Today we’re going to explore a question that comes up for many sketchnoters at some point in their visual note-taking journey: whether to stick with analog tools like notebooks and pens or go digital with a tablet and stylus.
But it won’t just be me exploring these ideas today. Within this episode you’ll get to hear a clip from a podcast interview that I did with a good friend of mine on The George Mihaly Show.
My Analog Preference
As you may have noticed with the videos and sketchnotes that I post regularly over on the blog, I have pretty strong preference for pen and paper.
I have one set of tools that I use to make the videos like the one you see above, and another set for the sketchnotes that I take of the podcasts that I listen to and books I read.
You can check out my favorite materials in this video:
Blog post: My Sketchnoting Toolkit
I feel a stronger connection to the the pen and paper world because of the simplicity of those tools and how there are fewer moving parts.
With that said, there are plenty of benefits to using something like an iPad and Apple Pencil, precisely because of those additional moving parts.
The Benefits of Digital Sketchnoting
Here are a few of the features that make digital sketchnoting powerful:
With most digital sketchnoting tools, you have as many colors as you want on hand, and can create custom palettes for different projects.
The use of color is one of the subcategories of skills that you can bring into your visual note-taking process. So instead of using just a black pen, maybe you’ve got a black, a red, and a blue. You can give each of those colors a specific purpose to help you structure the ideas on the page as part of the filtering and synthesizing process.
Reposition Words & Sketches
You also can move ideas around.
After first capturing an idea with some combination of words and sketches, you might realize 30 minutes later that you’d like to move that first section to a new location to fit better with the ideas that came after it.
Many digital sketching tools will allow you to do just that.
You’ve also got the use of layers: essentially, distinct pages that live on top of each other, and you can manipulate each layer indepenently. That’s one way to move parts of your sketchnotes around – just move one individual layer.
You might also use one layer for roughly sketched first drafts of notes that you then hide once you’ve drawn over them within a new layer.
With digital sketchnoting, you get the benefit of strong lines and color, plus the ability to erase very easily and precisely by zooming in.
Zoom In & Out
That brings up something that George and I didn’t talk about – how with many apps you can zoom in and out, which allows you to grow as big a picture as you want, but still zoom in and focus on just a single section of your notes at a time!
Aid or Barrier?
All of those digital features do have helpful applications that can be woven into the note-taking process, but the thing that I haven’t spent the time doing is learning how to use all of those quick enough so that they are an aid to the note-taking process as opposed to a barrier to getting things down.
That’s why I tend to prefer pen and paper for most of my work. But the digital tools are powerful, and particularly with the the Apple Pencil they’re getting closer and closer to the feel of writing with pen and paper.
I actually really enjoy using that tool to create title sketches for my new podcast. Here are a few examples:
I put those in a category I call sketchnote illustrations – it’s something in between a sketchnote and an illustration, and its specific purpose is to present an idea or highlight the title of a new video, podcast, or blog post.
Though I’m happy that I do have a specific purpose for my iPad and Apple Pencil, I do have to admit that I get tired of using it after a solid hour of work.
I never get tired of writing on pen and paper.
So if I’m making it my job to work with these materials for many hours each day, that stamina piece becomes a factor as well. That’s also what keeps me in the analog camp.
The topics explored here are of course not all of the dynamics involved when considering this question of analog versus digital sketchnoting, but I do hope that they might help you decide which approach might be best for you right now.
There is no definitive “this is better than that.”
It is very much dependent on your preferences, your style, the context surrounding your note-taking, and your ultimate goals.
So I encourage you to continue leaning into the materials that you find to be the most useful.
For a deeper dive into how you might use tools like these, then check out our online courses, maybe starting with An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking:
You can view our full course library here.
Good luck as you experiment with different note-taking tools!