How to build a storyboard

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It’s tough to write a book without an outline, construct a building without a blueprint, or draw a picture without a rough sketch. Similarly, it can be hard to create a video, animation, campaign, or presentation without a storyboard.

Whether you’re a junior designer or an art director, storyboarding can help you organize your thoughts and plan out your great ideas. This way, when you’re ready to sit down and create your next masterpiece, you have all of your ducks in a row. And you can get right to work without wasting any time or resources.

If you’re new to storyboarding, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

In this guide, we’ll break down what a storyboard is, why you might need it, what it should look like, and tips and tools you can use to build your own storyboard.

Let’s get started.

What is a storyboard?

Simply put, a storyboard is a sequential breakdown of each shot or element in visual presentation. This presentation can include a live-action video, animation, marketing campaign, or sales pitch.

The storyboard conveys the narrative or sequence for this visual experience. It almost looks like a comic book version of your project.

Just look at Alfred Hitchcock, one of the most famous and influential film directors in the world. He was known for meticulously creating storyboards for his movies like The Birds, Psycho, and North by Northwest. Storyboarding allowed him to plan out each shot before going into production, ensuring that the film progressed perfectly from moment to moment, and allowing him to build that gut-wrenching suspense he was so known for.

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Storyboard for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Image via the BFI.

Create your own storyboards on Canva with templates like White and Charcoal Storyboard Photo Collage. This template has everything you need to start planning your next project. You can also customize it to your liking by changing the font, color palette, and number of frames on each slide.

Of course, not every project needs a storyboard. But if you know you’re about to embark on an overwhelming task, storyboarding can be a life-saver.

Why do you need a storyboard?

As we’ve mentioned, you need a storyboard to organize your ideas. If you’re planning on shooting a video, a storyboard can help you prepare each shot, so you know exactly what to do when you have your crew together. Or if you’re planning an important business presentation for a client, a storyboard can help you gather and sequence your ideas in the most effective and intuitive order—and also sell them on your idea.

That’s why bestselling author Janet Evanovich creates storyboards for her novels.

“I’ll have maybe three lines across on the storyboard and just start working through the plot line,” she told Writer’s Digest. “I always know where relationships will go, and how the book is going to end. The boards cover my office walls.”

You might even create a user experience storyboard to illustrate how a customer can go through the motions of using your app or product. Take this UX storyboard from Ulkar Zeynalli, for example:

UX storyboard by Ulkar Zeynalli how to build a storyboard

UX storyboard by Ulkar Zeynalli. Image via Behance.

Get the look in Canva with templates like Green and White Grid Panel Storyboard. After all, you don’t need to be a professional illustrator or designer to build your storyboard. You can easily plug in the text and images you need, and make this your own so you can dive into your next big venture.

What are the elements of a storyboard?

What do you need to build a storyboard? Storyboards are versatile creations. They can be used for a variety of purposes, projects, and industries. But when it comes to what a storyboard should look like—and what goes into a successful storyboard—there are a few common elements:

Panels

These are the individual cells charted out on each page or slide of your storyboard. They’re usually small, square or rectangular frames that represent a specific shot or visual component of your project.

The panels in this storyboard from designer Ken Jimenez are clearly labeled and numbered, for example.

Train escape storyboard by Ken Jimenez how to build a storyboard

By clearly numbering the panels of his story board, Ken Jimenez made it the story flow clearer.

Images

These are what you use to fill the panels. They can be hand-drawn illustration, original photos, stock images, or a combination of all.

This storyboard from Caroline Tse, for instance, is filled with ready-made images that represent the look and feel that each visual shot should have.

how to build a storyboard caroline tse storyboard

Caroline Tse's storyboard makes use of photographs that represent the look and feel of what she wants to achieve.

Titles and captions

Sometimes visuals don’t tell the whole story. That’s why many storyboards have panels that are accompanied by titles and captions. These can point out certain actions, shots, accompanying dialogue, and staging sequences.

Just check out this portion of a storyboard for a short video by Isabelle Strobel, where titles and captions are well-represented.

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Isabelle Strobel's storyboard for 'Great with the Ball'. Image via Behance.

They help add context to the panels and imagery, indicating specific scenes, lines, and character actions. The frames even include colorful illustrations to demonstrate how the camera will move to capture the shot.

Remember that you don’t need to include all of these elements in your storyboard. You can mix and match them according to your visual project. But it’s helpful to know the puzzle pieces used to build your average storyboard, so you can choose what works for you and scrap the rest.

Try Gray and Red Two Panel Storyboard to start with if you need a template that has space for notes and other relevant details.

How can you build your own storyboard?

You can build a storyboard the old-school way—drawing them by hand like Hitchcock once did. Or you can build them digitally with any tool that lets you create individual slides or frames.

On Canva, for instance, you can choose from an array of different templates for presentations, media kits, collages, moodboards, and, of course, storyboards.

This Cream and Black Interior Design Moodboard template can make a great foundation for your design-based storyboard. The clean, minimalist format makes it easy to personalize— whether you’re creating a visual presentation for your own business, a video ad, or a marketing campaign.

These templates are ready-made for you to customize and plug in your desired images and illustration so you can create the perfect storyboard for you.

You might try this Marketing Business Presentation template, for example. It already has the slides you need to organize a narrative for your sales pitch or client presentation. You can turn each slide into a frame for your storyboard or fill each slide with multiple frames and images as needed.

You can even collaborate with clients or colleagues on these storyboards. Maybe you’re taking care of the imagery and a copywriter is filling in the captions. Or maybe your clients want to provide notes directly on the platform. That’s all simple to do. And once you’re done, you can easily download your storyboard as a PDF, PNG, or JPEG file—and start the next step for bringing your project to life.

Storyboards are a great way to organize information and present a clean workflow. Try the Orange and White Three-Panel Detailed Storyboard to present ideas.

Head to the drawing board with your storyboard

Now you have the tools you need to create your own storyboards, pick the storyboarding elements that are right for your project, and pull inspiration from fellow creators like you.

So, whether you’re setting out to build a new campaign for a client, a short video animation, a visual portfolio, or a feature-length film, you know how to organize your ideas and make the process easier to tackle.

The only question now is: What will you storyboard?

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