He’s been at the designing gig for quite some time now, so you know when designer and product maker Eric Strebel recommends tools, it carries a little weight. Eager to help both new and experienced designers alike, he recently listed seven tools which he personally finds indispensable when working on a project:

YouTube video

1. Digital Calipers

7 essential designer tools

While any good quality set of calipers will do, Strebel highly recommends digital calipers that measure up to two decimal points and can switch between metric and imperial measuring units. These two features make it a lot easier to measure samples from your clients as well as your own designs. Combine this with a built-in depth gauge for measuring holes and you have yourself a measuring tool for all situations. The one he uses and recommends (and our favorite too) is the Mitutoyo Digital Caliper (500-196-30).

2. X-ACTO Knife Blades

7 essential designer tools

X-Acto blades are handy for cutting all sorts of materials. Whether it’s a tiny hole in your mold or opening a box, Strebel recommends buying a bulk pack or number of different-sized blades so you have them on hand for any application you may have. We would add good storage for them as well, like an X-Acto blade dispenser.

3. Sharpie Markers and Post-It Notes

7 essential designer tools

Any brand of marker or sticky note will do… well, almost. When you need something to mark and label your projects there’s no greater combo than the Sharpie and Post-It Note. This becomes even more important when working in groups. Sharpies and Post-It Notes allow everyone to put their two cents in the project quickly and efficiently, plus the range of other applications makes them a must-have for any shop or project. There are a ton of options for marker shapes, colors, and sizes, but Strebel gives special mention to silver markers, which can be read much easier on black paper, foam, and fabric.

4. Pantone Color Guide

7 essential designer tools

The paint industry would be in shambles if designers only knew to describe colors as “light blue” or “dark green”, so to make things easier, a uniform coloring system was established. Lawrence Herbert founded Pantone and created the Pantone Color Matching System that so many industries depend on today. The system standardizes colors and makes them easily communicated with an associated Pantone number. It’s invaluable when communicating color and color needs with suppliers, manufacturers, clients, and other designers.

5. Toothbrush

7 essential designer tools

Another invaluable tool? An old toothbrush. Yes, whether if it’s for cleaning or adding some dynamic splatters to your painted renders, this versatile tool holds its weight in gold long after they’ve stopped scrubbin’ your teeth and gums. We actually prefer the Colgate Extra Clean Medium for its medium bristle, varied pattern and price (you can snag a6-pack for $4).

6. Ellipse Guides

7 essential designer tools

These stencils help with sketching various circles at different degrees. From 10°to 80°, having a good number of templates ensures you’ll never be caught dead without the right circle you need (just be sure you arrange them properly so you can find the one you need).

7. Various Texture Plates

7 essential designer tools

Things like sheet metal, sandpaper, and even mesh fruit baskets all have their own texture which can be imprinted onto a piece of paper. By placing them under some paper and running a pencil over it, you can add volumes of texture onto your sketches, making them pop and providing the viewer with a clearer idea of what you want the final product to look like. You can also find patterned texture block online with a wide variety of varied textured surfaces.

These are just seven tools in Strebel’s designing and product making arsenal. He definitely uses more than a handful of tools per project, but these are the ones you’ll see him use the most often. What would you add?

As always, you can find more of Eric Strebel’s work and tips on product design on his YouTube channel.


Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.