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As technology advances, it changes the way people perform common tasks.
Photographers have migrated from film to digital photos. Writers have moved from typewriters to word processors.
In much the same way, artists have migrated from paper to electronic drawing tablets.
Drawing tablets, also called “graphics tablets” or “pen tablets,” allow the artist to draw directly on an electronic screen. The tablet reads pressure from fingers or a pen on the screen.
It’s much easier to erase mistakes from a drawing tablet than paper. The artist can try different techniques without ruining earlier versions of a drawing.
Drawing tablets also provide multiple tools and functionality that are challenging or impossible to reproduce with pen and paper.
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If you’re ready to buy a drawing tablet, please check out our favorite models in the product matrix, above.
If you’d like to learn more about key drawing tablet features and types of drawing tablets, please continue to the shopping guide below.
The stylus, or pen, is a key component of the drawing tablet. Some pens are wired to the tablet; others are wireless. You’ll always know where a wired stylus is, but a wireless pen gives you far more flexibility of movement.
Some styluses run from batteries, while a wired stylus might be powered by the tablet itself. Though the battery-powered pen may provide a few more features, a stylus without a battery is lighter and easier to use.
Calibrating the drawing tablet’s pen ensures the most accurate input.
These are physical buttons located on the frame around the screen. Different models of drawing tablets offer a variety of shortcut button configurations.
Consider how you plan to use the drawing tablet, then look for button designs that can help you work efficiently.
Some tablets have buttons on the edge of the frame providing shortcuts to commonly used commands. Often, these buttons are customizable.
The best tablets are able to display at least 16.7 million colors with the most expensive boasting 1.07 billion. Lower-quality tablets offer a lower maximum number of colors, but at least 16.7 million are needed for creating precise graphics. If you’re not creating documents or drawings which require that level of precision, you can save a bit with a lower number of colors.
Modern drawing tablets provide a variety of connection options. USB cable is the most common method of connecting to a computer, but some units also offer WiFi, Bluetooth, and HDMI connectivity.
Most drawing tablets require a connection to a computer, which runs the drawing software used with the tablet.
To provide a realistic interpretation of the artist’s work, a drawing tablet must be able to differentiate between light and heavy pressure from fingers or a pen.
Most drawing tablets can distinguish 1,024 levels of pressure. Some can determine up to 2,048 different levels. Additionally, not all tablets recognize finger touches; some require a pen.
If you want touch capability, be sure the tablet you choose includes this feature.
A tablet with finger-touch capability allows you to zoom in and out of your drawing.
Resolution of a graphics tablet is a little different from the resolution of a computer screen or television. Tablets are rated in lines per inch, or LPI. The higher the LPI measurement, the better resolution the tablet will have. Resolution for some tablets will be rated in dots per inch, more like a TV screen resolution.
Drawing tablets are available in many sizes. Smaller tablets are designed for portability, meaning it’s easy for artists to take them anywhere. Larger tablets are intended for use on a desktop. If you have a studio where you do a lot of work, a large, stationary tablet can be a nice option.
Many graphics tablets include a control panel that you access on the computer. You can customize various features, such as the levels of sensitivity for the tablet and pen.
Drawing tablets differ from all-purpose tablets such as iPads, the Kindle Fire, and Samsung Galaxy Tabs.
Sure, you could download an app that allows you to draw on an iPad, but a drawing tablet is designed specifically for art. It offers an extensive set of drawing tools and features — many more than you’d find in a drawing app.
Some tablets are designed for right- or left-handed people only, but most models can accommodate righties and lefties.
Pricier drawing tablets allow you to draw directly on the display screen. Cheaper drawing tablets don’t offer a display. Instead, you connect these tablets to a computer.
You draw on the surface of the graphics tablet, and your art appears on the computer screen. Since you look at the computer screen rather than the drawing surface, these types of tablets can be a little awkward to use until you’ve practiced a bit.
Other key differentiators of drawing tablet types include pressure sensitivity, price, display colors, and display resolution.
Placing heavy objects on the drawing tablet can cause damage to its sensors over time.
Most beginner-level tablets cost less than $75. At this level, they may be more appropriate as a toy for children than a tool for serious artists. However, you can find decent tablets for artists at this price level.
One reason beginner tablets cost less is that they typically offer low pressure sensitivity. They may be limited to 512 or fewer levels of sensitivity. With less-precise sensitivity measurements, a beginner tablet may not produce the most realistic results.
Also, beginner tablets don’t have built-in screens; you connect a beginner tablet to a computer.
Certain inexpensive drawing tablets are little more than toys, but they’re great for children.
Mid-level tablets offer a maximum resolution of 5,080 lines per inch.
A mid-level tablet recognizes at least 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity.
You’ll spend at least $75 for a mid-level tablet, with a maximum price tag around $400.
Like the beginner tablet, most mid-level tablets do not include a display screen; you connect the tablet to a computer. But a few mid-level drawing tablets do offer a display screen, allowing you to draw directly on the display. These tend to sit at the higher end of the price range.
Some graphics tablets have a stand in the back to adjust the angle at which the tablet rests.
Professional-level tablets must be able to measure at last 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. They also offer a minimum of 16.7 million individual display colors and a minimum screen resolution of 5,000 lines per inch.
Professional tablets typically cost a minimum of $400. These tablets are much more likely to include a built-in display screen than beginner- or mid-level tablets. Industrial units will cost $2,000 or more.
They may be built to withstand harsh conditions or feature larger sizes than other drawing tablets.
Q. What are the top drawing tablet brands?
A. Wacom is the best-known drawing tablet manufacturer, offering dozens of models. A few other brands worth considering include Huion, Turcom, Boogie Board, and Ugee.
Q. What is meant by “absolute positioning” on a drawing tablet?
A. “Absolute positioning” refers to the point of contact on the drawing tablet relative to the location on the computer screen. When a tablet offers absolute positioning and the stylus is placed in the upper right corner, the cursor on the computer monitor appears in the same spot. On the other hand, a computer mouse uses relative positioning. The mouse could be located at the edge of the mouse pad while the cursor appears anywhere on the computer screen.
Q. Can I purchase extra pens for my drawing tablet?
A. Most manufacturers offer extra pens for purchase. You should also be able to buy extra nibs. The nib is the rubbery point which makes contact with the drawing surface. Over time, the nib can wear down or break. You can replace the nib yourself with the right tools.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.