This is one post that is very subjective because every illustrator has his own specific set of illustrating tools and procedures for their work. Maybe I can shed a little light on what I use for my work though.
I use plain standard printer paper because it’s cheap and of good enough quality for what I do. Some illustrators use thicker paper but I find that unnecessary. I really don’t use sketchbooks even though I should and I recommend anyone that’s starting out to get one. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or special, even regular notebooks are good enough. A sketchbook is a good way to keep your work organized. Using plain paper is a bit confusing when you amount a great deal of work.
For sketches I use 4 different pencils. First there is a set of 3 graphite pencils. For initial sketching of basic shapes I use a 6H pencil (very hard). To draw in more detail I use a 4H pencil (still hard but not as hard as 6H). For the final render of the sketch I use a HB pencil (middle hard or rather soft – a standard pencil basically). Very rarely do I use softer pencils for shading because I usually shade on my computer rather than with pencils.
Another pencil that I use is the non-photo blue pencil. This pencil is basically obsolete today with computer technology but I still like to use it because it saves me time and gives me a couple of options from the old trade of illustration. A non-photo blue pencil is basically a pencil that is invisible to scanners and copying machines if they are set up correctly.
Today with Adobe Photoshop any blue color pencil (or red) can be used in the same way. You can read up on how to do that in my lineart tutorial. I like to use the non photo-blue pencils because sometimes I don’t have access to Photoshop when doing lineart or sketch work but I usually have my pencil case with me all the time. So there’s always that option to fall back on.
EDIT: Recently I got myself and electric eraser. It’s best to avoid erasing when sketching all together but using a battery powered eraser is good when you need to erase certain details because they are more acurate than normal erasers.
Inking – lineart
For inking lineart I usually use Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop. Before I knew how to do that (and still today on some occasions) I used permanent markers. I have an assortment of markers and don’t settle for one specific one but usually I like to use Schneider, Staedtler or Stabilo marker pens because they are readily available almost anywhere. The thickness of the marker depends on what I want to draw. I have a range from 0,2mm up to 2mm markers and some especially thick markers for fast coloring of dark surfaces.
I usually don’t use brushes but I do have an inking brush in my inventory. I sometimes use it for fun. The brush is awesome because it gives you the ability to vary line thickness and enables smooth strokes that markers sometimes can’t.
Some artists also use ink pens for inking. I usually don’t. Still… I have one on hand from my school days and caligraphy classes.
I usually color in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop but I have a set of 24 color pencils on hand for some projects. I usually use color pencils for setting up concepts and initial drafts of characters or other designs. I don’t use any specific brand. I use what’s lying around the house at the moment.
I also ordered a smaller set of Copic markers but I haven’t recieved them yet. These kinds of markers are quite expensive at about 4eur per piece but are well worth it because they blend well and have very fine tips that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The markers can be refilled and I believe one cartridge is good for about 6-8 refills, depending on the marker size. I don’t have them yet but I believe markers like that are imperative for any designer or illustrator either for sketches or final renders.
When it comes to graphic tablets Wacom is the way to go. I’ve used a Wacom since about 2004. I’ve used 2 different tablets from the Graphire series in the past. Currently I’m using a Bamboo Wacom tablet that I bought used. They used to be very expensive but a new basic tablet costs about 60-80eur these days. I do not recommend getting anything other than a Wacom. I’ve tried other tablets from companies like Trust or Genius… All crap compared to Wacom. Why? Wacom makes tablets and peripherals for those tablets exclusively. They got the craft down to a T and even have a patent for a wireless pen that doesn’t use batteries. That makes the pen lighter and it feels like a real pencil without the hassle of a wire.
For a real pro though… A Wacom Cintiq is the way to go. They are basically super sensitive screens that let you draw directly on them.
Some people may think that you need a really high-end scanner to produce good results. Well let me put your mind at ease. You don’t. I use a Canoscan lide 20 that’s more than 10 years old and other than it being slow the results are proper. Usually all you need is a scanner that scans the image at 300 dpi but good bitmap images usually need at least 1200 dpi.
The thing is I usually just scan lineart (I did scan color pencil work too though) and finding the right scanner is something you need to do on your own. This one works for me. Maybe it won’t for someone else.
This is a little more open. I think it’s a given that I use adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop a lot but I also used Gimp, Corel draw, Adobe Flash and even MS Paint. I used MS Paint to animate some retro video game characters back when I didn’t really know how to use Photoshop.
I’m using a mid 2009 MacBook pro with a secondary monitor attached and a standard mouse and apple keyboard.
Processor Speed: 2,26 GHz
Number of Processors: 1
Total Number of Cores: 2
L2 Cache: 3 MB
Memory: 8 GB
I’ve also upgrded my internal storage to an SSD drive. My recomendation… Don’t skimp on money when it comes to SSD’s. I recomend Kingstone SSDs and that you get a capacity that’s higher than 120Gb. I have 120Gb of space and it’s nowhere near enough. Also, if you have an Apple computer, buy the SDD and get it installed in an Apple store. I didn’t and I’m having trimming issues (a common issue if you install the SDD DIY).
UPDATE: As of apples OSX El Capitan you can use non apple branded SSD’s and they will trim normaly.
Update2: Since writting this I’ve upgraded my setup to a stantionary PC with 16Gb of ram, an SSD and an ASUS Geforce GTX 770 graphic card. Needles to say that’s quite an upgrade from the macbook laptop :). I’d still prefer using Apples OS but since Apple started adopting certain stupid business practices I refused to buy one :P.
It’s good that you expand your roster of tools over time but start with what you already have. Don’t go out buying tablets and expensive computers, markers or pencils. Everything can be achieved by things lying around the house.