I previously wrote about my love of sketchbooks here on ArchSmarter. That post drew a lot of comments from like minded designers with recommendations for their favorite sketchbooks. I went on to purchase most of these sketchbooks for the sake of <ahem> research. Yes, I have a sketchbook problem.
Rather than let all this research go to waste, I put together this ultimate guide to sketchbooks for the discerning architect and designer. I’ve organized the guide into four sections: physical sketchbooks, digital sketchbooks, hybrids, and accessories. While I love a sketchbook I can hold in my hands, I also make use of digital sketchbooks and notebooks, like Evernote. I’m also really interested in hybrids that blend the best of both worlds. Think digital pens and sketchbooks on the cloud. Lastly, I hate not having a pen when I need one so I included some useful accessories for the sketchbook aficionado.
Without further ado, here’s ArchSmarter’s ultimate sketchbook guide.
Moleskine – As far as I’m concerned, this is the grand-daddy of sketchbooks. I’ve used the large Moleskine Art Plus religiously for the past six years. It’s a good size sketchbook with high quality paper and a durable cover. What more do you need?
Leuchtturm 1917 – If there’s a sketchbook that might cause me to stray from Moleskine, this is it. The medium sketchbook (A5) is very similar to the Moleskine Art Plus but at 5.75″ x 8.75″, it’s a little wider. Each sketchbook has a fabric page marker and an elastic enclosure band, much like the Moleskine. Unlike Moleskine, the paper is bright white. Their notebooks are also really nice, with page numbers and the option of blank, dotted or ruled paper.
Baron Fig – The Baron Fig has easily the nicest packaging of any sketchbook I’ve seen. Opening the box is a real treat. I should probably record an unboxing video. I’ve given several of these sketchbooks as gifts. I have the Confidant and while it’s not my day-to-day sketchbook, I’m happy to have it on my shelf.
A:Log – The A:Log is an architectural reference sketchbook. It’s very cleanly designed, with a white soft cover and tape binding. What makes the A:Log shine is the inclusion of some really useful architectural reference material in the first twenty or so pages. These pages cover everything from standard paper sizes to typical window dimensions to egress distances. The paper is fairly thick and comes in a range of dot sizes. If it were available in hardcover, I would seriously consider this as my day-to-day sketchbook.
Archnotes – This sketchbook is similar to the A:Log but comes in a wire bound format. The front and back cover contains lots of reference material such as CSI divisions, typical scale factors, and unit conversion tables. The paper is gridded and of medium weight.
Bullet Journal – This is a custom Leuchtturm 1917 notebook for users of the Bullet Journal framework. What’s the Bullet Journal framework? It’s a methodology for organizing your notes and sketches. If you’re like me and use your sketchbook for notes and to-do lists as well as sketches, Bullet Journal will help you stay organized. I’ve incorporated some of the methodology into my practice and it’s definitely helped. I’m going to try out the dedicated notebook to see if I can go full Bullet Journal. I’ll keep you posted.
Magma Architecture – This is a larger format sketchbook that, like the A:Log and Archnotes, incorporates reference material into the pages. It has a soft cover and includes an elastic enclosure bank and three fabric page markers. The paper is a little on the thin side but has a good tooth to it. One thing I like is that the reference pages are printed on a different color paper so it’s real easy to find. Magma makes similar sketchbooks for other creative fields like graphic design, fashion and illustration.
Canson Wirebound Sketchbooks – Available in a variety of sizes and paper types. One of the benefits of wire bound sketchbooks is that they lay flat and can be folded over, a trait that’s particularly useful for us lefties. I used these in architecture school when I needed a large format sketchbook.
Digital Sketchbooks and Apps
Evernote – More of a digital notebook than sketchbook, Evernote is a versatile tool for managing and cataloging your notes and images. Evernote has a legion of hardcore fans, including UK-based architect Russell Curtis, who wrote this great guide to using Evernote in an architectural setting. I have a subscription to Evernote Plus and while I don’t use it everyday, I find it a useful tool for keeping track of those random bits of digital information.
OneNote – Developed by Microsoft, OneNote is very similar to Evernote. It’s essentially a note capture tool that can be used with a variety of devices including computers, phones, and tablets. One interesting difference between Evernote and OneNote is that the desktop version of OneNote includes a suite of drawing tools so you can draw directly on your notes or images.
Morpholio Journal – A beautifully designed sketchbook app. Morpholio Journal lets you draw, collage, and annotate your thoughts and ideas digitally. The interface is very clean and intuitive. You can read an in-depth review over on ArchDaily. Available for iPad and iPhone only.
Paper – Free sketching app for the iPhone and iPad. You can combine sketches, images, and notes in a single sketch. Works great with Pencil, an iPad drawing stylus by the same company. Paper uses a very simple interface and a reduced set of tool to provide a more direct drawing experience
Sketchbook – A digital drawing app from Autodesk, Sketchbook takes the opposite approach from Paper and provides the user with a full suite of drawing tools.
iPad Pro – What device should you use your sketchbook software on? Why the iPad Pro of course. With its larger size and improved graphics chip, the iPad Pro makes a great digital sketchbook. Want more info? Check out ArchDaily’s article on why the iPad Pro is a game changer for architects.
The following products all attempt to bridge the gap between the physical and the digital. Each approach is unique from digital pens to scanning services.
Livescribe smartpens – Record everything you write with this digital pen. The device uses Bluetooth to transmit your writing directly to an app on your phone or tablet. Moleskine even makes a version of their classic sketchbook specifically for the livescribe. I haven’t tried it personally but I’m intrigued at the idea of having a real-time recording of my notes and sketches.
Wacom Inkling – This digital pen is similar to the livescribe. The Inkling uses a receiver placed at the top of your paper to capture the sketch. You can save your sketches to separate layers by pressing the layers button on the receiver.
Mod Notebooks – This is more of a service than a product. Once you’ve filled the Moleskine-like Mod sketchbook, send it back and they’ll scan it and put it on the cloud. Access all your notes and sketches online using their app.
Quiver Pen Holders – I have one of these for my Moleskine sketchbooks. The leather pen holder loops around the cover of the sketchbook and provides a convenient place to put your pen. No more digging through your bag when inspiration hits.
Leuchtturm 1917 Pen Loops – A cheap and easy way to keep a pen with your sketchbook. I like that the loop holds the pen in the sketchbook opening, keeping a low profile. Available in a variety of colors.
Moleskine Tool Belt – Just like the name implies, this is a tool belt for your sketchbook. Keep all your essential tools right within reach. The Tool Belt attaches to the cover of your sketch book and contains various compartments for your stuff.
So what sketchbook do you use? Have any suggestions I should add to the list? Leave a comment below. Happy sketching!