Traditional vs. Digital Sketching

Traditional vs. Digital Sketching

Posted On: February 23, 2011
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Comments: 5 Responses

Traditional vs. Digital Sketching

Sketching skills can pretty much be split into two categories: traditional skills and digital skills. Traditional skills would obviously be pencil, paper, and marker sketching. Digital skills would include using software like Sketchbook Pro, Photoshop and the like to sketch. What are the differences in the uses of these two categories of skills? Which is more suited to what? Is one more important than the other? In this article I will go into the characteristics of both categories and compare them for different situations. Keep in mind that these are my opinions only, and I encourage you to form your own opinions as well.

Traditional Sketching

Traditional sketching skills are usually the first thing fresh young designers learn when they begin their studies. Starting from basic shapes and advancing to more advanced forms, they learn to use the pen to quickly express their design intent. Traditional sketching is an important skill for any designer. You don’t have to be amazing at it, but you do have to be able to communicate through drawing. I think that hand sketching is best suited to the early stages of the design process. It allows you to quickly get your ideas down, and just think through and externalize all your ideas with your hands. Being able to spread out all your sketches and ideas on paper can really help you make design decisions. You can only have one computer screen, but you can have as many pieces of paper in front of you as you want. Personally, I always start my ideation by hand, and perhaps move to digital sketching later to refine my ideas.

– its fast: you should be able to draw with pen and paper much faster than you would with a computer.
- its relatively cheap: there is no prohibitive startup cost of equipment here, just pen and paper. Markers may get kind of expensive, but nothing compared to buying a good drawing tablet.
- its impressive: hand sketching is definitely a skill that impresses people from friends, to clients, to prospective employers. People like to see that you can communicate clearly and with flair with pen and paper.
- its handy: you will be able to jot down a quick sketch, or explain something to someone through drawing just about anywhere, as long as you can find a pen and a surface to draw on.

– it can get messy: when you start sketching on a piece of paper without a clear idea of how you will layout your sketches, it can get quite crowded and messy, making it hard to distinguish individual ideas.
- There is no undo: one mistake and you will either have to live with it or start over.
- Some would say its bad for the environment, since many pieces of paper will go to screwups or doodles, but I say if you mess up, use both sides as a doodle sheet and you can rest easy.

Digital Sketching

Digital sketching skills are becoming very important to designers as well. Using a drawing tablet and software, you can create exciting and colorful sketches and renderings that benefit from the power of undo and other computer trickery such as resizing and recoloring. Digital sketching is useful for creating nice presentation sketches. Using a computer means that the sketch can be very clean and polished to a shine. Of course digital sketching can be used for quick doodling and roughing out ideas as well, but usually this is not my preference since hand sketching is still faster for me. Usually if I bring in digital sketching to refine my initial concepts. As you will see Karla do a lot in her video tutorials on this site, you can often scan in your hand sketches and then refine them digitally.

- its clean: with undo and multiple layers, it is possible to create very clean yet exciting sketches, though they may take considerably more time to achieve.
- Its visually exciting: with all the different tools offered by various software, digital sketches can often be much more visually crazy than hand sketches.
- the freedom of undo: knowing that you can easily erase or undo any mistakes gives you much more freedom to try drawing something crazy or experiment with new techniques.
- easy to store and share: you can easily have all the digital sketches you have ever done right on your laptop and you can share digital sketches with clients and colleagues without the hassles of scanning
- simple variations: with digital sketches, you can change any number of simple things like color, contrast, etc. with a few clicks and save a variation easily

- its slower: digital sketching is usually not as fast as quick hand sketching
- Its expensive: to do digital sketching effectively, you’ll need a drawing tablet, which can cost you quite a bit of cash. Thankfully, tablets are pretty reliable and will last you quite a long time, making them good investments. Software is also expensive. Although Sketchbook Pro is quite affordable in software terms, it will still set you back around $100. Photoshop is much, much more.
- It takes more practice: to do digital sketching, you should already be well versed in traditional skills, and then on top of that you will need to practice transferring those skills to the computer. You may find that at first your lines take quite a few times to get right.
- It can be too flexible: being able to change everything as you go can make you very indecisive about design details. Also, unless you save every single version, you may not record as many as your variations as you may later like. In hand sketching, once you’ve drawn it it is there for later reference.

As you can see, both traditional and digital skills have their uses. Each is suited to a different kind of sketching, and are good to have in your toolbox. However, I have to say that traditional sketching is still the more important skill as it forms the basis for digital sketching. You should be confident in your pen and paper sketching before trying to move into digital sketching, otherwise you will just become frustrated. Once you are good enough and hand sketching, try to apply your skills to the computer. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new techniques, as there is always the undo button. With enough practice, your digital sketching will be as confident as your hand sketching and you can use a combination of both skillets in your design process to help you communicate your design intent to your colleagues and clients.

Anson Cheung. Providence RI, USA / Cologne Germany