How to Choose the Best Money Counter Machine

There are so many money counters on the market. When we came upon the variety offered by Carnation Enterprises, we realized we had found some of the best money counters available. Depending on whether you are looking for a simple money counter, a value counter/sorter, or a full bank-grade counter, there is something for everyone. The real question becomes how to choose the best currency counting machine for your needs.


Top 7 Money Counters

We were looking for a good money counter for our business, and found it very difficult to choose amongst the plethora of money counter machines and the many reviews. There are many websites that give endless lists of popular money counters, but comparing them is not easy.

The sites give vague and wordy descriptions of the various counters, but they don’t have any objective, common-sense way of rating them. The ranking is nearly always the author’s subjective personal opinion. Different sites rank the same devices in a completely different order.

The features they discuss are not given precise specifications and values. Critical pieces of information are just not there. Also, not all the fancy features are important. Some are needed only for particular applications, which may not be your application.

Some “cool, hi-tech” features are not important for any application. Most of the sites reviewed gave no help at all to decide which features are important or applicable to our application.

Therefore, we wrote this article to help others navigate this maze of excessive, incomplete, and confusing information.

If this article succeeds in making the choice of a money counter easier for only one person then we have achieved the goal; although we do hope more than one person will find this article useful.

The definition of “best” very much depends on the application for which you will use the money counter.

A Ferrari may be the most impressive sports car, but if your application is delivering newspapers, then what you actually need is a good bicycle.

To choose the correct and perfect money counter for our business, we decided to identify the correct category of counter.

After that essential step, we took a look at the key features of the counters in the selected category.

We separated the available features into critical features (CF) and “nice-to-have” or “desirable” features. For the critical features, we set minimum acceptable performance numbers, like, the speed must be at least 800 bills per minute, and the price must be less than $200.

This eliminated some counters completely. For the rest, we took the published specifications (specs) for the critical features but not as vague descriptions. Instead, we researched the manufacturers’ websites until we found actual numbers for the specs, for example, the Carnation CR-2 has a hopper size of 400 notes and a speed of 1,500 notes per minute. One website said loose things like “has extra-large capacity”, which is meaningless.

We checked the actual spec of this alternative counter, and the hopper was actually quite small, only having room for 300 notes!

We quickly learned which manufacturers are willing to quantify the features, and which manufacturers would prefer you not to ask. As a general rule, we found that when actual performance numbers are given, this is a sign of a good brand.

This actually helped us more than anything else to decide on the most appropriate machine. We could clearly see on the spreadsheet who was giving the most complete information and whose disclosures were full of holes and vague generalizations.

We found what worked was to give each nice-to-have feature a ranking from 1 to 10 with “1” being “uh-huh” and “10” being “yeah, I would love to have this feature”.


Counterfeit detection money counters

We found that the most important features were often not quantified in any comparable way. For instance, if you needed counterfeit protection – as most people do - what level of protection did each counter provide? The descriptions listed features such as UV, MR, IR, but what effectiveness did each of these sensors have?

How much extra money should we be spending to get a higher level of fake detection? Would a counter with UV and MR have been better at detecting counterfeits, than a counter with IR and MR? What were UV, MR and IR? How about CIS (contact image sensing), MT (metal thread), and SNR (serial number recognition)? How many counterfeits would a particular counter not have caught in a batch of, say, 1,000 bills?

How many good notes would the money counter have mistaken for fakes and incorrectly rejected?

These specific numbers for counterfeit detection effectiveness were very seldom given. In fact, when real figures were given (usually as one missed fake per 100,000 bills or per 800,000 bills, etc.), then this in itself was generally a good indication of a quality product and a reliable manufacturer, regardless of the actual values given.

This principle held for all the other specifications as well, if the manufacturer was willing to divulge actual numerical results of key performance measurements, you could trust him that much more.

We took our application as a practical example. We needed to count the notes from five cash registers of our medium sized business. Since the paper money was already sorted into $100s, $50s, $20s etc. in the register drawers, this application required only a basic level of counter and a minimum effective counterfeit detection capability.

The CF’s (critical features) we decided upon were:

  • Reasonable price – less than $200
  • Accurate, fast counting – at least 800 notes per minute
  • Counterfeit detection – a minimum of IR and MG sensing
  • Stacker capacity – at least 300 bills
  • Small size – taking up not more than 12x12 inches counter space. Height was not important to us.
  • Endurance – at least 2 hours of continuous operation (seldom specified)
  • Warranty – at least 1 year

You can see that we allocated a minimum acceptable performance level for each critical function as we put it on the list. This we found was a good way to clarify in our own minds what was needed.


Jam-resistance bill counters

One feature that was very important but not ever discussed was the amount of note preparation required. Some money counters were very sensitive and temperamental, and to prevent them from jamming on every second count, you had to go through and pre-process each stack before dropping it into the money counter.

This involved sorting out and removing all the dog-eared, creased or crumpled, or torn bills. This included, of course, half-notes; but even notes that were just very dirty were a problem.

Otherwise, without removing these “uncountable” bills, the money counter would just jam and stop. It didn’t help to have very high speed when the machine couldn't handle problem notes, and stopped all the time. It took effort to “clean up” a stack of bills before they could be counted, and was a painful waste of time. All that preparation overhead required was hidden from most users.

We found it difficult (impossible) to get any numbers on the “jam-resistance” of the various money counters, although some manufacturers did at least discuss the issue. Carnation, for example, has something called Open Channel Design (on its CR-1500) that made jamming less frequent, and Domens claims “seven sets of rubber wheels used in the pressing (sic) process of the banknotes to minimize the risk of a jam”, whatever that meant.


Money counter features

The “nice-to-have” features were more difficult to whittle down. There are so many of them, and half of them we didn’t understand what they did.

  • quiet operation - We set our desirability score at 7 out of 10 for this
  • low power consumption – 4/10 (money counters took very little power anyway)
  • extra counterfeit sensing modes (IR, CIS, MT, SNR) – 3/10 (we were not sure how necessary these were)
  • external display – 9/10 (very useful to have the count displayed to a supervisor or customer)
  • report printer – 8/10 (we wanted to have a hard copy to elastic-band into each counted stack of bills)
  • batching money counter – 9/10 (this would count notes into batches of tens or hundreds, etc, for easy deposit at the bank)
  • Stacker size – 3/10 (the bigger the better, if did have a stacker)
  • Ease of use and automatic operation – 6/10 (That meant fewer manual actions were required)
  • attractive appearance – 7/10 (We figured it would be nice if the counter also looked professional!)
  • low weight – 6/10 (So we were able to shift the machine from place to place)
  • self-test – 4/10 (What were we supposed to do if the self-test fails?)
  • low maintenance – 9/10 (definitely, but how did we quantify this? None of the manufactures gave a MTBF)
  • spare parts included – 5/10 (We hoped these never would be needed!)

In the list above we were careful to set, for each, a nice-to-have feature, ie. a “desirability score”, from 1 to 10, as we generated the list. This helped us to clarify in our own minds what was important to us, and how important.

We had started with a “shopping list” of features that came from adding random features as we had come across them in looking at counters on the internet. After the process of thinking about each feature and deciding how much the feature was needed, and giving it a number, we were much clearer about what we needed.

Then we used these actual “scores” to compare the candidates from our internet researching and to decide which money counter feature set most closely matched our weighted wish list.

It wasn’t easy, but all factors considered, the Carnation CR-180 came out the top choice for our application, and that’s the one we bought. For a different application, the choice would have been different, so we recommend you do go through this process for yourself, for your particular type of business and for your personal preferences.

As a result of this process and (much) researching, we ended up with a method for making a decision that resulted in buying (we hoped) the best “cost-value tradeoff” money counter for our application. This meant, the machine with the most performance and cheapest overall running costs.

Since we don’t plan to buy another money counter in the near future, we figured the most productive use of all this effort was to share it with others, and hence this article.


Categories of counters

These were the categories of counter that we distilled from reading the feature lists of money counters advertised on the internet. Some bill counter models combined the capabilities of two or more categories. This made it harder to choose the correct one for our specific application.

Maybe some manufacturers do this deliberately to make like-for-like cost comparisons difficult? Who knows? Our experience was that it was better to have a machine that did just one function and did it well, rather than a mixer-mincer-juicer that did many functions poorly.

We would have bought one of these hybrid machines only if it was particularly good at doing the main function for which we needed it.

Our categories of money counter and a description of their uses, in order of simplest to most complex, were:

The Basic Bill Counter
CR 180 Bill Counter UV MG

Basic bill counters

These counters do not sense the bill denominations, and would count blank pieces of paper just as well, if it were not for their counterfeit-detecting sensors. They had a single input hopper, and a single output stacker. Bills had to be sorted into bundles of the same dollar value before counting. For example, counting the tens, then the twenties, etc.

This is not a problem for most businesses as bills are usually separated by denomination in the till’s cash drawer. If the denomination of the batch being counted is entered (manually), these bill counters can report the total value as well as the number of bills counted. However, if for instance, a twenty found its way into a batch of tens, these basic counters did not detect this, and produced wrong totals.

Value counters

Also called mixed denomination counters, this category of counters used advanced imaging software that allowed them to electronically recognize each banknote according to denomination, that is, whether the bill was a hundred dollar, a fifty, or a twenty, etc. When they counted a batch of identical bills, they could automatically give the total value of the batch as well as the number of bills.

This was different to the basic bill counters, where the denomination of each batch had to be manually entered. Value counters could report the value-breakdown of the count, i.e. display how many dollars of each denomination have been counted.

On some models you could click an “Add” button, and the machine would add up the sum of the counts it had performed.

If you were unsure whether there was a rogue note within your stack, i.e. a $5 within a stack of $20 banknotes, value counters could detect and automatically stop on hitting a non-matching banknote, thus eliminating human error and counting mistakes. They also accepted a stack of mixed-denomination bills, for instance $10’s and $20’s mixed together, and calculated an accurate total value.

They also sensed if a bill was reversed or upside-down. They were able to reject torn bills, partial bills and very dirty bills. In all these cases, the value counter would stop when it detected an exception.

For a machine that would automatically reject exceptions and continue counting, the next level Money Sorter/Stacker machine is required.

In summary, value counters were able to count dollars according to denomination, fitness (torn, dog-eared, etc), and orientation.

Money Sorter / Stacker
CR1500 Mixed Bill Value Counter

Money sorters and money stackers

These advanced counters had two or more output compartments called “pockets” or “hoppers”. This allowed them to sort batches of mixed notes without stopping. Money sorters recognized each banknote according to denomination like value counters did, but they sorted notes into the appropriate output hopper.

Without pausing, they could discard bad notes into a reject hopper; ie.: notes that are reversed, upside down, damaged, or counterfeit.

The more pockets the sorter had, the better. With just two output pockets, they provided a manually-assisted sorting capability. We had to run the stack through the money counter multiple times.

For instance, the first run separated out the $100s, the next run the $50, etc. The most sophisticated of these machines also recognized and recorded the serial numbers of the banknotes.

The result was a machine that could sort bills in a variety of ways, while also rejecting problem notes, automatically and without operator intervention, and at a high rate of speed.

Multi-Currency Money Counter
Counter UV MG IR

Multi-currency counters

These were value-counting machines with the added capability to recognize and count currencies other than dollars. Although called “multi-currency”, the machines could handle only a pre-programmed set of alternate currencies. However, in some models additional country-files could be downloaded.

Counterfeit detection is standard on all the above money counters except the mini portable note counters. The number of additional anti-counterfeiting features sensed by each category of machine generally increases from top to bottom in the above list, as does the price!


Finding the best money counting machine brand

Here is a summary of the step-by-step process we used and discussed; a process for deciding the appropriate money counter to buy for your business:

  1. Narrow down the category of money counter required to your specific business application.
  2. Decide the critical features, and set numerical values for the minimum acceptable performance of each critical feature.
  3. Sift out the “nice-to-have” features, and give each a “desirability rating” out of 10.
  4. Collect a list of likely candidate money counters, from the internet.
  5. Try to extract numerical values for the features of each machine from the spec’s given in the websites. This step is not simple nor is it easy. You will have to go to the manufacturer’s website to find data that is missing, or alternatively search the internet for other sources of information.
  6. Write down the feature score of each counting machine. We found a spreadsheet easiest for doing this.
  7. Compare and buy the top one! At the very least this will be a more informed choice. At best you will have bought a money counter that does exactly what you needed and at the least cost.

Advanced money counters – what does the future hold?

In the near future, all the top money counters, sorters and stackers will have a WiFi link built in as a standard (or at least have an USB port, but this is not nearly as good). Bi-directional communication via a WiFi capability will allow you to use your WiFi-enabled office printer (and most printers today do have WiFi), to print the batch reports.

On a “regular” printer, these reports will look much nicer. You will be able to format them yourself and add company information, employee names, departments, etc. The future counting machines will have an option to export data (the count and value) in a standard format, say CSV (comma-separated values), which is the format that Excel uses.

Then you will be able to automatically import the daily cash takings to your accounting package in real time, and monitor your cash-flow day by day.

But that is the least of what a WiFi link will enable. External displays are important to provide transparency to the customer and supervisors when handling money. Therefore, it is ideal for the money counter to have at least a second display. Future money counters will use the WiFi link to communicate with external displays without wires.

For instance, you could have a WiFi-linked LLD (Large LED Display) on the wall in a bank branch for the customer to watch as their cash is counted. Third party companies will be able to offer generic “add-on” displays to fit any money counter with great features and low prices.

Because WiFi links the money counter to a PC, and the PC links to the internet, you will be able to download a “CashCount” app on your (Android) phone that will let you see, remotely and randomly, batches of cash being processed anywhere in your business, in real-time, a great deterrent to pilfering.

You will also be able to use the app to look at your daily cash business intake from home, from the car, or even while traveling overseas. The app will keep a history of your paper cash intake for the week, the month, or the year, all instantly available whenever you need them.

Future top money counters will move towards full optical scanning of the notes, as cameras become faster and cheaper. Fast, high-resolution cameras are already widely available.

Optical scanning will make high-end features such as Denomination Sensing (recognizing $100s $50s all the way to $1s) and SNR (serial number recognition), standard on most money counters; and many of the new sophisticated anti-counterfeiting features of dollar bills will be more routinely tested by the top machines.

There will be a downloadable app that will let one point a smartphone camera at a bill and get an instant counterfeit check. This app-based checking will be much, much more reliable than using a counterfeit-detecting pen or looking for UV stripes and watermarks, etc.

As you may have guessed by now, once all the features, both critical and nice-to-have, have a numerical weighting, and once we have also obtained numerical values for the specifications of each money counter, it becomes possible to make the selection of the most appropriate money counter a semi-automatic process.

We are in the process of designing a spreadsheet that will calculate an overall “figure of merit” for each money counter, based on the numerical values of preferences given for the features required.

We have called this the Selection Tool Spreadsheet (STS). This is a type of “decision matrix” used in many engineering applications, and it’s a very powerful tool when many contributing factors have to be analyzed to establish overall maximum performance. However, space does not permit discussing this in detail. Perhaps this will be the subject of a future article.

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