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Post by 4hams on Thu Sep 30, 2010 8:49 am

Before You Buy a Graphics Tablet

Graphics Tablet Features and Advantages
By Sue Chastain, Guide

If you're a budding graphic artist, you may have been told that a graphics tablet can benefit you. This article discusses the 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? Before You Buy a Graphics Tablet Graphics Tablet Features and Advantages Wacom-I36x8

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 you 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". Until recently, the popular sizes of graphics tablets have been 4x5, 6x8, and 9x12 which matches up neatly to the 4:3 aspect ratio of traditional computer monitors. But starting in the mid-2000s there has been a proliferation of widescreen aspect ratio monitors. Because of this, Wacom has begun producing wide-format graphics tablets to better correspond with the aspect ratio of widescreen monitors and for users working with multiple monitors. Although it's nice, it's not necessary that your graphics tablet match the aspect ratio of your monitor, because the tablet software takes care of the mapping. Personally, I use a 6x8 tablet with dual monitors and it works fine. Currently, Wacom and Aiptek are the only manufacturers I know of producing wide-format graphics tablets.


The interface is how your tablet connects to your computer. Most tablets these days have a USB interface which is ideal since most computers in use today support 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 a very old computer that does not support USB, you'll need to choose a tablet with a serial interface. If you need 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.
Bluetooth is another option for connecting a graphics tablet to your computer without the use of wires. Bluetooth is a wireless protocol frequently used for connecting electronics devices. Currently, Wacom is the only manufacturer I know of producing a Bluetooth-capable tablet, the Graphire Bluetooth, which can connect to your computer without wires.

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 Before You Buy a Graphics Tablet Graphics Tablet Features and Advantages Wacom-Bamboo-sm

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 also 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 and Corel Painter Essentials are the titles most commonly bundled with graphics tablets. Some tablet manufacturers also bundle handwriting recognition software for converting hand written notes into text, although this is less common now that handwriting recognition is built into Windows Vista and Mac OS X.

Other considerations

Some tablets have a transparent overlay on the the surface that can be lifted up to slide a photo or piece of artwork underneath for tracing. 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 with 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 a pen is 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 solitaire for a little while using the pen and tablet. If you have Windows Vista, Inkball is another fun game that can help you get used to using a 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.

Before You Buy a Graphics Tablet Graphics Tablet Features and Advantages DigiPro_WP8060 Before You Buy a Graphics Tablet Graphics Tablet Features and Advantages Aiptek-Slim-Tablet

Full story can be read here.
Old Father Time
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