Posted 07.01.2015 by Josh Krakauer
If you happen to know or work with a graphic designer, you’ve likely caught on to the fact that we’re a pretty opinionated bunch. In the process of learning how best to think like a designer and work creatively, I’ve picked up a lot of preferences for the tools I use, specifically when it comes to stationery.
While some young designers prefer to work through every phase of a project digitally, I am firmly rooted in the practice of starting with sketching by hand. I’ve gone through different sketchbook phases—the tiny moleskine notebook, large spiral-bound sketchbooks, and everything in between—but now find myself settled into the habit of working with Moleskine’s cahier journals.
I like having a plain and squared (graph paper) to work with, the former for free sketching and the latter for sketching layouts, though in a pinch, either will do. Their simple binding makes them lightweight, and their size is adequate for working through an idea on a single page or spread without being overly large. The pages are somewhat thin, so when working on the verso there’s definitely some show-through, though it’s hardly noticeable once I put pencil to paper there. As an added bonus, the back sheets are perforated, which means easily shareable sheets of paper when a coworker comes to a screen-free meeting without anything to write on, and there’s also a pocket for stashing extraneous sketches and notes.
One of my longest-lived obsessions is the Staedtler Mars technico leadholder. It is a writing utensil I was required to use in my year of predesign at Iowa State and now prefer to work with over any other pencil, mechanical or otherwise. It isn’t the most popular tool, possibly because no one knows what a “leadholder” is, but the best way to describe it is as a mechanical pencil-wooden drawing pencil hybrid.
The lead is as thick as what you’d find in a wooden pencil, and comes in as many grades. The mechanism for advancing the lead is similar to a mechanical pencil, but with more user control. My favorite features, however, are the built-in sharpener in the back end of the pencil (you just have to dump the grinds in the trash), and the awesome textured metal grip. Staedtlers are sturdy, comfortable in the hand, and extremely durable. I’ve had the same two since 2009 (though one is really all you need, thanks to the interchangeable leads), and they’re still going strong.
Sakura Pigma Micron Pens are probably the definitive graphic designer tool. I don’t think I’ve met a designer who doesn’t have at least one, and I’ve met more than a few who use them as their default writing instrument. I find them to be a bit uncomfortable to work with for long stretches, but they are nonetheless an essential tool in my kit. They’re lovely for polishing up sketched concepts before showing them to a client, and very helpful for bringing hand-drawn work into Illustrator. I’m in the habit of keeping nib sizes .01, .03, and .05 on hand (another habit I picked up at Iowa State), though I find I go through .03 twice as fast as the others. The tips are a bit delicate and prone to drying out, so I’m a bit precious about lending these out to coworkers.
While neither of these tools are used for sketching, they’ve both become pretty essential to staying on top of my design work here at Sculpt. Almost everyone here has their own To Do Notepad from Staples, thanks to Josh, ever the trendsetter. They’re the perfect way to keep a paper copy of your assigned cards from the Scrum board or Trello close at hand, and sorted, in a very simplified way, in terms of priority. Plus it’s just so satisfying to check off boxes on a to do list. I’ve started using a Bic 4-color pen in conjunction with my to do list, because I find the addition of color helpful for staying organized.
What kind of tools help you work creatively?