Prior to the proliferation of software, namely Adobe and Aldus, a designer needed an entire toolbox full of things to get a job done.

From t-squares and triangles, to ruling pens, masking tape, photo tape, rubber cement, spray glue, brushes, guache, drawing tables, technical pens, matte board, acetate, pica poles, french curves, proportional wheels, type spec books, etc.

What analog tools (not software or computer-based) should every designer have today and be comfortable using, and why?

Has software made all analog tools completely obsolete?


6 Answers 6


As someone working in printing, one of the biggest for me is the Pantone Color Book


Regardless of of how well your monitor is calibrated, it is crucial to know what your printed colors are going to look like. The discrepancies of the RGB values between Photoshop and Illustrator for Pantone Colors is bad enough as it is. I always check my formula guide before I commit to using a color in a design.

  • +1 for a great answer IMO. Everything else is dependent on the type of job you are doing. But getting the right color is crucial.
    – ckpepper02
    May 21, 2013 at 20:26
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    I dont even get to print in pantone since we're pretty budget but I've printed out a grayscale map for myself for similar use with 5% increments (0,0,0,5) up to (0,0,0,95) and have it pinned next to me.
    – Ryan
    May 21, 2013 at 20:40

Every designer should have and be comfortable with these tools:

  • Pencil and/or pen
  • Sketch pad

Everything after that is a matter of preference or specialization. I've been in this business for 15 years now and I have not met a single designer, art director, or creative director that does their best without first sketching it out. You can jump right into the computer but it's never as free as early concepts should be.

As for the other items listed here ...

Remember that digital makes up the majority of the market these days. Print isn't dead, but it isn't the only option for professional design. In fact, it's an afterthought much of the time.

Pantone? That's for those print junkies.

X-acto? Nice, but mostly just for print.

Light table, tape, tracing paper, ink erasers!? You guys are as bad as me. That's all for us fussy history buffs. I hardly pull that stuff out any more. My art supplies are more like a museum than a tool kit. They come in handy every few months but that's only when I'm doubling as an illustrator. Or just playing around. I could probably save my clients some money and go buy royalty free icons next time ;)

  • 1
    But I bet you have gin!
    – Ryan
    May 21, 2013 at 22:23
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    Strong liquor should be added to the list IF: 1) You are a freelancer, 2) You work in-house for a large corporation, or 3) You work in advertising. I prefer bourbon or scotch but gin and tonic is a welcome change of pace. Coffee is required no matter what your working environment. I consider a french press required for my workspace. May 21, 2013 at 22:27
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    add tequila in the summers when you end up taking the day off and having a BBQ.. on a Saturday..
    – user9447
    May 21, 2013 at 22:42

some good answers and it would really depend on what "type" of design you are in:

The biggest, as stated by @JohnB is the use of Pantone Books. I also would like to add that every book must be stored in a dark room to prevent fade and inaccurate colors.

  1. xacto knife pen
  2. X-acto Heavy-Duty, aka Guillotine, aka Paper Trimmer
  3. light table
  4. light table magnification
  5. masking tape
  6. tape measure
  7. 12" ruler with padding on the bottom
  8. grease pencil
  9. grid paper
  10. tracing paper
  11. pens of multiple types
  12. drafting pencils
  13. shape stencils
  14. pen eraser
  15. drawing and sketching pencils (it is wise to get a good set)
  16. some would prefer graphite for shading
  17. big fan of Prismacolor pencils.
  18. notepad for sketches next to the desk but also a handheld when you are out and get an idea.
  • 1
    Most of what you list was mandatory to work 30 years ago. But much of it is not needed for design today. I mean, face it, are those Prismacolor pencils REALLY needed for you to do your job? Maybe for illustration, but certainly not for design any more.
    – Scott
    May 21, 2013 at 21:47
  • Ya I could see this being a good list for illustrators but hardly for "every designer." Perhaps I'm misinterpreting the question though.
    – Ryan
    May 21, 2013 at 21:55
  • I agree but your question said "should" understand and know how to use and when you are with a client and a computer is not handy some Prismacolors can help the client choose a palette if something is in question.
    – user9447
    May 21, 2013 at 21:56
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    FYI, I always prefer Caran d'Ache Pablo pencils over Prisma colors. Prisma colors just snap every 10 seconds. :) I did post "should". I just don't necessarily agree with the entire list :)
    – Scott
    May 21, 2013 at 21:57
  • If a computer is not handy... with a client. Those two ideas shouldn't coexist anymore. Smartphone, tablet, laptop.
    – Ryan
    May 21, 2013 at 22:01

Graph paper, notepad, pens, pencils. My personal preferences are the old school Papermate Mechanical and a black Sharpie. Whiteboard with dry-erase markers is also a joy to have handy.

And Gin. Especially Gin. Single Malt Scotch is also appropriate.


Here's a list of tools I find mandatory:

  • Pencil
  • Layout Bond sketch pad
  • Straightedge
  • Smudge glove
  • Inking pens - This can be Sharpies or some other permanent marker, you no longer need technical pens such as Koh-i-nor pens. You can use tech pens if you like, but they are more trouble than they are worth any more.
  • Inking Paper (Borden & Riley Bleedproof Paper for Pens rocks!)
  • A light table, even if it's small.
  • Pantone color books

On occasion I also use:

  • A small T-square for use on the sketchpad

  • Small 30°/60°/90° and 45° triangles

I don't exclusively use a computer for the design phase. It's much, much faster in my experience to use a pencil and paper for many projects. For logotypes, it can be very helpful to create a tight, hand-drawn, ink comp of the logo, or a part of the logo, in order to scan it and clean it up digitally. I also move between the screen and paper often for some projects. Refining something digitally, then printing it and adjusting by hand, scanning, and refining more.


Depends on the designer, really.

But in general, pencil and paper are the only 'must have' analog tools out there for most any designer...be they illustrators or UI designers or logo designers or what have you.

Everything else is great to have...working in analog is great--even if it ends up digital. And that list is endless--basically go to any art store and have at it.

EDIT: Come to think of it, even a pencil/paper isn't a MUST HAVE as there are so many great styli that can be used on a tablet for all your sketching. (Though I guess that means a good stylus is the last remaining bit of analog hardware required...)

  • Might just be me, but currently no stylus/tablet is a substitute for actual pen and paper. At least not until there's some advancement in pressure sensitivity for a tablet. (I haven't tried the Samsung Note with the Wacom stylus though)
    – Scott
    May 23, 2013 at 14:13

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