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All Things Ampersand

Scratchbord 101

Many artists are just now learning about Ampersand’s extraordinary surfaces. This back-to-basics series was created to help differentiate between our various panels, as well as to provide a product review for the experienced Ampersand user. In our previous “101” post, we looked at Claybord. Today, we will look at Claybord’s sister surface – Scratchbord.

Scratchboard Art

Scratchboard is a form of direct engraving where the artist uses sharp knives and tools to scratch off dark ink to reveal a white or colored layer beneath. Scratchboard can be used to yield highly detailed, precise and evenly textured artwork. These works can be left black and white. However, on Ampersand’s Scratchbord panels, color can be added to the scratched-in white lines to create amazingly vivid artwork.


Scratchbord is the name of Ampersand’s panel that is specifically designed for scratchboard art. Originally developed as an alternative to scratchboard paper for the professional scratchboard artist, it is the surface of choice for most of the pros working today. Scratchbord is considerably more durable and easier to scratch into than traditional paper-based scratchboards. It will not tear, crack or bend. Its rigid structure allows the artist to create lasting artwork and makes it possible to create cleaner, sharper details, and precise linework. When your artwork is complete, you can apply a fixative and display your artwork without the glare of glass!

Scratchbord enjoys all the features and benefits of Claybord – including its archival properties. Under its India ink layer, Scratchbord has a smooth, absorbent kaolin clay ground applied to a sealed, 1/8″ true artist hardboard. Simply put, Scratchbord is Ampersand’s Claybord panel, sprayed with an even coat of high-quality, deep black India Ink. In fact, its original name was “Claybord Black.” Refer to the Claybord 101 article for more details.

Adding Color

Not only can you create exquisite white-on-black art, you can add color to create amazing colorful scratchboard works. Colored inks can be applied to the white areas and then scratched again for to create additional highlights and volume.

Ampersand offers a collection of Claybord/Scratchbord inks that are specially formulated for use on Scratchbord. These inks are lightfast, waterproof and transparent and absorb into the inked surface of the Scratchbord leaving clean, vibrant color in only the scratched white areas. These areas can be easily scratched back to white to add fine details and highlights. Unlike regular inks, they don’t leave a glossy residue around the cutting areas.

It’s easy to mix a wide range of colors using the six bright, base colors. Each bottle allows the ink to be measured out by the drop for accurate color mixes. The ink set includes Black Repair Ink, a perfect match to the Scratchbord surface which makes it ideal for touch-ups and repairs!

We recommend using a “dry brush” technique when adding inks to Scratchbord, for the best results. After you load your brush with ink, blot it onto a cloth or paper towel. This prevents accidentally applying too much ink at once, and ensures that the ink only shows over the scratched white areas.

Scratchbord Tools

For professional results, use Ampersand’s Claybord/Scratchbord Tools.

Each tool allows you to make a range of textures and marks.

  • Scratchbord Knife for Drawing and Fine Details: The Scratch Knife is the best tool to select when trying scratchboard for the first time. It works great for drawing and scratching fine details. Comes with one nib each: point and curved.
  • Scratchbord Line Tool for Easy Cross-hatching: Use the Line Tool for cross-hatching, adding highlights and for softening sharp details.  It makes five parallel lines at once.
  • Scratchbord Wire Brush for Hair, Grass & Fur: The curved stainless-steel wires of the Wire Brush tool are perfect for creating random textures like grass and fur.
  • Scratchbord Fiber Brush for Soft Tonal Values: Use the Fiber Brush as you would an eraser on the Claybord and Scratchbord surfaces to soften crisp edges and create gradual tonal values or to remove large areas of ink.

Tools are sold individually as well as in a set.

Tips for Using Scratchbord

Getting started

  • Begin by drawing your subject directly onto the Scratchbord surface with pastels or plain white You may also transfer a finished drawing by chalking the back of your drawing, turning it over onto the Scratchbord and tracing the primary lines with a pen or pencil or by using graphite transfer paper.
  • Using your scratch knife, scratch along the lines that you’ve transferred from your drawing. Next, scratch in directional lines to indicate volume. Begin building the shapes by following the directional lines and repeating them to fill your drawing out. To indicate areas that show the most highlights, go over each area several times.
  • When the drawing is finished, clean off any scratched clay-ink debris and chalk dust with a soft cloth.

adding vibrant color

  • Build up the color in diluted washes following the directional lines in the drawing.
  • When you’re adding color, work with a dry brush technique. Load your brush with ink, blot it onto a cloth or paper towel to prevent applying too much ink at once.
  • For best results, use Ampersand’s Claybord/Scratchbord inks. Other brands of ink can leave a heavy residue on the black surface and can be difficult to scratch if not quickly wiped off.
  • Once all the color is in, go back and scratch out the highlights. This will give the forms in your drawing volume and dimension. Add more color where needed and repeat this process until you are totally satisfied with the results.

If you make a mistake, repair it

  • Use Ampersand Black Repair ink or Sumi India ink diluted 1:1 with water and gently apply with a cotton swab or small brush over the area to be repaired.
  • Repeat thin applications until the area is completely covered.
  • An airbrush can also be used for larger areas.

Seal and frame without glass

  • First, remove all loose dust and debris from the surface with a soft brush or cloth being careful not to scuff the surface.
  • Seal Scratchbord with an acrylic spray fixative like Krylon® UV Resistant Clear Coating #1309 (Matte) or #1305 (Gloss). It will dissolve fingerprints and eliminate smudges while also protecting the surface from dirt and water.
  • Spray with multiple coats of fixative (as directed on the can) in low humidity, warmer temperatures and in a well-ventilated area.

Fun Fact: In April 2012, an episode of Spike TV’s popular show, “Ink Masters,” featured Scratchbord in a “flash challenge.” Ampersand custom-built ten, 7ft x 7ft Scratchbord panels supported with 2in deep cradles, specifically for the show. These are the largest custom-built scratchboards that have ever been created Ampersand’s history and possibly ever in the history of scratchboard art!

See the segment here:  http://www.spike.com/video-clips/pyimlt/ink-master-flash-challenge-gradation

More Information with Scratchbord

2 comments on “Scratchbord 101”

  1. Avatar Theresa S. says:

    What type of brush is best to use when applying your Ampersand inks?

    1. Avatar Dana Brown says:

      Hello! The type of brush really depends on what you’re looking to do. It is ink, so it is very thin/low in viscosity. This means also, that a little goes a long way. I generally find that a small brush (i.e. a 00 round) works well for me so it doesn’t load up with too much at once. Our inks clean up with water so that applies to the brushes used with it too. Either synthetic or natural bristles will work, but I use a natural hair brush, since it “swells” with the ink when loaded and works great for long brush strokes and clean, straight lines. Thank you! Dana at Ampersand

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