How to Transition from Paper to a Drawing Tablet

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Learning to make the transition from traditional drawing to digital drawing can be pretty difficult for most people. I remember when I was first starting out. The graphics tablet was such a bother that it made drawing cease to be fun for a while. No work of mine seemed good enough. 

Something that added to the saltiness of the situation is that I had a friend who was really good with the graphics tablet. Everything they did with it was a work of art. Everything I did was terrible. I ended up figuring that I was the problem. I just wasn’t good enough. It really hit my confidence as an artist for a while, never mind I had produced great works on paper. I seemed to forget that. I just kept thinking I must be a terrible artist. 

But all of that changed eventually. Despite my self-pity, I never gave up. I kept pushing, trying different strategies to improve, and I finally did. What worked for me best was working with a pressure-sensitive tablet. From there it was all smooth sailing. There were also plenty of other techniques I used, and in this article we will give you a number of valuable tips to help you become a better digital artist as well. 

How long does it take to get used to a drawing tablet?

This is one of those things where the only correct answer is ‘it depends’. Different people adapt differently to drawing tablets. I personally took about 3 months to get used to a graphics tablet when I first tried it out, and it took not only hours of practice but also trying out lots of different strategies to make it work. 

How long it will take depends on a few factors. First is how much time you spend on it. You’re bound to get used to it faster if you spend 8 hours a day on a drawing tablet as opposed to spending just 4. It also depends on the specific strategies you use to make it feel more natural. I’ll give you some of the best tips that work. Applying them will make the learning curve easier to get over. 

But most importantly of all, it depends on your attitude. If you’re super determined to learn, then you will. Nothing can stop you when you have the right attitude. 

How to transition from paper to a drawing tablet – 10 tips

Start with a different color background

This is a good idea if you don’t know where to start or are having trouble with line development, shading, and color. It can be distracting to start with a blank white canvas, or have too many options in terms of colors. You can always experiment with the colors later, when the drawing is already done. If you prefer digital painting, then a good base color for the background should give your work grounding and make it easier to work with.

Use size to your advantage

It’s easier to start with a large artboard, and then scale down when you need to finalize the details. The good thing about this is that image quality will still be maintained when you scale down. On the other hand, resizing from the bottom up exposes you to the risk of pixelation. If you want to go into detail, use the zooming feature to your advantage. This is best if you’re working on a particularly small screen. You can solve the problem partly by hooking up your laptop to a TV screen, which makes your drawing space much larger.

Use the ‘undo’ and layers features as much as you need, but not much more

One of the great advantages of drawing on a physical medium with ink is that you can’t completely erase your mistakes. When you’re working digitally, on the other hand, you can easily be versatile with how you experiment. Layers help you try out different things and undo will come to your rescue if you don’t like the result. 

If you feel like this freedom is too much and actually hinders you from doing a good job, you can do all of your work in one layer. Alternatively, you can paint over your mistakes the same way you would on a normal physical medium, rather than use undo. That way, you can be more deliberate about your work and invest better in your drawing choices. And it’s also a good way to get you to slowly warm up to the powerful options you get from digital drawing. 

Play around with as many textures as you can even try making your own

Have you ever tried to scan your physical sketches and then zoom in? You should be able to notice that your work is made up of a large variety of textures. You should play around with textures in a digital environment to imitate the same blend you get from physical media. The brush setting is your friend. Tweak it as much as you need to, playing around with the opacity, flow and scattering, among others. See what you like and try it out. You need to embark on a journey of discovery if you’re going to find what you like. You can even consider purchasing custom brushes or making your own altogether.

Do your sketches physically and then develop them digitally

If you don’t like the results you’re getting on a digital medium, try playing to your strengths instead. If you’re coming from a traditional background, then you’ve probably already developed quite a knack for doing good sketches on paper. Do your work on paper first, scan it, and then tweak it on the tablet. This is how I started out and it did wonders for me. As you get used to this work flow, you’ll start to get a sense of what works, and you’ll grow more and more comfortable with doing all of your work on the computer. Before long you won’t even need to do the physical sketches anymore!

Start with a drawing tablet if you can

Drawing tablets, which have a display, have a much smoother learning curve than graphics tablets. The idea is to start with what feels most natural and work your way from there. 

The downside to this is that drawing tablets are expensive. In fact, they’re way more expensive than graphics tablets. So start with a drawing tablet if you can, but if not, there are still ways to do well with a graphics tablet, such as the method of first doing a physical sketch outlined above.

Make your graphics tablet feel as paper-like as possible

A lot of the struggle in switching to graphics tablets is in how alien they feel. If you’re from a traditional drawing background, then you’re probably used to the texture of paper. 

You can adapt a graphics tablet to emulate that texture. You could, for example, tape a paper on top of it. That way it feels like you’re drawing on paper while you’re doing it.

Remember to keep your eyes on the screen

Graphics tablets require you to retrain your hand-eye coordination. Rather than look at the surface you’re working on, you should look at the computer screen, which is where the output appears. This takes a bit of practice, and is often the single biggest factor in the initial awkwardness many people feel when they begin using graphics tablets. However, with time and patience, you’ll get the hang of it.

Remember that digital art is just another medium

Imagine how things are when you’re buying new brushes or pens in traditional art. It takes some time to adjust, right? It’s not much different with a graphics or drawing tablet and the associated software. 

You need to give yourself time to learn. Take time to figure out what your preferences are, and slowly adjust to the software settings of the drawing tablet that you’re trying out. Remember, you already have plenty of knowledge and skills, and you certainly have your own style that has taken years to develop. But remember that it takes time to transfer these to a new artistic medium.

Remember why you’re doing all of this

To add to the point above, you have to keep reminding yourself why you’re doing all of this to begin with, and to be patient with yourself. You may look online and see all the amazing work that others have done, or you may have friends who are farther ahead than you on the learning curve. Don’t be discouraged by it like I was. When you begin to feel inadequate, take a break from looking at the work of others and focus instead on building your own skills. Do as many tutorials and ask as many questions as you can. Remember, comparison is the thief of joy. 

How to feel comfortable drawing with a tablet?

Your biggest allies are time and patience. All the tips offered above will help to make you feel more comfortable. However, you need to apply them consistently before you can start to reap the benefits. Generally speaking, do anything you can to make the tablet feel like paper at the beginning, and play to your strengths. Do that and give it time. You’ll be surprised at the results.

Transition from graphics tablet to display tablet?

This is much easier than the transition from paper to a graphics tablet. Generally, a drawing tablet is closer to paper in the sense that you can look down on what you’re drawing as you draw it. The big draw is that a drawing tablet’s screen is way smoother than a graphics tablet’s drawing pad. It might take a while to get used to that. Other than that, it’s mostly positives.

Summary

And with that we come to the end of our little article. Most of what can be said about making the transition has already been said. However, if I were to leave you with a little tidbit it would be to trust yourself. Remember that you were once a beginner on paper, and you somehow managed to get as good as you currently are over time. You nailed that. You can nail this too.

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