Okay, so you’ve read a bunch of articles about graphics tablets, watched lots of videos, and diligently done your research. You feel confident that you know everything there is to know about how graphics tablets work, and you’re ready to endure the learning curve that they entail. Now you just have to walk out and buy one, right?
You still feel hesitant.
Whether you’re getting a graphics tablet, a drawing tablet, or in fact a touchscreen laptop, that’s orders of magnitude more expensive, you’re going to spend quite a bit of money. After you make that initial capital investment, you’ll have to invest time and effort learning how to use it and get good at it. Considering how much work and money you have to put in, there’s a nagging question at the back of your mind:
Is it worth it?
It’s an understandable concern, and we believe it’s one that every serious artist has had when they considered the move into the world of graphics and drawing tablets. In this article, we’re going to give that concern some serious consideration. And while we are as much a fan of graphics tablets as the next guy, we’ll try to approach the question from different angles, even giving reasons why getting a graphics tablet might not be the best idea for you, depending on your unique situation.
Let’s dive in!
How useful are they?
Graphics tablets can be extremely useful, depending on the things you’re trying to do.
They increase your speed
Depending on the type of work you’re doing, you might find that working with a graphics tablet is much faster to work with than pencil and paper, or even a mouse.
I started my drawing journey with pencil and paper, and got really good at it. I could come up with fairly detailed sketches in a heartbeat (well, not exactly, unless it’s a really long heartbeat, but you catch my drift), and doing full drawings went from taking several hours to just a couple. I felt like I was getting pretty fast.
But there were naturally limitations to this. Most of the time, making mistakes would set me back, since I would either have to figure out how to draw over them or start over, and I had to do a lot of things manually, like rendering my drawings.
With a graphics tablet, as soon as I got good at it, I discovered a wealth of tools that cut my working time in half. I could edit mistakes out in a snap and layer alterations on top of each other without having to discard my work.
This speed was apparent, even compared to using a mouse to do illustrations on a computer. A graphics tablet feels more natural than a mouse, and allows for more dexterity. Die-hard mouse users won’t agree with me, of course, as they have probably grown very adept at using a mouse to draw. However, even the best mouse users tend to get faster if they switch to a drawing tablet.
Another huge advantage of using a graphics tablet is that your work becomes more accurate overall. The same range of tools that makes it possible for you to work faster also makes it possible for you to make fewer mistakes. Now, there is a downside to this, which I’ll talk about later, but there are also huge benefits, including the ability to produce higher quality work. This is useful for artists as well as graphics designers.
While drawing by hand is great, and a deeply rewarding activity, it has the downside that bringing out the exact image you want to bring out on paper can sometimes be difficult. Either you haven’t mastered the right technique, or you just don’t have that particular mix of colors.
That can be quite frustrating.
One of the greatest reasons I got into drawing was that my head was swimming with ideas, and I felt like I had to materialize as many of them as I could. For me, drawing was the perfect outlet. It allowed me to see the products of my imagination outside of my mind for once, and it allowed me to get there easily and in an enjoyable way. However, it wasn’t always possible to quite do what I wanted, or bring out the effect I felt was best, and that was very frustrating.
A graphics tablet allowed me to do that. I could use the wide range of colors to come up with any color mix I wanted, and layer things on each other to render my drawings however I liked. The possibilities were suddenly endless, and my skill level was no longer the ceiling.
What are they used for?
Part of answering the question of whether graphics tablets are worth it or not is talking about what they are most useful for. They are tools, just like any other tools, and so they are more suited to some tasks than others.
If you like to draw by hand, then a graphics tablet will suit you just fine. They come with a blank canvas and a stylus that mimics a pencil (or pen or brush or pretty much whatever else you might use to put marks on paper). These are meant to mimic the same tools you use while drawing.
As drawing tools, graphics tablets make it possible for you to do practically anything, even stuff that you might have found difficult to do on paper. If you’re looking to do lots of hand drawing and want to take your art work to the next level, then it’s hard to go wrong with graphics tablets.
We’re getting into the era of working and learning from home, so we’re going to have to find something to replace the whiteboard. While there is plenty of software out there for making illustrations and animations, it’s just not quite as intuitive as using a whiteboard and a marker, or pen and paper. You have to learn how to use the software and then come up with creative ways to bring about the exact illustrations you want using the available tools.
Meanwhile, if you just had a pen and paper, you would have made a simple illustration and made your point ages ago.
A graphics tablet bridges that gap perfectly. If you have an online meeting and need to make a point, you can just hook up your graphics tablet to your computer and integrate it with the video conferencing software, assuming it has some kind of canvas.
Or head over to the Paint app and share your screen so the people on the other side of the call can see what you’re doing. It takes a few minutes to do what might otherwise take days or weeks to prepare in advance for a meeting.
This is also useful for educators, as it makes it easier for them to illustrate the concepts they teach. Sometimes the best way to explain something is with roughly drawn, impromptu pictures, and a graphics tablet allows you to do just that.
Improving technical workflows
Architects, engineers, and even mapping professionals can benefit from the kind of versatility that a graphics tablet offers. Sometimes, a GIS (Geo-Information Systems) engineer might want to superimpose some lines or other illustrations on an existing map without having to worry about accuracy, just to illustrate a point, or to help them visualize something.
If the map is on physical paper, that’s as easy as getting a physical marker and drawing the line. If it’s on a screen, a graphics tablet helps them achieve the same thing.
The same can be said for the workflows of architects and engineers, who might want to make quick sketches to see how everything fits together, or to scribble momentarily on top of an existing drawing. If the plans or elevations or structural diagrams they are working on are digital, then a graphics tablet helps them make their illustrations without too much of a hassle.
Graphics tablet are great for animating. If you’re doing lots of tweening in your animations, or your animations are just generally hand drawn, you’ll find that doing the drawings in a graphics tablet allows you to draw different frames much quicker than using plain pencil and paper.
Also, the layering feature that graphics tablets provide help you create more accurate drawings between frames.
A graphics tablet allows you to write naturally, and so it makes it very easy to write signatures online. You don’t have to go through the long and annoying process of scanning your signature and turning it into a PDF anymore.
Just hook up a graphics tablet and write your signature in real time. This is even more secure than scanning as you only use your signature when you need it. You don’t have it sitting in a PDF somewhere that could easily get stolen in case you got hacked.
If your work involves any of the above, then you might find that a graphics tablet is a great investment to make.
What to look out for
There are a few things to look out for when getting a graphics tablet:
- First, the industry standard is Wacom, which happens to be the largest company in this niche. They provide a wide variety of graphics and drawing tablets, as well as accessories. Most existing graphics software has been built to interface well with the Wacom API. I would recommend you get a Wacom product. If you get something from a different brand, just take note that it will be using a different API, and it might have compatibility issues with software like Adobe and Windows Ink. It’s a problem that’s growing less and less pronounced as the owners of these programs add patches to make them more universal, but it’s worth noting.
- Second, if you’re getting a tablet, start with something medium in size. If it’s too small, then you might feel limited in terms of what you can do, and bigger isn’t necessarily better, either. If the tablet is too large it can be a bit bulky and difficult to work with. A medium sized, 5-10 inch graphics tablet should be just fine.
- Finally, note that, while a graphics tablet feels closer to natural drawing than a mouse, it’s not a complete replacement. You’ll still have to continue to practice drawing by hand if that is an important skill to you and you don’t want to lose it. Getting better at using a graphics tablet does not mean you are also getting better at drawing with traditional pencil and paper.
Why you shouldn’t get a graphics tablet
We promised I’d look at the other side of the coin, and here we are. So why might getting a graphics tablet be a bad idea for you?
Well, for me, the biggest reason why you shouldn’t get a graphics tablet is based on the why.
- If your job doesn’t really require a graphics tablet, then there’s no point in getting one. For example, if you’re a graphics designer, but work with photos or some other subject that doesn’t require free-hand drawing, then a graphics tablet won’t help.
- If you are getting a graphics tablet because you want the limitless it provides, but haven’t really learned and mastered the art of drawing itself, then I have some bad news for you. A graphics tablet will likely help you hide many of the mistakes that you make while drawing by hand. In fact, it will hide them so well that you might even be fooled into thinking you’re getting better. But I’m afraid that will be a lie. You can’t get better at drawing unless you deliberately practice. You’d have to do that by doing lots of sketches every day by hand, seeing the mistakes and improving upon them on every iteration. A graphics tablet will help you make all those mistakes go away at the click of a button, and so you’ll get really good at using a graphics tablet, but you won’t get good at drawing. Don’t buy a graphics tablet to help you draw better. You can only learn that outside of the tablet. Use a graphics tablet to help you digitize your drawings so you can enhance them. But they should be good to begin with.
- If you’re not ready for the learning curve that a graphics tablet involves, then you should probably not getting one. Graphics tablets may take a while to get used to, and are not necessarily easy to learn for everyone. Get ready to put lots of time and effort into learning one. If that sounds like too much, then you should probably not get one.
And with that we come to the end of our article. Hopefully, we’ve given you a good sense of direction on graphics tablets, and you feel a little more sure about whether they are worth it or not.
As you can see, the answer to that question, like with many other questions, is “it depends”. Now that you know what it depends on, it should be easier to make that decision.