Learn About the drawing Tablet


So what makes a drawing tablet so great? That's exactly what we'll be looking at here. And to to help with the explanation, we'll use Wacom's Intuos 3 model as an example -- the same one that I use for the design and many lessons on the site.

Do keep in mind though, there are lots of different brands/models/styles of drawing tablets and it's important that you pick one that suits you and your needs. The Intuos 3 - while a really excellent product, can be a bit pricey and not really necessary if you're just starting out. While something like an Intuos 3 may be good for professionals, I know that the Wacom Bamboo model is a great way to go for beginners.

Alright, let's begin - starting with pressure sensitivity...

Tablet drawing Surface and Pressure Sensitivity

As I'm sure any artist can relate, pressure sensitivity is very important when creating your own drawings and artwork. Whether it be a pen, pencil, or pencil crayon, it's important that you have control over the device that you're drawing with, as well as the surface you're drawing on.

Intuos drawing Tablet

drawing tablets take pressure sensitivity into account in a big way. I remember first using my Intuos3, being blown away by how the thickness and style of my lines changed according to the amount of pressure I applied.

In the image to your left, the light grey box (Number 1) is the tablet drawing surface. Acting as an exact copy of your computer screen, the position of the strokes that you make on it, will appear in the exact same position on the screen.

Draw something in the left corner of the tablet, and it appears in the top left corner on your screen. Draw something in the middle - and it appears in the middle.

Something else to note... the software that comes with the tablet can be used to change the way the drawing surface maps onto your computer screen. For example, you can reduce the tablet drawing surface area to a much smaller size - one that feels more comfortable. Or if you like, you can split the tablet drawing surface area into two separate areas - one big and one small... or set your tablet up for use with dual monitors.

OK, next - let's take a look at the 'Hot Key' buttons...

Intuos drawing Tablet

Programmable 'Hot Key' Buttons

Appearing at the top, on either side of the tablet drawing surface - the two sets of programmable buttons make for a superb little feature. Eight buttons in total, you can program them as 'hot keys' for a variety of tasks - ones that you'd normally perform using your favorite computer drawing software.

To give you an idea, the 'move' feature (common to all the major drawing programs) is one of my favorite hot key buttons to use. Pressing it allows you to move an image around the screen, similar to how you'd move a real piece of paper around when drawing. After programming it as a hot key on my tablet, I can use my left hand to manipulate the image, moving it around the screen - while using my right hand to draw. Makes life a whole lot easier!

Of course there are lots of examples where a hot key would come in handy. Transforming an image, using the lasso tool, selecting and direct selecting, etc. The point is - having these programmable 'hot key' buttons SAVE YOU TONS OF TIME AND ENERGY, leading to a more productive and enjoyable digital drawing experience.

Intuos drawing Tablet

Touch Strips for Zooming

A real lifesaver when it comes to manipulating the view of your drawing or artwork, the touch strips - also located on either side of the tablet drawing surface, make for yet another wonderful drawing tablet feature.

Previously, I mentioned how the 'move' hot key was one of my favorites as I'm always moving the image I'm working on around the screen. Another favorite -- the zoom feature!

Without a tablet, zooming can become a very tedious process - especially if you're working on a drawing for an extensive lengthof time. The repetitivepointing and clicking can get really get annoying after a while. Zooming in and out - viewing your work as you go becomes second nature when you get into creating digital artwork and so it's really important that you can do so as quick and easily as possible. That's where the touch strips come in...

To zoom in on an image, all there is to do is make a lightning-quick touching motion on the touch strip in an upward direction. To zoom out, do the exact same thing in a downward direction. And really, that's all there is to it. Simple yet so effective, again - really does make digital drawing all the more enjoyable.

The 'Grip Pen' and its Functions

The pen that comes with the Wacom Intuos3 is called the 'Grip Pen'. And rightfully so... unlike any other pen or pencil I've held, this thing is extremely comfortable. While I do like its design, I'm even more impressed with how its weighted. Wacom's done an amazing job at making it feel like you're using a real pen, heavier more so at the drawing end.

Intuos drawing Tablet

Aside from the obvious benefits of having a high-tech pen like this one (no sharpening, no refills, etc.), its programmable side buttons are by far the best part.

In the example above, you can see the buttons as a light grey, rectangular bar shape. And just like the hot keys on the tablet itself, you can program them for your most commonly used tasks. In my case, I use the button closest to the tip to access the brushes pallet, while the one furthest from the tip, for calling up menus with options to transform the image that I'm working on.

One last thing to mention regarding the pen... it's got a built-in eraser too! Normally, you'd have to point and click on the eraser icon in the toolbar to access the eraser. Not with the grip pen though. Nope - just flip it over, same as you would with any regular pink-erasered-pencil, and eliminate your mistakes with ease!

Some Other Things to Consider

Well, I think I've covered the more obvious points regarding drawing tablets. Even still, there are definitely some other cool and important uses that come to mind.

For example...

  • Health-wise, drawing tablets are an ideal alternative for the mouse. Sometimes, repetitive use of a mouse can lead to wrist pain, or even carpel tunnel syndrome. Holding a pen is more natural as you're using your entire arm.

  • Surfing the Internet is lots of fun with a drawing tablet - just use the pen and drawing surface the same way you would when you draw a picture. And for clicking, all you need to do is gently push down on the tablet with the tip of the pen. Scrolling is easy too... just use the touch strips on the sides.

  • Online Entertainment is something else to consider. For example, if you have fun playing online point-and-click flash games, the experience can be a lot more enjoyable with a tablet.

Also, depending on your drawing style and screen size, you can choose from a selection of different sized tablets. The most popular model by far is a size of 6 x 8 inches. For myself though, I went with the 9 x 12 inch. Even though it does take up a bit more desk space, the sacrifice is much worth it as I enjoy working with a larger drawing surface.

Besides, if you find the surface to be too large, and don't enjoy making longer pen strokes, you can always resize the amount of drawing surface area on your tablet with the user-friendly software that comes with it.

Wrapping Things Up...

All in all, making the jump to a drawing tablet is definitely worth it. When you first get one, it'll take a bit of getting used to, having your drawing strokes magically reproduced on your computer screen and all. Once you get the hang of it though, using a drawing tablet will become second nature to you. And from experience I know... you'll wonder how you ever created digital drawings without it!

Anyway, I hope this review shed a little bit of light for you. Again, the Intuos 3 is only one of the many drawing tablets out there. If you're a professional digital artist/web designer/etc. - then sure, I'd certainly recommend it to you. But if you're just starting out, there are lots of tablets to get the job done - one's that are still very good quality, and perhaps more in your price range. Wacom's Bamboo model is a good route to go if this is the case.

To help you narrow things down, I recommend you take a look at the Graphics Tablet Marketplace section on the site. Here you can find one that's right for you with respect to brand, model, size and price. Click here to check out the Graphics Tablet Marketplace.


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