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Hakubaikou's FAQ and Random Stuff
Greetings, and welcome to my journal. There really isn't much here. I'm one of the dedicated moderators. I mostly hang out in the Art Discussion forum. If you really absolutely must know more about me, feel free to see the About Me entry in my journal. Link is listed below.

A few links....
  • hakubaikou.com - My Rurouni Kenshin fan works site. Also home to an annual Ruroken art contest I hold each summer.
  • hakubaikou.deviantart.com - DA account. Seems like everyone has one. I'm no different.
  • art arena - My pics in the arena. I haven't uploaded there in a while....
  • art request - My Rurouni Kenshin fanart request thread. If you're an artist who does originally styled fanart, or if you're just a fan of Rurouni Kenshin, please do drop by.

Journal Index:

Digital Art Tools: Tablets
Updated July 2007

Questions about tablets are pretty frequent among people who are interested in learning about computer art. Some people seem to think tablets will magically make their artwork better. Others wonder if they cost a lot and if they're worth the money. Still others have no idea whatsoever as to what they are. Hopefully, I can answer most of your questions here.

Please note: This article is intended for readers of a variety ages and cg experience levels. I do apologize if the level is a bit too easy for advanced readers.

What is a tablet?

A tablet is a piece of equipment that digital artists use to draw pictures directly on their computer. It is usually a flat piece of plastic board that hooks up to your computer similar to the way your keyboard or mouse does. It's usually less than half an inch thick, and it comes in various sizes.

An artist uses a tablet pen (also called a stylus) to draw on their tablet. The tablet senses the position and pressure of the tablet pen and translates that information into whatever drawing program the artist is using. The final result is a picture on the computer monitor that matches what was drawn on the surface of the tablet.

If you're going to draw with a tablet, you must have a computer art program that supports use of tablets. Most of the common programs are fine. Oekaki boards also work fine with tablets. The tablets themselves often come with free software.

For pictures of tablets, check out some of the models at the Wacom (a brand of tablets) site. Click here.

What does it feel like to use a tablet?

Using a tablet feels similar to using a paper and pen, but it's not exactly the same. The biggest difference is that your eye is not looking at the same place that you're drawing. You have to look at your computer monitor while you're drawing, and for some people, this feels a little weird at first.

(There are some tablets that are similar to laptops. They have a monitor on the plastic, and they let you draw directly on the monitor so that your eye is looking at the same place that your hand is drawing. These tablets are extremely expensive though.)

Many tablets are very sensitive and are quite good at simulating the experience of drawing, but they're not perfect yet. It's still not as easy to control. For instance, I've been drawing with a tablet for years now, and I still don't have the control to write my name neatly in cursive unless I do so at a really large size. When I draw with my tablet, I have to draw things at a larger size and then shrink them down. I do this because drawing at a larger size makes it easier to control the tablet pen. It's difficult to draw at a small or normal size with a tablet pen.

A few other differences: 1.) You can't rotate a tablet like you sometimes rotate a piece of paper while drawing. 2.) The distance your hand moves does not necessarily equal the distance of the line on the computer. In other words, it's possible to move your hand 1 inch and end up with a line on the monitor that looks 4 inches long. The size differences depend on the size of your tablet, the size of your monitor, and the size at which you're viewing your picture. 3.) The surface of a tablet feels more slippery when you're drawing. Some people fix this problem by putting a piece of paper on their tablet so that their tablet pen has a rougher surface to draw on.

Is a tablet easier to use than a mouse?

For most (but not all) people, yes, tablets seem to be easier to use than a mouse ONCE THEY GET USED TO IT. It takes time to learn how to use a tablet. When you first get one, some people will be lucky if they can draw a decent looking stick figure. Tablets take a bit of time to get used to. Some people get used to them within hours. Other people take weeks. It depends on the individual. Once you get used to it, a tablet makes drawing on the computer easier and much faster.

Just because a tablet is easier to use, does not mean that it will automatically make all your computer pictures better. A tablet will not change the skill level of the artist. For me personally, I find that my tablet-drawn pictures look the same as my mouse-drawn ones. People can't tell when I used which tool for which picture. For some people, tablet drawn pictures look slightly better mostly because they don't have the same discomfort using a tablet as they do with a mouse. Therefore, they can spend more time and effort on tablet-drawn pictures. For still other people, tablet-drawn pictures really are better than their mouse-drawn ones because they find tablets easier to control. But even if it is better, it's usually only slightly better. Don't expect a miraculous change in your art skills.

One of the biggest differences between tablet and mouse is comfort. Many people get hand cramps when they draw with a mouse for prolonged periods. Most people find it much more comfortable and pain-free to use a tablet if they draw for long periods at a time.

Another difference is that a tablet allows for pressure-sensitivity (in other words, if you press lighter, the line looks lighter, and if you press harder, the line looks thicker and darker). You can't get that with a mouse.

Is a tablet worth buying? And if so, what kind should I get?

Whether or not it's worth the money to get a tablet really depends on you as an artist. Do you draw a lot? Do you plan on doing computer art a lot? If so, then yes, maybe it's worth it to buy a tablet. But if you aren't really serious about drawing much, then obviously, it's a waste of money to get one.

As for size of the tablet, that depends on several factors. An obvious one would be, how much room do you have on your desk? If you're in a tiny little dorm room with a desk the size of a food tray, then you're obviously going to do better getting a smaller sized one. If you tend to draw using tiny, precise strokes, get a small tablet. If you want something portable, get a small tablet. If you have the table space, and you plan on doing really large format pictures, then a larger size one might be beneficial for you. Likewise, if you're used to drawing with large strokes, get a larger tablet.

As for which model to get, it depends on what kind of art you're doing and on how much you can afford. As far as Wacom brand tablets go, older models tend to have slightly less pressure sensitivity. Their resolution (think of it as picture quality) is also slightly lesser than that of newer models. However, I know of many excellent artists who have older models, and they say that the differences (especially in pressure sensitivity) aren't too noticeable unless you're doing pictures that require a great deal of detail or pressure sensitivity. Beginner artists or artists that specialize in cel-shading probably won't notice the differences much.

Brand new tablets can cost anywhere from $60 to over $2000 dollars depending on the brand of the tablet, the size, and how old the model is. Most on-line artists I've met seem to agree that Wacom brand tablets are the most reliable. The cheapest Wacom model on their official website is $99 (as of Dec 2006). Newer versions and larger sizes will cost you more. There are other brands out there, but I've heard artists complain about them breaking down relatively soon. Either that, or their tablets require battery packs that run out of juice fairly frequently. Of the other brands, I'm afraid I am not sure which ones are good. I have heard from one artist that her Hanvon brand tablet works nicely, and that she is very happy with hers. It was cheaper than a Wacom model, and she recommends it if you can't afford a Wacom. Ultimately, you'd have to do your own researching to find out about other brands.

You can probably find cheaper tablets on eBay or other similar sites. But if you get one from there, make sure it comes with all the necessary accessories. For Wacom brand tablets, most of the required software can be downloaded from their site.

Many artists that I've met on-line use either a Wacom Graphire or a Wacom Intuos tablet. I've heard that both are very good, and that the advantages of the Intuos over a Graphire are noticeable, but pretty slight. I personally use a Wacom Intuos2. It's not the newest model Wacom has, but it suits my purposes fine.

Speaking strictly for myself.... Yup, a good tablet is worth the money. As someone who draws on the computer almost every day, I find it very useful. (I love my tablet!) I think for people who plan on drawing a lot on the computer, a tablet is a good thing to get. However, it's not an absolute necessity. I drew with a mouse for 7 years before I ever got a tablet, and my mouse-drawn pictures don't look all that different from my tablet-drawn pics.

For those of you considering buying a tablet, I hope this was at least somewhat helpful. If you have any further questions regarding tablets, please PM me. I don't always check for responses here, so if you post a comment, I might miss it.

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