Why You Should Be Using a Drawing Tablet

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If you have ever had a large image-retouching project, working with a mouse usually makes it a less-than-precise and laborious endeavor. After years of experience using a mouse, I have refined my ability to use a mouse to edit images. However, there are better tools than mice out there to make your image editing quicker, easier work with noticeably better results.

Working with a mouse can be tedious because your wrist is flat, and you can only work using crude dragging motions that involve your entire hand. Usually, a mouse is imprecise and clunky in your hand, and after prolonged use, your hand will start to cramp. A mouse is fine for surfing the web, scrolling, or doing simple work, but a drawing tablet allows you to complete more detail-intensive much more comfortably.

A drawing tablet usually comes with a stylus, which is closely related to a pen in shape. They are generally much easier and more comfortable to hold in your hand than a mouse, and they allow for an incredible degree of precision in your work. Wacom tablets have up to 2400 different levels of pressure sensitivity. Mice only have two levels of pressure sensitivity; clicked or not clicked. This gives tablets a huge advantage over mice, especially for detail-oriented image editing. When using Photoshop, the pressure sensitivity applies to your brushes as well. This makes it so much easier to blend colors, add effects, and apply retouching techniques.

With a stylus, you can tilt the pen, and move your hand and wrist into a natural drawing position. This allows you to have much more control over the strokes that you make. You can literally sketch with your computer. You can paint with your stylus digitally inside of Photoshop, and your work will have a more natural appearance, simply from the fact that you have a natural range of hand and finger flexibility. If you want your images to come alive and have an organic, natural, professional look, then a Wacom tablet is an ideal tool for your design work.

There are many different models available, you just have to decide which one is right for you. It really depends on the features that you want, and whether you are using it for work or recreation. The following models are available:

Bamboo

This is an entry-level drawing tablet. You can use it for sketching, painting, doodling, notes, and more. You can retouch photos with it as well. The Bamboo line is a great starter model if you want an inexpensive way to try out a drawing tablet. The Bamboo line features 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, which is nice for realistic drawing, sketching, painting, and retouching. There are actually 3 different models of the Bamboo. You have the Bamboo Connect, the Bamboo Capture, and the Bamboo Create. There are significant differences between the models, so the choice really comes down to what you are looking for in a tablet. The Bamboo Connect and Capture do not have eraser features on the stylus. This feature is handy, because it allows you to flip the stylus around and erase a mistake like you would with a normal pencil. They are both small in size, and the Connect doesn’t come with a wireless option, a multi-touch input, Nik Color Efex Pro Filters, Corel Painter Essentials, or Adobe PS Elements. The Bamboo Create model comes with all of these features, and it has a larger workspace than the other models.

Bamboo Connect- $79.00
Bamboo Capture- $99.00
Bamboo Create- $199.00

Inkling

This is an interesting product, because it allows you to work traditionally, with a real pen, but it is converted and saved digitally. The concept is simple, because all you have to do is clip the receptor at the top of your artwork, and the Inkling records your work digitally, saving you the extra step of having to scan your work. Where the Inkling stands out is that you can save plenty of sketches, and you can export the file with layers as Photoshop, Illustrator SketchBook Pro, and SVG formats. This is great because you can sketch out your ideas, and then hit the ground running from a digital standpoint, because your sketches and drawings are ready to go directly from export.

Inkling- $199.00

Intuos5

The Intuos5 line is a great line of tablets for professional use. They have 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, so you have ultimate control over your sketches, paintings, and retouching work. The Intuos models come in 3 sizes — small, medium, and large. Besides their varying sizes, the only difference among these three different models is that the small model only has 6 express keys, and the two larger models have 8. Express keys allow you to customize your settings and create hotkeys for different actions that you perform frequently. The Intuos line supports pen tilt recognition, meaning that the tablet recognizes when you are tilting the pen at an angle, and the brush or software reacts to the tilt of the stylus. The Intuos models also feature a multi-function touch ring. This is similar to scroll wheels or “jog-dials” that you would find on older iPods. You can set the scroll wheel to control different aspects of your stylus. A good example would be setting the scroll wheel to control brush size: Scroll in a clockwise motion, and the brush gets larger. Spin it the opposite way, and the brush gets smaller. The Intous line also supports multi-touch functionality, which means that you use your fingers to perform different tasks. Different multi-touch gestures will complete common task in a flick of the fingers. This line of tablets gives you a great deal of control with a lot of customizable express keys to save you a lot of time and make your work a lot sharper.

Small- $229.00
Medium- $349.00
Large- $469.00

Cintiq

The Cintiq line of tablets is incredible. Instead of drawing on a tablet, you can draw directly on the screen itself. This is extremely precise, and it’s the ultimate way to work traditionally on a digital canvas. The real difference here is portability. Obviously, these models are more fragile and hard to move between offices or studios. There are three models, the Cintiq 12WX, the Cintiq 21UX, and the Cintiq 24HD. The differences here are mainly just the size of the workspace.

Cintiq 12WX- $999.00
Cintiq 21UX- $1999.00
Cintiq 24HD- $2599.00

Apps

Bamboo Paper is a unique iOS app that works very well with the special stylus that Wacom makes for the Apple iPad. It’s not just for intensive image editing; you can use this combo for many different purposes, like presentations, sketching wireframes, doodling design ideas, mind mapping, and any other task where you might use a legal pad or a leftover napkin.

SketchbookPro is another great program that lets you create sketches quickly and efficiently. It supports layers, and you can bring your work into Photoshop. It is a great way to store digital sketches, because it’s a natural way to sketch, and it’s very fluid. It comes with a lot of tools that are similar to Photoshop. You can make straight lines, rectangles, circles, and you can blend colors. SketchbookPro is fast as well, as there is no lag when creating your sketches.

Sketchbook Pro- $59.00

The choice that you make between all of these different tablet products just depends on your preference. If you have an iPad, then obviously you will want the stylus and the Bamboo Paper app. If you are looking for an affordable way to create digital artwork with decent capabilities, then one of the bamboo tablets would be a good choice for you. If you want to create digital artwork with the ease of hotkeys and greater pressure sensitivity, than the beginner bamboo tablets, then you would select from the Intuos5 line of tablets. If you are a veteran digital artist and you want the ultimate digital sketching, painting, and retouching experience, and you want it to be as close to traditional artwork as possible, then the Cintiq line of products would be a good choice. If you are serious about your artwork, and you want a more natural way to create your work, then a tablet is most definitely the solution for you. Working with a mouse feels like working with a brick, and once you go flat, you never go back.

Do you have a preferred drawing tablet? Have you found some unusual, unanticipated uses for yours? Would you ever go back to a mouse?

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  • http://www.leonpanjtar.com Leon Panjtar Web Design

    I recommend using drawing tablet. It makes designing a lot easier once you get used to it. It might be a little hard to begin though… Thanks for this great blog post.

  • http://www.modred.co.uk ModRed Design

    I used a Wakom ages ago.. but I’m used to using a mouse so I’m pretty much set in my ways! I’d like to give one of these guys a chance if I get my hands on one.

    • http://gsquaredstudios.com James George

      I would highly recommend it. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get used to something that is pretty natural to begin with.

  • http://www.ckwrites.com Christopher Korody

    Hi James –

    Great review – definitely going to try the iPad app.

    I am a creative director – I do some sketching in things like Graffle and mindmapping, and work in Lightroom. But I spend an awful lot of time with text.

    Any tablets you find particularly appropriate for this type of application?

    Thnx

    • James George

      Chris,

      If you are talking about typed text, then not really. It just depends on what you are used to. I am used to manipulating and working with text with a mouse. They do have Bamboo Paper though, which is an application that lets you take your own notes, and it saves them in a notebook for you. This could be really handy, because you could write notes, make mind maps, and sketch ideas with your tablet, and they will be saved in a digital notebook for later. It says you can even flip through your notes. It it basically like having a steno pad wherever you take your laptop, only you use a tablet and your computer instead. This would be great if you have a laptop.

  • Bruce

    Thanks for this article James. I literally went yesterday to Best Buy to take a look at one of these and thought I would do a little more research. So far, I heard nothing buy positive things. I think I’ve made my decision!

  • vinicius gati

    I think we need more softwares for this kind of hardware.
    Not only for design or draw, i have one of that and i don’t use it cause of that

  • Matt Graves

    Been using low priced Wacom Graphire 1, Graphire 2 and just tried Monoprice 10×6.25 with 8 buttons. The nice thing about the monoprice was the price http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=108&cp_id=10841&cs_id=1084102&p_id=6814&seq=1&format=2 , but I watched a few Youtube videos for th ebamboo and the multitouch options look nice

  • George

    I am on my second Wacom and could not be without it. I could not do 1/10th as much with a mouse.

  • Sergey Almone

    James, thank you for the review!

    I have just bought The Bambo one last week!
    I couldn’t even imagine what i wonderful thing it is!
    I’m convinced that intuos5 is the excellent choice, but Bambo is cheeper, nevertheless it’s also works perfect!

  • Gaurav M

    I was astonished by Bamboo!

  • http://skitti.sh Heather

    Ooh – I want one!

    It would have been helpful to have a rough guide price on the different model ranges, to save having to look them up individually. I’ve never looked at anything like this before so wouldn’t be able to guess.

    Great review though, I’m adding one of these to my list of ‘have-to-have’ toys!

    • James George

      Thanks for the tip Heather, since you mentioned that, I will go back and add that to help our other readers. Great suggestion!

  • aloha

    It’s a great accessory to use with drawing, it’s also acceptable price.

  • Rishi

    Wow, I’d love to try this. Newbie question – how useful would a tablet be for website design? If I design websites every once in a while (we develop..more than we design! But do use photoshop say once a month for a fresh web design). is it something that could help draw straight templates with only *some* effects? For example, drawing a curved line, drawing different effects on photoshop – this is all possible using a mouse, but does a tablet even apply here for easier use in Photoshop?
    Thanks

    • http://gsquaredstudios.com James George

      It all really just depends on what you are used to. If you are used to traditional media, then yes it would help. I have been using both a mouse and a drawing tablet for years. If it feels more natural to you then I would say yes, but it all depends on how fast you can complete your work with a mouse or a drawing tablet.

      Something you might think about is that you can create hand-drawn graphics with your tablet, that look more natural, and that is something that you can’t do with a mouse. Organic, hand-drawn work is really popular right now and gives a more personal touch to your projects. If anything, a tablet can be one more tool in your arsenal for creating great work.

      • Rishi

        Thanks a lot! Sounds great and sounds like I need to try it to understand. In that case would you recommend the cheapest mode

      • Rishi

        Thanks a lot! Sounds great and sounds like I need to try it to understand. In that case would you recommend the cheapest modeL like the bamboo capture or Create? Just to try but still make use of great photoshop design using the tablet? I will check it out but just would like to know your opinion. Many thanks

        • http://gsquaredstudios.com James George

          If you really aren’t sure what you want, then I would recommend starting out with with the bamboo create. Keep in mind though, that you are losing out on the scroll wheel and the added buttons that will help with productivity that you get with the Intuos5. If you don’t do a huge amount of image editing or photo manipulation, then you may want to stick to the Bamboo.

  • http://badcreditpersonalloans.co.uk/ Bad Lee

    Being a graphic designer I’ve tried these things before but could never get used to them. I’m planning on buying one with a draw-on screen thingy to help me with illustrations. Great advice here thanks.

  • Ayhan Ozdere

    Hi James, I’m planning to use Photoshop to edit my DSLR images. Photography has been my hobby for several years but I’ve never edited the pics before. Do you think I should start with the Bamboo line too?
    Thanks to your guidance I can already guess the answer should be close to “yes” :)

  • Abby

    I have the Bamboo Create Pen and Touch, (silver) and I have the Bamboo dock set up in my laptop. Is it possible to get apps on my laptop and use them with my tablet?
    Like, for example, an instant messaging app, or a manga reading app. Thank you in advance!

  • zestcube

    Hi. Thanks for the informative article. It really helped to put things in perspective.

    I just had 2 questions about the Bamboo tablets.
    *Can you draw them in colour? Or are they just black and white?
    * Also, can you save the drawings as an SVG file?

    Many thanks,