Disclosure: Some links, including some links attached to images, in this article are affiliate links. What that means is that if you click on the links and make a purchase on that site, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission to help keep this site running.
What are the different kinds of tools I can use?
There are a ton of different types of tools that can be used for scratchboard etching. There are a few that are specifically made for scratchboards, but there are even fewer that I like to use.
There's knives, inks, steel wool, sharpening stones, and more.
Above I put a photo up of all the different scratching knife nibs that I have, but there's really only two of them that I like and think work well. The others just don't work as well I had hoped when I ordered them.
I use a few of the other tools sometimes, but 98% of the time I just use a scratch knife nib with a speedball holder.
I'm going to go over the different tools that I use for my artwork, but this isn't a guide for how to use them so I'm not going to be incredibly detailed on their exact usages.
Scratch Knife Nibs
The straight scratch knife is the #1 tool that I use for most of my pieces. It is by far the most useful and versatile tool for every piece in my opinion. They do wear out pretty quick, so I highly recommend a sharpening stone of some kind to get the most out of them (I'll recommend some later on). I buy these in bulk and I make sure to try to keep them sharp, but I still have to use usually two or more knives for each piece!
Basically if you you want to get a good general purpose nib, this is the one. It's great for straight lines and small dots, but curved lines are a bit more difficult with it.
That's where this bad boy comes in:
Highly recommended for thick, curved lines. Thin lines are a little tricky with it, but are doable. The biggest downside right now is that I can't find anywhere to buy them by itself, so you have to buy the tool kit from Ampersand in order to get it.
I've emailed Dick Blick about it to try and see if there was a way to purchase just the nib, they came back saying that a Speedball Linoleum Cutter #6 Knife but they weren't sure if it would fit properly in the nib holder. They did let me know that the Linoleum Cutter Handle can definitely hold it, but personally I wouldn't like to use that for a scratchboard. I might just order the knife and see if it will work in the speedball holder though!
Also, I honestly don't know why this knife is branded as Essdee on the back of it when it came with the Ampersand Scratchbord Tool Kit, but hey, it works and it works great.
The rest of the nibs in the first picture on this post, are just not that good in my opinion. The nib that is just like the straight scratch knife with a bit of rounding on it is supposed to be a kind of hybrid between the the straight knife and the curved one, but because of that it just doesn't get quite either job done right.
The flatter headed one is supposed to be for thick lines, but you have to put a lot of pressure down and have it at a uncomfortable angle for it to work properly. Same with the other nibs. They're supposed to be parallel line tools, but more often than not, they come out splotchy.
Like I said above, I highly recommend having a sharpening stone of some kind to keep the nibs sharp and make them last as long as possible.
I really like this one that I picked up a Sportsman's Warehouse about 6 years ago, but I don't even know if it's on the market anymore. I would recommend small like this (It's only about 4 inches long and almost 2 inches wide) because that's really all you need. You don't need a huge block to get the complete blade touching against it.
However, if you are trying to get it honed and sharpened to being pretty much better than brand new, then you're going to want something more.
That's why I use this:
As you can probably tell, it's been used a bit. I don't just use it for the nibs, I use it for just about all my knives. It works great to hone it back into shape and then bring it to a point.The diamond stone above is excellent at keeping the knives well maintained while this one restores them.
It's quite a bit bigger, by about a foot or so, so I keep it stored until I feel like I need it to help save space.
Personally, I like to keep the diamond stone right around me while I'm working on a scratchboard, and I just pull out the big one when I start to feel like the diamond stone is helping as much anymore.
The nibs are a little wonky to try to sharpen as they are small and have kind of a weird angle on them, but as you sharpen them more and more, you kind of figure out the best ways to do it.
Here's a youtube tutorial by Munchies that I find extremely helpful to learn how to hone and sharpen knives:
Other Tools for the Etching Process
So here's a wide variety of the different tools for the etching process. I'm going to keep it short and sweet for each one because there's not as much to go on about these.
Starting from the left and going right:
Stainless Steel Wire Brush: Great for making random textures, a little bit wonky to use though because of the angle of the wire.
Parallel Lines tool: THIS is the tool I would use rather than the nibs that I talked about earlier. It works a lot better and is a lot easier to use.
Richeson Twisted Etching Tool: This works fantastic for small precise dots. Also works okay as a straight knife scratch tool if you have no other choice.
Fiberglass Erasing Brush: Great to make gradual shading changes, basically just imagine an eraser for a pencil, except you are erasing the canvas instead of the lines you made on the canvas.
Nib Holder: A basic nib holder that comes in the Ampersand Scratchboard Tools set. Personally I prefer the speedball one.
Speedball Standard Pen Holder: Works great as a nib holder, more comfortable to hold than the other nib holder. Obviously, I recommend this one over the other one.
X-Acto Knife #1: I recommend using a #11 blade with it. Great for super thin lines and also big spaces. It's really versatile on the uses for it, really just depends on how you hold it. Biggest issue I have with it is that it's slower than using the nibs because it's not designed specifically for this purpose like they are.
Steel Wool: Works great at making gradients. Pretty similar to the Fiberglass Erasing Brush, but isn't as rough. It makes the gradients a better slower, but it all depends on the grit of the steel wool.
Saral transfer paper works great to outline designs, highlights, lowlights, and everything else really. Just tape it on to the front with the (what I call) dusty side facing toward the scratchboard and you're good to start sketching on it.
The "dust" that gets transferred onto the surface easily comes off along with the scratchboard ink when scratched and, depending on how long you let the material set on there, water-damp toilet paper takes off the remainder pretty well as well. I've tried using an eraser before on it, but I'm always worried about discoloration from erasing, so I don't do that anymore.
It's also great when you first start out because you can put a picture on top and start tracing the image for good practice.
Each sheet used is reusable so it lasts quite a long time. Personally, I use it for two scratchboards usually and then have to make another sheet. On the third attempted use, there's usually too many crossing points from the previous uses that doesn't lay down some of the "dust" anymore. That's mostly due to me using it try to outline most changes in light though, they probably will last a lot longer if you don't use them as much as I do pre-etching haha.
The box comes with a long sheet to cut to fit to your pieces (kind of like aluminum foil) so the box lasts quite a long time time.
Scratchboard Ink Set
These inks are great. The black ink works wonders for repairs and the rest of them you can mix and match to make pretty much any color you need. The box they come in has a handy little guide on it that lets you know how to make the most common colors.
The black repair is definitely my most used bottle. The others, I just play around with them right now, I haven't really thought of a piece that I want to use them for yet, but I definitely plan on doing something with them in the future.
I use a really fine tipped brush to apply the inks to try to not have too much overflow onto the rest of the surface.
I've tried to use some sharpies and other markers to fix some mistakes before, but they just don't dry quite right. The black repair definitely matches the rest of the board better.
This is a must have to properly preserve your artwork. It doesn't have to be the glossy finish, but the acrylic coating is essential.
I personally like the glossy finish because it gives it a bit of a shiny reflection, but unfortunately that makes taking good pictures of the artwork afterward difficult. If you are trying to take a picture of the artwork after it's finished, I would recommend doing it before adding the coating or using a less reflective finish, like a matte finish.
Once you are done with the piece, spray it with this, let it set for a bit, and it's properly preserved for years to come.
It does have very harmful vapors, so be in a big, well-ventilated area whenever you use this stuff, and/or have properly fitted respirator.
These are all the tools that I use for my scratchboard work, but that doesn't mean that these are the only tools of the trade.
I've tried a few different things, not all of them stuck, but it helped me learn what does and doesn't work and this is pretty must the comprehensive piece of what tools I like best.
I did leave out using a paper trimmer to trim down scratchboards to the size you want, simply because there are different scratchboards and it wouldn't be able to cut through them all (see my previous blog post). If you are using one of the thinner, more paper-like scratchboards, such as the Scratch-Art scratchboards, then I would recommend it.
Let me know if there's anything that I might've missed that would be extremely useful for this medium!
I also highly encourage you to try different things that you think would also work or that would work better for you!