[skrach-bawrd, -bohrd]

Scratchboard or scraperboard is a technique where drawings are created using sharp knives and tools for etching into a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with black India ink. Scratchboard can also be made with several layers of multi-colored clay, so the pressure exerted on the instrument used determines the color that is revealed. Using scratchboard is said to yield a highly detailed, precise and sometimes textured artwork.


Modern scratchboard, as we know it originated in the 19th century in Britain and France. As printing methods developed, 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 1930's to 1950's, 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 and pen & ink techniques, producing astoundingly detailed artworks. In more recent years, it has made a comeback as an appealing medium for editorial illustrators of magazines, ads and graphic novels.

The technique

Using a sharp, angled blade or scratch tool an outline is made on the surface of the scratchboard. Scratchboard can be purchased in either all black or all white sheets. Shadows and Highlights are created by "scratching" away at the board. Artists using the white scratchboard paint or draw black areas onto it and then proceed to scratch into the black portions to create their drawing. Alternatively, the cleared portions of the scratchboard may be left blank for a stark black-and-white image. Various techniques such as hatching or stippling can be used to texture and detail the image further.

Depending on the intent of the artist, several areas may be cleared out for layering with watercolors, airbrush or acrylics. These layers are then scratched off one by one to create different shades of color that blend into and highlight certain parts of the image. It can then be retouched with more paint as necessary. This technique can yield an image that appears remarkably lifelike. Contemporary illustrators sometimes prefer applying color in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator

Notable scratchboard artists Solly Gutman


  • Merritt Dana Cutler, Scratchboard Drawing, 1949, Watson-Guptill Publications.
  • Ruth Lozner, Scratchboard for Illustration, 1990, Watson-Guptill Publications, ISBN 0-8230-4662-1

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