Graphics Tablet: How to Choose the Best Graphics Tablet with a Screen in 2021 and Alternatives to Wacom

What is a graphics tablet with a screen?

Graphics tablets, also known as pen tablets or graphics tablets, are input devices that can be used to replace or complement a mouse. They are very popular in the field of graphic arts and are considered by some to be an indispensable tool for professionals in the creative field.

The Wacom Intuos M – (See price on amazon) replaces the Intuos Pro Medium – (See price on amazon) as my top recommendation of the best graphics tablet for most users. It’s a really capable product that can perform well in professional work environments as long as you don’t need tilt support, multi-touch input, and you’re not using a 4K monitor or more than one monitor. For those cases, the Wacom Intuos Pro M is still the best option.

What is a graphics tablet used for?

Graphics tablets can be used for most creative content production needs such as illustration, photography, 3D modeling, animation, graphic design, etc. Most professional programs in these areas offer advanced ink support and can recognize and use pen pressure and even tilt on more advanced models like Wacom’s Intuos Pro line.

Touching the surface of the tablet with the tip of the stylus is the equivalent of clicking, while the pressure and tilt of the stylus can be used to vary stroke thickness, opacity, effect intensity, and other attributes. There are buttons on the pen that can be programmed as right click or other commands.

Most importantly, working with a graphics tablet is faster and more efficient than with a mouse. YOUR hand can move from one point to another on the screen with just one movement instead of repeated swipes like with a conventional mouse or trackpad. In addition, it also allows a more natural entry into activities such as drawing or retouching photos.

Why is using a pencil better than using a mouse?

Holding a pen is much more ergonomic than using a mouse, and most users with repetitive motion injuries or tendonitis experience less pain when using a tablet. In my personal case, it completely cured a chronic pain that I had in my right wrist. I have been using a Wacom tablet exclusively for the last 20 years and I would not be able to use a mouse again.

Working with a mouse requires repetitive muscle movements while the rest of the hand is held still, creating uneven muscle fatigue. A pencil allows you to work in a more relaxed position and eliminates the forearm twist that strains the tendons and muscles. In the end, it feels much more natural and relaxing.

The Wacom Intuos Pro Medium Graphics Tablet – ( See price on amazon ) (PTH-660, released January 2017) is our top pick for all fields of professional creative content creation – such as design, illustration, video, and photography. The medium size has enough resolution to handle screens of any common size. Including 4K and 5K LCDs over 30 inches. For a cheaper alternative, take a look at the Intuos Medium with Bluetooth ( See price on amazon ) (model CTL-6100WL).

Areas where graphics tablets don’t work as well.

There are some areas where even the best graphics tablets are not the ideal input device.

Most games do not perform very well with ink, as their interfaces were specifically designed to be controlled by the mouse. Consider controlling a game of first person shooter with a pencil. It definitely doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In the fields of architecture and engineering there is a division: some users love graphics tablets, and some basically hate it because the mouse wheel is very useful for zooming in CAD programs and Wacom tablets have this feature on the tablet surface. , which requires you to put down your pencil to use it. Pressure sensitivity is also ignored in these programs, leaving aside one of the main features of the tablet. On the other hand, the more ergonomic position and programmable buttons could more than make up for all this.

Wacom recently introduced an optional pen designed specifically for 3D programs. The Wacom Pro Pen 3D – compatible with current Intuos Pro, Cintiq Pro, and MobileStudio models – swaps the pressure-sensitive eraser button on the back for an additional customizable button that can be mapped to any instruction in your application. It’s not a huge improvement compared to the regular Pro Pen, but the extra button can come in handy when you’re navigating 3 axes of motion in a 3D design program.

Use a pencil in conjunction with a regular mouse

When we consulted with other photographers and designers, I frequently found people who use a mouse for general computer use and switch to a tablet and pen for creative work programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, or design applications. Note that Wacom drivers work well together with a mouse, and both devices do not interfere with each other.

I personally made the switch entirely to ink almost 20 years ago, ditting the mouse, and have never regretted it. I use my Intuos Pro Medium for everything and have an Intuos Medium to travel with my laptop. It’s no coincidence, these are the most comprehensive models in Wacom’s lineup and my top recommendations for top users.

Can touch devices replace pencil tablets?

I doubt it. Not being very thoughtful about UI design, I think we won’t be able to achieve the same finger drawing precision to replace tablets. The two technologies are complementary and Wacom offers models that incorporate touch control. This gives you the best of both worlds: control with your fingers and gestures for quick transitions between windows, menu and icon selection, as well as a pencil for actions where precision and especially pressure sensitivity are indispensable.

Be aware that touch input can be an overrated feature in some cases. Laptop users, for example, already have a good trackpad or touchscreen at their disposal, mitigating the need for multi-touch input on the tablet itself. When it comes to stylus displays, sometimes touch input can interfere with your work and with the stylus, even with the incredible elimination of palm touches on newer Wacom models. The Cintiq Pro 24 with multi-touch costs € 500 more than its regular cousin and I would personally choose a non-touch version for my work.

Which graphics tablet should I buy?

Wacom is still the best brand for drawing tablets, but also consider the less expensive alternatives.

Wacom continues to offer the best graphics tablets on the market, but the competition has been heating up in recent years and we can now find good quality graphics tablets at a good price from a variety of brands such as Huion, XP-Pen, Artisul, Gaomon, Monoprice, Ugee and Yiynova.

Unlike most of the competition, Wacom pens use a patented electromagnetic resonance (EMR) technology, so they do not need batteries or cables to operate, reducing weight and maintenance to have a more natural pencil feel. The most notable difference is not the absence of a battery. Actually, today the batteries in pens from other brands last so long that it is not a real problem and both XP-Pen and Huion offer models with EMR pens without battery.

What really sets Wacom graphics tablets apart from the rest is better pen precision, with improved pressure transitions, and fewer wavy diagonal lines than the competition. Wacom tablets tend to be supported longer and have better drivers and third-party integration than adversary brands, making them a long-lasting investment.

I have always recommended Wacom tablets since the first version of this guide, 7 years ago. But the landscape has been slowly changing in recent years, especially in the pen display and tablet markets. Wacom’s Cintiq Pro and MobileStudio lineup now find greater competition in budget brands, Microsoft Surface tablets, and even the iPad with the optional Apple Pencil.

As these devices drop in price, creative professionals may be tempted to migrate from a traditional graphics tablet (Intuos) or pen display (Cintiq Pro) to a full tablet that integrates pen, screen, and computer into one device. This makes perfect sense for illustrators as all-in-one devices combine portability with the convenience of working directly on a canvas. The power of laptops has increased and tablet computers can now replace laptops in most tasks.

Wacom updated its tablet computer models in 2019: the MobileStudio Pro 13 (13.3-inch) – ( See price on amazon ), and the MobileStudio Pro 16 (15.6-inch) – ( See price on amazon ). The larger model offers a UHD (3840 x 2160) display with a better color gamut. Covering 94% of the Adobe RGB color space. They both come with Intel i7 processors, 16GB of RAM, and 516GB of storage.

The Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 – ( See price on amazon ) is an illustrator’s dream come true: a large 24-inch canvas with very little parallax, 4K resolution, wide color gamut, and the latest pen technology.

In addition to this, the Cintiq Pro Models 24 and 32 can accept an optional computational module called the Wacom Cintiq Pro Engine. This module turns the pen display into a Windows 10 upgradeable workstation. It’s not really portable as it lacks battery power, but it’s a much more convenient solution than lugging a desktop computer around. These modules are expensive, but offer professional hardware in a compact package, which can be interesting for users in professional environments.

It’s a tough market for Wacom as larger companies like Microsoft can afford to iterate faster between hardware versions. It took Microsoft 6 years to launch seven new Surface Pro models and its most recent version, the Surface Pro 7 – ( See price on amazon ) is quite a tempting alternative in the field of graphics tablets.

In 2020, Wacom continues to produce the best dedicated drawing devices while Surface tablets are better as general-purpose computers and nothing can beat the iPad – ( See price on amazon ) with Apple Pencil – ( See price on amazon ) at in terms of low price, ease of use, and convenience, although it lacks integration and access to professional workflows.

Best inexpensive graphics tablets and alternatives to Wacom.

On the front of traditional graphics tablets, if you’re on a tight budget and can’t reach the $ 200 range to buy an Intuos M with bluetooth, you can take a look at the XP-Pen Deco 03 model – ( See price on amazon ) at the range of € 100, and the Deco 01 – ( See price in amazon ), in the range of € 60. Both models are highly rated, offer better specs and hardware as well much better hardware build quality than much less than a similar Wacom product. If your budget allows it, I still think the Intuos M is a better long-term investment.

Best Wacom Graphics Tablets in 2020

Here are our top picks in each of the Wacom product lines. These are the models that we believe are the most competitive and updated, representing the best quality / price ratio for all creative professionals.

Graphics Tablets – Intuos and Intuos Pro

· Intuos Pro Medium PTH-660 model, launched in 2017

· This is the most complete model of all Wacom pen tablets. It has the right combination of size, resolution, and features to suit most users and screen configurations. The quality of the hardware is excellent and based on the record of my own Wacom tablets, it should last for several years of daily use.

· Intuos Medium CTL-6100WL model, launched in 2018

· The regular line from Intuos offers excellent value for first-time graphics tablet users or anyone on a budget. It is well made, very light and thin, with enough resolution to work well on large 2560-pixel wide screens. It’s also a great travel companion for users who already have a Pro model at their main workstation and want a more portable alternative for travel.

Which models to avoid

Please note that Intuos small models are not among our recommended purchases for creative work. The small footprint combined with the lower resolution makes it difficult to achieve the cursor precision needed for creative work, especially with high-resolution displays. Those models are best suited for general computer work, handwriting recognition, and educational purposes.

Intuos vs Intuos Pro

Although the regular Intuos offers great features for its price, there are a few key differences that allow the Pro model to stand out. If you are choosing between the two and have enough budget to afford the Pro model, take some time to understand if any of these features would be important in your particular case.

· Support tilt

· Needed to correctly simulate the shape of natural brushes, making it a necessary feature for illustrators working on programs that simulate natural media. The incline offers much more natural results in those cases where there is no software shortcut to achieve it.

· Multi – touch input

· If you are a desktop computer user, you will most likely miss having touch support for gestures and operating system navigation. The quality of the touch input on an Intuos Pro is not on par with the best trackpads, but it is very good and is useful for zooming, page down, and switching between windows as you work.

· Higher resolution

  • Wacom did not stand still when computer screens began to increase in resolution. Today’s graphics tablets offer quite high resolutions and even the regular Intuos can handle high resolutions with excellent cursor precision. The Intuos M, for example, can use up to 2,450 lines per inch, which translates to 21,600 x 13,500 dots on its surface. Pro models have twice the resolution, with 5080 lpi and a slightly larger active area. Compared to a typical screen resolution, this is quite a lot.
  • In practice, I am comfortable using the Intuos M tablet on a screen of up to 30 inches with 2560 x 1600 pixels. At this resolution, the Pro model felt a bit more accurate, but the regular was still quite usable. This is higher than the current resolution of a 5K iMac using its native retina-like scaling, which is equivalent to a 2560 x 1440 screen. Build quality and accessories
  • Users with 4K displays with their native 3840 x 2160 resolution or multiple displays should invest in an Intuos Pro M model, as the difference in resolution becomes quite apparent in those cases and the regular Intuos M model does not offer much precision for critical work. .

· Quality construction and accessories

The Intuos Pro is better built and feels like a luxurious product in the hand. It is built like a tank and should last for years of professional use. The Pro lineup also offers more accessories, such as optional pencils, nibs, and foils in different surface textures.

Choosing the correct size of graphics tablet

Tablet size and resolution vs screen size

Tablet sizes should be relative to your own screen and resolution. The smaller the surface of the tablet, the less hand movement is required to move the cursor on the screen. Having a tablet too small for your screen leads to a jumping cursor and makes precise selections difficult. A tablet too large for your screen feels slow, requiring more hand movement, and could tire your arm muscles more quickly.

Tablet resolution is also a factor. The regular Intuos model has half the resolution of the flagship Intuos Pro and this difference can be quite noticeable, depending on the size of your screen. Given the same tablet size, the higher the resolution, the larger the screen that can be used comfortably.

Larger tablets, such as the 16.8 “x 11.2” (430 x 287 mm) models, such as the Intuos Pro Large – ( See price on amazon ), are difficult to use in conjunction with a keyboard and are often better suited for unique tasks where typing is secondary, for example video editing or drawing. If you are an illustrator and you like to draw with very long brush strokes, a larger drawing area might be necessary. For most artists, a medium-sized tablet is the perfect spot.

For dual monitor use, keep in mind that the overall aspect ratio of the screen is much more horizontal than the tablet itself. Through the system preferences configuration panel the tablet can be configured for different screen proportions, individual screen mode, or screen switching with a shortcut key. The most natural way, in my opinion, is to keep the screen ratio exactly the same as that of the tablet’s surface. If you use dual screens, this means that part of the vertical area of ​​the tablet will be inactive and that the available horizontal resolution will be mapped to a greater number of pixels – for example, 3840 x 1080 for two 1080p 24-inch monitors. This would require a larger drawing area than a single screen, and preferably a can tablet like the Intuos Pro Medium and Large model. An alternative that works well is to use a smaller tablet and set up a shortcut key combination to control between both screens, but doing this creates some confusion when dragging objects from one screen to the other.

My favorite keyboard to use with a Wacom tablet is the Logitech K810 (PC) or K811 (Mac), because it is small in size and fits nicely on either side of my tablet. A full-size keyboard could be too large to be used alongside a tablet larger than an Intuos Pro Medium, leaving the tablet a long way from the center position. Some users prefer to place the keyboard in front of the tablet. This layout works best if you don’t need to use the keyboard a lot while working and it’s not my preferred working position.

Pay attention to the tablet size you choose – having a tablet too small for your screen feels imprecise and makes small selections difficult. A tablet too large for your screen feels slow, requiring a lot of hand movement, and could tire you out faster.

Retina displays and resolution scaling

Always consider the effective resolution of your screen, and not the hardware resolution, when choosing the right graphics tablet model and size. For example, although an Apple MacBook Pro 13 ”has a native resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels, the recommended and default scaled resolution of the operating system varies between 1680 x 1050 to 1440 x 900 pixels. This is within the range of a regular Intuos Medium model.

First days with your new graphics tablet

Working with a tablet is a paradigm shift and may require an adaptation period for mouse addicts.

All graphics tablets work with absolute positioning, while mice are relative positioning devices. This means that you can slide the mouse multiple times to move the cursor around the screen, whereas on a tablet all you do is move your hand and place the pen tip at the corresponding point on the surface of the tablet. This changes the coordination of your hands with your eyes and can be a bit confusing at first.

I bought my first Wacom Graphire 4 ”x 5” model, circa 1998, after having suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome for a long time. No matter what treatment I used, I always felt pain after using my mouse for extended periods of time, so adjusting to a new input device was less painful than sticking with the mouse.

My tablet arrived in the middle of a book design and I started using it instantly, leaving the mouse disconnected. You can use a mouse alongside your tablet, but my reasoning was that the more I forced myself to get used to the tablet, the faster I would master it. After two days of work, I was comfortable with the tablet and 20 years after that day I have not used a mouse again.

A glimpse into the future

At 40, I am older than the average twenty-somethings who work in creative studios around the world. I come from an era where screens were monochrome and there was no Snapchat and no internet. How awful!

Although I love desktop computers and focus on tools that allow me to do things as efficiently as possible, I must admit that the world is moving towards mobile devices and playing with the amazing technological toys we have today can be a excellent creative experience.

People and companies (I’m watching you, Apple) are ditching desktops and this trend is no different in the market for tablets and pens. We’re transitioning from pen input devices and pen displays to full tablets that bring together computer, screen, touch input, and pen input all on the same device. This makes perfect sense for the general public and especially illustrators, who now have the freedom to produce work anywhere if you are tethered to a computer.

On the other hand, there is no point trying to use a tablet computer, even a powerful one, for video editing, web design, 3D animation, print design, or even digital photography. Those are areas that benefit not only from ink, but also raw processing power and workflows that favor integration between different programs, quick storage, and multiple professionals working simultaneously on a project. In those cases, desktops offer much more for the same price, and better workflow integration options.

In other words, I would not abandon my desktop computer and my Intuos Pro (or Cintiq Pro) for an iPad, although I highly recommend an iPad for illustrators, comic artists, or students who want to get into the creative field.

Keep in mind that none of the companies that occupy this large market are standing still.

I recognize Wacom as a company that moves fast, experiences a lot, and thinks outside the box, although this sometimes leads to a confusing product lineup. This is an excellent quality coming from a large company. Their recently improved lineup of tablets, the MobileStudio Pro, is a well-received device that plugs the gaps between mobile devices and traditional ink.

Microsoft offers the best laptop replacement tablets on the market. The n-Trig technology used for ink input is not up to Wacom’s gold standard, but it has been improving rapidly and the Surface Pro 7 is an excellent device, capable of replacing the traditional desktop and Cintiq Pro combo in many cases. Microsoft made big improvements to pen latency, initial activation force, and overall accuracy in this latest version.

Apple is another major player. The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil launches were met with some skepticism from professional users – myself included – but it has proven to be a valid alternative for digital illustration. The iPad excels in usability and is a much lighter and more portable package than even a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, not to mention the huge price difference. A seventh-generation iPad combo – ( See price on amazon ) + an Apple Pencil – ( See price on amazon ), can be had at half the price of a Surface Pro 7 and a third of the less expensive Wacom Mobile Studio Pro.

The iOS ecosystem favors newbies and thinkers and innovators, offering programs like Procreate, and FiftyThree’s Paper, for drawing, or even Astropad, which makes the iPad a replacement for the Wacom Cintiq. Traditional software companies are also investing in this market. Take a look at Autodesk’s SketchBook and Adobe’s options that turn iPads into secondary devices for the Creative Suite.

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