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All Things Ampersand

Windows of the World

Today we’re going to take a look at my painting “Windows of the World.” It is an 11” x 14″ watercolor piece on Ampersand Aquabord.

The painting, itself, is created from a window seen while in Italy.  Painting this subject is fun and easy.  It has very little perspective to be dealt with and offers the artist the opportunity to play with texture and color flows. Continue Reading >>

Painting on Panel: The differences between HDF and MDF

To continue our series about Painting on Panel, I’ve pulled together information on the differences between HDF or High Density Fiberboard and MDF, Medium  Density Fiberboard.  I realize these posts are rather on the technical side, so please post questions if you have them.  We are here to help you make good choices for the longevity and beauty of your art.  

Hardboard is most commonly associated with Masonite, as this was the first “brand” of hardboard invented by William Mason in 1942.  Hardboard is often confused with high density fiberboard (HDF) or medium density fiberboard (MDF).  Producers of these different panels use reconstituted wood (saw dust and chips) and use different methods for manufacturing that in turn produce panels that have different characteristics in terms of density and internal bond strength. One of the most significant differences between Hardboard and fiberboard panels (both MDF and HDF) is the method of manufacturing. MDF and HDF panels use a dry process method and use synthetic binders or formaldehyde based agents for binding the wood fibers.   In comparison, Hardboard uses a wet/dry process method that relies on the natural binders within the wood to cement the fibers together and make the wood solid. 
The wet/dry process used to manufacture Hardboard has several advantages. The wet process method produces a smooth-one-side (S1S) panel, while the wet-dry process produces a smooth-two-side panel (S2S). Both processes explode the wood particles using steam pressure, and float them in a large vat of water, which pulls out many of the naturally acidic agents within the wood. The wood fibers are then randomly aligned parallel to the surface, and using heat and pressure, are made into a solid core panel. Ampersand’s Hardboard also has an added overlay of a neutral aspen fiber layer.  This process allows a very uniform and very strong panel, making it one of the best substrates for painting, laminating, and construction.  While still a relatively light-weight panel, Hardboard has a significantly higher density compared to MDF panels with a much higher tensile strength and internal bond than MDF and most HDF panels.

Ampersand’s Hardbord is made using a proprietary manufacturing wet/dry process that produces a superior solid core panel of unequaled strength and longevity. Ampersand’s Hardbord is made from FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified forests.  This third party audit system employed by Ampersand’s supplier ensures chain of custody forest management and fiber sustainability.  This is the most stringent accreditation in the industry. Our aspen fiber overlay provides a more pH neutral wood content and even uniform fibers. Ampersand’s Hardbord outperforms all other HDF’s and MDFs in the market with regard to moisture resistance and strength.   

As mentioned earlier, Ampersand’s Hardbord is made using the natural binders in the wood. No added formaldehydes (NAUF) are used in Ampersand’s Hardbord, providing a virtually VOC free panel.

What you need to know:
• Hardboard panels are probably the best value on the market for artists today.

• Tempered panels produced within the U.S. no longer have the topical oil content they once had.  However, very small amounts of tempering oil continues to be added to the integral fibers.  Linseed oil is the natural agricultural oil use in the manufacture of hardboard.
• Hardboard is more dense than MDF and HDF, making it less prone to warping while still lightweight.
• Hardboard is a very uniform and stable surface without a grain, making it easier and faster to prime.
• Only natural binders used.
• Provides a pressed steam ironed surface to create a smooth gessoed panel.
• Larger panels can become heavier.
• Flexibility of the surface requires thicker hardboard to be used for larger paintings.

Medium Density Fiberboards (MDF) and High Density Fiberboards (HDF) are engineered panels that are made through a dry process that completely breaks down the particles of wood and reconstitutes them into a new panel using heat, pressure and a binder.  One of the most common binders used in their manufacture is urea formaldehyde, leading to potential problems with out-gassing. MDF typically has a density of 600-800 kg/m³, as compared to hardboard, which has a density nearly double that of MDF (1,450 kg/m³). HDF panels come closer to the densities of hardboard but are still normally 10 lb/ft³ lower in density than hardboard, making them more porous and more prone to warping, especially in an 1/8” thin version.   More layers of sealing and gesso are required to eliminate the fiber raising that happens with MDF and most HDF’s on the market.   MDF and HDF technology is rapidly changing and we will see better MDF being produced without formaldehyde as the binder and MDF that is much more dense and less prone to warping in the future.
What you need to know:
• If using MDF/HDF, make sure to seal the surface with several coats of Gesso and a good acrylic seal like GAC 
• Even with cradling, there is a high potential for these panels to warp over time
• MDF is not a high-density board. Fibers are very porous, and have a tendency to swell when painted, leaving a very uneven surface.
• Lightweight and inexpensive.
• Original organic structure of wood completely broken down to allow for consistent specifications.
• Future potential – could be a good panel in the future as technology improves density and binding material used.
• Not a dense panel – high tendency for warping in thinner versions.
• Porous, therefore not easily primed.
• Forrmaldehyde based resins primarily used for binders.
• High acidic content.
• Fibers swell when gessoed.

There are more posts coming on this important content about panels.  Stay tuned for feedback from other art material manufacturers and conservators.  

All things Ampersand,
Karyn Meyer-Berthel
Artist & Social Media Specialist
Ampersand Art Supply

Click here to explore the full selection of Ampersand panels and tools.

Tips for Painting on Pastelbord

“Front Yard”,12″ x 16″ on Pastelbord by Adriana Meiss


Pastelbord™:  A uniquely coated museum quality panel suitable for pastels, coated with a fine marble dust finish comparable to sanded paper except more durable and more versatile.  

Since pastels are a fragile medium, they need a gritty surface to grab, especially when building in layers.  Pastelbord can be used wet or dry with soft, hard, or oil pastels using traditional pastel techniques or even with acrylics.  As with all museum series panels, the surface is pH neutral, non-yellowing and archival.

For those of you new to either pastels or Pastelbord, let’s look at some tips on using Pastelbord to it’s fullest potential.  

  • Start your piece using hard pastels and then cover with soft pastels to save the expensive pastels for finish work.
  • For maximum detail, use pastel pencils in the finishing stages
  • Consider using watersoluble pastels as the surface can be used wet or dry without buckling or curling.
  • Panels are available in sand, grey, green and white for alternative undertones.
  • For alternative ground colors or even metallics, lay down a watercolor or acrylic wash with a brush before using pastels.  Either work over the wet surface while it is wet or after it has dried.
  • Try misting the surface with water before laying down an underpainting, to create a deep even tone.
  • Consider shaving pastels with a razor over the panel and misting to soften.  Use a brush for blending as Barb Pinc paints in this demonstration.
  • To lift color, use a wet brush to lightly press pigment and wipe off on a towel.
  • For blending pastels, try using a wet brush to go back in and soften edges or blend colors.
  • Frame the finished piece behind glass with a spacer.

Awake in the World by Ken Muenzenmayer, acrylic on Pastelbord
Have you considered painting on Pastelbord?  
  • Try painting on Pastelbord with acrylics.   Acrylic paint is known for drying quickly; however, Pastelbord’s open surface allows for the paint to dry slower, allows for lifting of the paint during working time.  
  • Pastelbord’s ground options create a natural middle ground color for painting, so that the tone can easily be highlighted or darkened for dramatic work.
  • Pastelbord’s clay surface absorbs the pigmented washes well, consider mixing water with the acrylics to get a full rich color wash.
  • Transparent pigments work well to show the layers of color and still allow for absorption into the ground.
  • Drybrush works well on the rough surface of Pastelbord to show deep layers of color.


Since Pastelbord is now 40% off at retailers around the country, it is a good time to make a purchase.  To find a retailer near you:  Pastelbord on Sale.

Tips for Painting on Claybord™

“Lost Marbles” by Lorna Hannett, Claybord Inks on Claybord


Claybord™ is an extremely smooth surface, workable for both additive and subtractive art making.  Its name comes from the absorbent clay ground that is reminiscent of the clay gesso grounds, made with chalk and animal hide glue, used during the Renaissance.  Claybord has an archival finish, suitable for acrylics, casein, gouache, tempera, egg tempera, pen and inks as well as for mixed media techniques, airbrush, and collage.

Since Claybord is so receptive to watermedia, it is recommended for painting when an absorbent ground is needed.  

Some quick tips on painting with Claybord:

“Leaves in a Pool” by Lorna Hannett


  • In order to remove a mark, gentle strokes with Ampersand’s oil-free steel wool may be used.
  • Claybord’s coating is thick enough to use a razor blade or scratch tool to reveal the white clay beneath a layer of painted color to give detail and definition to a painting.
  • When painting in acrylics, if removal of paint is desired, consider painting in thinner films.  Acrylic dries to a more flexible, plastic-like film.
  • First layers of oil paint will dry rapidly to a matte finish, due to the absorbancy of Claybord.  Subsequent layers will dry more slowly and keep their luster.  In order to keep the oils from absorbing into the panel’s coating, consider using Gessobord or following these steps to prepare the Claybord for oil paints.  
  • Claybord is ideal for casein and egg tempera, considering the fragility of these ancient mediums. Both are prone to cracking when dry and need the stability and absorbency that only Claybord can provide.  Apply these paints in thin layers.
  • Softer leads with high pigment content work best on Claybord when using pencil or graphite.  Claybord tolerates repeated erasing without marring the surface and can be sealed and framed without glass.
  • Claybord works well with pen and ink as fine lines do not smudge and the ink dries rapidly; however, take heed to prepare the board by dusting and wiping down in order to prevent clogging of pens.
  • If you are interested in sealing your work in watercolor, ink or scratchbord for glass-free presentation, we recommend using the Krylon® UV Archival line of spray varnishes found on Krylon’s website.

For even more technical information about Claybord, refer to our website:  ampersandart.com/claybord.html

Claybord is now on promotion nationwide at discounts of up to 50% during our Ampersand Winter Sales Event. To find a participating dealer in your area, visit our Winter Sale Promotion page.

Paint On!