A good graphics tablet is an essential tool of the graphic designer’s trade. As graphics tablets have become more affordable, software designers, students, and even hobbyists, have started looking seriously at investing in the ease of a pad and stylus. The market is crowded with products, so here we show you the best in class for graphics tablets.
Best for Mobile
The Trust Flex Design graphics tablet is a paper-thin device that rolls up to go. The non-slip backing makes for a robust and comfortable surface, and the 1,024 pressure sensitivity levels mean that you have fine control over stroke thickness and depth. It has a 6 x 4.5 inch working space so is generous enough to work on while being compact enough to fit on a small desk. The energy efficient design gives a healthy battery life and the stylus tips can be scratchy at first but soon smooth out.
The Flex Design tablet supports Windows 7 and Window’s Vista’s handwriting-to-text features. However the tablet isn’t compatible at all with Mac operating systems so Apple fans will be disappointed. With a low price-point, this would be an ideal entry-level tablet for a student or a mobile worker.
Best for Serious Artists
Wacom are synonymous with high-quality graphics tablets and the Wacom Intuos family is the top-of-the-range professional tablet. Among the most expensive of the stylus-driven peripherals on the market, the Intuos tablets come in a variety of size formats, from A3 to A5 size. The forthcoming Intuos 5 tablets also offer multitouch functionality. The stylus is ergonomically designed and responsive to button presses and the tablet can recognise 2,048 different pressure levels.
The only potential issue is the speed at which nibs need to be replaced as they have been reported to wear down rapidly in normal use.
The Intuos series works with Windows and Mac operating systems and delivers great value for money.
Best for Designers
The graphics tablets in the Wacom Cintiq series are combined tablet/displays that allow you to work right on your design in a natural, sketchbook-like manner. The 12WX offers a generous 10.3 by 6.4 inch working area in an overall form factor of 16 x 10.5 x .67 inches. The tablet is robust and feels sturdy enough to tote. The display is clear and bright, ideal for working and for client meetings. You can connect the tablet as part of a multi-monitor display array for greater flexibility.
This video shows the Cintiq in use. It’s hard not to want such a beautiful piece of design, but the price point will deter all but the most serious users (or wealthy gadget lovers).
Best for Kids
Now you have the draw-on-screen bug, maybe it’s time to show you the Griffin Crayola HD Digital Stylus. This is a peripheral for the iPad and comes with an app that turns your tablet into a graphics pad. Sadly you’re limited to drawing in (virtual) crayon, but if you have a budding graphic designer in the family it makes a great gift. The price point is around the same as the Trust Flex Design tablet, but it’s more suitable for younger children. The stylus looks like a crayon but is guaranteed to be safe for your iPad’s surface. Consider giving your children a lesson in the difference between a stylus and a real crayon before letting them loose on your precious gadget, though!
Choosing the Right Graphics Tablet for You
So which is the best graphics tablet overall? My heart says the Cintiq, my business brain says the Intuos, the kid in me says the Crayola stylus and the person with an old-lady back says the Flex Design! The point is that choosing a graphics tablet, perhaps more than any other peripheral, is definitely driven by personal preference. You’ll need to think about your available space – there’s no point buying an A3 form factor tablet if you have a tiny laptop desk, unless you’re prepared to balance it on your knee. Likewise, if you do a lot of large format work, a 6×4 inch work surface will drive you crazy after a while unless you really enjoy scrolling and zooming.
If you’re on the road a lot then a portable form factor matters. If you’re working in close collaboration with clients then an input-and-display model will make it easier for them to give you input as you work as they can relate what you’re doing on the pad to what happens in the design. Depending on your relationship with your clients, this may or may not be a good thing!
If you need very fine levels of pressure sensitivity and very high resolution then you’re going to be looking at a tablet with a very high price point, like either of the professional-grade Wacom tablets shown here. But if all you want is an alternative to text input, and maybe some simple sketching, then there’s no point spending more than you have to.
The best thing to do is ask around – graphics tablet users usually aren’t shy about showing off their kit. Try out a few models in store: this is definitely not a peripheral to buy without touching and feeling the product first.
A couple of hours of sketching with a graphics tablet is usually enough for you to know if you’ll love it or hate it. Once you’ve experienced the freedom of pen input, you’ll never go back to drawing with a mouse.
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