A drawing tablet allows you to use a stylus pen to create designs, make drawings, and edit photos directly on the tablet. It replaces the mouse pad and gives you a larger surface area to work with. Above all else, it gives you a more precise tool to create your art on. It is a must for any aspiring or professional artist.
There are a few different names that are used to describe drawing tablets:
- Graphics tablet
- Pen tablet
- Art table
These terms are interchangeable. When you hear these and others like “art tablet with screen”, you can think of them as the same thing.
3 Most Popular Tablets
USB Drawing Tablet
This is the basic type of drawing tablet. It is the type you are going to find if you are looking for the best cheap drawing tablets. It has a drawing pad which sits next to your computer and transfers the lines you draw on the pad onto the screen.
It connects through a USB cable or wirelessly. The wireless connection is not always as responsive, so we recommend keeping it plugged in while you use it to see the best results.
These types of electronic drawing tablets are usually the most simplistic. They do not have a lot of the added accessories and other functions that some of the most advanced tablets have.
Touchscreen Drawing Tablet
A drawing tablet allows you to draw directly on the screen. They come with multi-touch functionality so you can move the image around as you edit it.
If you want an example of this, simply load any drawing application up on your smartphone and test it out. Your smartphone is not going to be able to match what a drawing tablet can do, but it will give you an idea.
Portable Touchscreen Drawing Tablet
This is another touchscreen tablet that will give you the added benefit of portability. This is what you should look for if you want to be able to bring your work outside of your office.
If you like the idea of being able to take your work on your tablet outside, at coffee shops, or just have it with you anytime you need it, this is the best drawing tablet for you. These are generally the largest and most expensive types of tablets. They are intended for professional artists that work on projects regularly.
What to Look for in a Drawing Tablet
The Wacom Brand
Normally, this is the part where we would discuss the pros and cons of each of the major manufacturers. We’ll save you the time and tell you that there is only one brand to really consider – that is Wacom. Wacom is universally considered to be the best manufacturer of drawing tablets.
Before you ask, no, this isn’t a Wacom promotional article. They produce the highest quality tablets. Any other research you will find will tell you the same thing. There is nothing more to it.
Competitors sell drawing tablets as one of the many products that they offer, while Wacom focuses solely on drawing tablets. They innovate more and they create better-performing hardware. They stay on top of their driver updates better than other brands and they keep everything in-house. They are the ‘Apple’ of drawing tablets and it shows.
The right size tablet is largely going to depend on your preferences. There is no right or wrong size, only what you feel most comfortable with. We do, however, have some tips to keep in mind.
If you are using a USB drawing tablet, you should get the size that corresponds to the monitor that you will be using it on. This makes it easier to find the on-screen locations on your USB pad.
In general, look to match the USB drawing pad size to roughly one-third of the size of the monitor. For example, a 6-inch tablet is going to work well with an 18-inch monitor. Likewise, an 8-inch tablet would better suit a 24-inch monitor.
Note: This only matters if you will need to work on your art at the pixel level. You will have difficulty manipulating individual pixels in extreme cases such as using a 6-inch tablet paired with a 29-inch monitor.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
One of the many things that Wacom got right is how easy it is to navigate in and out of the image on display. You can easily zero in on different sections of the art and zoom in and out. These features make it possible to use a smaller size tablet just as effectively as a larger tablet.
If you are looking for a touchscreen drawing tablet, size isn’t going to matter as much since the monitor also serves as the screen itself. It comes down to what you prefer. The larger the screen is, the easier it is going to be to draw your art. You should also consider portability and comfort factors as well.
A Closer Look at the Stylus Pen
Don’t forget about the importance of the stylus pen. The stylus pen serves as the direct link between the artist and the tablet. A good stylus pen will feel better in your hand, and it will be more responsive to slight pressure and tilt changes.
The mouse is not an adequate substitute for a pen. There is no way to match the detail and precision that you can get through a pen using a mouse. The pen minimizes the distance from the artist’s hand to the drawing surface, resulting in a much more detailed drawing.
The reason these tablets have been able to replace the brush and canvas for many artists is due to how closely they resemble the real thing. Artists weren’t willing to switch over to drawing tablets until the technology was able to match what they were already using – a physical pen and paper.
The key technology that convinced artists to make the switch was the pressure and tilt sensitivity of the stylus pen. Pressure and tilt sensitivity allows the artist to manipulate their drawing based on the angle and how much pressure they place on the pen and tablet.
Some stylus pens will come with an eraser at the top of it. This mimics the instinct we have to flip over our pencil to erase a mistake. Without an eraser, you can simply switch to eraser mode through the software. With an eraser, you can flip your pen around and erase automatically, which for some reason is a satisfying feeling. This is a feature to consider, but it is not necessary to have.
Multi-touch allows you to rotate and zoom in and out of the image using your fingers. The “multi” in “multi-touch” refers to the ability to recognize two touch points simultaneously. It works the same as the touch screen on your smartphone.
Some people like the convenience of this feature and others feel that it gets in the way. We wouldn’t recommend for or against this feature. It comes down to your personal preferences.
Shortcut keys will save you time. They will save you a few seconds here and a few seconds there. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up to minutes for short projects and hours for larger ones.
This makes a big difference for professional artists that are charging by the project and need to stay mindful of the amount of time they spend on them. Simply put, the faster you can finish a project, the more money you can make. Focusing on speed pays for itself.
You can program these keys to do anything. A simple click of a button will perform the specified input that you set instantaneously.
Not all drawing tablets have these keys. The cheaper tablets generally don’t. We do recommend that you make use of these keys. If you are going to use your electronic drawing tablet a lot,make sure it comes equipped with the shortcut keys before you buy one.
Most tablets will have around 4 shortcut keys, but you can find tablets that have up to 8 or more.
This is a different type of shortcut key that will allow you to scroll through specific options. It allows you to quickly flip through different pen types or other options, which are all programmable. The shortcut wheel is not as common to find. It mainly shows up in larger tablet sizes.
What Is the Best Drawing Tablet for Me?
For Beginning and Aspiring Artists
If you are just starting out, go with something more affordable. This will allow you to introduce yourself to drawing tablets and learn as you go without requiring a huge upfront investment. The cheapest options are the smaller USB tablets.
For the Long-Time Hobbyist / Part-Time Professional
If you are more serious about your drawing tablet, you should consider taking the next step up and look for an intermediate tablet. Look for larger tablets that offer higher resolutions, shortcut keys and touchscreen capabilities. A better model will allow you to create higher quality work in a shorter amount of time.
The Full-Time Professional Artists
If you are a professional graphic artist that will be using your drawing tablet a lot, this is the place where you should spare no expense. The top level tablets take the intermediate versions and improve on those features even further with more shortcut keys, improved hardware, and portability options. They will run you upwards of $1,500+ but it is well worth it if you are going to spend a lot of time on it.
The price will vary based on the brand, the size and the features of your drawing tablet. USB drawing tablets will tend to be the most affordable type, while touchscreen tablets will sell for more.
On the low end, cheap drawing tablets will run up to $100. From there, you can find models that go as high as $2,000 or more.
The Wacom brands, which we recommend above all else, start at $79.95 for the small USB tablets and go up to $1,799.00 for the high-end models.
You will be able to find off-brand drawing tablets outside this range, but as we mentioned above, we don’t recommend anything outside of the Wacom brand. Below, we have a tablet compare chart that outlines the differences.
Intuos Pro and Intuos Table Comparison
|Wacom Type||Intuos||Intuos Pro|
|Pen Pressure||1024 Levels||2048 Levels|
|Pen Tilt Sensitive?||No||Yes|
|Shortcut Keys||4||8 + Wheel|
|Resolution||2,540 lpi||5,080 lpi|
Pen Pressure Sensitivity
All Wacom tablets allow for pen pressure sensitivity. The Intuos model comes with 1024 pressure levels and the Pro version doubles that at 2048 levels. 1024 is good for most projects; however, 2048 is going to show for highly detailed art.
When you tilt the pen, you can create a different type of line. This feature lets you manipulate the thickness of the line. You can go thicker at the top and thinner at the bottom or vice versa.
The precision mode allows you to disable the pen tilt function, which is useful for times where you want to create solid fine lines.
A higher resolution will allow you to create more detailed work. If you will be working down to a pixel-to-pixel level, a higher resolution will be beneficial for that. You can work at the pixel level with the 2,540 lpi resolution, but there will be some shortcomings in the way it is displayed, which could reflect in the end product.
Light and Simple for Beginners
For those that are looking to keep it simple, we recommend the Intuos Draw CTL-490. This tablet is 6” x 3.7”. It’s small, it covers all of the basics and best of all, it is cheap. It is perfect for beginners and people that are looking for an affordable and convenient drawing tablet. It is our beginners drawing tablet of choice.
For the Professionals
If you are looking for the best drawing tablet, it has to be the Cintiq Companion 2line. This is a touchscreen and portable drawing tablet that maxes out on every feature you could ask for. It has a 2048 level pressure sensitivity and tilt pen feature, it is multi-touch enabled, and it has plenty of shortcut keys and a shortcut wheel to help you get your projects done quickly.
They offer 4 types:
i) Intel Core i3 64 GB
Best for basic drawing
ii) Intel Core i5 128 GB
Best for drawing and illustrations
iii) Intel Core i7 256 GB
Best for 2D animation and graphic design
iv) Intel Core i7 512 GB
Best for 3D Painting and Sculpting and motion graphics