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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Scratch-off Inks for Printing Posters

Photo purchased from …

I’m sure all of you have seen scratch-off tickets, many of which are for lotteries. They have a rubbery, usually silver, material covering a portion of the card. You use a coin or your fingernail to scrape off the silver ink to reveal what’s beneath.

Well this isn’t all you can do with scratch-off coating. I learned this almost accidentally this year as two of my commercial printing clients came to me with large posters they wanted printed and then coated in numerous places with scratch-off ink. One wanted silver coating, and one wanted black coating. One was contacting me from Utah, and the other had recently moved from Italy to Toronto, Canada, and was moving her poster business to her new home.

Since I knew nothing about scratch-off coating material at the time, I did some research. Printers who do this kind of work (at least the ones I approached) would first print the posters (4-color process in both cases). They would then coat the posters with an aqueous (water-based) flood-coating material to protect the printed artwork. Finally they would apply the thick scratch-off coating using a custom screen printing process.

My research online confirmed this as the preferred method as well.

This made sense to me due to the thickness of the rubber-based scratch-off coating, which appears to be similar to the viscous ink used for custom screen printing on hats, shirts, and messenger bags.

Initial Thoughts, and Non-Disclosure Agreements

As with any new project, I asked the clients for PDF samples of the final printed posters, particularly showing the items on the base printed sheet that would be obscured by the scratch-off ink as well as the contours of the scratch-off ink itself (i.e., not only where the silver or black coating would be applied, but also whether the applications would have square edges or an irregular shape). I thought the commercial printing vendors I approached would find this useful in preparing an estimate.

The first client would agree to send the art for the estimate only if the printer would sign a non-disclosure agreement. I understood the client’s request, since he planned to sell the poster, which was unique. He didn’t want anyone to steal the concept. I did mention that copyrighting the poster would probably achieve the same goal without putting the printers on the defensive. Unfortunately, he refused to do so, and both printers (mind you, not everyone prints scratch-off posters; it’s specialized work) backed off completely and no-bid the job.

The second client, the one in Canada, agreed immediately and sent me a PDF of the poster. Both of the printers (the same two printers) jumped at the chance to provide bids.

So, I guess from this we learn that while non-disclosure agreements may be understandable, printers (like most people), prefer to be approached in the spirit of trust, and NDA’s, like prenuptial contracts, may backfire.

Paper Weight

Like real estate, printing can often be “all about location.” I am on the East Coast. One client was in Utah; the other is in Canada. In both cases, since completed print jobs are often heavy when cartoned, the cost of shipping may not be insignificant. Fortunately, in the case of the first client, the final press run would be 1,000 copies. This is not a lot of weight. And for a US destination it is also not a lot of postage. However, with the new client in Canada, shipping may be a lot more expensive. Fortunately, she only needs a short run initially: 500 vs. 1,000 posters. This will keep shipping costs down.

The second client, in Canada, just moved there from Italy. And another client of mine who prints small color swatch books to help women choose fashion and make-up colors based on their complexions, is actually considering selling her printed products in Italy as well as the United States.

In the case of the color swatch book client, the initial prices I requested for shipping printed products to Italy were high. (Perhaps I will research Media Mail rates, since these are really print books.)

So, in both cases, where my clients will or will not print their posters or color swatch books will depend on the cost of both the custom printing and the shipping. (And if you are a printer, graphic designer, or print buyer, what I learned can be useful information for you as well.)

Paper Thickness for the Posters

Closely associated to the overall weight of the printed job (and its relationship to shipping costs) is the weight of the paper. This also pertains to packaging.

The first print client wanted to produce substantial, thick posters. He therefore chose an 80# cover stock. Because of this choice, all of these copies needed to be priced as shipping flat and wrapped in Kraft paper. His product was 18” x 24”. Since this is a heavy paper stock, I made it clear that the posters could probably not (but not definitely) be rolled for sale. This would depend on the poster’s size, of course, but for an 18” x 24” product it would be a bit like rolling a flat, open manilla folder into a cylinder and then shipping it in a tube.

The second client’s poster is actually larger (60 cm x 100 cm, since Canada and Italy are on the metric system, or 24” x 40”). Of course, it’s easier to roll a large poster without cracking the paper fibers, but it’s still a risk. Fortunately, the second client has opted for a 100# text stock (more of a regular poster thickness of paper). I noticed that her informational photo of her scratch-off poster included an image of the product packaging / shipping box, which made it clear that the product will be distributed rolled.

So from this we can learn that paper thickness is important to consider not only for shipping weight but also for product packaging (flat, folded, or in this case rolled).

Other Thoughts from a Commercial Printing Vendor

Today I found a relevant article on scratch-off inks on It is entitled, “6 Tips for a Successful Scratch-Off Ink Project.” (The article has no other by-line than an attribution to PrismTech Graphics.)

Here’s a list of things to consider, as noted in the article:

    1. Use coated stock. Matte or gloss coated press sheets allow release of the scratch-off ink better than rough, uncoated sheets (even accounting for the overprint varnish or, in my printers’ case, aqueous coating in between the printed poster design and the scratch-off ink).


    1. Use less anti-set-off powder when printing via offset lithography. And if printing on digital equipment, do a test first. The fuser oil used in digital printing may make printing the necessary varnish (which is what allows the scratch-off ink to be released from the substrate by rubbing) an impossible task.


    1. Screen back the message behind the scratch-off ink so it will not be (potentially) visible through the scratch-off ink.


    1. Leave plenty of drying time for the ink before doing any post-press operations that might mar the scratch-off ink. Scratch-off ink is not like UV ink.


    1. Mark the top press sheet with press gripper and guide information. This will help you ensure alignment (register) of the scratch-off ink and the image below that you want it to cover.


  1. If anything differs from press sheet to press sheet (let’s say versioning of the type or art that will be obscured by the scratch-off ink), make sure you note this outside the image area. Once you have applied scratch-off ink to the press sheet, anything it covers will no longer be visible.

The Takeaway

There are pitfalls in this kind of project, or at least issues to consider carefully. So discuss your goals early with your printer, and request printed samples to ensure that your printer can do this kind of work expertly.

The best starting point for a discussion with your printer is a PDF mock-up showing the design of the poster but also its physical requirements (i.e., scratch-off ink placement, size, shape, etc.).

Also, consider such incidentals as shipping costs and product packaging when you are choosing a stock for a scratch-off poster.

And, as I did, if this is something new to you, go to school on the subject. The internet is a blessing for learning new things about commercial printing. And YouTube allows you to actually see videos of most printing operations.

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