Making the 'Jump' to a Graphics Tablet


Some time before beginning this site, I'd heard about the graphics tablet (or drawing tablet as they're often referred to as), and how using one can make a huge difference when creating digital drawings and art. At first, I really wasn't all that keen on the idea.

Drawing the traditional way - pencil, paper, eraser, etc., was always my preferred method of choice. I didn't think a tablet would give me the same amount of comfort and control.

Once the site got going though, I quickly realized that creating computer generated images for the many drawing lessons on the way, was definitely something I'd be doing a lot of. And yes, from very quick-learned experience... the mouse just wasn't going to cut it. Graphics Tablet

That's when I made the jump...

Simply described, a graphics tablet exists in two basic parts - the tablet itself and the pen. And although it's more like a 'high tech piece of paper', minus the technology - it works the same way a regular pencil on paper does...

Just draw!

Whenever your pen makes contact with the tablet's drawing surface, the strokes are reproduced - instantly and exactly on your computer screen, using your favorite drawing software (Photoshop, Corel Draw, Gimp, etc.). Simply plug the device into a USB port, install the drivers that come with it, and you're off to the races!

To help you with better understanding the features and benefits of using a graphics tablet, let's take at look at what I consider, the best one of its kind - Wacom's Intuos3 model...

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 Graphics Tablet

Graphics 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 Graphics 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 Graphics 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 graphics 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.

Intuos Graphics 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!

A Final Word on Graphics Tablets

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

For example...

  • Health-wise, graphics 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 graphics 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.
  • Flash game fan? Enough said. Graphics tablets are amazing for playing point-and-click flash games!

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 the 6 x 8 inch Intuos3 model. 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. And as I mentioned previously - resizing the drawing area to a smaller size is a snap with the software that comes with it.

All in all, making the jump to a graphics 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. But once you get the hang of it, and start making use of the buttons, touch pad, etc. - you'll wonder how you ever created digital drawings and art without it! :-)

Anyway, I hope this graphics tablet review shed a little bit of light for you. If you're thinking of getting a tablet for yourself, I've provided a couple of links to Wacom's two most popular models at Amazon.com... the 6 x 8 Intuos3 and the 9 x 12 Intuos3.

Happy Digital Drawing!...

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