Scratch off cards, also known as scratchers or instant win lottery tickets, have become extremely popular over the last few decades. The key feature of these lottery tickets is a scratch-off coating that hides symbols or numbers underneath. By scratching off the coating, players can reveal prizes and instantly find out if they’ve won.
But what are scratch off cards made of? What is that scratch-off material covering the playing area? Understanding the materials involved can provide some insight into how these instant games work and are produced.
The Base Material
Scratch off lottery tickets start with a base material that serves as the foundation for the card. This base material needs to be durable enough to withstand scratches and rubbing without tearing. Most scratch off tickets today use card stock paper as the base.
Card stock is thick, sturdy paper known for its durability and resistance to tearing. It is made by pressing together multiple layers of pulp fiber to create a dense, strong sheet. Standard printing and writing paper tends to be flimsier than card stock. For scratch tickets that will undergo a lot of handling and scratching, the rigid structure of card stock makes it an ideal choice.
The card stock used for scratchers is typically 12-16 pt thickness. Some tickets may go up to 28 pt stock for added durability. The heavier and denser the card stock, the better it will hold up to repeated abrasion from coin or fingernail scratching.
Additional Base Materials
While card stock is the most common foundation for scratchers today, other materials have been used over the years:
- Paperboard – A thick, stiff cardboard that provides good scratch resistance.
- Plastic sheets – More durable than paper but less environmentally friendly.
- Foil – Metal foil sheets were used early on but are less common today.
No matter the base material, it needs to be opaque enough that the symbols underneath cannot be seen through it. The sturdier the material, the more it can withstand repeated scratching and rubbing from excited lottery players.
The Scratch-Off Layer
The most important part of a scratch ticket is the scratch-off layer that covers the playing area. This is a specially designed coating that hides the symbols, numbers, or prizes underneath. To play the game, players must scratch off this layer to reveal what’s printed below.
The material used for the scratch-off layer must balance several properties:
- Abrasiveness – It needs to scratch off easily when rubbed with a coin, fingernail, or scratch tool.
- Adhesion – It needs to adhere securely to the base while the ticket is still inactive.
- Opacity – It must completely conceal the information printed underneath.
- Removability – It has to scratch off cleanly without leaving a residue behind.
With these requirements in mind, latex-based rubbers have emerged as the leading material used for scratch-off coatings today.
Latex refers to stable emulsions of polymer microparticles dispersed in water. Natural latexes are derived from the sap of rubber trees. Synthetic latexes are made by polymerizing monomers such as styrene, acrylic, vinyl acetate, and others.
Latex offers a winning balance of abrasiveness, adhesion, opacity, and removability needed for scratch tickets. Formulators can adjust latex properties by choosing different particle sizes, polymer chemistry, additives, and more.
When applied to the ticket base, latex particles coalesce into a continuous coating that hides the area underneath. As it dries, the latex layer gains strength but remains somewhat brittle. This allows it to scratch off cleanly when abraded. The scratch-off debris can then be brushed away easily to reveal the hidden print.
Latex also provides a neutral background color that doesn’t interfere with imaging underneath. Black, gray, and white latex coatings are common.
Additional Scratch-Off Materials
While latex dominates today, other materials have been used for scratch-off coatings historically:
- Wax – Paraffin wax was an early choice but could be sticky.
- Varnish – Solvent-based varnishes scratch off but can be environmentally unfriendly.
- Inks – Special scratch-off inks were developed but may leave residue.
- Metal films – Vacuum metallization produced opaque scratch layers.
Latex emerged as the top choice based on performance and manufacturing efficiency. But newer materials may be developed as scratch ticket technology continues advancing.
Printing and Graphics
With the scratch-off coating hiding everything underneath, scratch tickets rely heavily on print to deliver the game play:
- Prize amounts
- Serial numbers
- Game symbols
- Logos and art
All of this information gets printed onto the base material before the scratch-off coating is applied on top. Scratch ticket printers use specialized equipment to apply print, graphics, and variable data in extremely high volumes.
Common printing methods used on scratchers include:
- Lithography – Uses oil-based inks and plates to transfer images to the substrate.
- Flexography – Uses flexible rubber plates to print with fast-drying inks.
- Digital – Prints variable content directly without plates.
- Foil stamping – Uses metallic foil to create shiny effects.
These methods allow intricate graphics, secure variable data, and colorful eye-catching effects. The printing performs the key role of delivering the game content that players reveal under the scratch-off coating.
Scratch tickets use specialized inks designed to adhere to the substrate and withstand the abrasion from scratching. Ink properties like flexibility, adhesion, and durability prevent the graphics from deteriorating when the latex pulls away.
Traditional oil-based printing inks are common due to their vibrant colors and durability. But water-based and UV-curable inks are also used for their environmental and production advantages.
Thermochromic inks are sometimes used to create heat-activated effects that enhance play value. These inks change color when warmed by touch.
As gambling products, scratchers are produced with numerous security features to prevent tampering and fraud:
- Serial numbers – Uniquely trace each ticket.
- Barcodes – Support validation and tracking.
- UV inks – Glow under black light to show authenticity.
- Holograms – Difficult to counterfeit visual effects.
- Chemical additives – React when alteration is attempted.
These measures allow lottery systems to monitor distribution and redemption of winning tickets. Advanced security confirms prize claims are legitimate and prevents stolen tickets from being cashed.
Producing scratch off lottery tickets is a complex printing and coating process requiring specialized equipment. Steps generally include:
- Print graphics, serial numbers, barcodes, and game data onto the base material in a press run involving plates, inks, and curing.
- Inspect the printed tickets for defects and remove any with issues.
- Apply a controlled amount of scratch-off coating material across the play area of the tickets.
- Cure the coating using heat lamps or other methods to dry it completely.
- Inspect the tickets again and package them into bundles for distribution.
- Ship ticket bundles to lottery retailers who sell them to the public.
Automation helps streamline the processes to produce scratchers at rates of thousands per hour. But quality control steps remain critical for playability, security, and fairness.
With billions of scratch tickets printed annually, the lottery industry generates substantial waste. Used scratchers contain a mix of paper, inks, latex, and other materials.
Most constituents are readily recyclable or biodegradable. But additives like adhesives, dyes, and security chemicals may complicate recycling. Thermal or de-inking processes can help separate and reclaim materials in used tickets.
Some “eco-friendly” scratchers advertise:
- Recycled paper content
- Vegetable-based inks
- Water-based latexes
- Removable rub-off coating
These features aim to lower the environmental impact as consumer demand grows for sustainability.
Recycling Scratch Cards
To recycle scratch tickets, some best practices include:
- Remove any winning films or foils that may confuse sorting equipment.
- Avoid recycling winning tickets with cash values to maintain privacy.
- Check if your local recycling program accepts lottery tickets. If so, they can be mixed with paper recycling.
- If uncertain, put used tickets in the garbage until more sustainable options exist in your area.
Launching a new scratch ticket requires significant upfront costs. Here is an approximate breakdown of costs:
Scratch Ticket Costs
As shown, the expected prize payout makes up the majority of costs. Printing, materials, and distribution account for the other main expenses.
Savings can be achieved through advanced printing methods, synthetic latexes, and recycled card stock. Producing higher prize tiers in lower quantities optimizes payouts.
Popular Styles of Scratch Tickets
State lotteries continually introduce new scratch games to keep the format fresh. Some popular styles include:
Match and Win
Players scratch off a panel to reveal symbols. Matching multiple of the same symbol wins a prize.
Tickets mimic bingo cards. Scratching off numbers marks them off. Get a winning pattern to win.
Reveal letters to fill in a crossword puzzle. Solve the full puzzle to win a prize.
Games involve scratching off card suits, dice rolls, prize wheels, or other casino motifs with a chance to win.
Major brands license their logos, images, and names to provide brand recognition.
These are just a few examples. New tickets are constantly introduced to sustain interest. Holidays and events also inspire limited edition games.
Major Scratch Ticket Producers
While state lotteries manage their scratch ticket programs, they rely on major vendors to produce the actual tickets. Top vendors in the industry include:
- Scientific Games – A publicly traded company and industry leader in end-to-end lottery services.
- IGT – A global company specializing in gaming technology and lottery systems.
- Pollard Banknote – A full-service lottery systems provider based in Canada.
- Schafer Systems – A provider of instant ticket printing and services.
These companies invest heavily in R&D, security protocols, and production capability. They compete within the lottery industry to supply scratch ticket products, technology, and services across the globe.
Scratchers show no signs of slowing down. However, lotteries continue seeking ways to innovate and attract new demographics.
Possibilities for the future include:
- Interactive games via mobile apps or websites.
- Prize reveals by text or email notification.
- Tickets with videos, music, or augmented reality.
- Games tied to internet memes or pop culture.
But the convenience, tactile experience, and visual appeal ensure traditional scratch off cards will continue to be a lottery staple for years to come.
Scratch off lottery tickets rely on a careful balance of materials, printing, and construction. Latex-based coatings provide the right abrasive properties to hide the playing area until scratched. Durable card stock and inks withstand repeated abrasion without deteriorating. And specialized printing methods allow eye-catching designs and secure variable data.
Billions of scratchers are produced annually around the world as lottery players continue to be drawn to these instant win style games. Manufacturing has been refined but still involves meticulous quality control and security measures.
While environmental impact needs consideration, innovations in materials and recycling provide a pathway for scratch tickets to be produced more sustainably. And with countless game themes and play styles, scratchers have appeal across diverse demographics.
For an enjoyable shot at instant prizes with the rub of a coin, scratch off lottery tickets deliver on their purpose. Their simple yet engaging format will likely keep them popular far into the future.