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Scratch Off lets you create hidden, view-once photos that you can share with friends

Scratch Off from Merge Mobile is an interesting app that mixes photography with private messaging in an entertaining way. The app turns your photos into a game by letting you hide certain parts of the image before you send it off to a friend. You can apply an erasable layer that can be scratched off, or you can hide the photo indefinitely using a permanent layer. This layer can be a coat of solid paint or a collection of different stickers that you place on the photo. You can also add text and freehand drawings.

When you first launch the app, you have the option of taking a new photo or opening one from your photo library. The first layer you apply is the permanent one and you can choose to draw on part of the photo, apply a sticker or add some text. This layer sits above your photo and below the erasable layer. It can not be removed by your recipient. Don't worry if you make a mistake as you can select each individual element and tweak it. This editing feature is helpful, especially when you notice a typo or a misaligned sticker.

The next step is to apply the erasable layer. You can add erasable paint, stickers or text. This is the top layer on the photo and can be scratched off by the recipient. You will also notice a timer icon in the bottom-right corner of the menu bar. Tapping this will let you determine how long the photo will be visible by your friend. The default is 30 seconds, but you can select between five and 60 seconds. You can also select forever, which lets the user view the photo multiple times.

Once you have your photo mocked up to your satisfaction, you can send it to a friend or family member via email, messaging, Facebook or Twitter. It takes a few seconds for the service to compile the photo that you want to share. Here is where it gets tricky, though.

The service provides you with a link for the recipient to retrieve your photo and they will need to have the Scratch Off app installed on their iOS device if they want to access it. If they don't have the app and open the link on an iOS device, they will be prompted to install the app. If they open the photo link on their desktop, they will be brought to the Scratch Off website. It's not a big deal if you and your friends are sharing Scratch Off photo back and forth, but it could be problematic if you decide to be cute and send a photo to you non-tech-savvy mom.

Scratch Off is available for free from the iOS App Store.

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