How do I choose a marker for whiteboard or flip chart scribing?

How do I choose a marker for whiteboard or flip chart scribing?

Most of us would be very familiar with writing with pen and paper. But when it comes to working with large groups, the usual pen-and-paper setup won’t cut it if every idea is to be captured visibly for the group.

Our usual approach to scribing on a whiteboard or flip chart

When you find yourself scribing on a whiteboard or flip chart, it may seem oh-so-convenient to grab the nearest marker available and get writing.

However, little things matter when you work on BIG charts with large groups.

As you may have experienced, most meeting venues are rather satisfied to provide nondescript bullet-tip whiteboard markers for this purpose. Unfortunately, while a good bullet-tip marker suffices functionally (“to write”), given the shape of the marker tip, they tend to leave a weak visual impact because you can only make lines of one thickness (or “thinness”).

Problems with just grabbing any whiteboard marker

This creates four problems for the group:

  1. It’s difficult to distinguish different levels of content (e.g. headers, sections, “body text”).
  2. As a scribe, you could use different coloured markers to distinguish between content, but switching markers may not come intuitively to you.
  3. Even if you do choose to switch markers, there are only so many colours you can find for most whiteboard marker brands. Of the four most popular (or common) colours available, probably only blue and black are suitable for text meant to be read without screaming (red) or squinting (green). In addition, if you want to be inclusive towards participants who are red-green colourblind, these would not be ideal colour options.
  4. It’s harder to see spindly text in a large room where participants may be a fair distance from the whiteboard or flip chart. Visibility gets worse where there is glare on the whiteboards.

Marker Pro-Tip: Use a dome or wedge nib marker

Here’s our very simple pro-tip that would enhance your meeting scribing experience:
Use a dome nib or wedge nib marker to create lines of different boldness — thick, thin, and in between!

How does this work?

With a dome nib or wedge nib marker, the shape of the marker tip allows you to make lines of different thickness by angling it differently.

A dome-nib marker has a nib that looks like a wide-based mountain or hill.

A wedge-nib marker (sometimes known as a square-nib) has a slanted wedge for its tip.
If you have one of these with you, here’s what I’d like to invite you to try:

  • With marker in hand, how would you angle the marker so that you can make the thinnest possible line? Give it a try on a sheet of paper.
  • With marker in hand, how would you angle the marker so that you can make the thickest possible line? Give it a try on a sheet of paper.
  • With marker in hand, how would you angle the marker so that you can make a line that’s in-between in terms of thickness? Give it a try on a sheet of paper.

You might notice that with a wedge-nib marker, it’s fairly intuitive to use pointy corners, wide edge, and narrower edge to achieve the desired line thickness.

With a dome-nib marker, thin lines are easy with the pointy tip, similar to bullet-tip markers. Thick lines will require you to angle the dome-nib such that the maximum surface of the “slopes” of the dome can rest and run across the writing surface… if you’re mindful not to ruin the nib prematurely. The in-between lines are tricky — the easiest way is to go ahead and apply pressure as though you’re smushing the nib against the surface. Once you get the hang of nib-smushing though… you can also make thickest-possible lines by smushing the tip maximally! This does wear the marker nib out faster, though you may soon discover the joy of creating calligraphic effects by varying the pressure on the marker!

Go ahead, give this tip a try and comment below on how it works for you.