How to tell if a 20-dollar bill is fake? Counterfeit money is an ongoing issue that causes problems for businesses and consumers alike. Being able to quickly identify fake bills is an important skill for anyone handling cash regularly.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the main ways to check if a $20 bill is fake are to feel the texture, examine the complex details using a magnifying glass, check for color-shifting ink on the number 20, examine the watermark and security thread, and compare it side-by-side with a real bill.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover all the visual and tactile methods you can use to determine whether a $20 bill is counterfeit. You’ll learn what security features to check on the bill and what the signs of fake currency are.

With the help of high-quality comparison images and detailed descriptions, you’ll be able to easily spot fake bills after reading this guide.

Examining the Paper Texture and Quality

Texture Should Have a Firm Crispness

Genuine U.S. currency paper has tiny red and blue fibers embedded throughout. Run your fingers slowly over the bill – you should feel a kind of crispness and firmness. Counterfeit bills often use regular paper that feels fuzzy or very smooth.

Also, examine the portrait and security features. The details should feel raised and textured, not flat. Trace your fingertip over the treasury seal or facial details – on real bills you’ll feel the engraved grooves and ridges.

Check for Bumpy Surfaces or Fuzziness

In addition to softness or fuzziness, the surface of a counterfeit bill may have small bumps or inconsistent textures. These happen when low-quality commercial papers are doctored to simulate currency paper.

Run your nails gently over both sides of the bill to detect any bumpiness or uneven surfaces, which likely indicate a fake. The surface should feel uniformly crisp and smooth except for the intentionally raised areas like the portraits.

According to the U.S. Secret Service, paper texture inconsistencies are a telltale sign of a counterfeit $20 bill. Feel carefully for any deviations from the uniformly crisp genuine texture.

Inspecting the Fine Details with a Magnifying Glass

Compare Small Text Print Quality

Examining a $20 bill under a magnifying glass can reveal key details that indicate whether it is real or counterfeit. Carefully inspect the tiny printed text, such as the small numerals in the corners or the microprint lines around the portrait.

On authentic bills, this text should be clear and crisp under magnification. The fonts have very fine curved details that can be difficult for counterfeiters to reproduce. Blurry or uneven printing is a red flag that the bill may not be genuine.

You can also compare the color tones of the small text to the rest of the bill. On real currency, the hues should be consistent. If the tiny text looks faded or is a different shade of green/black than the larger text, that points to a fake.

Subtle variations like this would not happen on legitimate US currency.

Examine the Microprinting

Closely checking the microprinting with a magnifying glass provides another indicator of authenticity. Microprinting is the tiny engraved text that borders the portrait on real $20 bills. Under magnification around 10x power or higher, this microprinting clearly spells out “USA TWENTY” and other identifiable phrases.

Fakers often attempt to mimic this effect using very small fonts printed on inkjet or commercial presses. But under sufficient magnification, you’ll notice blurry or broken characters on counterfeit notes where the microprinting lacks the level of precision present on genuine currency.

The difference can be subtle, but learning exactly what the microprinting text should look like makes it easier to spot imperfections.

In addition to glare errors that distort the microprint quality, you may spot spelling inaccuracies or nonsense words on fake notes. Authentic currency has meticulously engraved micro text with no such mistakes.

Checking the Color-Shifting Ink on Numeral 20

One of the most advanced security features of modern US currency is the color-shifting ink used on the numeral 20 in the lower-right corner on the front of genuine $20 bills. This special ink contains optically variable compounds that cause it to shift in color from copper to green when the bill is tilted.

What to Look For

To check for this color-shifting ink on a $20 bill:

  • Tilt the bill back and forth under good light and watch the numeral 20 change color from copper to green. This color shift is very obvious on authentic bills but will not occur on counterfeit bills.
  • Be sure to check both sides of the numeral 20 for the effect. Most counterfeits will not show the color shift on either side of the numeral.
  • On authentic bills, the color shift is very dramatic, almost like a light switch effect. Subtle color variations don’t necessarily indicate a fake, but the optimal reaction is unmistakable.

Tricks Some Counterfeits Use

Beware of the following tricks that some sophisticated counterfeits use to try to mimic this color-shifting effect:

  • Printed OVD Ink: Some fakes try printing the copper and green colors directly on the numeral 20 instead of using color-shifting OVD ink. But printed ink won’t shift colors when you tilt the bill; the colors just look blotchy from certain angles.
  • Split Numeral 20: Some fakes split the numeral 20 in half, with the left side printed in copper and the right side printed in green ink. But of course, those static colors won’t shift when you tilt the bill.

So keep in mind, authentic $20 bills use color-shifting OVD ink that dynamically changes from copper to green across the entire numeral 20 as you tilt the bill back and forth. If your bill doesn’t demonstrate this effect clearly, it may be counterfeit.

Locating the Embedded Security Thread

Tilt the Bill to See Thread

One of the most important security features to check on a $20 bill is the embedded security thread. This is a plastic strip that is woven into the paper and contains the text “USA TWENTY” and a small flag repeated over and over. Here’s how to check for it:

  1. Hold the bill up and tilt it back and forth under a light source. This makes the security thread visible as a dark line embedded in the paper.
  2. Check that the text “USA TWENTY” and the flag emblem appear in tiny print on the thread. This should repeat at regular intervals across the entire thread from top to bottom on the face of the bill.
  3. Run your finger across the bill and you should be able to feel the raised thread in the paper. Counterfeits sometimes print or draw security threads onto the bill rather than weaving them into the paper.

An authentic $20 bill has the security thread on the left side when you face the portrait. If the thread is missing or in the wrong location, then you likely have a fake. The thread glows red when held under an ultraviolet light as well.

Tilting the $20 bill back and forth under good lighting is the easiest way for most people to find and inspect the security thread. Keep in mind that counterfeiters are getting better at imitation threads, so it’s important to check the other security features as well.

But if you find any indications of missing or incorrect threads, markings, location, or texture, then there is almost a 100% chance you have a fake $20 on your hands.

Inspecting the Watermark

One of the best ways to detect counterfeit $20 bills is to closely inspect the watermark. A watermark is a subtle image woven into the paper that can only be seen when held up to light. Real $20 bills have a watermark of Andrew Jackson’s face that matches the portrait on the bill.

Here are some tips for checking the watermark:

  • Hold the bill up to a light source at an angle or up against a window. You should see part of Jackson’s face inside the blank space to the right of the portrait.
  • The watermark face should match the printed portrait in size, shape, and details. On real bills, the watermark and portrait are precisely aligned.
  • On counterfeits, the watermark may be missing, incomplete, or noticeably misaligned from the portrait.
  • Watermarks can be hard to see on worn or dirty bills. Try viewing clean, crisp bills in strong backlighting for the best view.

In addition to the face watermark, real $20 bills also have a small “20” watermark to the lower left of the portrait. This should match the printed “20” in the lower right corner.

While watermarks take some practice to recognize, they are one of the most reliable ways to detect fake $20 bills. Take a moment to check both watermarks on any questionable $20s that come your way.

Performing the Counterfeit Pen Test

The counterfeit pen test is one of the quickest and easiest ways to check if a $20 bill is fake. Here’s how to perform this test:

Get a Counterfeit Detector Pen

You’ll need to get your hands on a counterfeit detector pen, also known as a counterfeit marking pen. These pens contain a special iodine-based ink that reacts differently to the starch content on real bills versus fake bills.

You can purchase a counterfeit pen at any office supply store or online. They usually cost around $10-20.

Swipe the Pen Across the Bill

To start the test, simply swipe the nib of the counterfeit pen across the bill. Make sure you stroke it across the blank white paper on the bill (don’t swipe over any printed areas).

Then wait about 5 seconds to see how the ink on the bill reacts.

Check the Color Change

On a real $20 bill, the ink will turn yellow or remain clear with no discoloration. This means the pen detected enough starch in the genuine paper.

However, if the ink turns dark brown or black, that’s a bad sign. It means the paper lacks the proper starch content, indicating it’s a fake $20 printed on bleached paper.

This color change is key in identifying counterfeit currency. A dark spot left behind by the detector pen is a clear giveaway that the bill is a fake.

If ink turns… Bill is…
Yellow or clear Genuine
Dark brown or black Counterfeit

While counterfeit pens aren’t 100% foolproof, this quick and simple test can help you spot a majority of fake $20 bills with just one swipe. Always double-check suspect bills with other authentication tests as well.

Comparing Side-by-Side to a Genuine Bill

Observe All Security Features

When checking if a $20 bill is real or counterfeit, it’s important to carefully examine all of the security features. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, modern U.S. currency has a number of security features that are difficult to replicate and can help determine authenticity, including:

  • Color-shifting ink – The numeral 20 in the lower right corner on the front of the bill shifts from green to copper when tilted.
  • Raised printing – You can feel the texture of the paper on things like the Treasury Secretary’s signature and the words “United States of America.”
  • Security thread – There is a vertical strip embedded in the bill that says “USA TWENTY” and glows pink under UV light.
  • Watermark – Hold the bill up to the light to see a faint image similar to the portrait on the bill’s front.
  • Microprinting – Extremely small text is visible around the portrait that says things like “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”

Carefully checking for all of these features on a questionable $20 bill and comparing it to a known real bill side-by-side is the best way to determine if one is fake. The differences may be subtle, so go through each security feature methodically and look closely.

Notice Any Differences

According to research from the Federal Reservetwo of the most frequently counterfeited features on fake modern $20 bills are the color-shifting ink and the watermark portrait. Here are some differences you may notice:

Feature Real $20 Bill Fake $20 Bill
Color-Shifting Ink The number 20 shifts from green to copper when you tilt the bill The color does not shift, stays green, or has no color
Watermark A faint replica image of Jackson is visible from both sides when held up to the light The image is missing or unclear under light
Paper Quality Crisp, firm paper made of 75% cotton and 25% linen Flimsy paper that feels obviously different

Inspecting a suspect $20 bill closely next to a real one makes spotting differences in things like color, images, and text much easier. If you notice any deviations in the critical security features listed above or the feel of the paper seems off, then there’s a good chance the bill is fake.

How To Tell If A 20-Dollar Bill Is Fake – Conclusion

By carefully inspecting the paper quality, details, and security features, and comparing it to a real $20 bill, you can reliably determine whether a bill is genuine or counterfeit. If any aspect seems off or differs from an authentic bill, you should reject the currency.

Being able to spot fake bills takes practice, so feel free to repeat these authentication steps whenever scrutinizing cash. With the methods outlined above, you can have confidence in avoiding counterfeit losses.

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