Originally posted on fastcompany.
These apps and programs have been most useful for me, a drawing-challenged person who aspires to be able to make useful visuals.
I’m on a lifelong journey to draw. I struggled to pass art in high school. Lately I’ve been working on translating ideas into sketches. I’d like to be able to draw more creatively with my daughters. In this post I’m sharing what’s been most useful for me so far as a drawing-challenged person who aspires to be able to make useful visuals.
Excalidraw is a simple, free drawing tool. Unlike other programs that let you put perfect shapes and text on a canvas, this one is intentionally sketch-like. It lets you create neat diagrams that have the laid-back feel of drawings.
Why it’s useful: Insert drawings into your documents and presentations to give them a more human, personal feel. Use your own drawings rather than precooked diagrams someone else made.
Useful features include:
- Adjust sloppiness of your drawing to make it look more hand drawn, or more perfect. You can also adjust the thickness of lines and fill in or color shapes.
- Text in Excalidraw looks handwritten but neat. Benefit from authentic-looking words that go well with drawings, which look like they’ve been neatly sketched.
- Add open-source drawn objects to your canvas from a free library that supplements Excalidraw’s built-in shapes and lines.
- Paste in data and create simple charts that look like they’re hand sketched.
- Collaborate live with others on a drawing by sharing a link.
- Export drawings when you’re done as image files or PDFs to use in your docs, handouts, presentations, on social media, or wherever you’d like.
- Embed your drawings into Notion, which recently introduced a new integration with Excalidraw.
Platforms: Web-based, so works on any platform where you can access the Web.
Pricing: Free for regular usage. Premium is $7 to store your collection of drawings.
More info: Here’s a nice post by Khuyen Tran with more detail and useful examples.
- With the free version, you only can work on one drawing at a time.
- There are a limited number of shapes, so if you’re envisioning a complex diagram or wire frame, you may want a more sophisticated drawing tool like Figma or Sketch or a whiteboarding tool like these that I recently wrote about.
- The open-source library of figures that you can add to your canvas is limited. It’s much smaller than the libraries created by people for other popular tools like Omnigraffle.
Start drawing an object with Autodraw, and the software immediately guesses what you’re trying to draw. You can then add that icon to your drawing. To insert a bike on your canvas, for example, just draw a couple of circles and lines connecting them and you’ll see various bike figures. Pick one and it magically replaces your preliminary sketch. It’s like autocorrect for drawings.
Why it’s useful: Quickly put together a visual or diagram with a group of items, even if you couldn’t draw those objects yourself. You can then use the resulting image in slides, handouts, documents, or anywhere you want to add visual flair.
Platforms: Web-based so it’s easy to use.
ONLINE DRAWING GAMES
Play any of these games remotely with friends or in public rooms to practice drawing. Note that the free games have occasional annoying ads that keep them free.
- Skribbl.io (free) is a variation on Pictionary that my family enjoys. Whether playing in a public room or privately with friends, everyone takes turns drawing and guessing.
- Let’s Draw (free) has a bunch of fun, simple drawing games. In one, you copy what you see. In another, you learn from how others draw. Compete against yourself, friends, or in a public room.
- Quick, Draw (free) is a solo game in which you doodle simple objects and see if an artificial intelligence engine can identify what you’re drawing.
- Drawful 2 ($10) is a party drawing game with ridiculously quirky prompts you sketch out on a phone or tablet. You can play on a computer or even an XBox or Playstation.
DRAWING BOARD GAMES
- Telestrations is a board game that comes with little whiteboard sketchpads for each player. It’s a cross between Pictionary and the old telephone game where a word gets passed around a circle. After drawing an assigned word, you pass the drawing to the next player. She writes down a word to guess what you drew. Then she passes the pad on to the next player, who then has to draw whatever word the guesser wrote down. By the end of the round, you get your pad back with your original drawing and all the other guesses and drawings that resulted in your dinosaur ending up as a dragon.
- Just One isn’t technically a drawing game, but it’s so good I have to mention it here. Everyone gets a mini whiteboard slate. A secret word is picked, and players write one hint word on their slate to help the guesser figure out the word. The catch: If two players choose the same hint word, it can’t be shown to the guesser. It’s collaborative, easy for all ages, fast to learn and play, and fun.
I keep reading drawing how-to books in the vain hope that I’ll end up learning to draw better. A few I’ve found especially helpful:
- Show and Tell, Draw to Win and The Back of the Napkin, are all by Dan Roam. With simple hand-drawn stick figures, Roam offers compelling step-by-step lessons for even drawing-challenged people. He focuses not just on how to draw, but also on how to use simple visuals to communicate more effectively.
- Thinking with a Pencil by Henning Nelms is a classic drawing how-to guide with 692 illustrations broken down to help make drawing simpler.
- The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde is especially useful for visual note-taking and quickly translating ideas into simple images.