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What is scratch art called?

Scratch art refers to a technique of creating art by scratching off a surface to reveal colors underneath. It goes by many different names including scratch art, scratch and reveal art, scratch-off art, scratchable art, scratch paper art, scratchboard art, and scratch art cards. The specific name can depend on the type of surface, tools used, or overall style.

Names Based on Surface

Some common names for scratch art are based on the type of surface that is scratched. Here are a few examples:

  • Scratchboard art – Scratching a board surface, often clay-coated cardboard or masonite.
  • Scratch paper art – Scratching paper coated with chalk or dyes.
  • Scratchable sticker/label art – Scratching the surface of scratch stickers and labels.
  • Scratch card art – Scratching away a coated surface on cards, like lottery tickets.

The surface material impacts the look and feel of the scratched design. Scratchboard provides grooves and textures, paper has a smoother surface, stickers can be applied to different objects, and cards are portable art pieces.

Names Based on Reveal Method

Other names focus on how the below surface is revealed:

  • Scratch and reveal art – The emphasis is on revealing the colors underneath.
  • Scratch-off art – The top surface is “scratched off” to reveal the art below.

Both of these names highlight the interactive nature of scratch art where scratching away the top layer is part of the creative process.

Names Based on Tools

The tools used can also factor into scratch art names:

  • Scratch engraving art – Using engraving tools to scratch a design.
  • Scratch etching art – Etching tools are used to scratch away the surface.

Engraving tools like burins, skews, and scorpers create grooved line art. Etching tools allow for finer detailed scratching.

General Names

Some common broad terms for scratch art include:

  • Scratch art – A general all-encompassing term.
  • Interactive art – Describes the participatory nature.
  • Discovery art – Emphasizes the discovered image.

These terms can be applied to the full range of scratch art techniques.

Style-Based Names

More unique names may reference stylistic choices:

  • Hatch scratch art – Linear hatched scratches revealing colors.
  • Contour scratch art – Scratching along contour lines.
  • Cross-hatching scratch art – Intersecting scratch lines.
  • Stippling scratch art – Dotted scratches.

The scratching technique impacts the look and feel of the art.


In summary, common terms for scratch art include:

  • Scratchboard art
  • Scratch paper art
  • Scratch card art
  • Scratch and reveal art
  • Scratch-off art
  • Scratch engraving
  • Scratch etching
  • Scratch art
  • Interactive art
  • Discovery art

The name can highlight the surface material, reveal method, tools used, style, or be a general descriptor for this versatile art form. Ultimately, “scratch art” is an encompassing term for a technique that involves scratching away a surface to reveal an image underneath.

Common Surfaces Used for Scratch Art

There are many options when choosing a surface for scratch art. Here are some of the most common:


Scratchboard provides a smooth, hard surface made from clay-coated cardboard or wood. Special scratching tools can remove the dark colored clay coating to reveal the white or colored substrate underneath. Scratchboard allows for fine detailed line work.

Coated Paper

Paper can be coated with a variety of materials to create a scratchable surface including chalk, charcoal, dyes, acrylic paint, and scratch-off latex. Tools like sticks, pencils, coins, or fingernails can reveal the colors beneath the coated paper.

Stickers and Labels

Pre-made scratch stickers and labels provide a thin coating that can be scratched off with coins, keys, or fingernails. They can adhere to a variety of surfaces.

Scratch Cards

Thick paperboard or cardboard can be coated to create scratch cards. Lottery tickets are a well-known example. Foil or latex coatings provide color underneath when scratched.

Clay Boards

Air-dry clays can be used to coat surfaces like wood, glass, or canvas to create a textured clay board. Clay scratching tools reveal the substrate beneath.

Laminated Images

Printed images can be laminated then scratched to create custom scratch art. The laminate provides a clear scratchable surface.

Scratch Art Tools

A variety of implements can be used to scratch away the top layer on scratch art. Common options include:

Scratch Knives

Scratch knives feature a handled blade designed specifically for scratch art on clayboards. The sharp blade provides control.

Etching Tools

Etching tools like scribes, skews, picks, and stippling tools allow for detailed fine scratch work on soft surfaces.

Engraving Tools

Engravers like burins, scorpers, and ruling pens scratch and furrow into hard surfaces like scratchboard.

Needle Tools

Needle scratching tools feature multiple tiny needles that can create thin scratched lines and intricate patterns.

Dental Tools

The picks and scalers used by dentists are excellent for detailed scratch art.

Nails and Coins

Fingernails or coins provide an easy tool for quick scratching, especially on stickers, labels, and cards.


Small pieces of fine grit sandpaper can be used to abrade softer scratch surfaces.

Household Objects

Many common household items can also be repurposed as scratching tools like paper clips, pins, or toothpicks.

Scratch Art Techniques and Styles

There are endless artistic possibilities when creating scratch art. Here are some common techniques and styles:

Line Art Scratching

Linear scratches reveal the subsurface to create outlines and contours. Varying the line weight adds interest. Cross-hatching can enhance shading.

Stippling and Dots

Using dots and stippling as a scratch technique creates interesting mottled textures. Stippling works well for shading.

Geometric Scratches

Geometric scratches using shapes like circles, squares, triangles, and diamonds can add graphic elements.

Patterned Scratches

Repeating patterns of scratches can form interesting textures in a piece. Patterns provide rhythm and movement.

Textured Scratches

Varying the pressure, speed, and tool used creates a textured, multi-dimensional scratch. These add visual interest.

Photorealistic Scratching

With practice, scratching can achieve photorealistic effects. Use smooth tonal transitions and detailed scratching.

Abstract Expressionist Scratching

Letting go and scratching intuitively in an abstract expressionist style creates emotion and a feeling of spontaneity.

The History and Origins of Scratch Art

Scratching away a surface to reveal something underneath has been used as an artistic technique for centuries. Some key origins and developments include:

  • Prehistoric petroglyphs where stone surfaces were scratched to create images.
  • 19th century engraved scratchboard art used for reproductions and illustrations.
  • French painter Georges Seurat’s pointillist paintings inspiring stippling and dots.
  • 1880s Viennese painter Kratochvil pioneered photographic realism with intricate scratchboard engraving.
  • Early 20th century artists like Picasso and Kandinsky exploring abstraction with scratch techniques.
  • 1960s counterculture interest in interactive participatory art forms including scratch.
  • Modern scratchboard revival by artists like Jim Dolleman, Martin Manchester, and Virgil Ortiz.
  • Pop culture from scratch-off lottery tickets, tattoo flash art, and hip hop mixtape covers.

From ancient rock art origins to a current multimedia renaissance, scratching as an artistic technique has endured. It continues to evolve and expand as artists keep finding new inspirational surfaces to scratch and tools for revealing layers beneath. Scratch art persists as an interactive, hands-on creative medium that engages participation.

Reasons for Scratch Art’s Popularity and Appeal

What accounts for scratch art’s continued popularity over decades and centuries? There are many reasons this art form has such lasting, wide-ranging appeal:

Interactive and Hands-On

The hands-on process of scratching to create the art is engaging and interactive. The cause and effect is immediately satisfying.

Revealing a Hidden Image

Seeing the image emerge as you scratch away a surface provides a feeling of discovering something previously hidden.

Textured Physicality

The textures left behind from scratched lines and patterns add a tangible, tactile physicality.

Color Surprise

When scratching reveals unexpected colors underneath, it delivers a fun element of surprise and discovery.

Cathartic and Stress Relieving

Scratching can be a relaxing, stress-relieving activity for both the artist and viewer.

Adaptable and Customizable

Any surface can become scratchable, allowing for adaptable art on objects like skateboards, album covers, or denim jackets.

Nozzles and Mistakes

Mistakes and imperfections in scratch art add to its handmade, human appeal.

Nostalgic Novelty

For many, childhood memories of scratch-off stickers and cards create a feeling of nostalgia.

Versatile Styles

From photorealistic to abstract expressionism, scratch art allows for diverse styles.

Best Practices for Creating High Quality Scratch Art

Here are some top tips for making visually appealing professional scratch art:

Choose Your Surface Wisely

Pick a scratchable surface like clayboard, coated paper, stickers, or scratchboard that best suits your needs. Consider thickness, texture, coating, and color.

Use Proper Scratching Tools

Use the right implements for your chosen surface. Clayboards do well with etching and engraving tools while stickers just need fingernails. Having a variety of scratchers allows for different effects.

Experiment and Plan Ahead

Try out techniques and tools on test pieces first. Plan your overall design and consider how deep to scratch and layer colors.

Use Multiple Layering

Layering colors and textures creates visual interest. Consider revealing different colors by scratching to different depths.

Refine Lines and Shading

Pay close attention to line quality, weights, and shading. Use cross-hatching and stippling for toning.

Work from Light to Dark

Establish highlights first, then mid-tones, and finish with dark accents for best color and contrast.

Consider Composition

Assess the overall composition and use elements like balance, movement, emphasis, and contrast.

Photograph Progress

Documenting progress photos allows redoing sections if needed. Photos also record the creative process.

Scratch with Intent

Be decisive and intentional with your scratches and lines. Confident mark-making creates dynamic art.


In summary, scratch art encompasses a wide range of techniques for removing a coated surface to reveal imagery and colors underneath. Common terms include scratchboard, scratch paper, scratch-off, and interactive art. Surfaces like clayboards, stickers, and scratch cards provide the scratchable foundation. A variety of implements from custom scratch knives to simple coins serve as scratching tools. Artists utilize different styles from photorealism to abstraction. Scratch art remains popular for its hands-on interactivity, textured surface, element of surprise, and adaptable nature. With some practice and high quality materials, you can master the satisfying art of scratching.