Five Good Tools for Digital Sketching

In my Animated Explanations course I shared that one of the most popular things I’ve published in the last 16 years is this simple set of stick figure sketches. Publishing that set of sketches proved to me the value of breaking down a topic into small chunks that are easy to understand at a glance. 

Digital sketching is great for creating simple illustrations to illustrate an idea for your students. It’s also a great activity for students to do to evaluate a big idea and then break it into small pieces that they illustrate for you and for their classmates. 

When I made those sketches in 2008 the tools available for digital sketching were fairly limited. Today, there are lots of good options for digital sketching. Here’s a handful of the tools that I use and like today. 


Starting this fall I’m going to be using Microsoft tools much more than I ever have before. That’s why OneNote is at the top of this list. 

In the iOS, Android, web, and Windows versions of OneNote you can use drawing tools right along with typing tools in the same notebook. I envision using this to write notes by typing most of the time and then sketching to illustrate and evaluate key concepts from those notes. 


Jamboard seems to have fallen in popularity since its high a couple of years ago. That said, it’s still a great tool for freehand drawing and sketching. You don’t need a lot of design options in order to make effective digital sketches. That’s why I’ve always appreciated the simplicity of Jamboard. If you’ve never tried Jamboard, watch this short video to learn how to use the drawing functions and more. 

Jamboard is available to install on your iPad or Android tablet. It also works very well in your web browser. 

Paper and Bamboo Paper

Paper by WeTransfer is an iPad app that I’ve used for many years to sketch notes. It’s undergone a few slight name changes over the years, but it’s still the same great app. If the iPad versions OneNote and Jamboard are too basic for your liking, Paper is the app for you. You will find more drawing, writing, and editing functions in Paper than you’ll probably ever need.

Whenever I mention the Paper iPad app someone asks if there is an Android version. Unfortunately, there is not an Android version of paper. There is, however, an Android app called Bamboo Paper. That app, made by Wacom (they’re known for making digital drawing tablets), has similar functionality to Paper if you purchase all of their in-app upgrades.

Book Creator

Both the iPad version and web browser version of Book Creator offer many drawing and sketching capabilities. It’s a great choice if you want your students to create and publish digital books of their digital sketches. The autodraw function in Book Creator is great for folks like me who never seem to be able to draw a good circle or square let alone a bicycle or flower. Here’s a little demo of the autodraw function.

Canva Drawings

The ability to sketch and make freehand drawings is a relatively new feature in Canva. I’m not sure that I would use it for serious note taking. It’s probably best suited to making single frame sketches or sketches to use as part of a larger digital design project. Here’s a short demonstration of how it works.

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.