My Go-To Tools for Digital Graphic Recording

A photo of Ashton and the title 'My prefered drawing devices and software in my graphic recording business.'

When I’m live illustrating a virtual conference or event, people are often curious about what kind of equipment and program I use to draw with. It makes sense because, when I’m graphic recording in person, they can see me and my gear up there in front of the audience—but when I’m working digitally, all they see is my screen.

My set-up isn’t really that complicated—I have two devices to choose from, and one program that I’ve used for ages, so I thought I’d give you some info about what I use and why. This post isn’t sponsored at all…if you know me, you’ll know that I just really, really love telling people about the work I do!

My Go-to Portable Device for Digital Graphic Recording: Microsoft Surface

A couple of years ago, in the Before Times, I was in the market for a new computer. I was doing all of my work in person at that point, using markers and huge sheets of paper, but I knew that working digitally was something I wanted to explore.

I don’t like having a million different devices, so I knew I was looking for something that could work as my main computer but that I could also draw on. The Surface laptop does the job perfectly: it’s a laptop, but it has a touchscreen that works with a stylus. I got one and loved it—it was my main digital tool until just recently.

When Covid hit and everything went online, I was so grateful that I’d been using my Surface for a while, because I was already familiar with the technology and could make the jump to digital graphic recording right away.

My Go-to Desktop Device for Digital Graphic Recording: Microsoft Surface Studio

In 2021, after a year of live-illustrating virtual events full time, I took the plunge and invested in the Surface Studio. It’s like a desktop version of the Surface laptop, so it functions as a powerful computer and a massive, 28” tablet all in one. If you want to take a look at this complete beast of a device, check out the Drawing Devices and Software video on my Youtube channel, or scroll down to watch it from this page.

It was certainly an investment, but it’s so much easier on my body than the laptop version. I was finding that drawing on the Surface laptop all day was cramping me up, and the Surface Studio helps keep me more comfortable. It’s like drawing on a big TV, which took some getting used to, but I love it.

My Go-to Drawing Program: Sketchbook Pro

In terms of software, I really only use one program, and it’s Sketchbook Pro (formerly Autodesk Sketchbook). It’s pretty low-budget ($25.99 Canadian as of March 2022) but it’s honestly got everything I need in a program. It’s just so easy to learn and use.

There are definitely fancier programs out there, but the fact is that when you’re graphic recording, you don’t have time to play with lots of features. You need something reliable and simple that you can just open up and GO. And, bonus, Sketchbook Pro does have the kinds of extra features that I like to use when I’m doing less time-constrained “studio” work.

With any program, you’re going to have a bit of a learning curve where you’re just figuring things out, so whether you go with Sketchbook Pro or something else, you’ll need to dedicate some time. Play around for a bit and get yourself acquainted with the features and menus, and then you’ll be good to go.

If you’re already set up to draw digitally, I would love to hear from you about your experiences. What’s your go-to device? What’s your favorite program? I’m always curious to hear what works for people. And if you use Sketchbook Pro already, I’d love to know your go-to features or any tips and tricks you’ve learned.

Happy (digital) doodling!

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