Materials Guide


For those starting out with their sketching, pens are a good way to getb etter faster. Using a pen makes you commit to the lines you are throwing down. To become a great athlete it requires practice and training…don’t fool yourself, its the same thing here. There is no such thing as a “magic pen,” there is only the designer who has worked it out so much that he/she produces their own magic.

Here are some pens that have proven to be great for a variety of different styles and lineweights.

Before you read on, know that this is by no means a comprehensive list. Infact, we believe in always looking for and trying out new pens.

If you’re interested in trying out some new pens, check out

Basic Ballpoint Pen


They all feel different, so you’re going to have to dig in, buy a few, and see what you like. Fortunately, most ballpoint pens are super cheap, so buying a few may be like buying one of the more expensive pens on this page. I recommend Bic Ballpoint Pens, because they’re cheap, and low commitment. You can get them at Amazon pretty cheap, or at any decent office supply store.

Ballpoint pens are the one pen in this group with the flexibility to be applied with a varied line weight all with the same pen. With changes in pressure while sketching, you can sketch light guidelines and later heavier outlines all with the same pen.

Ballpoint pens tend to bleed with most alcohol based markers. there may be exceptions but I haven’t found any yet. Chartpak markers (or AD Markers), however, do not bleed when applied over or with ballpoint markers.

If you’re hell bent on using ball point pens, try sketching lightly with the ballpoint pen, then applying the marker. Let the marker dry and then add line weight with the ballpoint over the markered areas.

Felt Pens/Permanent Ink Pens

Felt tipped pens, unlike their ball-pointed cousins, typically come with a fixed line weight or tip width. This means that to achieve varied line weight, multiple pens are required to do so.

For Beginners, this is the kind of pen we typically recommend. Why? Well there are no mess ups with these pens. There are ways to work with your mistakes, but a certain level of commitment and confidence is required and generated by sketching with these pens. Just try it, and you’ll see what I mean.


The Triplus Fineliner by Staedler used to be one of my favorites. The tip hardly ever if at all dries out, which I like, and they come in a variety of colors. You can get them at Amazon


Sharpies tend to bleed with marker as well, though the bleeding I have found to be dependent on a variety of factors. You’ll just have to test that out for yourself. These are good for outlines and heavier line weights. They come in a variety of lineweights and colors, so it’s up to you to experiment and see what looks and feels good.


I used to like these Pilot Razor Points alot more, but now, I prefer the Fineliner. They are about the same, but the fineliner tens to be juicier with a darker line. The Razorpoints don’t bleed with marker (which is always a plus) but the fineliners do with certain brands. Again – experiment and figure out what works best for you. My favorite paper for these is good old tracing paper. it’s cheap and somehow I find they look better on tracing paper.

Gel Ink Pens


Ah, the holy grail of pens. They are expensive, but I really like these. Of all the gel pens I have tried, these are the ones I like best. They don’t bleed with any markers and they have a nice feel to them. Plus, they are refillable. The downside is they are a japanese pen. If you are lucky, you can find them in higher end or specialty book or pen stores, but I get mine online. is a good place to start looking for these gems.

When all is said and done, it’s up to you to find what works best. Bottom line is, find something you like and be the best at using it. Then, if you feel comfortable, feel free to try something else. It’s better to master one before you move on to another.


Prismacolor brand is by far the most widely used type of pencil in id sketching. There are two main types that you can play with. The Prismacolor Verithin is a harder lead that allows you to do light line work. The thicker regular Prismacolor pencils are nice to get that thick line weight and contrast. There are a variety of colors available so experiment with what works for you. Really, the brand isn’t critical nor it the color, it’s all about how you use the tool to create a visually captivating and interesting sketch or presentation.

Verithin Pencils


Verithins are a subset of the prismacolor brand of pencil that feature a harder core than their softer counterparts. They hold their tip fairly well and allow you to get nice crisp lines when sharpened properly. It’s always good practice to have a few of these on hand for adding details to your sketches. I try to keep 3-4 sharpened and on hand for those times I need to use them. Try them and see what you think.


The indigo blue tend to be the de-facto standard with car designers (correct me if I am wrong). Again, color isn’t critical, but there’s something special about this tone.


Brown! Yes! Again, play with the colors and see what you like. I’ve even used violet and red pencils for sketching before. Sometimes it’s helpful to switch tools or colors when sketching and you find yourself in a creative rut. I find that it helps the ideas flow when some variable changes.

Regular (Thick) Prismacolor Pencils

Prismacolor Pencils have softer lead than the Verithin pencils and personally I prefer them. With the regular prismacolor pencils, you can get high contrast with lower effort. What I mean is, you can press on the paper less than you would with the Verithin pencils and achieve thicker and richer line weights. The softer lead also allows for different shading techniques.


Typically again, I limit my choices in color to black and indigo blue, but feel free to experiment and find something you like. There are several colors to choose from, but these may be the hardest to find at times, as they are a favorite of many a designer.


Mechanical Pencils

Mechanical pencils give you the advantage of being able to sketch with pencils on the go. I personally hate manual sharpeners and always exclusively go for a nice electric auto stop sharpener. They may cost more, but they are worht every penny.

Most mechanical pencils come with standard lead refills, but with a little bit of effort, you can find colored lead-like refills for your mechanical pencil. Personally, I find that anything under 0.9mm in thickness is insufficient due to incessant breaking when a little pressure is applied. The 0.9mm leads hold up well and travel well.



Pencil Sharpener

To help keep your pencils sharp, choosing the right sharpener is key. The cost a bit more than your average manual sharpener, but something like this (I’ve had it for 3 years now) will last a long time and get those prismas nice and sharp and ready for the next stroke. They are extremely useful when sharpening multiple pencils as well to have at the ready when sketching.


Like most everything we suggest here, paper is a topic you want to feel out for yourself. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions to get you started… First off, let us make this claim…PAPER MATTERS! You will quickly notice that different papers can give you different results (even when using the same pens or pencils). The reason for this is mainly because of the “tooth” of the paper. Some papers have more texture or tooth while others have finer surfaces. Some pens are absorbed better with more tooth, some are fine without much.

“Sketch Pad”

Don’t be fooled by “sketching papers” or pads. Most of the time pads with paper that are made or labeled for sketching are actually made for artists doing pencil, chalk, or conte crayon sketches. While these types of pads can work great for an id sketch/idea book, they are most likely not what you want for a presentation type sketch.

Tracing Paper

Remember back in elementary school when you would draw an airplane, car, robot, etc, and someone would say, “WOW…did you trace that?” That was THE question by which all kids were subjected to for judgement of artistic ability. Now however, you have earned the ability to pull out your tracing paper and use it for quick overlays of ideas and sketches…we promise.

Newsprint – Paper that can save you paper!

Sometimes you want to sketch out a lot of ideas without having to burn through lots of money of expensive paper. This is especially true for those 
students out there. One good way to have your paper go a long way is to get some newsprint. Newsprint is really affordable and can often be purchased by
the roll or in large pads. This paper is a little rough, but can allow you to workstuff out before you go to the good stuff.

Try Smooth paper

As a suggestion, try out papers that are smooth. Usually they are little more
expensive but very much worth it. There are a couple of reasons why you might
want to go with a smoother paper, such as color laser paper or marker paper.
One reason is obvious…the smoother the paper the smoother you will be able to
throw down lines. The second reason is for scanning. Eventually you will probably
want to scan your sketches in to archive them digitally. Having them on a smooth,
bright white paper will make them much better for the scanner to read.

Analog to Digital

In our digital world it has become increasingly easier and more feasible to do without paper. The same is becoming true with industrial design sketching, and sketching in general. If you have the means to sketch digitally you can save yourself a lot on pens, paper, and be a little more efficient (control z). That being said we still appreciate a nice sketch done the old-fashioned way!


Ah…. Choosing the right markers. I once counted how many I had and had over 200. I promise I have less now and didn’t pay for them all. I was obsessed for a while with markers in all their varieties. All brands are all different, but one thing is for sure – picking the right colors can be tough and sometimes downright intimidating.


Let’s start with a simple black and white scale. We’ll move on to color later on. . .  (spectral purists need not read on) hehe. My Disclaimer – I am no expert on color theory, but I have tried out alot of markers and have learned a few tips in my tinkering.

Basic Grayscale:

Gray markers are a good starting point for playing with value, and getting used to using markers.


This scale runs from a deep black 100% to a 10% gray to the right. Chances are your monitor may either pick up all the subtleties of the scale or not. Either way, think of this is as a scale of grays or values in 10% increments. Now, you really don’t need to go buy a set of 12 grays. Here’s why – When using markers, if you let them dry a little after applying them, then reapply some more marker, you can get a darker value with the same marker. Works on most papers but especially marker paper.

Really, all you need for a decent range of values is three markers, with each marker 20% away from each other. What I mean is for example, 10%, 30%, and 50% grays or 30% 50% and 70% gray markers. Why?

Well, take a look at this sketch or any decent sketch as a matter of fact. Now, squint your eyes and take a look at it. You should be able to see an area of highlight where the light is the most intense (in this case, the top of the box), a mid-tone (the left side of the cube) and a shadow tone (the dark right side of the cube).

The shadow could be considered an even deeper value, but in this case, I have used a 70% grey marker.


Ahhhhh that’s more like it. Pick 3 values from the grays – warm or cool depending on your preference (personally I prefer cool grays for most product sketches and warm grays for some special applications) Nice and simple right? Just follow the 20% apart scheme and you should be fine with picking the grays. The scale below represents a 70% gray, 50% gray, and a 30% gray value scale with each 20% away from the next in value.


Colored Markers:

With colors, you’ll need to stay within the same hue before messing with value. By hue, I mean REDS, ORANGES, or BLUES for example. You could also think of it as color temperature. (again, this may not be 100% correct, but it’s how I think it works)

Again, try to pick three markers that are each 20% apart in value and represent a highlight value, midtone value, and a shadow value. You can get a basic set of markers at, and expand from there.


So if you’re picking red markers for example, you may want to stay close to something as shown below.


Shadow, Midtone, and Highlight values. I have a deep red, a midtone red, and a lighter pink for the highlight color.3

Depending on the brand of marker you choose, these values may differ. I highly recommend testing the colors with markers in an art store for example before committing to buying them online. That way, you can find colors that are similar enough in hue and different enough in value that all work together.

Confused? Just remember, if you’re not sure what to do:

  1. Squint your eyes
  2. Check the values
  3. Make sure that the markers are within the same range in hue (For colors)
  4. Test test test before you buy them.

So, if you’re on a budget and not planning to amass a collection of 200+ markers like I have, stick to three for each color range and experiment. Find what works for you and use these tips to help simplify your choice in markers.

Digital Sketching

Sketching has gone digital. The capability to sketch and quickly manipulate is a great ability designers can take advantage of through technology. There are some great tablets available on the market for a variety of different needs. We recommend going with Wacom products since they are so involved with developing for the creative industry. Check out some of the tablets below.

If most of us can remember where our passion for design started, we might naturally trace it back to our love of drawing and sketching. With all of the advances in digital tools and equipment, sketching is now even more fun and more forgiving. It is so nice to be able to emulate some of the best looking techniques from the old school in the digital space (and even take it to the next level). We think sketching will continue to evolve in the digital realm and it will become industry standard to know and use these tools.

Wacom Cintiq 21ux ($ 1999 USD)


The Wacom Cintiq 21ux is a big beast of a drawing tablet. The Cintiq line from Wacom offers the ability to sketch right on top of a lcd screen. They offer excellent sensitivity and pressure response and have a nice feel. If you have never tried one, it can be a little different for the first few times. The larger Cintiq here is made to sit and live on a desktop. It can tilt and rotate but the weight and size of the unit can be a bit cumbersome to wrestle with. If you are planning on getting cozy with this thing, make sure you have an environment with an optimal lighting situation as glare can become an issue. If you like a lot of room and lots of screen real estate, this unit is for you!

Wacom Cintiq 12wx ($ 999 USD)


The Wacom Cintiq 12wx is a breath of fresh air to the Cintiq lineup. This being the newest Cintiq, it is also the lightest and most compact. Don’t let the image here fool you though, this baby comes with a mess of cords. If you are all about portability however, this is the unit for you. The 12wx is great for maneuverability and can be rotated with ease on your lap. Coming in at a grand less than it’s big brother, the price point makes good sense for beginners and students.

Wacom Cintiq Intuos 4 ($229 – $789 USD)


Wacom has just recently released the Intuos 4. The Intuos line is different from that of the Cintiq in that-even though sharing the same pressure sensitivity- you do not sketch directly on a screen. With the Intuos line you have to become a little more aquainted with a hand/eye coordination routine that can be a little annoying for some. Don’t get me wrong these are definitely nice tablets! New on the Intuos 4 they have added an ability to switch (rotate 180 degrees) depending on right or left handed preferences to accomodate more users. Also new is a finger-sensitive Touch Ring to speed up workflow.

Wacom Bamboo ($79 – $129)


If you are on a tight budget and need a tablet for light duty, the Wacom Bamboo line has some interesting options. Made for the novice, the Bamboo line is more about simple and easy. With the Bamboo you don’t have all of the pen tip pressure sensitivity of the beefier models and it’s a little lighter on other bells and whistles as well . For manipulating photos and perhaps light illustration work, this unit will probably be just fine. If you are determined to sketch a lot and go for a more digital workflow however, you will need to step it up to the Intuos line of products.