Canada using hard-to-forge plastic for $100 bill
A man holds the new Canadian 100 dollar bill made of polymer in Toronto November 14, 2011. The new bank notes will go into circulation on Monday across the country. Reuters

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada released a new C$100 bill made of plastic on Monday, its first step in replacing an entire series of banknotes to thwart counterfeiters and persuade retailers it's safe to accept big bills.

The brown polymer note, identical in size and color to the existing paper C$100 note, is made with the same plastic used by some 32 other countries. But Canada is the first to add a metallic hologram that is especially difficult to fake.

The release of the plastic C$100 note comes just eight years after the Bank of Canada released a new series of paper notes that, while an improvement over previous versions, were still too easy to counterfeit.

In some regions in 2002, almost one in ten Canadian retailers displayed a sign indicating that they did not accept $100 bills, counterfeits of which had triggered the problem in 2001, the central bank said in a research note.

Although 99 percent of retailers now accept $100 notes, the perception persists that these notes are 'difficult to spend.'

The new polymer bill has a large transparent window from the top to the bottom of the note - the largest such window in modern banknote design - and a holographic image visible from both sides of the bill.

Plastic notes, nearly impervious to liquids, stains, tearing or wear-and-tear, were pioneered by the Reserve Bank of Australia in 1988. Blank sheets of the polymer will be made by a unit of the Australia central bank and shipped to Canada, where two Ottawa-based companies will print the notes.

The C$100 note features a portrait of Sir Robert Borden, Canada's prime minister from 1911-1920, on the front, and images of Canadian contributions to medicine on the back.

It will save an estimated C$200 million over the assumed eight-year life of the series because the bills will last about 2.5 times longer than paper banknotes, the bank said.

The new C$50 note will be released in March 2012, the C$20 note -- the most common denomination -- late next year, and the C$10 and C$5 notes in 2013. The bank said paper bills will remain in circulation for years.

(Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; editing by Janet Guttsman)