Make Your Own Sketchbook

Sketchbooks

Have you ever had trouble finding just the right sketchbook? Maybe you can’t find the right kind of paper, or they are just too darn expensive. Well, it’s probably easier than you think to make one of your own, and everything you need might already be lying around your house.

Why Make Your Own Sketchbooks?

  • Use your favorite paper. Why settle for the same old white paper when you can use toned, textured, heavy weight, watercolor, or lined paper instead? Or, this is a great way to get rid of all those half-used sketchpads you know you’ve got tucked away somewhere.

  • It’s cheap. Since most of your materials consist mostly of scraps, paper, and glue, this project is pretty easy on the wallet.

  • Style points. No more boring black sketchbooks! Choosing the colors and patterns to use for your sketchbook is half the fun. I once made a sketchbook that was entirely pink, just for the heck of it.



What You Need:

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  • Drawing Paper – This is for the interior pages of your book. Use whatever type of paper you like to draw/paint on.

  • Patterned/Colored Paper – For covering your book. I like to use scrapbook paper — it comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, is pretty cheap, and is readily available in places like Michaels or Wal-Mart. You will need to pick different papers for 1) the cover 2) the spine, and 3) the endpaper.

  • Heavy Board – Chip board from the back of sketch pads or scrap mat board works beautifully.

  • Glue – I use regular white glue. You need something that is durable and will paint on smoothly.

  • Needle and Thread

  • Xacto Knife

  • Ruler

  • Cutting Board

  • Awl, or another sharp object like a thumbtack.

The Paper Block

Cutting

Take your paper and cut it to the size of a “spread.” In other words, double the width of the final page size. (You are going to be folding these in half.)

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Signatures

Separate your paper into piles of eight. Take each pile and fold it in half. This is one “signature” of your book.

Create more signatures depending on how many pages you want in your book. I usually use two or three to make a good medium-size sketchbook. Keep in mind that if you use a lot of signatures, it will become more difficult to bind.

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Sewing

Stack your signatures together so that their folds are lined up nicely. Draw several, evenly-spaced marks across all of the folds with a pencil. How many you make isn’t important, as long as it is an even number.

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Now, take each signature and open it flat on your table. Carefully poke a hole on each mark, using an awl or a thumbtack. To make sure the hole penetrates all of the pages, place a piece of cardboard or foam board underneath. Keep your pages tightly aligned to avoid your holes from going off center on the other side.

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After you’ve poked holes in all your signatures, get some needle and thread. I like to use embroidery string because it’s thicker and stronger than ordinary thread. If you do use thread, just double it up to help reinforce it. You will also want to use string that is a color that blends well with your paper.

  1. Cut your string the length of your spine, multiplied by the number of signatures. I had three signatures, so I cut my string three times the length of my spine.

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  2. Take your first signature and thread your needle through the first hole, going from the outside in. Pull it through, making sure to leave a few inches of string remaining.

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  3. Continue to sew up the remaining holes, alternating in and out. Keep the string nice and tight. At the last hole, your needle should end up back on the outside.

  4. Take your second signature and line it up with the first. Pull your string through the adjacent hole on the second signature and pull tight.

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  5. Sew the needle back through the second hole on the second signature. Then take the needle and thread it through the adjacent hole in the first signature.

  6. Continue to sew the needle in this manner, down the spine and through both signatures. Stop when you have threaded the needle through the last hole in the second signature. (Don’t thread the needle back through the last hole in the first signature.)

  7. You should have two strings hanging out of your spine – the string you left when you first started, and the remainder of the string that has the needle on it. Tie these two pieces together with a simple square knot, making sure all your strings are nice and tight first. If you only have two signatures, you are done sewing and can cut the strings.

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  8. To add another signature, simply sew the third signature to the second signature using the same process as before. When you reach the other end, you won’t have a string to tie to – bind it by threading your needle around the small amount of string that is holding the first and second signatures together, then continue on to your next signature. Or, if you want to finish off, sew back down your last signature to tie up your strings.

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Trimming

Take your entire “block” of paper and carefully trim off the edges (about 1/8″) so that they are nice and even.

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Your paper is now done! Set it aside…

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The Cover

Cutting

Okay, don’t set aside your paper block just yet. You need to measure the final size of your pages, because this size will determine the size of your cover. You need to be as accurate as 1/8″.

    Cover Board

    Get your heavy cover board. Cut two pieces. They need to be the same width as your pages, and the height plus 1/4″.

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    Spine Board

    Next, cut a piece of board for your spine. It should be the same height as your cover board. The width depends on how thick your paper block is.

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    Cover Paper

    Take the paper you have chosen for your cover. Cut two pieces, one for each cover. They should be the same width as your cover board, and the height plus 1 1/2″.

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    Take a piece of cover paper and mark 3/4″ on three sides. (The cover board should fit inside these lines, except for a small strip near the spine.)

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    Draw and cut a 45 degree angle off the two outside corners. For best results, don’t cut exactly on the corner, but leave a small space.

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    Wrap the paper around the cover board to pre-fold the lines and make sure it fits correctly.

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    Spine Paper

    Now take the paper you’ve chosen for your spine. Cut it at the width of your spine board plus three inches; cut the height at the height of the spine board, plus 1 1/2″.

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    Mark the back side of your spine paper, 1 1/2″ on the sides, and 3/4″ from the top and bottom. You should have a rectangle drawn in the center that is the size of your spine board. Take your spine board and place it in this space, and pre-fold your paper around it.

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    End Paper

    Finally, cut your end paper. Cut two pieces, each the same height of your interior pages and double the width. Fold them each in half, with the pattern on the inside.

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Gluing

Take your glue and pour some out on a palette, or in a shallow cup. If it is especially thick or sticky, thin it out slightly with water.

    Cover

    Paint a thin, even layer of glue on your cover paper, completely covering the section where your board will be. Place on your board and quickly smooth out all air bubbles and wipe off excess glue.

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    Now, paint some glue on each of the edges and wrap them around the edges.

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    Place your cover boards under some heavy books to keep them flat while they dry.

    Spine

    Place some glue on your spine paper and glue on your board in the center of the paper.

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    Put it all together

    Paint some glue on one side of the spine paper. Place one of your cover boards there. Leave a space about 1/8″-1/4″ between it and your spine board. Glue the other cover board to the other side.

    Finally, glue the top and bottom edges of your spine paper over the edge of your cover. Press the paper down firmly on the notches to secure it.

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    Place the entire cover underneath some heavy books for a few minutes.

    End Paper

    Paint a layer of glue over half of an end paper. Glue it to one of your cover boards, with the fold facing toward the spine. Glue the other end paper to the other side.

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    Finish it up

    Place some glue in a column about a 1/2″ wide along the inner edge of your end paper, next to the fold. Line up your paper block and press it down on the glue firmly.

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    Place some glue in another column on the other end paper. Fold the entire book over, lining up with the paper block, and press the entire book together to secure the glue. Use clips to hold it together even more securely while the glue dries.

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Press the book under some heavy books until it’s dry. You now have a finished sketchbook!

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Tips and Tricks

  • If you are using an especially thick paper for you interior pages, like watercolor paper, decrease the amount of sheets you put in each signature. You should be able to fold them in half fairly easily.

  • For a more durable cover, you can find scrapbook paper that has a velvety or plastic texture. Or you can experiment with other materials, such as cloth.

  • When you are sewing your pages, keep your string taut, but be gentle to avoid tearing your holes.

  • As you can see by the length of this tutorial, this process may seem a little confusing with all the measuring, cutting, and gluing. However, it’s all pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it. Your first sketchbook might not come out as neat and pretty as you’d like, but it all gets easier after that, I promise.

Have fun, and happy drawing!

Leave a comment on this post at DaniDraws.com.

41 thoughts on “Make Your Own Sketchbook

  1. Doug

    OR….you can just take your paper and cover to Kinkos or Staples and they can bind it with a plastic comb. Cheap… and much easier!

  2. Megan

    Awesome tutorial! I am a journal/sketchbook junkie, I can never pass up those blank books in Borders. Making them by hand is so much fun.

  3. Eric

    I like this tutorial, too. I was hoping to see see some cloth covers like some journals I bought a few years ago but, this can used for that too. Thank you for help me save money. I’ll try this and post it on my blog sometime. Have a nice day.

  4. Charlotte

    WHOA. Awesome!! I’ll spend all day making one of these! If you just read it all at once though, it’s really overwhelming. But, I’ll take it step by step. GREAT WORK!! X3 [I stress out really easily so I have to tell myself to calm down]

  5. Africantapestry

    Thank you for these straightforward instructions….after going to a bookbinder and realizing he’ll ask me an arm and a leg to make my watercolour books, I came across your instructions, which I’ll try out!
    Ronell

  6. Maria Fernanda

    Hi, I´m from Colombia and I love your blog! Thanx 4 everything you share. Very useful, specially because here in colombia is not easy to find good education in illustration. This sketchbook is beautiful, again, here in Colombia is very difficult to find pro art materials, so now I can have what I need.
    I don´t know why but some of the images don´t appear and I can see just a thin line instead.
    Thanx again and a warm hug from South America.

  7. Carly

    LOOOVE IT!! I just finished making my first sketchbook, and it won’t be my last. The directions are perfect, and my little sketchbook will be with me on my camping trip tomorrow. It took me less than an hour to put together, and it was FREE because I used my scrap booking and card making paper that I had on hand. Thank you for the great illustrations and step by step tutorial.

  8. Anonymous

    Be sure to use acid free and archival-quality materials for the book, if you want it to last.

  9. Anonymous

    I’ve been looking for step by step instructions just like this because I made a sketchbook in school and wanted to make another. Thanks!

  10. jayne

    Thanks I am a art teacher in a high need low income district. I am going to try this out wih my studio art students.

  11. Tamara di Maria

    I’m from Brazil and I’m really thanks for your tutorial!
    It’s awesome and very easy to understand!
    I did a 400 pages book with it. Amazing!
    Congratulations for your website.

  12. Ashley

    This is definitely the best Christmas present ever! I am finishing up my first one for a friend who is moving away in the springtime!
    Thanks so much =)

  13. Sharon

    Wow, that’s awesome. I thought it would be way difficult but this makes it so much easier and more possible ~ thanks :)

  14. Dana

    hi dear thats reall fantastic i did it in my way and finally i had a sketch book ,so i can draw every where and no need to take the old sketch book which was big and hard to carry
    muwhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
    thanks

  15. Margeaux

    Hey, thanks for the awesome tutorial! I’m going to use it for a sketchbook swap I’m participating in. However, I can’t see about half the pictures (just a very thin sliver of graphic). Is this a problem with my computer, or are some of the pictures not working?
    Thanks!

  16. Dani Post author

    Margeaux – I know about this problem – several people have reported it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what is causing it. The pictures show up just fine for most. I would suggest maybe trying a different web browser.

  17. shana

    Going to try this my art students, much cheaper than spending 20.00 for a book. Love recycling things, I think I can use old book back for the cardboard.

  18. Angela

    Thank you for your tutorial! To be able to put together a sketchbook of my favourite coloured papers is fab! After an hour my first sketchbook is made – it may not be perfect, but …

    PVA glue – the thick stuff – dries quickly and works so well.

    Warmest regards, Angela

  19. Daisy-May

    At school this is one of the project we are doing .. and im going to use this design …everyone else is just boringly hole punching there work and usng tressary tags to hold it together.That is so boring. This design is much more creative.This helped me alot …
    Thank You..xxxxxx

  20. sussi Richman

    Great stuff.
    I made some small hand bound books with a group of 10 year olds Llast year and they just loved the hands on involved.
    I have GCSE Art students and DT/Graphic students year 7,8,9 that I know will love to get really creative with this one.
    Many thanks

    SUSSI

  21. Rosa

    Thank you so much for posting this lovely tutorial! I just finished one for myself and I’m eager to see the results after its finished pressing. I now plan to use these sketch books for the rest of my art classes here at college. But I have to say the best part is that I had to buy absolutely nothing to make this, and most likely have enough for at least 5 more of the same size. I am sure the other art students will be quite envious of my new sketch book X3

  22. Jane

    Plastic combs are disgusting. As artists (or potential artists) we pay attention to aesthetic things like that! :D

    Thanks for the tutorial – the pictures are really helpful!

  23. Piccia Neri

    Dani, thanks for this, the best tutorial I have found on how to make your own sketchbook. I am really grateful. Love your illustrations, too. Best of luck for everything, Piccia

  24. atomic

    I just made my first sketchbook and it came out great! This tutorial is excellent! Just follow the instructions step-by-step and the sketchbook comes out perfect.

  25. Cathy

    This is a wonderfull tutorial :-) I came on your blog linking true for the sketching tutorial, wich is great too ! but this is awesome, soon I have some more spare time and I will enjoy making my very own first sketchbook, thank you so much.
    Now I am gonna bookmark your blog, because I am sure I’ll be comming back.

  26. Mel

    I wish you would give some suggestions for dimensions of the paper! I feel like the interior paper’s width should be pretty large and I’m not sure I can find pattered/scrapbook paper that size.

  27. Allain

    Thanks! My book didn’t turn out as nice as yours but thanks for the clear instructions and helpful pictures! :)

  28. callie

    Hi! Thanks so much for this! I needed a summer project that didn’t require buying anything and this was perfect. I’ve made three now. The first one turned out great but the papers inside were cut really unattractively because I was careless about cutting them, but now I’ve learned to use a paper cutter and take my time on that part. The second one was horrible because I tried using like thicker poster cardboard (I cut up an old trifold poster board) and it didn’t take well to the glue and was too thick. Needless to say that one was ugly so don’t use cardboard. What I’ve found works best is the chip board off of the back of old notebooks and the like. They’re the perfect width and hardness. The one bummer about that one is that now all of my notebooks have no back (ha!) :) After that trial and error, my third one turned out really nice with no real problem except that I miss judged and made the spine a bit too thick, but it’s fine. Thank you so much for this! It’s really given me something useful to do with my time. I’m giving some away and keeping two for myself (one for a journal/sketchbook and one for a bucket list).

  29. callie

    also, something that is not necessary but that can help longevity and appearance is to paint a thin layer of glue across your signature stitches after sewing them and then securing them with binder clips while they dry. It really helps keep them uniform! :)

  30. Zee

    Awesome tutorial-thank you so much! I have a very artistic 9 year old daughter who is just aching to try this. I think we’ll be making a whole bunch. We’re a homeschool family using the Charlotte Mason model of education in which both nature study and art study are parts of our daily lives-so we go through a LOT of sketch books LOL. This is a wonderful way to keep all that together. Blessings to ya, and thanks again!

  31. kate

    Thank you so much for posting this tutorial, great step by step instructions – I’ve just made my second sketchbook.. It’s a wonderful way to get a sketchbook the size you want, and with all the variety of paper you want. Brilliant, thanks!!

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