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A whiteboard (also known by the terms markerboard, dry-erase board, wipe board, dry-wipe board, pen-board, and the misnomer greaseboard) is any glossy, usually white surface for nonpermanent markings. Whiteboards are analogous to blackboards, but with a smoother surface allowing rapid marking and erasing of markings on their surface. The popularity of whiteboards increased rapidly in the mid-1990s and they have become a fixture in many offices, meeting rooms, school classrooms, and other work environments.
The term whiteboard is also used metaphorically to refer to features of computer software applications that simulate whiteboards. Such "virtual whiteboards" allow one or more people to write or draw images on a simulated canvas. This is a common feature of many virtual meeting, collaboration, and instant messaging applications. The term whiteboard is also used to refer to interactive whiteboards.
There are currently two different accounts of the history of the whiteboard: one from the US and one from the UK, both dating to the late 1950s to early 1960s.
The first version has the white board invented by Martin Heit, a photographer and Korean War veteran. The idea was originally developed for having next to a wall phone to take messages down on. During his work with film, he realized that notes could be recorded on film negatives using a marker pen and could be easily wiped off with a damp tissue. Early whiteboards were made out of film laminate, the same glossy finish found on film negatives.
A prototype was made and ready to be revealed, when the showcase at the Chicago Merchandise Mart burned down the night before its unveiling. Heit chose to sell the patents to the company that would eventually become Dri-Mark, who began to introduce them into the education world.
The second account is that Albert Stallion invented the whiteboards while working at American steel producer Alliance in the 1960s. This can be verified by meeting minutes of Alliance, although these are not in the public domain, and by confirmation by Will Smit of Smit Visual Supplies BV, who was present at the meeting in question. This account of the history of the whiteboard is as follows:
One of the products Alliance produced was enameled steel, which was highly scratch-resistant and easy to clean. It was used for architectural cladding purposes. One day Stallion commented in a board meeting that this product would be a good addition in the market of writing boards, to replace the traditional chalk board in use until that time. His comments were not taken very seriously and, being the entrepreneur he was, he left the company and started his own company, Magiboards, selling enamel steel whiteboards.
In the mid-1960s, the first whiteboards began to appear on the market. It took a while before these boards really started to be accepted, not least because the initial boards were wet wipe, as there were no dry markers at that time. In the 1970s, however, marker manufacturers soon saw the potential of such markers and dry wipe whiteboards started to be accepted more readily. The first prototype for a dry wipe whiteboard marker was developed with the assistance of Alasdair Geddes, an assistant of Stallion in 1972. He was not recognised for his contribution until 1998. In classrooms, their widespread adoption did not occur until the early 1990s when concern over allergies and other potential health risks posed by chalk dust prompted the replacement of many blackboards with whiteboards.
Types of whiteboard
The first whiteboards were very expensive and were made of an enameled steel. Cheaper versions were then produced, including laminated chipboard, high-pressure laminates and steel boards with a white, usually polyester or acrylic, coating. Enameled whiteboards, also referred to as porcelain, and sometimes glass boards, have the advantage that markings can be erased completely; other materials tend to become stained over time. Enameled boards are more expensive and less used in commercial environments, but in more demanding environments with heavier use, such as educational establishments, porcelain boards are considered superior.
Other types of dry marker boards are also available, such as high gloss vinyl and coated paper, which can be rolled up, high-density two-part high gloss paints, glass and coated acrylics and polypropylene magic whiteboards which use static electricity to cling to walls, windows and doors.
Clear marker surfaces, made of glass or specially coated acrylic, became available around the mid-2000s. They are generally manufactured from technical glass, e.g. for monitor screen filters, which is optically coated.
The whiteboard pen (also called a whiteboard marker or dry erasable marker) was invented by Jerry Woolf of Techform Laboratories and later patented by Pilot Pen in 1975. It is a non-permanent marker and uses an erasable ink that adheres to the writing surface without binding to or being absorbed by it. Applications range from temporary writing with acetate sheets (for use with overhead projectors), to whiteboards and similar glossy surfaces. The erasable ink does not contain the toxic chemical compounds xylene and/or toluene, unlike permanent markers.
There are five types of materials commonly used for whiteboard surfaces:
- A resin-infused paper which is typically used over a substrate that can range from particle board to MDF (medium density fiberboard). Melamine boards range in quality primarily because of the amount of resin deposited on the base material. Some melamine boards remain clean (no ghosting) for a long time, others less so. Generally this least expensive type of whiteboard is most commonly found in use in non-institutional applications. They are available in any office supply stores. Performance varies widely. These boards are not suitable for heavy use, as in many educational cases, with time the paint erodes and the original surface reappears.
- Painted steel or aluminum
- Painted steel and aluminum dry erase also have a wide range of quality. Painted surfaces tend to be smoother, which leads to better methods of erasing. The painted surface is generally a multiple layer of coatings made up of a base coat in color (most commonly white) and a clear performance coating that is the dry erase component. Paint varies from electron beam cured coatings to UV and other coating systems. Good commercial grade painted steel or aluminum has excellent dry erase properties and many will be able to have permanent marker cleaned from the surface. Any coated surface is susceptible to scratching. Painted steel surfaces are magnetic and allow the use of magnets. Painted aluminum surfaces are rarely used as a base for whiteboards as they are not magnetic and are more expensive than steel. Painted steel whiteboards are most commonly used for custom printed whiteboards. These products are used as tracking boards, patient information boards and tournament and training boards.
- Hardcoat laminate
- Every laminate manufacturer makes a dry erase board or laminate. Here again the performance varies over a wide range depending on the amount of resin used in the manufacturer. Basically this category primarily uses melamine as its dry erase performance coat and therefore falls into the melamine universe. Depending on the manufacturer (and the price) these laminate often are less porous and highly resistant to staining. Less common than other whiteboard surfaces, because they usually are used in combination with something else (a cabinet, doors or table tops for example). (This statement applies to Porcelain steel which is the only lifetime warranty available on the market)
- Porcelain, enamel-on-steel
- Ceramic (glass) fired onto a steel surface in a kiln. They are the most durable surfaces, and most carry a lifetime warranty. They are very common in heavy-use industrial settings. They are highly scratch-resistant, although materials harder than glass, such as diamond, can scratch them. They do not absorb dry erase or permanent marker ink. They allow the use of magnets. The surface can be cleaned with any non-abrasive cleaner suitable for porcelain, then rinsed off with water to prevent smearing. Permanent marker can be removed using a polar solvent such as ethanol, isopropanol or acetone, or by writing over it with a dry-erase marker and erasing it.
- Tempered glass
- Tempered glass is easier to erase. Most tempered glass white boards have no frame.
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