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Buying guide for Best tablets for art students

Once upon a time, an art tablet was a big, thick book of paper used for drawing or painting. Now, it’s a slim piece of advanced technology on which you can create illustrations and graphics, manipulate photos, and create animation. Instead of painting on paper and scanning the work into a computer, you draw directly on the tablet screen and use art software to configure your final work.

As you might imagine, there is a wide variety of styles, capabilities, and prices when it comes to tablets for art students. Whether you’re a hobbyist or an aspiring graphic design professional, it’s important to choose the right piece of equipment for the job.

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In a tablet, a larger “canvas” is helpful because you don’t have to keep zooming and panning to make larger illustrations.

Tablet type

Tablets for art students fall into two categories: tablet computers and graphics tablets.

Tablet computers

With these products, you draw directly on the screen using anything from your finger to a special pen or brush. It is just like drawing on a paper pad, giving you a realistic experience. These tablets have the benefit of being portable, which is useful for many work or classroom situations. They can also be loaded with apps for creating your projects, or you can send your files to a computer. Tablet computers are more expensive than graphics tablets and tend to be the technology of choice for professionals.

Price: For a top-end tablet computer, expect to pay between $200 and $500. If you splurge on a tablet with lots of memory and other capabilities, you’ll be out of pocket to the tune of about $1,700.

Graphics tablets

These tablets have a featureless flat screen that hooks up to your computer and monitor either by USB or wirelessly. You draw on the pad using a special stylus or pen and see the result on the monitor. There’s a bit of a disconnect between drawing and relating to what you’re seeing on the screen as you draw, which takes some getting used to. Graphics tablets are less portable than tablet computers because you need to be in range of the monitor. However, these are good introductory devices for many people because there are decent inexpensive models.

Price: You can get a basic graphics tablet for under $50, with most name brands in the $75 to $100 range.

Tablet features

Pressure sensitivity

This is a key factor when it comes to creating your art. The tablet captures both the motion and pressure on the screen, so the harder you press with the stylus, the thicker the stroke. Pressure can also adjust the transparency and even the color of the lines you put on the screen. The more refined and detailed you want your art to be, the more pressure sensitivity you need. The range is numbered from low (300) to high (3,000). A minimum of 1,024 pressure points is recommended, and most tablets today have at least 2,048, which is extremely effective for almost all applications.

Resolution

It’s no surprise that resolution differs between tablet brands, much like televisions. And just like TVs, it’s getting better all the time. Tablet resolution is measured in lines per inch (LPI), and the more there are, the higher the resolution. You need about 1,000 LPI for good resolution, and it improves up to 2,000 LPI, but anything more than that and you won’t really see a vast difference.

Report rate speed

Report rate speed, or reports per second (RPS), measures the responsiveness, or latency, of a tablet. This is the length of time between making a stroke and seeing the result on the screen. The less delay, the more natural drawing on the tablet will feel. An RPS of at least 200 is recommended, which means the tablet registers the command in 1/200 of a second — plenty fast enough for most mortals.

Function keys

Express keys, also known as “hot” keys, are useful for shortcut commands. Most graphics tablets have a few of these. Some tablets come with customizable buttons so you can adapt the device to your specific uses.

Drawing surface

How the pen feels as you draw is important and can affect an artist’s style. Some tablet surfaces are smooth, as you would expect, but some high-end models are textured so that it feels as though you’re drawing on paper.

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Did you know?
Battery-operated pens tend to be thicker because of the batteries inside.
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Tips

  • Check a tablet for right- or left-handed use. If you’re left-handed, make sure you can set up the tablet so you can use it comfortably.

  • Check that the tablet works with your operating system. Both graphics tablets and tablet computers are compatible with Windows and Apple computers, but check that the operating system that you’re running is supported, especially if you have an older computer.

  • Check that the tablet’s actual drawing area meets your needs. With a tablet, the screen size is all usable, but note that the dimensions given for a graphics tablet may be for the entire pad, including the bezel.
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Many tablets come with a pen, or stylus. You can upgrade and add more pens fairly inexpensively, and there is a wide choice of nibs, tips, and even erasers.

FAQ

Q. What software can I run with this kind of tablet?

A. Tablets are widely compatible with any program you use on your computer, such as Photoshop, Adobe Creative Suite, Painter, Clip Studio, Sketchbook, Zbrush, Gimp, Corel, and Krita. There are many drawing and graphics programs out there, so if you have a specific one you want to run, check the manufacturer’s website. As a bonus, some tablets also come with free downloadable software.

Q. How hard is it to set up a graphics tablet with my computer?

A. You need to install a driver, which can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. Make sure you do this before you plug in the tablet. If you’re upgrading from a previous tablet, you might have to uninstall any other drivers. Some top-end tablets also require the use of a graphics card to get the full spectrum of colors.

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