How Scratch Cards Are Made

Few appreciate the sheer amount of work that goes into creating a scratch card. Losing tickets get ripped up, and winning cards are held tighter than the safety bar on a rollercoaster. But how do they make scratch cards? And what’s the process that delivers them into the hands of millions of players around the world?

SCIENCE BEHIND THE CARDS

It’s hard to imagine now, but scratch cards are relatively new. The company behind the innovation was Scientific Games Corporation. They launched the worlds’ first scratch card called “The Instant Game” for The Massachusetts State Lottery in 1974.

To bring the product to market, Scientific Games needed to crack a series of technical issues. They needed to develop an algorithm to determine the winners and a method to keep the scratch cards safe from prying eyes until a customer purchased them.

The boffins at Scientific Games came up with a unique solution to the problem. Using acrylic resins inks, they concealed the winning cards until sold. The customer could then scratch away the acrylic ink with a coin.

The algorithm issue was easier to solve than the technical production of the cards. The algorithm used for cards is essentially the same one behind bingo tickets.

Scientific Games Corporation sold $2.7 million worth of cards in the first week of release. Their gamble on ‘Scratch Cards’ paid off instantly. Today, the company produces millions of cards for multiple lotteries around the world.

HOW SCRATCH CARDS ARE MANUFACTURED

  1. Costs and prizes worked out by computer algorithm.
  2. Winning symbols and game mechanics developed.
  3. Card base designed and printed.
  4. Confusion pattern overprinted.
  5. Winning symbols/numbers printed.
  6. Additional confusion pattern.
  7. Scratch away aluminium paste mixed with acrylic resins covers the winning symbols.
  8. The final layer of graphics can be printed over the silver panel area.

SECURING THE GAMES FROM FRAUD

I’ve covered the basics of card manufacture above. However, scratch cards contain many security features to foil attempts to defraud lottery companies.

The main way lotteries secure scratch card games is the use of serial numbers. Each card is printed with a unique number. The lottery has a database of winning cards. If a customer presents a card and the serial number doesn’t tally with the database, they will know the card is fraudulent.

A big problem for lotteries is people ‘sneaking a peek’ at the cards before purchasing. In theory, a player could comb through cards, identify winners and only buy those cards. To stop this method of abuse, scratch cards contain multiple layers of confusion patterns. These design elements prevent strong lights from being used to reveal winning cards before they’re purchased.

MAKE YOUR OWN SCRATCH CARD

Now you know how the professional scratch card manufacturers produce cards, but did you know you can make your own scratch cards at home?

The process is relatively simple, and I’ll outline the steps below. The first thing you’ll need is a scratch card template, or you could design your own with a software package like Pages or Word.

Print off your card design on an inkjet printer. Cut out the individual cards, cover the panels to be revealed with sellotape (you can cut the tape into small squares).

The next step requires metallic silver acrylic paint and washing-up liquid. Mix two parts of paint with one part washing up liquid. You apply the mix on top of the sellotape. It will take four or five layers to cover the area completely. Allow to dry, and you’ll have a fully functional scratch card.

Full details and a video guide on how to create your own scratch card can be found here.

CUSTOM SCRATCH CARDS

If you can’t be bothered making your own cards, you can buy custom made scratch cards from several places online.

Etsy is an online marketplace where you can buy almost anything, including custom made scratch-offs. Get personalised scratch cards for special occasions or just for fun. Twenty-five custom cards can be purchased for around £3.50.

Online printing companies like www.scratchcardprinting.co.uk can handle larger volumes. Two hundred fifty cards cost about £200 if you order 50,000, the price is approximately £1,150.

Another option is to purchase scratch-off stickers; you can get these from Amazon, Etsy and many craft stores.

ONLINE CUSTOM SCRATCH CARDS

Online stores and retailers can use scratch cards to give customers discounts and prizes. The website CodeCanyon has HTML5 and Plugins for sale, which you can use to offer visitors a virtual scratch card experience.

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