Tablets are mobile devices typically defined by portability, touchscreens, and intuitive design. These devices have become extremely popular for entertainment, schoolwork, and even office use. One area that has seen an increase in tablet use is artwork and graphic design.
Tablets for artwork
Graphics tablets have specific features which lend themselves to photo retouching, drawing, and other forms of art. Most importantly, these devices make use of an electronic pen which is used for drawing on the tablet.
The results are typically displayed on a connected computer monitor (except for a few products which will be discussed later). These pens can also act as a mouse, with buttons for left and right clicking.
Newer versions of graphics tablets feature touch screens, which allow users to more easily zoom in on details of their work, change settings and applications, and use more versatile shortcuts.
Another important feature is pressure sensitivity, which allows artists to press the pen harder onto the tablet to change brush size and other details.
Benefits of drawing tablets
The benefit of such technology is that it is essentially the electronic equivalent of drawing on paper. It can be very difficult and time consuming to draw with a mouse, so the pen is a convenient and useful technology for artists.
It also circumvents the scanning process; instead of drawing on paper and then scanning the result into a computer, the drawing tablet is able to directly deliver the finished artwork to the files of the computer. Most tablets worth purchasing will function on both Windows and Mac operating systems.
Obviously, this is a market dominated by one brand. There are other options available, such as the Huion on this list, but Wacom is the leader in this industry for a reason. The tablets featured on this list are defined by great design, convenient features, and precise drawing capability.
Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch Large Tablet
- Sleek appearance and redesigned express keys from the Intuos5
- Built-in wireless capability reaching up to 33’
- 8” by 8” usable drawing area
- Ergonomic Pro Pen with eraser and switch that can perform click, right click functions
- Multi-touch capability allows effects like pinching to zoom, swiping between applications, and rotating images
- Pre-installed applications for photo editing, painting, sketching
- 5,080 lines per inch (LPI) resolution
- Pro Pen recognizes 2,048 levels of pressure and 60 degrees of tilt, making for detailed, smooth sketching and fine retouching
- Eight express keys make for easy and smooth transitions between features of applications
- Express keys can be programmed for different functions on different applications (same key can be used for different effects on depending on program being used)
- Touch ring is versatile and free of lag, perfect for switching between settings for things like brush size
- Wireless connectivity makes it easy to work away from the desk, also makes work station less cluttered with cords
- Pro Pen is balanced, functional, and easier to draw with than a mouse
- Resolution is fantastic
- New plastic material is more solid than previous models but retains a comfortable feel
- Pen nibs wear out easily
- USB port is poorly designed, difficult to plug cord in
- Expensive for the Intuos product line
This is an excellent product by the hands-down leader in graphics tablets, Wacom. Their highest functioning tablet in the Intuos product line, the Intuos Pro is a beautifully designed and functional tablet for the professional.
Its quality is outstanding; drawing is easy and detailed with this product. It is a smooth device with little to no lag regardless of the program being run.
This functionality is optimized by its customizable express keys. Not only are there 8 keys which can be used for saving, opening, changing settings, and more, but each key can be used for a different effect depending on the program being used.
A single key could copy on one program, paste on another, and save on a third (although this example is not particularly useful). This maximizes the functionality of the device, without taking up unnecessary room.
There are some small problems with the device, like a stubborn USB port and pen nibs that are quick to wear out. Overall, the quality of this device is so high that it more than makes up for such minor inconveniences.
The biggest issue with this tablet is price. If money is not an issue, this is the tablet to purchase, especially for users serious about graphic design.
Huion Micro USB Drawing Big Size Graphics Tablet
- 12 express keys and 16 function keys
- 10” by 6.25” usable drawing area
- Rechargeable stylus pen
- Pen has 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity
- Included 8GB MicroSD card, can support up to 64GB
- 2,048 pressure levels; competes with high-quality products
- Many customizable keys
- Rechargeable stylus pen lasts for 450 hours after 2-hour charge
- Included 8GB memory card and capability for up to 64GB increases the ease of taking artwork right from tablet to other computers
- Some users have driver software issues, including malfunctioning express keys when using Windows, and problems after computer goes to sleep mode
- May not function perfectly when using Photoshop or other more demanding programs
- No tilt sensitivity means brush choice is limited
- User manual is poorly written and features pictures of a different product
This device is not meant to compete with Wacom’s highest quality products, but it performs very well for a much more affordable option. Its pressure sensitivity is excellent, but the lack of tilt sensitivity means it probably won’t appeal to professional artists.
It has many express keys, although they are less customizable than with the Intuos Pro. Further, the lack of a touch ring and multi-touch screen mean far less versatility and speed for switching applications and changing settings.
Overall, this is an excellent product for anyone dipping their toes into drawing tablets. Its low price and solid sensitivity mean that it will perform simple tasks like sketching and photo retouching as well.
It is a great place for beginners to start and get the feel for a graphics tablet before advancing to more expensive devices with higher-end features.
Wacom Intuos CTH690AB Art Pen and Touch
- Multi-touch screen
- Pen with 1,024 pressure levels
- Art pack including Corel Painter Essentials
- 4 express keys
- 5” by 5.3” usable drawing area medium
- Optional wireless upgrade
- Thin and light at under 500g
- Simple and reliable driver installation: disc or download
- Multi-touch functionality for zooming, rotating, swiping
- Excellent quality for sketching and drawing
- Smooth and responsive without lag
- Specifically designed for artists with built-in programs
- No tilt sensitivity
- Only 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity
- Touch sensitivity could be a bit better
- Cheap feel, plastic body will bend under pressure
This is a mid-range tablet in terms of price, but it offers some great value for the price. Drawing is smooth and responsive, although the sensitivity is not quite at the level of the Intuos Pro and it has half the resolution.
Its built-in art package makes it an excellent option for artists. There are similar versions specifically for drawing, working on photos, and designing comics.
The design of this product is excellent, from the ergonomic pen to the thin and light tablet. Even the medium size will not take up too much desk space, so it is a good option even with little room. The colors are fun and sharp, making this a tablet that looks great and functions well.
This device is perfect for intermediate users who know how to use a graphics tablet but are not yet ready to indulge on a professional-grade model. It will allow for high quality drawings, but lacks the versatility, customizability, and detail of the higher-end tablets.
Wacom Intuos5 Touch Large Pen Tablet
- Multi-touch screen for zooming, rotating, and swiping
- 8 express keys and touch ring for customized functions in a variety of programs
- Optional wireless connectivity
- Pen with 2,048 levels and tilt sensitivity
- Superb comfort and design with a rubber finish instead of plastic
- Excellent quality pressure sensitivity and display
- Convenient features like express keys and touch ring make use quick and easy
- Multi-touch features compliment design software nicely by allowing users to zoom, rotate, and swipe images
- Touch could be more responsive
- Fairly expensive
- Wireless connectivity must be purchased separately
This tablet is of excellent quality and has very few shortcomings. It is very similar to the Intuos Pro, although the design is slightly less appealing. It has the same high-end pressure sensitivity for determining brush width, and the customizable express keys and touch ring make use simple and fast.
Drawing on this tablet is smooth and simple. It is this type of tablet that will truly impress on a user the benefits of a pen over a mouse.
This tablet is almost the equal of the Pro, although its touch sensitivity is sometimes less than perfect. It also does not come equipped with wireless connectivity, although it can be purchased separately.
While there are some features and design choices better found in the Pro, the Intuos5 is an excellent, top notch device. Its pressure and tilt sensitivity, mixed with the same 5,080 LPI resolution as the Pro make it an excellent choice for professionals as well as hobbyists.
Wacom Cintiq 22HD Touch Interactive Pen Display
- Huge HD screen for tablet monitor
- Displays up to 16.7 million colors
- Multi-touch functionality
- 16 customizable express keys
- Touch strips on either side for precision zooming
- Adjustable display stand
- Pen with 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity and 60 degrees of tilt sensitivity
- Tablet monitor allows artists to draw on the screen for better detail and precision
- Remarkably precise and smooth
- Beautiful display and matte finish creates the illusion of a paper display
- All the convenience of multi-touch, express keys, plus touch strips on either side
- Adjustable stand allows for perfect viewing and comfort for every user
- Large size can be an issue for people with limited desk space
- USB cord can be difficult to plug in
- Responsiveness can drop near corners of usable drawing area
For professional artists with room in their budget, this is the tablet to purchase. It may be compared to the Intuos line in terms of the excellent pressure and tilt sensitivity as well as the multi-touch functionality, but this tablet is in a league of its own.
With a 16:9 aspect ratio and matte finish, the screen is stunning. The stand can be adjusted for height, meaning all users can find the perfect setting to work and review.
In terms of functionality, this large tablet monitor comes with 16 customizable express keys and touch strips on the backs at either side for highly controlled zooming. Its touch screen allows the same features for swiping, rotating, and changing settings as the Intuos touch tablets.
Most importantly, the ability to draw on the screen is a feature that completely changes the game. It is a totally different experience than most graphics tablets, and is perfect for the professional artist who requires precision and speed when editing or creating works. Its large screen makes for detailed work and easy use of both hands.
There are only two reasons not to purchase the Cintiq 22HD: price and portability. This is not a tablet easily stowed away in a knapsack, nor does it come cheap. It is worth the money for the professional who will use the device to earn in the future, but is likely outside the price range of most hobbyists.
Finding the right tablet
Luckily, there are a myriad of products to choose from. This may be a daunting task, but it certainly allows for users of all levels to find the tablet best suited to them.
Beginners should look to tablets such as the Huion New 1060 Plus for an inexpensive tablet that will give them the experience and confidence needed to get the most out of higher-end models.
Intermediate users have many options available, depending on their ability and objectives. For the hobbyist, the Intuos Art, Draw, Photo, or Comic are excellent options which feature good sensitivity and features for a modest price.
The Intuos5 is the highest quality product that an intermediate should consider, as professionals will also enjoy this device.
Professional level graphic designers should opt for the unique and outstanding Ciniq 22HD, if the price is manageable. The ability to draw directly on the screen is an asset that cannot be overstated.
Along with this feature, it contains the highest level of convenience with 16 express keys, a multi-touch screen, and touch strips on either side.
Ultimately, there are three factors which determine the best drawing tablet for any person.
Firstly, the objectives of the individual will greatly narrow down the products available. While there are many mid-range options, professionals require only the highest quality. Secondly, price ranges must be taken into consideration, as better features always come with a higher cost.
Lastly, individual preferences will attract some users to touch screens, battery powered pens, and tablet monitors, while some may prefer using the pen instead of the fingers, magnetically operated pens, and tablets separate from the screen. The products listed above are all high quality, and will certainly satisfy the needs of any artist.
Drawing tablets are fantastic tools for professional, intermediate, and beginner artists. They offer a superior experience when compared with drawing using a mouse.
Further, the convenience of drawing directly onto a computer, as opposed to drawing on paper and scanning after, is hugely important in a fast-past society. No professional artist should be without one.