Hump Day Hardware: Graphics Tablets

August 20, 2008

When you were learning to draw as a kid, did your parents hand you a crayon or a bar of soap? I think most of you learned with a crayon and yet there are a large number of people who attempt to draw on their computer with a bar of soap otherwise known as a mouse.

Today we’re going to talk about graphics tablets. With a tablet, you use a pen (or a mouse) on the tablet’s surface as a replacement for your traditional pointing device. You can still use a mouse or trackball or pointing stick or whatever else if you like. All pointing devices will be active. It isn’t just for graphics software either, it will work in all software though it may provide more features in your graphics software. For those who have experience some wrist pain from extended mousing sessions, you might even find that the tablet will take the pain away. If you’ve never used a tablet before, you might find it takes you a day or two to adjust to the absolutely positioning it offers simply because it is different than the relative positioning used with a mouse. It is just like learning to drive a stick shift. The first day you wonder how anyone can drive the thing. After a few days you don’t even notice pushing the clutch and shifting gears.

Now that you know a bit about tablets, let’s get one thing very clear. As far as I’m concerned there is only one brand you should consider buying, Wacom. Now as you shop for tablets, you might see other brands that look good and sound good and have lower prices. Please, resist the temptation, they cost less for a reason. In the last day there has been a discussion in one of the forums about another brand of tablet not working right. Others who had owned non-Wacom tablets chimed in about problems they had with their tablets. When they switched to a Wacom, everything worked fine. If you end up having to buy two tablets, was the other brand really a bargain?

Now that I’ve told you why you should only consider Wacom, let’s talk about the three different product lines available. For those who want the least expensive tablet, the Bamboo line is what you want. The least expensive has a list price of $69.99 and you can definitely find it discounted a little bit from there. Personally I’d recommend you at least look at the Bamboo Fun. It lists for $99.99 so it is $30 more. But where the Bamboo only gives you a pen, the Fun adds a mouse and some great graphics software (Adobe Photoshop Elements 5, Corel Painter Essentials 3 and Nik Color Efex Pro 2). Both of these tablets have a drawing area of around 4″ x 5″ so they are fairly compact. There is also a larger version of the Bamboo Fun where the active area is 8.5″ x 5.3″. It also lists for $100 more.

The next line of tablets is the Intuos line. It comes in four sizes that I’ll mention here: 4″ x 6″, 6″ x 8″, 6″ x 11″ and 9″ x 12″. Those of you outside North America will get the same basic tablets with metric sizes. There are some other sizes, but these are the sizes that are most popular. If you want the best, go for the Intuos line as both the tablets and pens offer more features. There are separate areas for scrolling, programmable buttons, the pens have more pressure sensitivity levels and the pens support extra features like tilt.

For those of you who want to draw directly on your screen, look at the Cintiq line of tablets. In this line, the tablet is integrated into an LCD monitor. Yes, you’ll pay a lot more for this. I’ve always had my tablet just to the right of my keyboard and it works just fine. This allows me to get the best monitor possible.

One thing I know for sure. If you haven’t yet tried a tablet, you’ll find it to be a much better tool for working in all graphics software. I use my tablet 99% of the time and don’t even think of using a mouse no matter what I’m doing. The only time I use the mouse is on those rare occasions when I play a game since it is hard to shoot aliens by tapping the pen on the tablet.

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1 Comment

  1. Bob

    Just got an Wacom Intuos 6×11 tablet. Used to use a Wacom ArtZ II tablet until the plastic draw area got ruined… that’s another story.
    Love the 6×11. I had a hard time deciding on size to get. I have a 24″ wide screen (Dell 2408WFP) and a 17″ dual monitor set up. I’m glad I got the 6×11 – even though it is rather large on my desk. I think 6×8 may have been too small… especially if I get larger monitors (the trend) down the road. I found had best prices.
    You can program the pen and tablet keys for each program you use. You can also remap the active space for each program. I use a smaller area of tablet for non-graphic programs and full tablet for graphic programs.
    I would like to see how others program their tablet and pen keys.


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