Old School Tools Every Designer Should Own

Some of the most useful design tools are the tried and true ones. Five old school tools every designer should own

Author: Shoshana Burgett

We have spent months in a virtual world, meetings, classes and clubs.  While many of us have learned how to zoom or use new apps, some of the most helpful design tools are the tried and true ones. Whether you are back working in your office or remotely, here are our top old school tools that every designer should have.  (Hint, these are tools used before desktop publishing took over.)

Yosoo 10X Magnifying Glass for textiles and print.
Print Loupe

If you design printed material, textiles or anything physical, a loupe should be in your drawer, next to pens and Post-it notes. A loupe lets you see how something is made. Anyone who has visited a printshop quickly discovers that press operators, print buyers, and sharp designers all have a loupe. Loupes help determine the quality of plates, proofs, and press-work. For example, when I find something I like, I put it under the loop and look to see if it was run in four colors or six. I use it to look at the registration of an image or how well the pigment is in the knit or printed on the material.  If you don’t have one (and you are a designer) run, don’t walk and grab one. Use it to look at everything and understand how designs come to life.

Westcott Font and Graphic Design Ruler
Westcott Font and Graphic Design Ruler
Graphic Arts Ruler

Fonts, fonts and more fonts. I love fonts, who doesn’t? But too often I meet young marketers, or social media designers and they don’t know what a pica or a point is. A pica is a unit of measure used for typography. A pica is approximately ​¹⁄₆ of an inch, or from ​¹⁄₆₈ and twelve points make one pica. Fonts are measured from the height of the highest ascender (peak) to the baseline of the lowercase x. It then measures from the lowest descender (valley) of the font to the top of the lowercase x. If you have any responsibility for font choices, then a Font ruler should be in your toolbox.

rOtring Technical Drawing Pens
Black Ink Drawing Pens

We do a lot of things digitally, but sometimes you want to feel the pen and ink flow onto the paper. A pen allows you to doodle, free form thoughts, and gives details to your ideas and drawings. But a designer’s pen is not the same as a regular pen. Designers need a pen that is lightfast, water-resistant, and delivers a smooth continuous flow of ink.

Chameleon, Fineliner Pens, Coloring/Drawing Markers
Color Drawing Markers

Black lines need to be crisp, and sharp, but when it comes to coloring you want to have the right kind of markers to fill in and bring the drawing to its full color life.

Sketch Book

You need a canvas for your pens, markers and rulers. As a designer, not all paper is the same. Drawing, watercolors, ink drawings all require a paper that will support the ink but hold up and not bleed when someone begins drawing. Notebooks have a purpose, for ink, watercolor or charcoal, some are meant for dry media like pencil or charcoal while others are built for wet media like watercolors. A watercolor notebook will have thick pages to hold the artist’s design, while others will have smooth calendared pages for bright crisp lines.

X-Acto Knife

Even when desktop publishing was starting, designers and prepress professionals were cutting a lot of bits and bobs to rearrange and organize the final layout. I still own the same X-Acto knife from college. They last, they’re useful, and they are sharp. I will always find a need for them and I am sure you will too.

The beauty of these old school tools is they are also very portable. Design inspiration is all around us and having the right notebook, pens, pencils with you can allow you to capture it.  You might be outside on a walk, at a farmers market, or in your own house/apartment.  When you combine these tools with the capabilities of your phone’s camera or apps, you can take advantage of both physical and digital tools in your design process.

Disclosure: Many of the links in the gizmos section are affiliate links.  If you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a small commission. Keep in mind that we link these companies and their products so that it is easier for people to find.  Whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you; that decision is yours. This small commission helps support the colorkarma site so we may provide free access to the creative community.

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