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Choosing the Right Graphics Tablet

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Choosing the Right Graphics Tablet
Choosing the Right Graphics Tablet

A comparison chart detailing the features of a variety of top graphics and drawing tablets, with a special eye toward the needs of designers and artists.

Copyright Angela D. Mitchell, About.com

When it comes to designing for the performing arts, a graphics tablet can be a powerful tool. But choosing just the right one will mean evaluating such aspects as pressure sensitivity, tilt recognition, resolution, and the size of the work area (the ‘drawing area’ on the screen).

To give you an immediate overview of the features, assets and differences between many popular graphics tablet models, I’ve put together the helpful chart on this page.

The Advantages of Graphics Tablets

The emergence of the graphics (or “drawing”) tablet over the past several years has opened up a whole new world for artists and designers, finally giving them a way to sketch, draw and paint without the clumsiness of the mouse, in an environment mimicking the use of pen (or brush) and paper.

For designers, graphics tablets open up the workspace in a wonderful and creative way. Suddenly, you’re not clenching a mouse – you’re able to hold lightly to a pen, working naturally from desktop, table, or even your lap.

Graphics tablets typically consist of a flat work area (the electronic ‘paper’), a pen or stylus, and various hotkeys or customizable buttons. While some offer touch capabilities as well, Graphics tablets are typically more about the ‘draw’ and less about the touch or mouseless keyboard aspects for many creatives. However, the touch options nevertheless make for a more comfortable and ergonomic work experience.

The biggest single asset offered by a graphics tablet, however, is simply its precision. There are things you can do with a good graphics tablet that would be incredibly difficult or even impossible with a mouse. A mouse involves the movement of your whole hand in an often ungainly fashion; a graphics tablet allows you to lightly grip the pen and work with tiny, delicate subtle motions.

For those who like to do a lot of photo retouching or airbrushing, the graphics tablet’s precision allows you to address nuanced shadings and details that would be tough to do with the mouse. The use of a pen for drawing also enables you to draw longer, stronger lines, instead of stopping and starting because you’ve run out of mousepad space.

Graphics tablets can be wireless, or connected (usually via USB), and usually include a few basic elements: the tablet itself, the pen (or stylus), replacement nibs (for pen), installation software, a stylus or pen stand, and a product guide. Some frequently include a mouse as well.

Some drawing tablets take the need for tracing into account (especially valuable for designers), including a transparent sheet or overlay on the surface. This is one of my favorite features of working with a graphics tablet -- by allowing the user to slide in a photo, drawing or other image beneath the transparency, you can now trace the image directly into your computer for further manipulation or editing.

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