A form of direct engraving where the artist scratches off dark ink to reveal a white. Scratchboard refers to both a fine-art medium, and an illustrative technique using sharp knives and tools for engraving into a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with dark, often black India ink. Scratchboard can be used to yield highly detailed, precise and evenly textured artwork. Works can be left black and white, or colored.





Modern scraperboard originated in the 19th century in Britain and France. As printing methods developed, scraperboard (scratchboard)  became a popular medium for reproduction because it replaced wood, metal and linoleum engraving. It allowed for a fine line appearance that could be photographically reduced for reproduction without losing quality. It was most effective and expeditious for use in single-color book and newspaper printing. From the 1930s to 1950s, it was one of the preferred techniques for medical, scientific and product illustration. During that time period, Virgil Finlay made very detailed illustrations, often combining scratchboard methods with traditional pen & ink techniques, and producing highly detailed artworks. In more recent years, it has made a comeback as an appealing medium for editorial illustrators of magazines, ads, graphic novels, and one of a kind pieces of fine art displayed in galleries and museums internationally.





Unlike many drawing mediums, where the artist adds in the mid-tones and shadows, with scratchboard the artist is working by adding in the highlights. The artist can use a variety of tools to begin scratching away the black ink and reveal the white clay that is underneath. Values within the artwork are achieved by scratching more or less of the black ink off of the board. After black ink has been scratched away the artist may consider it completed, or may choose to color the work. Works can be colored with watercolors, airbrush, ink, color pencil or acrylics. Transparent mediums are generally used to color scratchboard, as they fill in the white scratches without affecting the black ink left on the board. After an area has been colored it can be scratched again, revealing more of the white clay. Sometimes the artist will color and scratch several times to create subtle shading or color variations. This technique can yield a very graphic image that can be very detailed. Artists that begin with a white clay-coated board will add their own ink to the surface, and then scratch away the ink in the same manner as described above. After completion many artists varnish the artwork so that it is protected and cannot be as easily damaged.





Surface - Hardboard with a layer of white china clay—and layer of usually black india ink.


Tools - Several tools have been created specifically for scratchboard; however any sharp implement will do though a range of blades of different thicknesses allows the removal of more or less of the ink at will. Isopropyl Alcohol on a cotton swab or cotton ball, sandpaper and non-oily, fine, steel wool are also useful for removing large areas, and creating texture. Coloring scratchboard, black or white boards, can be done with many mediums applied with paint brush, air brush, and even cotton balls. Special scratchboard colored inks, made by ampersand, can be added to the white areas and then scratched again for additional highlights and volume for added dimension.


Some of the tools professional scratchboard artists use for scratching through the ink include xacto blades, scalpel blades, tattoo needles, tips made by speedball (scratchboard tips #112 and 113), tips made by scratch-art brand, small fiberglass brushes, wire brushes, sandpaper, steel wool, parallel-line tool, ink erasers, and more! Various techniques such as hatching or stippling can be used to detail the image.




All content, including images on this website © Linda Short, 2017. All rights reserved.