What is a scratchboard?

Updated: Jun 21, 2019

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Update: Check out my other post about what tools I use to make scratchboard art here

Introduction to Scratchboards

Whenever I tell people that I make scratchboard art, the next question is almost always "What's a scratchboard?"

To put it simply, the Miriam-Webster definition is:

"A black-surfaced cardboard having an undercoat of white clay on which an effect resembling engraving is achieved by scratching away portions of the surface to produce white lines."

But in my personal opinion that over-simplifies what the product, the process, and the result are. Calling the clayboard piece "cardboard" as well, makes it sound like a low-quality medium.

The way I would define it is:

An inked surface with a clay undercoat.

Simple, plain English and it leaves the door open for the many techniques that you can do with them.

Typically, the clay is covered with black ink, and most pre-inked scratchboards are that way.

I prefer pre-inked scratchboards because the ink is uniform and they are ready to be used right out of the pack.

I have two brands that I like to use and I use one or the other depending on the quality I want.


Scratch-Art scratchboard frontal view
Scratch-Art scratchboard frontal view

The first brand is Scratch-Art. They're the first one I knew about and they're great to use to get started.

They are cost-effective and can be easily cut into smaller pieces to get the perfect sized border around the artwork.

However, they are thin and paper-like, bend easily, and the backing isn't very water resistant.

Scratch-Art scratchboard thickness view
Thickness of a Scratch-Art scratchboard

These ones I still use for more design based scratchboards rather than portraits because I can easily use the extra space or scraps from the cut pieces for other designs.

Typically I buy the 11"x14" size of this brand so that way it's a little bit bigger than a piece of regular paper and I can cut it down to the size I want either before or after finishing up the piece.


Ampersand Scratchboard frontal view
Ampersand Scratchboard frontal view

Yes, I know there's not much of a different from looking at the front of the two scratchboards, BUT the quality feels very different!

To start, these are full on clayboard backings and not just a thin layer of ink, clay, and paper.

They are archival quality, thick, and the backing is comparatively a lot more water resistant.

The downside of it though is that you can't cut these to the size you want very easily, but they make a bunch of sizes between 5"x5" to 24"x36", so unless you need a really specific size or something bigger or smaller than those, it's worth it to get these.

Ampersand Scratchboard thickness view
Thickness of an Ampersand Scratchboard

The other downside to them is that during the shipping process it seems like they can get damaged a bit more easily than the Scratch-Art ones due to being less bendy.

Ampersand does however have a guarantee on listed on the wrapping saying that if there is any sort of defect that inhibits or affects the quality of the work, they will replace it. I haven't tried it out myself yet though.


I honestly don't know, even though I have received a few that have came in with a couple of issues, but that's my own fault for not calling them and having the scratchboards replaced haha.

Again, I typically stick to the 11"x14" size just because it's about the size of a large paper and I feel comfortable with that.


Honestly, I have no idea about these ones other than I know that they are available to purchase.

Here's a link to them though if you want to try them out for yourself.


I like to stick with the Ampersand Scratchbords (yes that is how Ampersand spells it for whatever reason) for my commissions, portraits, and anything else that I want to have a bit more quality to it, but I use the Scratch-Art Scratchboards for stuff like practicing, making a more design based image, or if I'm trying to save a bit on money.

They both have pros and cons, and there's also a brand that's out there that I haven't used before, but I encourage you to start with the Scratch-Art ones and then try the other brands if you enjoy the medium.

I do plan on going over the tools used for this medium and some different techniques as well a future blog post, let me know what you think about that and if this might've helped you out!

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