You’re unlikely to find a storyboard artist who doesn’t have a pile of sketchbooks, a giant mug full of pens and pencils, and all kinds of other art supplies in their workspace, probably next to several pieces of very expensive-looking digital equipment, but the truth is you don’t need much in the way of tools to get started in storyboarding.
Simpler Tools Are Usually the Best For Storyboarding
Eventually, you will have to take the dive into digital– that’s just how the industry is at this point. But before you sink money into a digital setup, it’s probably a good idea to learn the ropes through good old-fashioned, cheap and easy traditional means. Once you learn what you like, then you can begin thinking about which digital tools you might want to buy to mimic the look of what you’ve been creating on paper.
Some people use a hybrid system, beginning projects on paper, just because that’s their preference, and finishing their work up digitally before they send it in to the production team for review.
What’s right for you is whatever works for you and the people paying you.
Let's begin with traditional tools. There’s nothing too complicated or costly on this list, and you’ll need everything on it:
- Something to lay down roughs with
- Something to ink with
- Something to create tones with
- Something to put all this stuff on to
Something To Lay Down Roughs With
The same HB pencils you used all throughout grade school will work just as well here, but go with whatever you’re most comfortable drawing with.
Some folks prefer lighter, harder lead, others prefer darker, softer lead. Some folks prefer wood-barrel pencils, others prefer mechanical pencils. And of the folks that prefer mechanical, some prefer thick and chunky lead, others prefer lead that leaves razor-thin lines. Some folks prefer to start in a blue or red line. There’s no wrong answer.
Make sure to stock up on erasers, too.
Something To Ink With
When you lay down your final lines, you’re going to want something bold.
Anything that leaves a black ink line will do. Fineliners are nice, and most brands come in packs with a variety of sizes and styles.
Sharpies are always a great option as well, and these days, they also come in a variety of sizes and styles.
Go with whatever brand is cheapest. You’re going to burn through a lot of these.
Something To Create Tones With
You’ll use your black pens and the white of your paper for the extreme ends of the tonal spectrum, and you can often call it quits right there, but you might want a few gray tones, to help differentiate foreground, middleground, and background.
Like fineliners, these often come in packs, and picking up one of those, pulling out a light, a medium, and a dark, and putting the rest away is probably still cheaper than buying the markers individually.
Go with the cheapest brand here, too. You’ll burn through a lot of these as well.
Something To Put All This Stuff On To
Plain white cartridge or copy paper is perfect for all your storyboarding needs, from thumbnails to final pass. If you’re doing thumbs, you’ll draw a bunch on each page, both sides, and if you’re doing final pass, you might just draw one on each page, on only one side.
Whatever part of the process you’re in, this paper is bright enough and smooth enough to cover you, and will stand up to your tools.
You’ll also want to keep a sketchbook or two around to get all your doodling in. Whatever brand you like is fine.
You might not want to jump into digital tools right away, and that’s OK, but eventually, you’ll likely need:
- A tablet to draw on
- A software to draw with
- A decent computer
- An internet connection
A Tablet To Draw On
Picking out a drawing tablet can be overwhelming. There are a lot of options, and even the lower-cost ones can still be pretty expensive. But there’s really no need to go fancier than one of those “budget” options, especially in the beginning.
And there are plenty of working professionals who went with a lower-cost machine and never saw a reason to upgrade.
Whatever you choose, you could save a few more dollars going with something second-hand.
A Software To Draw With
This one’s a quick and easy suggestion: Go with Autodesk’s Sketchbook to start. Sketchbook is free, runs on Windows or Mac, and does pretty much everything you’ll need it to.
If you want to learn programs that are more industry standard, find free trials wherever you can, and play with them a bit before you buy them.
A Decent Computer
You can go with a Windows machine or a Mac. The major hardware brands and major software brands are all compatible with both.
You don’t necessarily need a top-of-the-line computer to work as a storyboard artist, but you should go into your purchase with a checklist of certain things you do want– the main things being processor speed and memory to run your drawing software smoothly (some programs are notorious for eating up resources).
Hard-drive space is nice as well, but you could get away with using portable, off-system storage.
Going second-hand may be a thing you want to consider here as well.
An Internet Connection
Get the fastest internet package you can afford.
And shop around before you make a decision– often, your local service providers will run promotions to win your business, so you may be able to find a typically more expensive internet package at a heavy discount for the first six months, year, or more.
Here’s some stuff that doesn’t really fall into either of the main tool categories, but could still be key for you:
- Literature to learn from
- Life drawing sessions
- Limitless quantities of caffeine
- LinkedIn (and/or other social)
Literature To Learn From
You could easily fill a bookshelf with all sorts of educational materials, reference materials, etc., but you probably don’t have to. A couple of books are probably enough– at least to get started.
If you can find books of storyboards and production art from movies and television shows you like, those are usually worth grabbing, too– it allows you the chance to look at those films and series in a new, more analytical way.
Life Drawing Sessions
Getting good at figure drawing will take a lot of time and practice– there’s no way around that.
It’s worth signing up for local life drawing sessions if you can. Some folks host life drawing sessions over Zoom and the like as well, and there are also websites like Bodies in Motion and Croquis Cafe.
Also, never dismiss the value of spending some time just sitting somewhere with a sketchbook and drawing whoever happens to be around.
Limitless Quantities of Caffeine
Get yourself a Keurig coffee machine and buy your K-cups in bulk. Collect rewards cards from all the coffee shops in your neighborhood.
You’re going to need it.
LinkedIn (and/or Other Social)
Sign up for whatever social media platforms look interesting to you.
A big part of getting out there as a storyboard artist is getting comfortable with the idea of sharing your work. That can be a very intimidating thing, but it gets easier with practice, and you can start on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Being active on social media also opens the doors to interacting with all the working pros out there already doing the thing you want to do.
Let us know what supplies you’ve picked up that maybe aren’t on our list, but have proven to be particularly useful to your workflow!