I dont have an artistic background, so when I start school soon, I don't really know what I'm going to need and what I'm not going to need. I'm trying to prepare as much as I can before starting and get some supplies I will need while I have the money to do so right now.

For those that have gone to school for graphic design, what are some tools that I will undoubtedly need?

And when I say tools, I'm not talking software or skill sets, I'm talking more along the lines of craft supplies. If you've graduated or are currently in school, what supplies did/do you need when starting out?

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    As far as I know, not every school is exactly the same ( Especially in different countries ), so you'd probably get the best info from the school.
    – Joonas
    Feb 7, 2013 at 21:00
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    I'm finding this question to be a bit too localized.
    – Hanna
    Feb 8, 2013 at 0:47
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    Of course, but not everyone goes to the same school. All schools have different requirements. Sure you can say "You'll need a pencil and paper" (which, for the most part is universal), but that's incredibly straight-forward and not very helpful. When you attend a particular school, or more specifically take a particular class, your professor will usually outline what is required by that class in the syllabus or perhaps in some other form. It's not up to us to tell you what to get because we could be far from what your professor wants and you may end up wasting money.
    – Hanna
    Feb 8, 2013 at 2:32
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    I'm looking for things that every designer would need. Since I don't know art supplies very well, I don't know what I would need. Feb 8, 2013 at 2:51
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    I'm reading the question as "What are the things so basic that teachers may not think to put them on an equipment list or assume art/design college students will have them already?" (does happen), which is a good question. Feb 8, 2013 at 13:12

3 Answers 3


What you need will depend on what you take, and who you have. Some schools will have better supplies than others, too.

Lots of people will probably come up with great answers, so I don't feel the need to be exhaustive. Some items that were and/or are essential for me:

  • X-ACTO knives (get lots of extra blades)
  • Black mat board
  • Spray adhesive (stock up on newspapers to spray on)
  • Long, metal ruler (preferably with a grippy side)
  • "Self-healing" cutting mat
  • Masonite board
  • Bone folder

At some point you will be printing out your stuff, cutting it, and mounting it to board to present. These will help you with that. Knives to cut, board to mount, adhesive to affix. Ruler helps cut; metal means you won't hack pieces out of it and grippy means it won't slide around. Cutting mat gives you something to cut on, but they're a bit flimsy, so if you don't have a table top handy a piece of masonite works wonders for creating a solid surface to cut, draw, put your laptop on, etc.

The bone folder helps you score and crease for better folds, particularly when printing off of laserjet.

  • Whats the difference between a black mat board and a cutting board? Feb 8, 2013 at 0:21
  • Mat board is what you mount on. Cutting board is what you cut on. These were pretty quick searches but that's the gist of it.
    – Brendan
    Feb 8, 2013 at 3:15
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    Good answer. One thing to add might be a large folio / carry case or document tube for carrying large sheets around - but find out what size of sheet your college course uses first. Might not even need one but they're handy things. Feb 8, 2013 at 12:46
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    It's also worth adding that, while every class or course segment should have its own equipment list, a lot of teachers don't think about non-course-specific basics like these and may assume you have them already. Oh, and if you don't already keep a personal sketchbook for random ideas, doodles, experiments and notes, you probably should. Feb 8, 2013 at 12:57
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    ...and basic drawing materials that you like for sketching. E.g. a basic range of decent pencils and plenty of good quality erasers. You might add or substitute black and red charcoal plus charcoal blender and/or graphic pens of a variety of thicknesses and/or water-blendable coloured pencils etc, depending on preference. They'll usually recommend or provide anything beyond this for particular classes, but they'll likely assume you've got stuff that works for you for sketching out ideas on paper. Feb 8, 2013 at 13:19

As Joonas pointed out in the comments, it really depends on the school.

If you're like most of us when we went to school, you're on a tight budget. You need to spend your money on the supplies immediately required. The only way to get that answer is to speak with an adviser. Before you even do that, talk with some of the other design students and see which adviser will actually help. Not all professors are equal ;)

Incidently, everything Brendan listed is fine, you just may not need all of that the first quarter/semester. On the other hand, there's a long list of other supplies that you may need: layout pad; journal; sketch supplies; paper cement; calligraphy supplies; and the list goes on.

Bottom line: Don't spend a dime until you get advice from someone who knows your school's curriculum.


Every class, not just school, will have an equipment list.

When I went to school you needed and entire toolbox. I have no clue how much hands-on training is done now. Seems classes tend to focus on computers and software far more than theory anymore.

I can tell you software has replaced many things.... amber/rubyliths, ruling pens, technical pens, proportional wheel, pica pole, scoring tool, X-acto knife, spray on adhesive, layout paper, tracing paper, matte board, foam core, t-squares and triangles, brushes, markers, colored pencils, blueline pencils/pens, and on and on.

I think you should just show up with a pen and paper and see what they want you to have.

  • 1
    Software may have replaced a lot of studio materials because in today's graphic design industry, pretty much 100% of the commercial studios are digital studios, but only trade schools/technical colleges have abandoned theory for software training. And most graphic design curricula still include studio art as part of their foundation. And an instructor is more likely to introduce students to color theory using acrylic paint or water color than having them just open up a color picker in Photoshop. Feb 8, 2013 at 11:21
  • Like I said.. I have no clue what is taught any more. It's been a while since I've seen a classroom.
    – Scott
    Feb 8, 2013 at 11:28

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