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Prop Money: The Definitive Guide (2021)

by Brian C. Christy
Prop Money: The Definitive Guide (2021)

There are several scenes where TV viewers can notice huge amounts of prop money being used in very popular shows including Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, and Narcos. Prop movie money is produced in order to be used in movies and TV shows exclusively. 

Filmmakers resort to using it because there are scenes where massive amounts of money are used. Hence, Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole has been using fake props for years. Motion picture money can be used in media productions, photography, training as well as TV series and movies. 

The whole crew who is involved in the production is aware of the fact that this money is not a real currency of course and they all know that it is illegal to carry prop dollars off-camera in any real-life situation. 

Breaking bad movie sceen

What Is Movie Prop Money?

Theatrical property, or prop, is a term used to describe any item that is utilized on-screen by an actor or an actress throughout a scene in a movie or a TV series. 

Basically, it is an object which can be moved and used on set other than electrical equipment, costumes, or scenery. Theatrical property can include even food or drink used during a screen production. 

Prop customes for movies

The term “prop” originates from the word properties which was used to refer to any piece of accessory used on stage when theatrical plays first began.

Kinds of Props

Film prop or movie prop is a term that encompasses all types of props that may be used in any media production including video games, TV shows, motion pictures, plays, or films. 

A movie prop object should be as realistic as possible so that the audience regards it as real. 

Prop movie money is one of the most comment props used in media productions. Although it has to be as realistic as possible, it also has to adhere to the rules and regulations regarding the production of counterfeit money. 

The Emergence of Prop Money

At the beginning of the twentieth century, real money was forbidden from being used in any kind of photography by an official federal law. This legal situation put movie makers in a dilemma as they could no longer use real dollar bills. 

So, they resorted to using Mexican bills as they lost their value after the rebellion. However, the demand for money to be used in media production was way greater than the supply of Mexican currency. 

Mexican currency

Moviemakers then were forced to come up with another solution that can replace real dollar bills and Mexican currency. This is when some studios started producing fake money that looks real to be used as a prop in their media. 

In the center and the front of the prop money bill, the title of the studio was printed. It is important to note that the design resembled Mexican currency as it was illegal to print prop currency resembling the US dollar at that time

Shortly after that period, it was no longer illegal to use actual dollar bills during filming. Nevertheless, using real money in media production included several risks as mentioned earlier. 

Movie production companies could not find high-quality props that would resemble the American dollar. The increasing demand motivated prop manufacturers to attempt to produce convincible fake movie props that look similar to the dollar bill. 

Prop Movie Money’s Role

Motion picture money played an essential role in several popular movies and series including The Fast and the Furious, Ozark, The Wolf of Wall Street, and others. 

Ozark Money Scene

Fake money producers have to follow the rules and regulations or else they might be the reason why a certain movie or show is shut down and some crew members may even get arrested if they have illegally-produced motion picture money on set.

As an essential film prop that usually plays an important role in the fictional world created, movie money is expected to look as similar as possible to real money. 

Thus, it takes a lot of effort to create features that would make the audience unable to detect that this is fake money that looks real. 

For instance, movie money has to look as if it has been circulating from hand to hand; thus, each fake dollar bill is stained, creased, wrinkled, or even burned by a cigarette carefully. This procedure might take hours with over 20 individuals working on it. 

The professionals involved in the prop movie money production process do their best not to cross the thin line between allowing criminals to use their product as counterfeit money to deceive others, and their objective to create flawless fake money that looks real.

Although Hollywood spends millions on the production of films, they rarely use real cash on set. Using fake money that looks real is a necessity as it is very risky to use huge amounts of money during media production. 

It is safe to say that producing and using movie money saves the economy, unlike producing and using counterfeit money which leads to inflation. In some scenes, movie money gets destroyed or even burned.

Why do movies use fake money?

The business of real looking prop money flourished as companies started realizing Hollywood’s increasing demand for more realistic movie money that resembles dollar bills to a certain extent. 

Filmmakers and producers have been using around 270 shapes and kinds of fake money as props in American movies. Thus, this demand created a very competitive atmosphere among companies that design and produce prop movie money

Nowadays, movie money is everywhere as it plays different roles in films and television shows. Replica money has been held by poker players and gangsters in a multitude of scenes. Gangsters have tucked huge amounts of fake money into suitcases in a lot of movies and TV series. Realistic movie money has been present on the big screen since 1878. 

The wolf of wall street

Not only dollars are produced and used as a prop in different entertainment forms, but also other currencies including euros. Just like their American counterparts, euro movie money has clear writings on it indicating that it is just for motion pictures. Additionally, the word “prop” is printed on the front of the euro bill. 

Euro Prop Money

Prop money designing and production consideration

In order to ensure the legality of motion picture money, it is never created by photocopying real currency or scanning original money. Replica money is rather designed by graphic designers who work in the field. 

Their goal is to design replica money that would look realistic to the viewers but would still adhere to the rules of producing replica money. Those graphic designers work on crafting the details on movie money such as the building, seals, serial numbers, and emblems. Additionally, comic characters are designed to replace the photos of presidents on prop dollar bills. 

Realistic-looking Props

Good movie money should be in high-resolution as its designers should be detail-oriented while working on the colors and texture of movie money. Nevertheless, the shade of color can never be an exact replica of real money bills, it has to be lighter or darker. 

Legal requirements must be taken into consideration when designing and producing movie money. Movie and theater props might appear to be significantly smaller than real money. This cannot be noticed on-screen at all as viewers are not aware that it is only fake money that looks real. 

$50 prop money

What is the most realistic prop money?

In recent years, better cameras are being used in filming movies and TV series which means that replica money has to look even more realistic than before so that viewers are not able to detect that it's fake. 

So, the prop industry came up with two different types of prop money which are standard-grade bills and high-grade bills

For scenes that are filmed from far away, productions typically use standard-grade bills. These bills look real from afar but up-close it is obviously fake with lots of real differences when compared to the real thing. 

For instance, the portrait on the bill is of poor quality compared to the portrait printed on real money, and instead of “one hundred dollars” printed on it, it rather has “one hundred” only. All the details and signatures on those fake money bills are altered in some way. 

For close-up shots, movie makers have to use high-grade bills that are almost identical to real money but they are printed on only one side so that they cannot be confused with actual currency. 

high grade dollar bill

Federal Laws

It is important to note that it is a very risky business due to the high chance of committing crimes using prop money. Fake currency production is actually regulated by laws enforced by The Federal Reserve System. In fact, in 1992 an act was declared under the name of Counterfeit Detection Act

Accordingly, movie prop bills must be one-sided, more than 150% or less than 75% of actual real currency, and it must be printed only with one color.

Is prop money illegal to own?

It is safe to say that prop money is legal and safe to use as long as it is used for advertising, media marketing, movie-making, or promotions. Attempting to use it for any other reason is illegal. 

Money and handcuff

In fact, it is not possible to use prop dollars in real life as it does not look exactly like real dollar bills and it is forbidden to attempt to modify it to make it look more realistic. 

For example, there a signature on all prop dollar bills saying “Motion Pictures Use Only” which can never be removed for any reason.

In the United States of America, it is a federal and criminal offense to use replica money to buy any service or product. Some people seek to purchase fake money in order to attempt to deceive others; this act is illegal. Thus, it is not illegal to own prop movie money but it is illegal to use it in real life. 

Can Prop Money Be Used in Real Life?

Ordinary people should be able to easily differentiate between real money and movie money or fake money because of the printed disclaimer that indicates that this is just for motion picture use only. So, it is not fake money that looks real but rather movie and theater props. 

Even though all rules are followed, prop currency might seem like real currency at the first glance. This issue makes it easier for some sellers to be fooled and unwittingly accept fake currency from customers. This might be due to the increase in supply as any individual can buy prop money from several online platforms.

Cashier inspecting money

Ordinary people should pay more attention when receiving any dollar bill. If they are attentive enough, they will be able to see that it is already written that this bill is not legal or that it is intended for motion pictures use only. 

Additionally, real money is made of 75% cotton and 25% linen while fake money is 100% paper which means that you can feel the difference if you touched the dollar bill. Some people claim that the issue is that these phrases are written in the same font as the rest of the words written on regular money. 

What Happens If Someone Tried to Use Prop Money as Real Money?

Attempting to use prop movie money to purchase something in real life is a federal felony. If an individual is arrested in a situation with fraudulent intentions, he/she will most probably be imprisoned. 

This means that if a salesman suspected that a customer is using fake money, he should report it to the authorities right away so that they can investigate and decide if this person is aware of the fact that it was fake money that looks real or not. 

Sadly, most retailers only notice the replica money too late and then they are unable to tell who used it. 

Most people would think that companies should no longer produce prop movie money since it might lead to fraud. Nevertheless, motion picture money is extremely important because lots of movies have scenes where hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars are stacked. 

It is a huge security risk to put that amount of real money in one location which is why producing and using motion picture money is the optimum solution.

All equipment that is used to produce fake money that looks real has to be damaged or demolished right after the process is done including digitized storage mediums, plates, optical storage devices, positives as well as any other tool or material used during the designing process. 

Fairly Oddparents Burn Money

Prop money companies do not make fake currency to fool the public, they just make it to produce movies. Companies that produce replica money are faced with several legal challenges while being required to produce fake stacks of money that look real enough for movie making. 

Successful companies do their best to make sure that motion picture money used in movies and TV shows look authentic and real instead of just seeming too fake. Replica money makers face a lot of risks and overcome several obstacles in order to get that perfect money shot.

Prop Money Versus Real Money

The most obvious difference between real money and prop money is the watermark; this means that people can easily tell if a bill is a prop or real money just by holding it up to the light. Ordinary people should educate themselves about replica money so that they do not get fooled by anyone who tries to pass it off as real money.

Man Holding Money up to the light

Counterfeit Money Versus Prop Money

Counterfeit currency is mainly a replica of real money that is created without any government’s authorization which means that it is not legal. 

The main aim is to use this fake money in order to deceive others and leading them to believe that it is an actual legal currency. Using counterfeit money or even just participating in its production is an unlawful act that is labeled as a fraud. 

The main difference between prop money and counterfeit money is that the former is produced legally while the latter is produced illegally. In other words, manufacturing counterfeit currency is a form of forgery while producing prop currency is a legitimate act that plays an important role in the entertainment business. Replica money only becomes problematic when certain individuals try to deceive others by using it as if it is real money. 

Another difference between countrified money and prop money is the label that is printed on prop bills declaring that it is designed only for motion picture use. 

motion picture use only money

Counterfeit Money 

Producing counterfeit money is not something new, it is an ancient business. It started back in the days when people exclusively used coins before paper bills were invented.

Attempting to produce counterfeited US dollars is an extensively universal illegal activity. Some of these counterfeited bills get circulated without being detected from one individual to another.  

Superdollars is the name given to a certain type of counterfeit money which is characterized by its great similarity to an actual dollar bill as well as its high-quality. Euros are also being counterfeited whether it's coins or banknotes.

Counterfeit money was used widely in the United States of America since the Civil War. This is what led to the appearance of the Secret Service that is mainly responsible for investigating any crimes or incidents related to the use of fake counterfeit currency. Americans united together in order to put an end to the spread of fake cash due to its destructive consequences on the economy.

The Dilemma

Although movie money production companies strictly adhere to the requirements set by the feds, some individuals still get fooled by it and they think that is real money! 

The main concern is that some people buy prop cash from online sellers claiming that it is for media use; however, they make use of it outside of the theater, television, and film industry. 

They attempt to use fake money at stores in illegal ways although it was produced legally and it is definitely not counterfeit currency. The abuse of film money that looks real is an ongoing issue. 

Over one-hundred-million fake dollars were captured by the Secret Service in the previous year only; motion picture money composes 25% of this sum, as reported by the Secret Service.

Types of Fake Money Detectors

Since detecting fake currencies by hand is considered a very challenging process for most people, new money detection technologies are invented every day. Counterfeit money detection technology can efficiently spot fake bills. 

Money detector machine

This is very beneficial for the economy as it will prevent the market to be flooded with fake bills. Detection machines are not only more accurate than human detection, but they also save human labor and countless hours that would have been spent checking and counting each money bill. 

1. Magnetic Detectors 

Magnetic detection is one of the popular technologies which are implemented to pick out fake bills, including prop movie money of course. In real currency, magnetic ink is used extensively. Thus, the magnetic properties of all money bills are scanned in order to ensure that it is real money. 

Magnetic Counterfeit Detector

Unfortunately, these detectors may be fooled as some individuals use magnetic ink in the printers used to print fake money. Another concern about this type of detectors is that it can mistakenly label real money as fake it is an old bill. This is owing to the degradation process that the magnetic prosperities of money undergo by being excessively used and touched.  

2. Ultraviolet Detectors

Ultraviolet detectors are very popular in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. In these countries, the real currency contains traces of ultraviolet fluorescent phosphors. When real money is exposed to ultraviolet light, there is a bright glow of a fluorescent strip

UV Counterfeit Detector

This detection technique is considered the best because it is efficient, affordable, and simple. Nevertheless, some counterfeiters attempt to imitate the ultraviolet features of actual money as they seek to produce fake notes that look real. This means that ultraviolet detection should not be trusted 100%. 

3. Infrared Detection

Another technology used in the attempt to pick out counterfeit money is infrared detection. What is significant about this technology is the fact that individuals who produce fake money can hardly find inferred ink which means that it will be easy to detect counterfeit money since it does not replicate the infrared ink used in some currencies. 

Infrared Money Detector

Some printers that are used to produce real money work with ink that absorbs or reflects infrared light. Accordingly, these detectors have sensors that check whether this ink is used or not. 

Unlawful Acts

The main problem is that if counterfeit money somehow starts circulating in the economy, it will be almost impossible to trace it back to the original owner as it keeps moving from hand to hand.

This means that some individuals who use fake dollar bills in stores, vending machines, or banks might not go to jail if they were unaware that the money they are using does not have any actual value. 

Some individuals attempt to use counterfeit or replica money in vending machines to buy products. However, this would not work because most vending machines are supported with a magnetic head that scans the bill in order to verify it. 

In some cases, vending machines might not be able to detect a fake money bill if it carefully replicates real money in their properties. In America, the estimated amount of fake money in circulation is about two hundred million dollars.

Motion picture money is specifically designed and produced to be used for entertainment purposes. Attempting to use it for any other purpose leads to awful consequences. 

An example of what might happen is an incident that occurred in Athens in 2016. The police forces kept coming across motion picture money for a whole month. Several citizens have reported fraud incidents which led the policemen to start their investigation. 

The fraud occurred when shoppers paid for their purchases with prop dollar bills instead of real currency. Surprisingly, these prop bills had a clear print on them declaring that it is exclusively for motion picture use. 

Not only was fraud reported, but also someone reported being violently assaulted because of the illegal use of motion picture money. This occurrence took place when an individual attempted to buy drugs using replica money which led the drug dealer to beat him violently when he realized that it was not actual money. Violence and crime are the logical outcomes of illegally using movie money in the black market.

Fake money used in Athens

Restaurants, stories, businesses, and individuals are responsible for carefully verifying the authenticity of any money used in transactions. The aging process that movie prop bill undergoes for the sake of making it seem more realistic on-screen might make it more challenging to identify it. 

Movie money might look like it has already been handed and folded several times which might make it look like money at the first glance. However, motion picture money does not feel like real money at all when it is touched as this is not required at all from an artistic point of view. 

Thus, individuals should be instantly able to tell that a specific bill is fake once they touch it. Once an individual encounters any sort of fake currency being used in real-life situations, he/she should instantly report it to the authorities.  

Security Features of Real Money

The main difference between real dollar bills and their counterfeit replicas is the watermark. Printing a watermark is a must on real money. When American currency is held up to any source of light, the watermark should be visible to the naked eye. 

  • As for replica money, an empty patch can be found instead of the watermark. Similarly, motion picture money does not contain a security threat like the one that can be found on dollar bills for instance. counterfeit money in light

  • Another significant feature of a real dollar bill that does not exist in a prop dollar bill is the ink which shifts color. The color of the ink on real currency shifts colors when it is bent. At the first glance, the ink looks copper but the green color appears when the bill is tilted. 

  • Movie money is designed and produced to look realistic on screen, but not too realistic for real life. For example, prop dollar bills feel flat when touched, unlike real money which should not feel flat because the ink is elevated to be felt by fingers. 

  • Federal Reserve Note is the printed disclaimer on real dollar bills, while For Motion Picture Use Only in the disclaimer printed on movie money bills. It is not money, it is just movie props used to make the production more realistic for the viewers whether it is a movie, television show, music video clip, or even a play. 

Companies that produce and sell realistic money would never remove this disclaimer even if the buyers requested this. These entities do not support the unlawful use of prop currency, they are only supporting the entertainment industry by providing realistic props. 

Both sides of the bill contain disclaimers such as This Note is Not Legal Tender. While these words are not big enough to be observed on the television or the cinema, they are still big enough to be noticed in real life. 

This Note is Not Legal Tender

Does It Look Too Real?

Prop dollar bills designers and producers are pressured to produce realistic-looking bills due to the huge technological advancement in cameras and TVs. The viewers expect high-quality realistic content, including real money being used by the characters. 

It is not illegal to obtain replica money as it is widely available nowadays, but it is illegal to use it for any other purposes other than entertainment. Seeking to spend motion picture money in real life is considered an attempt to pass off counterfeit money as real. 

Banks and Fake Money

Receiving counterfeit money from an automatic teller machine is a difficult situation because the person who deposited the money into the machine is unknown. The fake money might have come from itself or from one of the users of the ATM. 

Whether the bank will give you real money instead of the fake bills that you got from their ATM is up to the bank and its policy. Once a bank gets hold of any counterfeit money bills or prop bills that were being used unlawfully, it should hand in the confiscated amount to the Secret Services in order to take it out of being circulated and to start the investigation process. 

Since banks often have strict security measures, criminals usually do not try to pass off fake money as real in a bank as it is easier to do this at stores. If individuals working in a retail business could not detect a fake bill, the money is then deposited to the bank account as if it is real money with their knowledge of the whole process. This might lead to the bank confiscating the fake bills and report them to the Secret Service. The bank might also charge this amount of money to the vendor’s account. 

If a citizen finds himself/herself in a situation where they have a fake currency that was passed to them as real, he/she should not try to circulate it around as this is an illegal act. Instead, a law-abiding citizen should report to the authorities and submit the bills to them. The American economy has to face the ongoing threat of counterfeit circulation. 

Where to Buy Prop Money?

One of the most popular companies for selling high-quality prop money online is Buzzprops LLC. The company offers a wide range of products at affordable prices. Buzzprops offers filmmakers the motion picture money needed for realistic-looking money on the screen. The props offered by Buzzprops is the best in the market as it is made of high-quality material and printed in vivid colors resembling actual dollar bills. 

Our prop bills look real on camera as it's non-glossy. The products offered by our company are 100% legal as they follow all the rules and guidelines stated by the government. For instance, the word “replica” is printed on both sides of the bill. 

If you reside in the United States of America, you may order from Buzzprops online and it will be delivered to your doorstep. We offer free shipping for any orders above 100$!


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