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A graphics tablet is a great tool for budding artists and professionals alike to help realize their creations. Also known as a graphics pad, digitizing board or drawing tablet, this device is paired with a pen or stylus, and used instead of a mouse or a trackball, for a more ergonomic experience.
From a small, simple model to huge drawing surfaces as large as a desk top, there’s a multitude of options to cater to your needs.
Choosing your graphics tablet
Consider how much and what kind of work you are going to do to fully utilize what you would be purchasing. If you are just starting, try a simple, regular-sized tablet while you’re learning to flex creative muscles. However, if you are a more experienced artist with more creative needs, a larger, high-end, heavy duty tablet would serve you better.
The typical amount of working space you use and need would also have to be taken into consideration. Choosing the right tablet would ensure work efficiency and protect you from possible work-related strains such as carpal-tunnel syndrome.
Size should be one of the first things to consider as this depends on how you will be using your tablet. Bigger does not necessarily mean better if you cannot fully utilize the unit. For home users and those starting out, the usual sizes are 4” x 5” and 6” x 8”. Heavy users, professionals and serious artists may need a bigger working area for more arm and hand movement. Bear in mind though, that tablets get more expensive as the size increases.
Personal preferences may come into play and largely depends on an artist’s most comfortable working position. Consider how much time you are going to spend working with the tablet and how much space it needs on your work table. The more comfortable you are overall, the less chances of developing cramps or injuries from working for prolonged periods.
The relationship between the computer and the tablet is called the interface. Most of today’s top tablets use a USB connection while older computers require a serial interface. If you are not a fan of wiring, Bluetooth is another option to consider for connecting to the computer.
The pen or stylus that the tablet comes with should have a good weight, handle comfortably and feel natural. Battery-powered pens tend to be heavier and would need replacements every now and then while battery-free pens are usually much lighter.
If you are considering a model with a pen connected to the tablet, make sure you are able to choose whatever side of the tablet to attach the pen to. Some find that the cord limits the artist’s range of movement and turn to uncorded pens. These are much more user friendly but some rely on batteries for power and are more at risk to be lost, dropped or misplaced.
A good pen with switches or built-in buttons to help streamline workflow through programmable functions.
The pressure or sensitivity levels available for the tablet is very important. This refers to how much pressure the tablet “feels” before it registers a mark. This controls line thickness, transparency, color and the higher it is, the more natural working on the tablet would feel. Most tablets have 256, 512 or 1024 pressure levels with the latest and most high-end so far having 2,048 pressure levels.
Make sure that your OS would be compatible with the tablet’s drivers or if you need to find special tweaks to get it to work. The bundled software that comes with the driver also adds value to your purchase. However, be sure that they are compatible to your system before installation as one wrong move could crash your system.
Check out if the tablet has a transparent overlay that can be lifted up for tracing photos or other art work. See if you can work with a smooth surface or if you want to have a more paper-like feel. Consider warranties, available service centers and spare parts as well.
Decide on your needs and a budget. Graphics tablets become more expensive as it gets bigger and able to do more complex actions.
Of all the manufacturers in the market, Wacom is the most well known and well respected graphics tablet maker. Their models can satisfy anyone from amateurs to professional artists, have tablets for both Mac and Windows OS and are continually expanding their range of function. Other manufacturers include UC-Logic, Aiptek, CalComp, Dynalink, and Genius.
All computer users can benefit from using a graphics tablet as an alternative to the mouse. It makes for a more ergonomic and intuitive experience. Whatever unit you should choose, be sure to balance your budget with your needs. Pay attention to what model would give the best service for a long time, to get maximum value for your money.