically on the left side of the portrait side saying “USA 100” and glowing red when held under UV light
  • Optically Variable Ink The number 100 in the bottom left corner on the back shifting in color from copper to green when the bill is tilted

There are even more sophisticated technological security features incorporated into real $100 bills that ordinary consumers may not be able to readily verify, but can have confidence contribute to the overall integrity of the banknote.

These include infrared markings detected by scanners and digital watermarks embedded but not visible to the naked eye.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, approximately 6.5 billion $100 notes were in circulation worldwide as of 2020, making it the most widely circulated U.S. denomination outside the country. However, the $100 bill remains one of the most counterfeited banknotes globally.

Being able to recognize the unique security features of genuine $100 bills is important to avoid the economic impacts of counterfeit currency.

For more detailed information on current and future U.S. currency security features, visit the U.S. Currency Education Program.

Intricate Engraving Details

Fine Lines

Genuine $100 bills feature incredibly intricate fine lines in the borders and background designs. These thin lines are printed using advanced intaglio printing presses that can capture very fine details.

Counterfeits often lack these fine lines since most copiers and printers cannot reproduce such tiny details.


Authentic $100 bills have areas of microprinting, which are tiny words printed in a font so small they appear as a line to the naked eye. You need a magnifying glass to read the micro printing, which contains abbreviations of “The United States of America” repeated over and over.

Fakes rarely have actual discernible words in their microprinting since few printers can achieve such minuscule lettering.

Raised Printing

The serial numbers and seals on legitimate currency have a distinct raised texture you can feel by running your finger over them. This kind of raised printing would require specialty engraving equipment and ink that most counterfeiters do not possess.

Fake bills tend to have serial numbers and seals that feel flat rather than raised.

Portrait and Imagery

The portrait and imagery on a real 100-dollar bill contain some intricate and complex designs that help distinguish it from counterfeits. Here are some key details:

The Portrait

The front of a real $100 bill features a portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Some distinctive aspects of the portrait include:

  • It is an engraved illustration rather than a photograph.
  • Fine lines are present in Franklin’s hair and on the borders of the oval frame surrounding him.
  • The details in Franklin’s face, clothes, and background are precise and clear under magnification.

The Great Seal Watermark

Held up to the light, a subtle watermark in the shape of the Great Seal of the United States becomes visible from both sides of a legitimate $100 bill. It contains intricate patterns and very fine details.

Security Thread

A blue 3D security ribbon is woven into the fabric of real $100 bills. Tilting the bill back and forth shows bell shapes and the numeral 100 in alternating patterns.

Color-Shifting Ink

The number 100 in the bottom right corner on the front of authentic $100 bills is printed with color-shifting ink. The color shifts from copper to green when tilted.


Tiny printed words that are difficult to replicate appear along Ben Franklin’s jacket collar. The microprinting spells out the words “United States of America.”

Advanced technology gives genuine $100 bills exceptional depth of imagery and sharpness. Learning these visual elements can help quickly spot fraudulent bills.

Denominations and Serial Numbers

US currency comes in various denominations, with distinct looks and security features for each. Here is an overview of the denominations and what to look for:

Common Denominations

The most frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills. Each has a portrait of a historical US figure and a unique color scheme:

  • $1 – George Washington – Predominantly black and white
  • $5 – Abraham Lincoln – Purple and gray
  • $10 – Alexander Hamilton – Orange and brown
  • $20 – Andrew Jackson – Green and peach
  • $50 – Ulysses S. Grant – Red, blue, and yellow
  • $100 – Benjamin Franklin – Dark green and black

Serial Numbers

All US banknotes have an 11-character serial number consisting of one letter, one number, and nine digits. This helps uniquely identify each bill. For a real $100 bill, check that:

  • The serial number has the correct format
  • The numbers are evenly spaced and printed in the same ink color as the portrait
  • The numbers match on both sides of the bill

You can also use the serial number to figure out when the bill was produced. The first letter corresponds to the Federal Reserve Bank that issued the note. The number next to it denotes the year of printing followed by a 2-digit sequential code.

For example, a serial starting with B5 would come from the New York Federal Reserve District (B) and be printed in 2005.

Inspecting denominations, portraits, colors, and serial numbers are all quick ways to check that a $100 bill is legit.

How Does A Real 100-Dollar Bill Look – Conclusion

With so many security protections and intricate design details, genuine $100 bills have a very distinctive and complex appearance that is difficult to accurately replicate. By understanding the key features covered here, you can identify authentic banknotes and spot fakes.

If inspecting a $100 bill in question, check for multiple indications of authenticity, not just one. When in doubt, verify with local authorities to prevent falling victim to counterfeits. With greater awareness and diligence, we can all keep an eye out for fake currency.

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