Thursday, Jul 20, 2017
by Olivier Jennes
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How to Find the Best Drawing Board for You

Whether you’re just starting out with drawing, or you’re an accomplished artist, a drawing board is a practical investment. The purpose of this article is to present the most popular brands of drawing boards and to compare their relative advantages and disadvantages.

A drawing board is to sketching or drawing what an easel is to painting. They are also widely used by interior designers, architects and engineers, especially the models with an additional straightedge or T-square tool. They provide a hard surface and support for a piece of paper or a sketchbook. Drawing boards take on a variety of shapes and sizes. In their most basic form, they look a lot like a standard office clipboard – a hard, smooth Masonite (steam-cooked and pressurized wood fiber) surface with a clip to hold the paper in place. Some are designed to fix to an easel and some can tilt at various angles to make working on a flat surface more comfortable and convenient.

Before you choose a drawing board, you should ask yourself a few questions… What kind of work are you going to be doing? Basic graphite drawings require a stiff and heavy board, whereas light charcoal sketches can be done on a thinner and more flexible material. Are you going to use this drawing board in your studio or take it out with you? Some of the models featured in this article are more portable than others. How much storage space do you have and, finally, what is your budget?

We’ve done our best to pick out the best brands available on the market, classified into three different categories: flat drawing boards, drafting boards and adjustable drawing boards. Our conclusions are based on reviews from our community of WonderStreet artists and from a variety of consumer websites. We are not connected to any brand mentioned in this article, so our analysis is presented without any bias or conflict of interest.

Was your favourite brand of drawing board included in this article? Tell us about your experience with it in the comments section below. If your favourite brand wasn’t included, tell us why it should be!

Flat Drawing Boards

These boards were designed to lay flat on a table, or on the artist’s lap. They often feature a metal clip at the top and a rubber band at the bottom to hold a work of art in place

Alvin Heritage Gridded Sketch Boards

PROS: large, grid is very helpful

CONS: some quality control issues, defective clip

This white Masonite board comes in three different sizes and includes a black grid that is very useful for laying out a composition or maintaining proportion in your drawings. Many artists appreciated the larger sizes, but some noted that they are unnecessarily large and be somewhat unwieldy. There do appear to be some inconsistencies between products for the Alvin Heritage brand. We read reports of the boards being dirty or “smudged” with black paint. Several had defective clips, which means that they would not effectively hold paper. There was also one artist who received a board with a crooked grid.

Art Advantage Sketch Board

PROS: sturdy, heavy duty clip that doesn’t damage paper

CONS: sticker can be hard to remove and leave residue

The big issue that many artists had with the Art Advantage Sketch Board is that the manufacturer decided to stick a large label on the front of the board. Some were lucky, but over half of those who reviewed the product said that removing the label caused damage to the board and left behind an awful residue. If you are not bothered by this kind of aesthetic defect, the overall weight, quality and reasonable price of this board might endear you to the brand.

Art Alternatives Field Sketchboard

PROS: easy to carry, reasonably priced

CONS: clip can be difficult to use

Though the majority of the reviews for this product were positive, there were a few artists who struggled with the clip. Some said that it was impossible to open without placing a hand on the paper underneath the clip, which can be a serious disadvantage if there is a wet painting or delicate drawing on the paper. Despite this one concern, most were pleased with the Art Alternatives Field Sketchboard and the performance and durability of the board’s clip.

Artist Tote Sketchboard

PROS: reasonably priced, good size for travel, nice weight

CONS: inaccurate dimensions, some quality control issues, clip leaves indentions on paper

This board is good for the artist on the go because of the variety of sizes available and its solid construction. There were some reports of quality control issues – corners being smashed during shipping, missing rubber band, etc. However, most of these appeared to be isolated incidents. A more consistent issue was that the clip is too tight and leaves indentions on the paper. There also appears to be some discrepancy in the size listed by the manufacturer and the board’s actual size.

Blick Sketch Pad Boards

PROS: lightweight and easily portable, reasonably priced

CONS: flimsy construction, clasps can be difficult to open

Blick Sketch Pad Boards were designed to be used on-the-go. They are lightweight and not overly large. They feature a set of clips to hold the paper’s top edge, while a heavy duty rubber band holds the paper’s bottom so that it doesn’t move around during transport. Unfortunately, in making this product more portable, Blick also made it less sturdy than some other models. This may not be the best product for you if you do most of your work in the studio. However, it is well-suited to students and traveling artists.

Darice Masonite Sketch Board

PROS: durable clip, easy to clean, nicely finished

CONS: white surface can cause a glare

The Darice Masonite Sketch Board is a very simple but elegant solution. Unlike many brown Masonite boards, this model is white. It’s attractive, allows you to use dry erase markers to write on the surface of the board and it’s easy to keep clean, but one artist pointed out that it can cause a harsh glare if you use it outside in the sun. There was a great deal of positive feedback on the sturdy plastic clip and the smooth finish. This board doesn't require any additional sanding.

Helix Ultra-Lite Core Plain Edge Board

PROS: smooth work surface, lightweight, reasonably priced

CONS: makes a “crinkling” noise when you press down on it

This board consists of a honeycomb core sandwiched between two thin layers of natural basswood. It might be the lightest product in this category, which makes it ideal for artists who require maximum portability. Aside from a few isolated quality control issues, like a peeling top layer, there were few complaints about the overall quality of the board. Several artists noted how well it was sanded, providing a nice, smooth finish. The only major complaint was that it makes some strange noises when pressure is applied. This would indicate that perhaps the board does not hold up well over time.

Heritage Arts Artist Sketchboard

PROS: lightweight, smooth surface, fits nicely in the lap

CONS: quality control issues, cheap clip, rubber band breaks

There are clearly some inconsistencies in quality for the Heritage Arts Artist Sketchboard. The clip was criticized for being made from very cheap material and also for being so strong that it very nearly caused an injury when it snapped shut. The rubber band that holds the sheet of paper at the bottom of the board is also prone to breaking. However, this product does have some redeeming features, namely that the size is perfect for the artist who likes to work with his art in his lap. It is also lightweight and easily portable.

Martin Portable Art Studio Drawing Board

PROS: sturdy, quality construction, adequate size

CONS: heavy, clips damage paper

Though this product is called “portable,” it is actually not that easy to transport, because of its heavy weight. For most of the artists who reviewed this board, it was not too much of an issue, because they used it in their studios and appreciated the strength and durability of the model. They were more discouraged by the clips, which are so strong that they leave indentations in the paper. If you’re looking for an easy-to-carry board, you may want to consider other products. However, if you’re looking for a board with an adjustable height of significantly higher materials quality than many other products in this category, the Portable Art Studio Drawing Board might be the one for you.

Richeson Drawing Clip Board

PROS: built-in handle, sturdy construction

CONS: clips are difficult to use and prone to breaking, heavy

The clips on the Richeson Drawing Clip Board have a unique design that can be difficult to master. However, some believe that they have their benefits. It is easier to adjust a paper once it is clipped to the board than it is with a standard clipboard clip. It is always a good idea to exercise caution, especially because one artist said that the clips also break and leave jagged edges, which can be dangerous. This board is also one of the heavier models. However, the construction of the board is sound and a built-in handle makes it more portable.

Sax Carry-All Portable Drawing Board

PROS: convenient carrying handle, lightweight, reasonably priced

CONS: weak clip, only one clip, handle too small

Several reviewers were disappointed that this drawing board only has one clip instead of two and noted that the clip could not hold a standard 100 sheet art pad. Though it is a very lightweight and easily portable model, it is a bit on the thin side and some artists complained that the handle was too small to fit their hands, making it less convenient to carry the Sax Carry-All Portable Drawing Board.

Sax Sketch and Draw Board

PROS: thick, reasonably priced, large

CONS: some quality control issues

Unlike many of the other products in this category, the Sax Sketch and Draw Board does not include a clip. It is a large, flat piece of Masonite. It’s a no frills option for the artist who just wants a portable hard surface for drawing or painting. There is no handle or any kind of apparatus to hold the paper on the board. Despite some isolated quality control issues, like dented corners, the board is valued for its size, low price and overall quality of construction.

Springer Atlas Lightweight Warp Proof Drawing Board

PROS: large, smooth finish, lightweight

CONS: absorbent, edges are not protected

Like the Sax Sketch and Draw Board, the Springer Atlas Lightweight Warp Proof Drawing Board also does not have a clip, rubber band or a handle. Like the Sax, it is also quite a bit bigger than many of the other products in this category. Some common issues amongst our artists were the unprotected edges of the board and it’s absorbency, which is not desirable when the artist is working with watercolours or ink.

US Art Supply Artist Sketch Tote Board

PROS: clips work well, sturdy, good value

CONS: rubber band is damaged, surface is not smooth

Unlike many of the other contenders in this category, the US Art Supply Artist Sketch Tote Board takes home the prize for most practical (and easy to open) clip. Many reviewers commented on this feature. Unfortunately, the rubber band at the bottom of the board breaks quite easily and often. Also, there were a number of complaints about the condition in which the boards were received.

Drafting Boards

Drafting boards are mainly for people who work in the architecture and design industries. However, they can also be used by artists. They normally include a bar or T-Square to ensure that edges are straight.

Alvin Portable Parallel Straightedge Board

PROS: convenient carrying handle, lightweight, sturdy rubber grips on the bottom of the board keep it in place

CONS: can only be used on a table or other hard and flat surface, moving parts are not very smooth, straightedge bar does not always stay straight

This board comes with a special straightedge attachment that can glide along the length of the board and be adjusted and used for a variety of drafting tasks. It is particularly useful for architects and interior designers. It does have a wire system, which makes it difficult to use in your lap. It works best when it’s placed on a table. Some reviewers had difficulty with the straightedge getting stuck or not staying straight and many had to devise their own homemade solutions to the problem.

Koh-I-Noor Portable Drawing Board and Head

PROS: lightweight, versatile

CONS: very small, legs are flimsy

This model is constructed of clear plastic and can be sold with an optional graduated protractor head. It is unique because it is favoured not only by artists, but also by architects, engineers and designers. Though it is very lightweight and portable, it is also quite small and the legs are not very sturdy, so it’s not recommended for artists who prefer to make large compositions. The overall quality of the board is acceptable and the protractor acts as a straightedge and provides the possibility of drawing more precise angles.

Adjustable Drawing Boards

Adjustable Drawing Boards can be raised or lowered so that their height is convenient to the artist. They usually have a clip that holds the painting or drawing in place while the artist works.

Blitz Translucent Drawing Board

PROS: portable, adjustable height and angle

CONS: does not include a light, nothing at the bottom for support

This white Melamine board can be used at a variety of different angles. The wider settings allow the artist to place a light source, such as a small lamp, underneath the board so as to illuminate and make it easier to trace an underlying image. The artist does have to provide his or her own light. A few complained that the board does not include a bar of some kind along the bottom edge, to better support the paper and to provide an alternative to the metal clip. The Blitz Translucent Drawing Board is lightweight and includes a handle for easier transportation.

SoHo Urban Artist Adjustable Board

PROS: reasonably priced, hardwood construction

CONS: strong odor, large, quality control issues

Despite being made from beautiful natural hardwood, there were a number of issues with this brand. We read several reports indicating that the support structure is not sturdy enough to withstand moderate pressure and that the board is much larger than what was expected. Of course, for some artists, that was a positive, rather than a negative, observation. The board also has a very strong odor, like a finishing varnish for the hardwood.

US Art Supply Adjustable Board

PROS: lightweight, convenient design

CONS: included T-square is warped, not as adjustable as the manufacturer would have you believe, slips easily

US Art Supply claims that its Adjustable Board has six settings, but several artists maintain that it has only four settings and that one of those settings is lying flat. The board comes with a T-square, but it is quite warped and has to be re-shaped before it can be useful. Also, the grips on the bottom of the board are not very strong, so it’s recommended to use caution before you start pressing against it with some force.

Final Thoughts

There are so many different options available that it’s impossible to not find one that works well for your individual needs. We’ve combed through all of the reviews to find the top product in each of the three categories contained in this article. If you’re in the market for a flat drawing board, the Darice Masonite Sketch Board provides a simple and elegant solution. It is lightweight, easy to clean and has the unique feature of being white, rather than dark Masonite board, so that it can be used with dry erase markers. Koh-I-Noor Portable Drawing Board and Head offers a high quality product with the architect, interior designer or engineer in mind. It is lightweight and easy to carry on the job or to meet with prospective clients. The US Art Supply Adjustable Board is the strongest product in the “adjustable drawing boards” category. Though it has some potential defects, most can be fixed with a simple DIY remedy. Its adjustable height settings make it possible for the artist who uses it to work at a variety of different angles.

Tell us more about your favourite brand of drawing board in the comments section below!

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