I’ve been wanting to get a tablet for years. I wanted to get one so that I could do more “drawing” in GIMP. When I took a 3D modeling course, I learned that they could be very handy when doing the 3d sculptures as well. Even more recently, I learned that I could use a tablet to create a “scribble” cast for videos. With all these great uses, I knew I had to get one.
Not the iPad Tablets…
Okay… before I go further, I think I should define what I mean here, because there is a newer device which is also taking on the appellation of tablet, so I want to be clear. The kind of tablet some people are used to hearing about these days is a stand alone device, roughly the size of a hardcover book in length and width, but about the size of a young reader’s book in depth. They vary in size. These devices have a screen on them and can be loaded with applications that allow you to do many things. Essentially, it’s just a smaller version of a computer with a built in touch screen monitor.
These are not what I’m talking about here. The type of tablets I’m talking about get connected to a computer, usually through a wired cable (by default, though you can get a wireless battery and receiver for them). These tables are typically used with a full fledged computer to allow you to write, draw, and sculpt using a “pen and paper” type movements that are usually easier on the wrists than trying to do the same tasks with a mouse.
The Wacom Line
The most popular brand of tablets on the market today is the Wacom tablets. They have 3 different levels of tablets, each with a subset of sizes. The least expensive is the Bamboo tablets, aimed at the casual user and hobbyist. The mid range tablets are the Intuos line. These tend to be a bit more sensitive and are aimed at more professional (or hard core) users. The upper range tablets are the Cintiqs. The Cintiq line most closely resembles the other, iPad type tablets, in that they have a screen with which to view what you’re working on directly on the tablet. While they may be more sensitive than the Intuos line, they still have some of the other limitations as far as having to connect into a full computer to be able to use them.
Each of these lines have 3 different sizes — small, medium, and large. The size refers to how big the tablet is. The larger the tablet, the more “writing” surface you have to work with. With a larger writing area, you can have a bit more control over the details, but you also have to make larger, more sweeping gestures to make your mark. It’s really a matter of preference as to which size is the best for you and what you want to do.
My Wacom Tablet — the Intuos 5 Touch
I finally broke down recently and spent the money to get me a tablet. I am so glad that I did, because I have found it to be very useful. In fact, in some ways, I like it better for navigating on the screen in general because it uses an absolute reference model. That means that each “point” on the writing surface relates directly to a specific point on the screen (or screeens) you are working from. It took me a bit to get used to the workflow, but once I did, I almost prefer it. I do have some tasks in my 3d modeling that I still prefer the mouse to the pen, but for writing, drawing, and sculpting, using a tablet is hands down far easier than using a mouse.
One thing I did have a little trouble with was figuring out how to assign it to map to a single screen if I was running two monitors. Turns out that it’s just a simple setting in the properties. Once you set that, then working with it is easy. A word of warning, though, is that you might want to make sure that your properties window either stays in the main window or that you move it back to the main window if you want to disconnect the second monitor, because otherwise, you might strand your panel. It can be gotten back without reconnecting to the second monitor, but it is a bit of an annoyance.
I love the “wheel” on the touch pad, too. If you’re in a window with scroll bars, the “whee’ area allows you to scroll up and down or across. In the 3D viewport, you can also use the wheel like you would the wheel on a mouse to zoom in and out.
The pen for the tablet comes with a number of “nibs”, which is the part of the pen that touches the surface. I found that the default pen had a lot of drag, but there was another one that was black with a grey tip that I found to have a smoother glide across the tablet surface that I like better.
Whichever tablet you decide on, I recommend playing around with it as much as you can, especially the first week or two that you have it. Just play around with the pressure sensitivity and the different options within the programs you plan to use it with.
Touch Feature — A Large Touchpad?
The one thing I don’t like about the pad is the touch feature. When you turn the touch on, you no longer have the absolute point to point reference with your finger as the “touch” pointer. The pen will still operate in an absolute reference, but your fingers will operate in a relative reference. What this does is make your Wacom tablet into a large touch pad. I’m not a big fan of the touch pads so common on most laptops today, so it’s understandable why I don’t like the touch on the Wacom. I find it to take more time to get the pointer to where I want it to go and to get it to do what I want it to do than it does using the pen. This slows me down. That’s why I don’t like it.
If you plan to do a lot of drawing using Photoshop or Illustrator or if you want to do some 3D sculpting with a program like Blender or Sculptris, then I would highly recommend getting a tablet. I’m using the small Wacam Intuos 5 Touch, and I’m very pleased with it so far!
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