Drawing Tablets – Which one should I buy?
The days of drawing on the computer with a mouse are long gone. Lines were always the same thickness, the hand control needed to move a mouse in a smooth curve was insane! And the applications themselves were limited to say the least.
Then, Wacom came along. These guys created a drawing tablet that could replace the mouse. Not only was the form factor of the stylus, more like holding a real pen. But it introduced ‘pressure sensitivity’. The harder you pressed the higher the value sent to the drawing program. These higher values could be interpreted, resulting in thicker lines, or more digital-ink being applied to the virtual canvas.
An important step for anyone looking to buy a drawing tablet is to balance price, functionality, size and build quality. There is an old adage that says ‘Buy the best quality that you can afford at the time’. However, with all shopping, the goal is to buy the ‘best-fit’ solution to your problem at that time.
This article focuses on the tablet and not the different software titles available. Your challenge is to assimilate these views and opinions with your own and make an informed decision.
1. Price – The first consideration has to be price. There is no point test driving a ‘Maserati’ if you can only afford a ‘Ford’. Sure it would be nice to own a better model, but ultimately they both perform the same function. A vehicle. With regards to tablet devices the same holds true. You can spend literally thousands of dollars on a device, or you can spend less than one hundred. The difference in price can be attributed to the other considerations listed below. The thing to bear in mind when choosing a tablet is to be mindful of the price. More is not necessarily better!
2. Functionality – Next in the list of considerations is functionality. What features a device has, and how useful they really are. Do you need your tablet to be wireless? Do you need buttons on the tablet, to save reaching for the keyboard? Do you need to ‘flip’ from left handed to right handed? When comparing devices, ask yourself if you really need these features or would you never use them. I work at a desk, so being tethered is not that much of an inconvenience. But my A4 tablet is small enough to fit into my laptop case if needed. With regards to pressure sensitivity, the more the better. Look for a minimum of 1024 levels.
3. Size – Drawing tablets come in many form-factors. From small 4×6 inch units to larger A4 size. If you intend to be portable, and move your tablet between locations, then something too large to fit in your laptop case might not be the best decision. On the other hand, choosing a tablet with a very small drawing-area can make it harder to draw smooth lines and gestural marks. Another consideration is the ratio between your monitor size and the drawing-area. If your tablet is very small, then a tiny hand movement can result is a much larger scaled movement on the screen. Personally, I find an A4 tablet and a 19inch monitor to be a good compromise.
4. Build Quality – A Drawing tablet will likely not be moved very often. They tend to sit flat on the table and do not receive too much wear and tear. However, if you buy a poorly made tablet, you can expect the buttons to become loose, the wiring to become un-soldered and the surface to get easily scratched. So, it is worth looking for a trusted brand. Wacom is well established and has had many years of R+D to get its products right. If you buy a Wacom you can expect it to last a number of years.
5. Use – Ask yourself how you intend to use your tablet. Is it for drawing, Colouring, Inking or as a replacement for your mouse? Your answer will help guide you in choosing the rights size, and levels of pressure sensitivity. If you will be using your tablet for a long period of time, then you will want one that is large enough to be comfortable. Cheap enough not to break the bank. And functional enough to handle the tasks you intend to throw at it.
Entry Level Tablets (80-200USD)
If you are just getting started in digital painting and do not have a large budget, or you are not sure if this hobby is for you. Then, choosing an entry level tablet is the way to go. In this price range there is only really one tablet that I would recommend based on my list of considerations above? That model is called the Wacom Bamboo. This tablet can be purchased in a variety of sizes depending upon your needs. Note that all sizes of this particular model come with the same technical specifications.
Mid-Market Tablets (200-800USD)
If you are more serious about your craft and can afford the extra money, then a mid-market drawing tablet might be a better choice for you. I personally use an older model Intuos 4. It has buttons on the side, can be flipped for left handed use, it is wired, it looks super cool in matt black and works like a dream. The Intuos 4supports a whopping 2048 pressure levels, whilst the older Intuos 2/3 only had 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity.
Professional Tablets (1000-2000USD)
If you have lots of money to spend and are looking to use this table for your professional career, then you might consider the Cintiq series of tablets. These are not really tablets in the true sense of the word. They are actually monitors with built in support for pressure sensitivity. Meaning that you can draw directly on the screen using the style (pen) provided. The Cintiq range is not really portable due to the extra weight, and they are not dedicated computers either, so they still need to be tethered. However, they can offer a more natural drawing experience as you are looking at your hand whilst drawing, just as you would using traditional pencil and paper.
When I was first starting to draw on the computer and my budget was limited, I purchased a cheap Aiptek model. It was tiny with not a lot of pressure sensitivity. However, I was hooked. I no longer had to scan my pencil drawings as I could draw directly into the computer. The flexible nature of digital painting was also a bonus. I could undo, flip, rotate, invert etc. quickly and easily. After a few years of using this quite serviceable tablet, I splashed out and purchased an Intuos 4 Wacom tablet. With the extra pressure levels, the convenient buttons and the ability to flip the tablet I have not looked back. If you can save up the money, wait to buy an Intuos 4. They are awesome. :-)