There is no shortage of note-taking tools for you to choose from, so to help you explore the options I’d like to share with you my own sketchnoting toolkit – the materials that I use on a daily basis.
First I’ll share quick links to all of them, and then I’ll dig a bit into how I use each and why I like them.
The Full Toolkit
Here’s my complete sketchnoting toolkit:
- Copy paper and legal pads
- Pentel Energel 0.7mm pens + ink refills
- Small, thick-page Moleskine notebooks (pocket size)
- DiaryFlex notebooks (dotted)
- Large foam boards
- Permapaque markers
- iPad Pro + Apple Pencil + Procreate
- Index cards: blank and tabbed
- Organizing box
(Note: some of the links above are affiliate links.)
Let’s Break It Down
Now let’s take a look at each of those materials and why I enjoy using them.
Copy Paper & Legal Pads
I enjoy using those at the early stages of anything that I’m working on for the initial brainstorming and drafting of ideas that I might later polish up in some way.
Whether I use blank copy paper or lined legal pads just depends on the mood I’m in. For whatever reason, sometimes one is more appealing than the other.
For example, in the case of creating weekly videos, I often use blank copy paper to experiment with how I might like to lay out the ideas. Here I’m working on a video from a couple of weeks ago (my 2018 to 2019 annual review), just getting a feel for what goes where:
Then, once I’m comfortable with the layout, I might experiment a bit with the specific visuals to include. That’s what you see me working on here:
Next let’s take a look at some legal pad drafting.
Here you see me working out what the featured images might look like for the new podcast that I launched just last week, The Doug Neill Show:
Each podcast episode has three segments to it, and I decided to include a mini sketchnote for each.
In the image above I’m working out what those mini sketchnotes might look like, and how to also fit in the title of the podcast and the episode number, working out those details in a low-pressure way.
That’s what I like about using copy paper and legal pads. I don’t feel any pressure when I’m making marks on the page. I’m not distracted by fancy or expensive materials.
The Pentel Energel 0.7mm Pen
I keep a stash of those refills in a drawer in my office and also another stash in my backpack so that I never have to worry about running out of ink.
Small Moleskine Sketchbook
One of my favorite notebooks to sketchnote in are the small thick-page Moleskines.
That’s the notebook that I use specifically for single-page, single-idea public sketchnotes – the sketchnotes that I share on Instagram.
I love the quality of those thick pages. I also like the small size – I find that to be a helpful constraint when sharing any individual idea.
It’s great to have a go-to place to share something small publicly – maybe a visual journal entry from my day, a book that I recently finished reading, or a single idea that I came across that felt impactful.
Dotted DiaryFlex Notebook
While I enjoy sharing some of my sketchnotes with others, I do think it’s important to have a space where you’re taking sketchnotes only for yourself.
That’s what this next notebook is for – a dotted DiaryFlex notebook that I use for my personal sketchnotes of podcasts that I’m listening to or articles that I’m reading.
What I like about these notebooks is that they’re essentially just the inserts without the cover, which keeps the cost pretty low. So you can pick up just one cover and keep reusing that even as you fill notebook after notebook.
Shoutout to my friend Raven Henderson who sent me my first DiaryFlex notebook! I got hooked pretty quickly and I’ve picked up many since then.
I’ve enjoyed the lightly printed dot grid on these pages because it provides structure when you want it, but you can ignore those marks when you want to go with a more freeform approach.
That notebook has been a nice place to capture ideas that don’t necessarily fit into any current project but that interest me for one reason or another, and that I might want to revisit in the future.
Large Foam Boards
My next go-to materials are foam boards: large rigid surfaces that are 3/16 of an inch thick, 36 inches long, and 24 inches tall.
I’ve been enjoying using those foam boards over paper because they feel a little bit more permanent. It feels like this sweet spot in between paper that you could crumple up and throw in the recycling bin and a fancy art canvas meant to be hung from the wall.
I think that helps me bring a little bit more care and attention to the marks that I make when creating videos, but not so much that it adds unnecessary pressure and anxiety.
To make the marks on those boards within my videos I’ve been using the double-sided Permapaque marker that has a bullet tip on one end and a chisel tip on the other.
I’ve been enjoying the simplicity of just those two options to add a bit of a variety, a bit of hierarchy to these videos, while also just sticking to a single black color.
iPad Pro + Apple Pencil + Procreate
I use that combo of tools for what I consider to be sketchnote illustrations – not rough first-time sketchnotes but slightly more polished, presentable ideas.
That’s what I’ve been using for the thumbnail images for recent videos here as well as for the featured images for my new podcast that I mentioned drafting earlier on those legal pads.
I’ve been enjoying the use of a few colors, the use of layers, and the flexibility of a digital sketching tool to move things around a bit and do the type of editing that you can’t do with pen and paper.
Index Cards + Organizing Box
There is one final tool combination that I wanted to share, moving back in the analog direction: index cards and a shoebox-sized organizer.
I have been using that combo to help me develop big projects.
Specifically, I’ve been using it in the development of the resource Build an Online Course with Sketchnotes.
So when it comes to something like developing a new course or even writing a book, I think a tool combination like this has a lot of potential and I’m excited to continue experimenting with it.
Start Building Your Own Sketchnoting Toolkit
So that covers all of my favorite sketchnoting tools and how I’m using each of them!
If any of them sound appealing to you, do feel free to pick them up and do some experimenting yourself, with the goal of finding the materials that are best suited to their purpose.
Remember that it’s not about buying fancy materials for the sake of having something that looks cool.
Instead it’s about gathering the resources that help you to do the work that’s important to you.
So be sure to keep that in mind as you do your own experimenting and as you build up to your own sketchnoting toolkit.
If you’d like some more information about how to use tools like these, then check out our online courses, maybe starting with An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking:
You can explore our full course library here.
I hope you enjoyed seeing the tools that I use on a daily basis. Good luck as you seek out those that will work well for you.