A few weeks back a question came in from a designer in our New York office; she was looking for recommendations on good writable wall surface options. Like so many products in our industry, this is a specialty segment that has evolved and improved over the last decade and the options for its use continues to expand.

Walltalkers, a division of Koroseal, introduced dry erase wallcoverings over 20 years ago to remedy the disadvantages of traditional marker boards. They continue to offer several products that give you the look of a whiteboard including magnetic capabilities and projection surfaces.

Development of painted applications came next and these have gone though the most evolution as a product. Painted applications now include low VOC options, and a clear top coat (think “nail polish top coat”) that can be applied to virtually any surface. A few sources for paint products in this category are Sherwin Williams, Wink from Wolf Gordon, FUZE from MDC, and Idea Paint, which was my first introduction to this product.

Here are a few tips that we’ve learned over the years to help ensure a successful application and a happy client.

  • If you are using true whiteboard paint- Are all the walls in the space going to be white? How will the end-users know which one is ok to write on? Maybe the other walls get some art so you can differentiate which is which.
  • Similarly, if you are using the clear top-coat on a colored wall or on a veneer- think about how the users will know where they can & cannot write.
  • When the surfaces get erased, the marker debris needs to land somewhere. Plan for a ledge to catch the debris (and hold your markers!) or make sure you have dark flooring under that wall so any potential staining from the marker is less noticeable.
  • If you are considering using a writeable surface from corner to corner- think about whether someone will really be writing up by the ceiling or down low by the floor. Does it need to extend the whole wall? Maybe a transition material or a drywall joint delineates where the writable surface gets used.
  • If your client wants the ability to project and to write, make sure you understand the ratio of how often they will be doing each of these activities. More of one over the other should influence which product you specify. For example a mildly textured finish could contribute to ghosting, which can disrupt projection clarity.

Also- writable wall paint tends to be glossy, so projecting on that surface could lead to hot spots from the projector bulb.

  • How long does the painter have to apply the paint once the can is opened? Some formulations do not have a large time window for application.
  • How long till it is fully cured and can be used as a writing surface? Does the surface need a conditioner applied after it dries? Specifications can vary; check the product details.
  • Some of these paints can be VERY strong smelling; Make sure to check the VOC content.
  • Ask the manufacturer if there is a certain type of dry-erase marker that works better on their surface? While most end-users prefer the low-odor markers, those tend to be the type that are harder to erase, resulting in ghosting. Make sure your client is aware of this.  For larger projects, invest in a simple mock-up and try a few different types.
  • This may be a no brainer, but just like in grade school with chalkboards – writable walls should be cleaned regularly. If they aren’t, it might take some extra elbow grease to get the surface clean again.