Difference between Drywall and Plaster

Updated on April 25, 2017

Depending on your needs (and financial capacity), drywall and plaster make great building materials for your home’s interior walls. This article explains just how drywall can be very different from plaster.

Definitions

Drywall
Two men doing a drywall installation

Drywall (commonly known as plasterboard, wallboard, or gypsum board) is a popular form of interior wall material. It is a panel made of pre-treated calcium sulphate dihydrate (i.e. gypsum). This calcium sulphate dihydrate may or may not contain additives, and is compressed between what is called a facer and a backer. These are usually two sheets of thick paper.

The panel contains fibre (usually a mix of fiberglass and paper), foaming agents, plasticizer, and other additives that can reduce mildew, lower water intake and improve resistance to heat or fire. Drywall, as an end product, is lightweight, thin, smooth to surface, and can be easily cut to the desired shaped by using normal cutting tools.

Drywall is susceptible to damage, particularly when the nail or screw fasteners pop out. Although there are variations of drywall that are resistant to water damage, regular drywall is not.

Plaster
A man applying plaster to a brick wall

Plaster is a common form of interior wall material usually made of gypsum, lime, or cement. It comes in powdered form, and needs to be skillfully mixed with water to form a hard but flexible paste prior to being applied to the surface of a partition. It needs a lath (a supporting structure where it will be applied), which may either be woodwork or a brick molding. When applied in its paste form to the surface of the lath, plaster provides for a smooth wall finish. Plaster is typically applied in three coats. After the initial coating is applied, it is scratched and dried. Thereafter, two additional coats are added. This painstaking process make plaster walls appear thicker because of its several layers.

Plasters can be molded to different shapes and sizes. This makes plaster ideal for beautification and structural aesthetics, particularly curved and irregular spaces. The artistic use of plaster in structures has been observed long before the development of modern architecture, such as scaffolds in European chapels, places of worship in Middle Eastern churches, and Japanese temples. Plaster is known for its longevity and durability if it is installed and maintained properly.

Drywall vs Plaster

So, what’s the difference between a drywall and a plaster? Drywall is usually made of gypsum, which along with other additives, is pressed and flattened between two layers of paper (called facer and backer). It is light and easy to install as wall partitions and ceilings. It can be fixed using just keyholes and nails, and can be joined together with drywall tapes and compounds (or “mud”) to conceal the edges. In contrast, plaster usually requires a professional to install due to the complex processes involved (such as thickness, proper application, and others) in its installation. Drywall installation can be done DIY, but if done by professionals, an entire house can be done in just 1 or 2 days, depending on the project.

Certain drywall products are susceptible to water damage. In addition, nail and screw fasteners used on drywalls may pop out and cause unsightly holes and further wall damage. Regular drywall may not be able stop mildew growth

The use of plaster in walls is very labor intensive, and thus can be quite expensive to implement. Although plaster is durable, it can crack because of improper installation and settling of the building.

Comparison Chart

DrywallPlaster
Pliable, ready to installNeeds to be mixed before use
Susceptible to water damage, fasteners popping out, and mildew growthSturdier, can crack if improperly installed
Mainly used for simple walls and ceilingsCan be used in curved and irregular surfaces
Lasts for a certain timeKnown for its longevity
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