A Three-Color Note-Taking Process - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill

A Three-Color Note-Taking Process

One great way to start making your notes more visual is to use color, so I’d like to share with you a simple yet effective three-color process for taking visual notes.

Why Use Color?

Before we get into the details of the process, let’s first explore why it’s worth it to use color in the first place.

There are two primary reasons that I’d like to highlight.

The first is an external benefit: when you use multiple colors while taking notes, you’re adding contrast to the page, and that contrast is a huge aide to the eye when you look back on that set of ideas.

Color helps you to break up the page so that it can be more quickly and easily interpreted by whoever is looking at it, whether that be you in the future or someone you’re sharing your ideas with.

The second is more of an internal benefit, and it occurs during the note-taking process itself: the consistent use of multiple colors anchors the rest of your note-taking process. It provides structure to the note-taking experience that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

A Three-Color Note-Taking Process - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - sketchnoting, doodling, visual notes, graphic recording

Give Each Color A Role

In order to use each color consistently, you must give each color a specific role, and that’s where this three-color process comes in.

I’ll take the colors I’m using here – black, blue, and gray – as an example.

I use black as my imagery tool, when I want to draw an object related to the idea that I’m capturing.

I use blue as the primary text tool when writing out the words and short phrases that add helpful details to the notes.

And I use gray as a helper color for things like containers, arrows, and sometimes even secondary text like I’ve done with the words “external” and “internal”.

When using three colors in these ways, you’re able to keep track of the overall balance between words and images as you fill the page. Too much blue means you should probably try to summarize what’s going on with a sketch. Too much black and you might forget the details later on, so best to add some titles and captions.

You are free, of course, to use colors different than those you see me using here, but I do recommend using stronger colors for text and imagery, and a lighter color for the helper. That results in the page not feeling to cluttered once you’ve all all three in play.

A Few Examples

Now that you’ve seen a breakdown of the process, let’s check out some examples so that you can see it in action.

First up, some of the recent episodes of this series here, Sketchnote School.

As you can see, I like using either black, blue, and gray OR black, red, and gray for my three colors.

Note as well that this three-color process pairs well with the brick road approach to sketchnoting that I shared in a previous post:

In all of those cases, I drafted the sketchnote before sketching out the more polished version that you saw. So let’s look now at some notes that I took live while listening to interviews from Creative Live’s 30 Days of Genius series:

Those were taken during hour-long interviews, so I had plenty of time to fill the page and be intentional about switching colors consistently throughout the note-taking experience.

Want to see how those pages got filled in real time? Check out the videos here: An Experiment In Live-Streamed Sketchnoting.

Your Turn!

A Three-Color Note-Taking Process - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - sketchnoting, doodling, visual notes, graphic recording

Now it’s your turn! Give this three-color note-taking process a try for yourself to see if it’s a good fit for you.

Dig Deeper

Want to dig deeper into the development of your own sketchnoting skills?

Check out our library of online courses:

Here’s a great place to start: An Introduction to Visual Note-Taking.

You can explore the full course library here.

Happy sketchnoting,

-Doug