Dry Erase Board Buying Tips

Posted on Posted in DIY, Finance

After selling hundreds of dry erase boards, I thought I’d write down a few of my best tips on getting a good deal on a quality board.  When I started ‘flipping’ items to build a missionary fund for our family I quickly found that dry erase boards (also called whiteboards and marker boards) were a solid seller.  I’m going to start with a quick guide for finding the right board for your needs, list a few alternatives to dry erase boards, and then go over a bit of basic maintenance for cleaning and preservation of the board surface.

Finding the Best Dry Erase Board For You

Used dry erase boards are a great way to save money.  Make sure to have some help for moving and installing the board.
Used dry erase boards are a great way to save money. Make sure to have some help for moving and installing the board.

There are now a wide variety of board surfaces that you will come across.  The most common board you will find is a melamine (pronounced mel-a-may).  These boards consist of a backer board of varying thickness with a layer of resin infused paper on top that is called melamine.  These boards can sometimes have what appears to be a heavy duty sheet of aluminum foil on the back of the board which makes the work surface magnetic. Recently I have also seen some really cheap board that consist of a thin layer of melamine on top of a heavy layer of cardboard.

I have been seeing more and more aluminum and steel painted boards.  These boards are constructed of a thin sheet of metal that has been painted with a dry erase finish and then mounted in a frame on a backer board. Warning…this style of board tends to scratch very easily.  Some boards come pre-lined or with a grid system of dots for organizing tasks, times, or other variables.

High quality boards are made from steel and porcelain.  These boards are easily spotted because the finish looks deep as you look into it, they are heavy, and they sound like a solid glass/metal product when you tap on it with your fingernails.  I have also been seeing more boards that are made from a sheet of glass, which is naturally dry erase friendly but heavy and easily broken, chipped or cracked.

Dry erase boards with a built in stand are very handy.  The Quartet Ultima is pictured and it is the best portable dry erase board I have used.
Dry erase boards with a built in stand are very handy. The Quartet Ultima is pictured and it is the best portable dry erase board I have used.

It is also worth noting that there are executive dry erase boards.  These are almost always a 4×4 board that is housed in a wooden cabinet with closing doors that can be mounted on the wall.  With these boards it is ESSENTIAL that the mounting hardware is included in the purchase.  They are heavy and you need to install it per manufacturer standards.  Also keep in mind that the doors swing out so you will need at least 8′ of wall space to effectively use the board.  These board can come decked out with pin boards inside both doors, a clip for holding large notepads, projector screen and magnetic dry erase surfaces.  They retail for $800 to $1,000 but can be purchased on the used market for $100 to $150 in good condition.

Which board quality is right for you?  Consider what you will use it for.  Is it going in a shop for sketching up notes and ideas?  Consider buying a board with imperfections or using one of my DIY ideas below.  Will it be something you use every day?  Invest in a good quality board that is magnetic.  High quality boards will not experience ghosting (staining from dry erase markers) if properly maintained.

Make sure to note the space on your wall and the size of your transport vehicle.  Do you really need a 4×8 board or could you do just as well with a 4×6 or even a 5×5.  There are all sorts of sizes on the market these days.  As an example, I currently have 3×4, 4×4, 4×5, 4×6 and 4×8 boards in my stockpile of boards.  Just because you have a mid-size SUV or a minivan doesn’t mean you can transport a 4×6 board.  Take a diagonal measurement across the hatch opening of your vehicle.  Is it easily more than 48″?  Measure from the back of your front seats to the upper portion of the rear of your vehicle.  Most of the time I run into problems with the vehicle not being long enough to accommodate the 72″ length of the board.  I have had many buyers show up who can’t fit the board in their vehicle.

When and How to Buy

Several temporary boards setup in my office during the busiest time of my year.
Several temporary boards setup in my office during the busiest time of my year.

If you’re buying on the used market – CL, auctions, etc. – the best time to buy is during the summer.  Quite often the market is flooded with boards so prices go down or sellers are willing to negotiate to offload boards they have been holding for a while.  In the Fall and Spring I sell a TON of boards to people who homeschool.  In fact, I am currently building my supply of used magnetic 4×8 dry erase board with this specific demographic in mind.

I would highly recommend trying to buy your board on the used market.  You should be able to get it for at least half of the retail price, if not lower.  Here are some questions to ask:

  • Who is the manufacturer of the board? Does it have a model number or name on it?  (These questions will help you to research a fair retail price for the board and the specific construction and materials used.)
  • What are the exact dimensions of the board? Does it have ANY imperfections?  (Sometimes 4×6 boards are actually 44×62 or something just a bit off.  If your space needs are very specific it is a good idea to ask.  Asking about imperfections (dents, scratches, scuffs, etc) gives you a solid idea of what you’re buying.)
  • Does it erase well?  (Older melamine board start to lose their finish over time.  This is a valid question to ask.)
  • Does it come with mounting hardware? (Mounting hardware (L-brackets) don’t cost much but they have to be special ordered and that takes time.  Some boards use manufacturer specific mounting brackets that can be tricky to track down.)
  • What’s your bottom dollar if I come today with exact cash in hand?  (Always a good question to ask on CL.  Never insult a seller by shooting them a lowball number.  Offer them the opportunity for a quick and easy transaction.)

Whiteboard Alternatives

I am a horrible salesman.  About 20% of the time I talk people out of buying the board they are interested in purchasing.  When they say, “It’s for my kid’s playroom.” my mind automatically thinks….Home Depot!  Let me explain…

The white boards on the wall are shower board from Home Depot in a classroom at our church building.  We recently installed a smart board on top of the surface.
The white boards on the wall are shower board from Home Depot in a classroom at our church building. We recently installed a smart board on top of the surface.

Home Depot (not Lowe’s or any other hardware store that I’ve found) carries a type of shower board that is actually a melamine coated piece of hardboard.  The 4×8 sheet of thrifty white shower board can be found in the trim section on some horizontal racks.  The sheet runs less than $20 and gives you a relatively light, customizable, dry erase type of surface.

I covered a wall with this material in a classroom at our church and it has been functioning well for over 5 years.  The surface is not highly durable.  Do not rub it hard to erase marks.  You can rub the finish right off of it. Use a basic dry erase board cleaner to clean it.  (Tip!  You can buy dry erase board cleaner in gallon jugs for a fraction of the cost of the little bottles.)

There are also lots of paintable solutions coming onto the market.  The single step paint products that I have used have a fairly short usable life.  I have used the professional product from Goo Systems and it is pretty amazing.  It is challenging to apply and can be almost as expensive as an actual board, but it can be installed in some pretty amazing locations and applications.

Dry Erase Board Maintenance

Through years of experience using and maintaining whiteboards at our church, I have learned a few tips and tricks.  Here are the best ones I have:

  • Always use a whiteboard eraser.  The unique surface of the eraser works to lightly remove the finest of material from your board.  Using a towel can actually be a bit abrasive to the surface and can shorten the life of your erasable surface.  Paper towels are  THE WORST!
  • Always use dry erase board cleaning solution.  As I mentioned earlier, you can buy it in a gallon jug for a fraction of the equivalent amount in small bottles.  The solution is specially formulated and will not eat away at the coating on your dry erase board.
  • An example of ghosting on a dry erase board.  Try writing over it with a dry erase marker then erasing it all.
    An example of ghosting on a dry erase board. Try writing over it with a dry erase marker then erasing it all.

    Never use paint thinner or powered equipment to ‘clean’ a board.  I followed an online tutorial for cleaning a dry erase board surface that involved using a car buffer…I was left with a perfectly white but non-erasable surface.  I buffed the erasable finish right off the board.  Paint thinner and other chemicals are too harsh for the fairly delicate finish on melamine boards.  It won’t remove the finish all together but will significantly impact the longevity.

  • Erase the board after use if at all possible.  The cheaper or older your board, the more susceptible it is to ghosting from writing left on the board.  Cleaning a board after use will help preserve it.  In my experience red is the worst color when it comes to ghosting.  Sometimes you can remove ghosting by writing over the marks with a dry erase marker and then erasing it.
  • Use high quality markers.  Expo seems to have the market cornered on good dry erase markers.  I have used some off-brand markers and those made by other manufacturers and they tend to be difficult to erase or don’t mark well.

Conclusion

If you made it this far you are SERIOUS about white boards!  They are an amazing tool for creativity, teaching, brainstorming, and planning.  I keep several of them in my office so I can sketch out ideas and lesson plans…then I eventually sell them.  I would suggest buying only magnetic dry erase boards.  The functionality and flexibility of these boards can not be beat.  (I make my own magnets from the little magnetic advertisements I get in the mail.)  Always make sure installation hardware is included in your purchase and make sure to mount your board in the studs or with a wall anchor that is designed to hold the weight you are putting on it.  Thanks for reading my dry erase board buying tips!