Which graphic tablet should I buy?
What you'll find in this article...
If you are looking for a graphics tablet, you will want to know which ones are the best drawing tablets available out there. You want to be able to get the best tab to improve the quality of your work, and you want it as cheap as you can get it? You’re on the right address to find out which is a good tablet for your personal needs, regardless if you are a professional designer or you enjoy drawing as a hobby.
I personally know it isn’t easy to find a suitable drawing pad as easily as it seems. There are dozens and dozens of inexpensive graphic tablets that will work for you if your needs are not too great, but people often jump to conclusions when they think that drawing pads are very expensive.
This article will give you a wide price range where you will see some very cheap pen tabs, some professional ones that may be a bit pricey, but most of them are plainly just affordable and suit the needs of most.
If you are looking to develop your artistic skills or you need one of these for other reasons, it is important to know which pen tablet can benefit you the most. This page will consider the different features of graphic tabs to help you choose which one is right for your needs and best fits your budget.
The top 10 graphic tablets ranking will give you an even better idea of what you are looking for.
What is a graphics tablet?
Graphic tablet can also be referred to as a graphics pad, a drawing tablet, a digitizing tablet, so don’t be confused. The principle is the same.
So, this little handy device is a type of input device that can be used instead of, or in conjunction with a mouse or any other pointing devices.
Your typical tablet consists of a flat surface for drawing and a pen, stylus or puck that works with the tablet.
Some tablets come with a handy wireless mouse you can use on its surface or a pen holder, but in reality all you need is a pen and the tablet itself. Sometimes, even people who are not artists choose to use a tablet because of its practicality!
And now, we move on to explain some of the common features of graphic tablets.
The language that is used by graphics tablets sellers is very confusing.
Here is a list of the most popular phrases used in relation to the graphics tablet pens and what they actually mean!
The term specific for digital input pens used with graphics-tablets and other hardware. It’s not always used, but is the actual term. (imagine if you were told your new ipad came with a free ‘pen’? Why would you want a pen? Now imagine you were told it came with a free ‘stylus’? Awesome!)
“ergonomic pen” “grip pen” “easy to hold pen”
Almost all graphic tablets today come with a comfortable, easy to use variety of stylus (the exact shape and features vary). These don’t affect the quality of your digital artwork, but they do affect how comfortable you are while using them, and there’s no ‘right’ choice.
Refers to a stylus that is attached to its tablet by a cable. The stylus is therefore slim and light. It’s pretty rare today, as wireless is the standard for most models.
“battery operated stylus”
Sends a signal from the pen to your tablet. The stylus needs to be large enough to contain a AAA battery, but is shaped in a way so that it’s narrower at the point at which you hold it.
The tablet powers the stylus via electro-magnetic resonation, which means these styluses are slimmer and lighter than the battery powered alternatives.
“tilt sensitivity”, “tiltability” “rotation””tilt recognition”
What most artists are looking for when they chose a stylus with one of these descriptions is a stylus which has a sense of ‘right way up’ and ‘upside-down’ so that it can make more complex digital brush strokes (this is a great feature, especially for painters!).
But these terms also may simply mean that the stylus still works when you’re holding it at an angle, (and I’ve never found a stylus that doesn’t). For this stylus it’s best to rely on reviews, as less scrupulous retailers and second-hand sellers who don’t understand the terms can easily use the wrong term, and lead you to disappointment if you don’t know what you’re buying.
“levels of pressure sensitivity”
The range of pressure sensitivity starts at 256 levels of pressure, and reaches 3000. 1024 levels of pressure can be registered by most graphics programs, and only the newest and more advanced programs can register anything higher.
Levels of pressure sensitivity literally explains how sensitive your pen is, the more sensitive pens will be able to tell the difference between different pressures, but this will only be shown to have an effect if you’re using extremely large brush sizes (upwards of 1000 pixels, in the latest software), or, in some cases, very light pressure (the quality of the pen’s nib and the drawing surface can effect the pressure you need to apply just as much).
I suggest 256 and 512 for the beginner or sketcher, 1024 for the student or professional artist, and 2048 or above for the super-professional or any artist who uses a tablet for poster-sized art-work.
“Interchangeable right and left-handed pen”
This is one of those marketing oddities, I assume the companies must say this in order to assure left-handed individuals that they too can use graphics tablets… though I’ve yet to find any evidence of a left-handed pen having ever existed.
So now you know what they’re saying about the pens… how about the tablet themselves.
The tablets are all important and have their own range of specialist phrases.
Here’s a list of the phrases and their meanings for tablets:
Most artists find the wheels/scrollers to be useful for controlling the zoom in graphics programs, and for rotating canvas in those that allow it. But neither they nor programmable hotlinks are a actually a required function on any tablet, they’re more of an extra feature that you can use, if you like, to save time.
“lines per inch” or “accuracy”
Much like dpi or dots per inch, this is the sensitivity of your graphics tablet and how accurately it recognizes the location of your pen. Unfortunately, not only is this rarely mentioned, but the effect this number has also changes depending on your computer’s settings, and the size of the tablet itself. The end result is that the pen does not follow the path you draw exactly, or makes your lines jagged. This is really useful when you’re designing for a vinyl cutting machine for small business.
The way to avoid this is to read customer reviews, even if a number is given, and bear in mind that the cheapest of these tablets usually come with this disadvantage.
For the beginner, or casual artist, or someone who does not intend to use their tablet for fine art, this isn’t much of a problem. It can usually be compensated by working zoomed in, but that has the disadvantage of letting you see less of your artwork at once, and takes longer to draw the same lines.
“work area/ live area”
Pay attention to this, a graphics tablet will be described as 10 by 15 inches, but the actual numbers you need to actually pay attention to those of the ‘work’ or ‘live’ areas, the space on which you can draw, which measure much less- say 5 by 8 inches. These numbers are possibly the most important thing when it comes to buying a tablet! What you need to look for is a graphics tablet that matches the size and ratio of your screen as much as possible.
Graphics tablet size
One of the most important factors you will need to consider when choosing the right tablet for yourself is its size. For hobby users and your average artist some common sizes are 6 by 8 inches or 4 by 5 inches, but more developed artists and illustrators may require or desire a larger work surface. But be careful, the price rises with the size of the tablet.
The reasons why someone would choose a bigger tablet should be practical and nothing but practical. One should consider to buy a tablet with an appropriate work surface size to match their hand motion. This is a crucial element that needs to be considered when buying a tablet.
If you want to minimize your hand motion, a smaller tablet will work better for you. If you are used to drawing or painting in bigger, sweeping motions, then you need a larger work surface. It is as simple as that.
Up until recently, the dimensions of graphics tablets have corresponded with the 4:3 aspect ratio of traditional computer monitors. But as of lately, some companies (e.g. Wacom and Aiptek) began producing tablets that correspond better with widescreen monitors or even for working on multiple monitors at the same time. Although it is neat to have your tablet dimensions correspond with the aspect ratio, it is not necessary because the tablet software resolves this issue so that it does not interfere with your experience.
Graphics tablet interface
The interface is how your tablet connects to the computer. Most tablets have an USB interface which is excellent because virtually all computers today support USB. In case you own a computer that does not support USB, you will need to choose a tablet with a serial interface.
Another option for connecting a tablet to a computer is Bluetooth. Currently the only manufacturer that produces Bluetooth tablets is Wacom, with its Graphire Bluetooth that connects to your computer without wires.
Pen/Stylus and Accessories
When you choose a tablet, consider the dimensions and the weight to the pen because you need it to feel comfortable in your hand. Check if the stylus needs a battery because that will make it heavier. Some pens are not tethered, and in that case you will need to be extra careful not to misplace or lose them.
Some pens have an erasing end, which is a pretty cool feature too. Some tablet manufacturers offer several pens you can program each the way you wish and work with them independently. All in all, there are plenty of additional optional accessories, but the most important thing is that the pen and the work surface suit your needs.
Graphics tablet pressure sensitivity
Pressure sensitivity is a very important feature when choosing a suitable tablet for your needs. It refers to the sensitivity to pressure on the surface of the tablet. Currently, tablets mostly have 256, 512, 1024 or 2048 pressure levels. Pressure sensitivity can control several aspects that you choose, among which are the line thickness, transparency, color, and so on.
The more sensitive your tablet is, the better your experience will be, because it will feel more natural and authentic, and you will have more control over your strokes.
As a proud owner of one of these I have nothing bad to say about it. It is affordable, reliable and offers you anything you think you may need.
Since the relaunching of Bamboo tablets, we have not only gotten our hands on much sleeker looking re-vamped devices, they are now much more impressive than their predecessors and overall much more responsive.
These tablets also come with a very impressive software pack (that includes Photoshop and Artrage) and they don a very MacBook-esque silver finish.
Main specifications: 1024 pressure sensitivity levels, 13.8 x 8.2 x 0.4 inches in size, 4 Express Keys, compatible with Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP, Mac OSX 10.5 and above.
2. Wacom Bamboo Connect
Bamboo Connect allows you to quickly sketch us your ideas, add your personal flare to documents, edit them, and write notes. The package contains dozens of software applications that will enable you to do just that – and just that makes this tablet worth every penny.
This graphics tablet dons an easy and ergonomic design, and a battery free pen stylus that is light and easy to use. Recommended for those who enjoy giving a personal touch to everything.
This tablet comes with a pressure sensitive stylus pen with 512 levels of pressure sensitivity, and an 8 by 6 inch working area, which makes it a perfect take for a beginner artist.
It s compatible with most software, so you won’t have to worry about that.
In fact, this pen tablet offers a lot more than one would expect from a tablet that costs this much, and it’s a warm recommendation for learning artists.
4. VT PenPad 7.7-Inch Graphic Pen Tablet
The VT PenPad is a perfect tablet if you are just a beginner and you want to practice. It is not a big investment, and is in fact very affordable for the features it offers.
It can be used as a great learning tool for children, students, artists, or anyone who uses a computer.
With overall dimensions of 7.5-inch x 7.5-inch and an active area of 6-inch x 4.5-inch the VT PenPad is an ideal learning, drawing, and writing tool, that is great for everyday use. I would definitely recommend it as a starter tablet.
- Size: Small (3.9″ x 6.2″ active area)
- Pen Eraser: Yes
- Multi-Touch: Yes
- Wireless Option: Yes, with the purchase of Wacom’s optional wireless accessory kit
Free Bundled Software
The bundle includes Adobe Photoshop Elements, Autodesk Sketchbook Express, Anime Studio Debut, and Nik Color Effects Pro 4 Select Edition. You can also make use of a free 90-day trial of Corel Painter software, with a special offer on purchase.
Review of the Intuos 5 Tablet
The Intuos5 has excellent configuration possibilities. It comes with global settings, but you can set up menus and sub-menus for all the functions you want to have literally at your fingertips.
The sophisticated touch screen recognizes different touches. For example, touching the screen with 3 fingers instructs the tablet to do one thing, while touching with 4 fingers communicates something else and so on. You can also use this model much like the normal touch mouse on a laptop. In addition, the easy-to-reach side buttons can also be configured to your own specific requirements. Watch the excellent video below for a full explanation and demonstration.
Another cool feature with the Intuos5 is just how pressure-sensitive the pen is. There are over 2000 pressure levels, from a light and narrow brush stroke up to as broad and thick as you want. This is really helpful for details like when I’m working on my weed icons, they’re small, so this is really a great addition.
It is a bit challenging to at first to find just the right finger or pen pressure you need to create exactly the effect you want, but that just takes time and purpose. Professional graphic artists and photographers who use this tablet every day all appear to think it is well worth the money.
In general, this pen tablet has received very good reviews overall. More than half gave it a 4- or 5-star rating. Issues seem to revolve around screen-to-monitor ratios and some configuration problems that may be teething problems, and I was impressed to find a Wacom representative contacted the person who gave it a bad review to work through the issues with him to find solutions. I don’t know of many companies that would go to such effort
– Size: Small (6″ x 4″)
– Pen Eraser: Yes
– Multi-Touch: No
– Wireless Option: Not as an adapter; only as a separate tablet that’s hard to find (See: Intuos4 Medium Wireless Tablet)
Free Bundled Software
Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, Corel Painter Sketchpad, Autodeck Sketchbook Express, Nik Color Efex 3.0 Sample Filters, Wacom Brushes
Unlike the new Intuos5, the Intuos4 does not have a finger-touch screen; you have to use the Intuos4 pen, which is pressure sensitive.
One cool feature with this tablet is that you can configure it for right- or left-handed users. Just flip it over so the buttons are on the side you prefer and, when you come to configure it, it will ask you if you are right- or left-handed, so you can program your settings appropriately. They show up in the LCD screen beside each button. Unfortunately, the small size version of the Intuos4 doesn’t actually have the LCD display.
As an improvement on the Intous3, there is a touch dial rather than a touch slider, which makes it easier to manipulate and navigate through four modes.
Also as an improvement, the USB cable is now detachable.
The Intuos4 pen has a huge number of pressure sensitive levels–something like 2500 different levels, more than you will probably ever use. It comes with different nibs for different effects and purposes. The pen is now wireless, so it’s not compatible with the older versions of this series.
Even the pen holder has been improved, so it holds spare nibs and a handy nib extractor in the center. There are buttons on the pen itself that you can configure for handy functions you use frequently.
Of course, there is a mouse that comes with the Intuos4, too, in case that’s your preference. Put the mouse on top of the tablet and you can use it to maneuver as much as you do with an ordinary mouse pad.
A whopping two thirds of reviewers give this pen tablet five stars, and most others give it four. I found only one bad review, which seemed to be about an issue with a slight delay between what the user was sketching and when it appeared on his computer monitor. Perhaps that’s something you’ll need to get used to.
All in all, the Intuos4 is a very functional tool that most users recommend. As with any new gadget, there’s a learning curve that can be frustrating for the more impatient among us, but once you have the hang of it, you will love it.