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Graphics Tablet Features and Advantages

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  • Graphics Tablet Features and Advantages

    Graphics Tablet Features and Advantages
    If you're a budding graphic artist, you may have been told that a graphics tablet can benefit you. This article will discuss the various features of graphics tablets to help you decide if a tablet is right for you, and which tablet best fits your needs and budget.

    What is a graphics tablet?
    Also referred to as a digitizing tablet, graphics pad, or drawing tablet, a tablet is an alternate type of input device that can be used in place of, or in conjunction with, a mouse, trackball, or other pointing device. The tablet consists of two parts, a flat surface for drawing, and a pen, stylus, or puck that is programmed to work with the tablet. Usually, you also get a pen holder, and some tablets even come with a cordless mouse that works on the tablet surface. Even non-artists may choose to use a tablet because it offers a more ergonomic method of input that can reduce the likelihood of developing repetitive strain injury. Let's explore some of the common features of graphics tablets...

    Size is one of the first factors you'll need to consider in choosing a tablet. Bigger is not necessarily better. For home users and hobbyists, the most common sizes are 4' by 5' and 6' by 8'. CAD users, artists, and technical illustrators may desire a larger surface area, but the price escalates as the size increases. Remember, the larger your tablet surface is, the more your will need to move your arms. Many people prefer a smaller tablet to minimize arm motion. However, this may feel unnatural to an artist who is used to drawing or painting with large sweeping motions. Another important thing to know about tablet size is that the dimensions given almost always refer to the input surface area of the tablet. The actual footprint of the tablet can be as much as 4 to 5 inches larger than the input area. Keep this in mind as you shop, or you may be surprised that your tablet takes up much more desktop space than you may have considered. My 6' by 8' Wacom Intuos tablet, for instance, has a footprint of 10' by 13.5'.

    The interface is how your tablet connects to your computer. Most tablets these days have a USB interface and this is clearly the best way to go if your computer supports USB. USB devices are hot swapable so you'll be ale to move the tablet more easily for use on multiple computers or just to get it off the desk when you need to. If you have an older computer that does not support USB, you'll need to choose a tablet with a serial interface. If you go with a serial interface, be sure your computer has an available serial port that does not conflict with another device. If you have both a serial mouse and a serial modem (rare these days), proceed with caution, because you could face a conflict if you add a serial tablet. A tablet with a USB interface gets its power from your computer, but a serial tablet requires a separate power connection, so you'll want to make sure you have an available outlet that can accommodate a medium-sized transformer.

    Pen/Stylus and Accessories
    Your tablet should come with a pen that feels comfortable and natural in your hand. Find out if the stylus requires a battery. A battery will not only require occasional replacement, but it will make the pen heavier, too. Your pen may be tethered or free. If the pen is untethered you'll have to be more careful about losing or misplacing it. If the pen is tethered, make sure you can choose which side of the tablet to attach the pen. Many pens will also have a switch or buttons built onto the pen, and some pens have an erasing end. This is an excellent feature because the buttons can be programmed for specific functions such as a right-click or double-click, and the erasing tip can perform a delete function in one swipe, or automatically activate the eraser tool in your graphics software. Some tablet manufacturers offer additional pens and other pointing tools that you can program independently. When using these optional accessories, your tablet should recognize it as a new tool and use the customized preferences you have specified for that specific tool.

    Pressure level refers to the sensitivity to pressure on the surface of the tablet. Most tablets have either 256, 512, or 1024 pressure levels. The pressure-sensitivity can control line thickness, transparency, and/or color. The higher the pressure-sensitivity, the more responsive and natural your tablet will feel and the more control you will have.

    Driver Software
    All tablets require drivers, so you'll want to make sure the manufacturer provides a driver that is compatible with your operating system. You'll aslo want to look at what kind of features are offered in the driver software for the tablet you choose. The driver controls many aspects of how the tablet functions, and some of the higher-priced tablets offer advanced capabilities due to the driver software. Some examples of advanced driver features include the ability to map certain areas of the tablet surface to portions of the screen, programmable menu strips, tool customization, tilt sensitivity, application-specific settings, and more.

    Bundled Software
    Bundled software can add a lot of value to your tablet purchase. Most tablets come with a painting program, and some will include utilities that offer enhancements to take advantage of your tablet. Adobe Photoshop Elements, Corel Painter Classic, and Corel ArtDabbler are the titles most commonly bundled with graphics tablets. Some tablet manufacturers also bundle handwriting recognition software for converting hand written notes into text.

    Other considerations
    Many tablets will have a transparent overlay on the the surface that can be lifted up to slide a photo or piece of artwork underneath for tracing. Look for this feature if it is important to you. Also consider the warranty period for your tablet and whether or not replacement parts can be easily obtained. Most tablets can be installed alongside a mouse or other input device, so if you share your computer with other users, there's no need to swap out devices.

    Graphics tablets can be quite expensive, with most of them in the hundreds of dollars range. Prices are coming down, however, as more manufacturers are offering tablets aimed at the home user. These tablets are generally priced around $100 or less, though they lack some of the professional features of the more expensive tablets.
    Tablet FAQs

    Do I need special software to use a graphics tablet?
    No. A tablet will work in any computer software and can even be used exclusively as a mouse replacement. To get the most out of your tablet, however, you will want to use it graphics software that takes advantage of the pressure-sensitive features and tilt controls offered with most tablets.

    Can I use a tablet and mouse interchangeably?
    Yes. Most tablets can be used alongside a mouse with no problem whatsoever. In fact, many tablets now come with a mouse as part of the bundle. These bundled mice must be used on the tablet surface in order to work. If you prefer another mouse, though, you should have no problem having both connected at the same time. You'll want to be careful to keep the tablet's pen or mouse away from the tablet surface when using another pointing device--it can cause endless cursor confusion if they are left on the tablet while attempting to use another device!

    How long will it take to learn to use a graphics tablet?
    Not long at all! Just a few hours of practice is all it will take to coordinate your movements and get used to tapping instead of clicking. I always suggest new tablet owners first play computer solitare for a little while using the pen and tablet. After you're comfortable moving the cursor, dragging, and clicking with the tablet, you may want to go into the configuration program for your graphics tablet and customize some of the options. You can adjust the tablet software according to whether you generally write with a heavy hand or a light hand. You will also want to customize any special buttons on your stylus or the menu bar on your tablet, if one is provided. Most people like to configure the pen buttons for double-clicking and/or right-clicking.

    Wacom is the most well-known tablet manufacturer, and they are well deserving of their fine reputation. My personal experience with graphics tablets has only been with Wacom brand. I own an Intuos 6x8 which replaced a refurbished ArtPad II 4x5. Wacom makes graphics tablets for both Macintosh and Windows operating systems.

    Graphire is Wacom's consumer line of tablets. The third generation model, Graphire3, is offered in two sizes: 4x5 inch and 6x8 inch. Graphine is available in several trendy colors with transparent overlay and detachable pen stand. The pen is batteryless with a two button switch, eraser, and 512 levels of sensitivity. Graphire3 also comes with a ball-free, cordless and batteryless mouse with three programmable buttons and a scroll wheel. It comes bundled with Adobe Photoshop Elements 1.0 and Corel Painter Classic graphics software, plus the Wacom Driver and Control Panel. Graphire3 is only available for USB connection. Pricing for Graphire is approximately $100 US. Graphire comes with a one year warranty. The Graphire is an excellent choice for the dabbling hobbyist, especially now that it is offered in the larger 6x8 size.

    Intuos is Wacom's professional line of tablets. Intuos3 comes in 4x5, 6x8, and 9x12 sizes and offers professional features and a variety of optional accessories. Intuos3 offers tilt control and 1024 levels of sensitivity, the highest sensitivity of any graphics tablet available today. The batteryless Intuos Grip Pen features a two-button switch, eraser, and cushioned grip. All Intuos3 tablets also include a ball-free, cordless and batteryless 5-button scrolling mouse. The menu strip of previous Intuos models is replaced with a set of programmable ExpressKeys and touch strips in Intuos3. Intuos3 tablets are bundled with Photoshop Elements 2.0, Corel Painter Essentials 2, and nik Color Efex Pro 2 IE, and the Wacom Driver and Control Panel. Intuos3 tablets are only available for USB connections. Manufacturer suggested pricing on the Intuos line is: $199 for the 4x5 size, $329 for 6x8, and $449 for the 9x12 size. Additional accessories such as the airbrush or extra pens can be purchased for Intuos tablets. The ToolID recognition feature of Intuos allows you to program individual tools for specific functions. Intuos comes with a limited lifetime warranty. The previous model, Intuos2, is also available for customers who require serial connectivity or larger sizes (12x12 and 12x18).

    Wacom tablets are top of the line, but if you're looking for other choices, there are some alternatives.

    Aiptek Inc. was founded in 1997 and made a name for themselves with their HyperPen line affordable of graphics tablets. They also provide other peripherals for everyday consumers including PenCams, PC Cameras, and VideoPhones. Aiptek's drivers are for Windows only. (At one time they did offer Mac OS 9 drivers but they have apparently discontinued them.)

    The HyperPen series is available in four models: 1200U (9x12), 8000U Pro (6x8), 8000U (6x8), and 6000U (4.5x6). HyperPen features a cordless, pressure sensitive pen with side buttons and 512 levels of pressure. With a resolution of 3048 lpi, it offers the highest resolution in a graphics tablet. All models come with a cordless mouse, but only the 8000U Pro model includes a scrolling wheel. User concensus suggests that the mouse is not very comfortable to use. The mouse requires a AAA battery and the pen requires a AAAA battery--one set of batteries is included. Bundled software includes Tablet Driver, Ulead Photo Express, Art Dabbler, Cadix Signature software, Office Ink, Free Notes, and Microsoft NetMeeting. The 1200U and 8000U Pro also include Ulead PhotoImpact 5. All HyperPen tablets require a USB connection.

    Full article by Sue Chastain, can be found here:

  • #2
    I made this sticky because it comes up very often. Thanks Ulysses


    • #3
      I was actually looking for some information myself Mickey, regarding Graphic Tablets ... and recalled the info on the forum being scattered around too thinly, and then I found this article by Sue Chastain, and immediately thought it would be appreciated on the best forum ever - here on GDF - so thanks for putting it on the fridge as it were.

      Hope it helps some people out.


      • #4
        >> I found this article by Sue Chastain, and immediately thought it would be appreciated on the best forum ever<<

        Hmm... maybe Sue might have a different opinion on the 'best'.

        But thanks for giving her credit. She's helped a lot of folks with her work over the years.


        • #5
          bump - lots of people have been asking about tablets lately. I thought they might find this information helpful.
          "It's never too late to be who you might have been." - George Eliot


          • #6
            ***runs off screaming***

            Mo resurrected a thread!! Mo resurrected a thread!!

            Hello... My name is Kittie and I'm a Font-a-holic.


            • #7
              Is it a mummy thread, a zombie thread or a vampire thread?
              This post is brought to you by the letter E and the number 9. Those are the buttons I push to get a Twix out of the candy machine.
              "I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process."


              • #8
                hehe ... I don't think we have had a Mummy thread lol
                Hello... My name is Kittie and I'm a Font-a-holic.


                • #9
                  I got my wacom tablet 2 years ago, it has bluetooth so no extra wires cluttering my desk area... omfg i can't believe i tried to ever work with out it.
                  Portfolio : Dane-Designs

                  Illustration, Design, Photography


                  • #10
                    I actually took the first one back because the bluetooth refused to work. Man that was frustrating. I ended up going wired.

                    I really should've learned; everytime I try wireless I am reminded of why my husband keeps insisting that I should do wired instead. Once again, he was right. I hate that
                    Technical Communicator, Web Developer, Mama of Two Little Boys, and budding User Experience Designer.


                    • #11
                      might add aiptek is somewhat more unreliable.

                      2 tablets, lasted a year each @ $80.
                      Wacom Graphire 4 - 3 years strong and going @$300.

                      (went with wired, I don't trust bluetooth quite yet.)


                      • #12
                        i envy the ppl living in asia pacific. there is a contest every month on their wacom site. winning price is a graphics tablet, its even an intuos.


                        • #13
                          screen to tablet ratio

                          Hey there --

                          I recently bought a monitor that has a max resolution of 1200x1920 (1:1.6). I've found several new Wacom tablets that get close to that resolution, but the one that's closest is 12x19in -- ridiculously too large for my workspace (it's rather expensive, too). There's another tablet that comes close -- 6x11 (1:1.8)-- but it's not quite at the right ratio.

                          Can I use the 6x11 tablet with a screen that's not quite at the right resolution? I use the tablets for illustration and I don't want what I'm drawing to be warped or distorted, etc.

                          Any suggestions or recommendations? Thanks in advance!!


                          • #14
                            I roll with Wacom... They have provided a solid experience for me. I use an older Intuos 2 for my laptop, a Cintiq for my Comics, and a Intuos 3 at work. Haven't had a problem. All of mine have wires though, bluetooth would be great!
                            Nate Johnson
                            Comics - Illustration - Web Design

                            Portrait Drawing


                            • #15
                              How do the tablets work with screens not @ the same resolution ratio?

                              Have you tried using a tablet that wasn't at the exact same screen:tablet ratio?






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