Using a computer mouse to draw on your computer is a lot like drawing with a bar of soap in your hand. It is very difficult to maneuver and offers very little accuracy. Fortunately, most of us find a pen or pencil much easier to use.
I have used graphic tablets in one form or another for over 30 years. I originally used them for architectural drafting purposes, but later expanded my use of tablets to a wide range of graphics programs to create artwork, illustrations and advertising production work. I also found myself using the pen/tablet combination as a general-purpose computer interface in place of a mouse.
Although I have used a number of brands, my preferred tablets proved to be those produced by Wacom. The software was easy to install and configure, their tablets were slim and generally less bulky than other brands, and the ergonomic pressure sensitive pens were highly accurate.
Wacom manufactures two types of tablets: a professional quality line branded “Intuos Pro,” and a consumer-oriented line simply called “Intuos.” Both feature pressure sensitive pens that interact seamlessly with their high-resolution tablets. All the models are well designed and are quite portable, and all but the largest size fit easily into most computer cases.
I have found that tablets are an invaluable tool for serious Photoshop users. A pressure sensitive pen allows for accurate retouching of photographs and gives you great control when erasing, cloning, or using other photo editing tools. You will find that tablets are also a great way to draw freehand when using programs such as Illustrator and Painter.
Using a pen tablet provides ergonomic benefits. Compared to a typical mouse, using a pen puts your hand in a more natural drawing position. Many users also find using a pen puts much less strain on their wrists while drawing or when using the pen to move a cursor across a computer screen.
Let’s take a look at the features and benefits of both tablet lines in more detail.
Intuos Pro Overview
The flagship Intuos Pro line comes in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The small tablet is approximately 13” x 8” with a six by four inch active area (the active area is the portion of the tablet that can be drawn upon with the tablet pen). The medium size is 15” x 10”, with a nine by six-inch active area. The large tablet is about 19” x 13” with a thirteen by eight inch active area. All models are very slim – about one-half inch in thickness.
Over the years, I have used all three sizes for various applications. I find a small tablet is great for taking along as you travel or when you simply need to perform drawing for short periods of time. It’s not great for long-term use especially with larger screen desktop computers of high-resolution laptops. However, if you use a tablet only occasionally, the small size is a solid option.
On the other end of the size spectrum, the large size tablet is best for graphic artists, designers, or architects who produce large drawings and need to have more control over fine detail. It’s especially useful when used in tandem with a large computer display. It’s significantly larger than the other models, and is a bit heavier. So you probably won’t be traveling with this size model often – it’s best left on your desktop for everyday use.
My favorite size is the medium, which is also a popular size used by many professionals. The overall width and height are about the same as the typical laptop, and the half-inch thickness makes it easy to slide into the average computer case. The active area is large enough to provide control and accuracy when working with most document sizes. Overall, the medium size is a perfect combination of complete functionality and portability.
Intuos Pro Features
These tablets have a wide range of very useful features. The comfortable pressure sensitive pens have a range of over 2,000 pressure levels, giving you great control over line width and opacity, especially when sketching freehand objects. The pen can actually communicate with the tablet even if they’re not in direct contact with the tablet surface, allowing you to trace thick documents that are placed on top of the tablet itself. The pens have a convenient dual switch on the barrel that can be programmed to perform a variety of commands.
These tablets also feature eight customizable multifunction express keys that can be individually programmed. They can also be programmed to perform different functions or shortcuts for each program you use. A unique touch ring provides access to four basic functions as well.
One of the primary reasons I upgraded from my venerable Wacom 6 x 9 tablet – that had served me well for years – was an opportunity to have a tablet that did not have to be connected to the computer via a USB cable. All Intuos Pro models come with built-in wireless connectivity. Although some may see this as a minor feature, I find the ability to position yourself comfortably in front of the computer without a dangling cord to be a significant advantage. You can get many hours of use on a single charge of the internal battery. The battery is charged by connecting the USB cable to the computer, which allows you to use the tablet without relying on the battery while charging.
The sensitivity of the tablet is over 5,000 dpi, offering unparalleled precision. The writing surface is durable, and the pen nib provides a realistic feeling of drawing on a paper surface. I also appreciate the fact that the tablet can be configured via the Wacom software in either a right-handed or left-handed orientation. You simply flip the tablet so that the control ring and programmable buttons are on the side you prefer. For instance, when using the pen in my right hand, I prefer the controls be on the left side of the tablet. By setting up the left or right orientation in the Wacom preferences, the software ensures that the buttons all retain their proper position relative to the tablet.
Wacom’s entry-level consumer tablets were formerly known by the “Bamboo” brand name. The Intuos lineup is available in two model sizes: a small model with a six by four inch active area, and medium with an eight and a half by five inch active area. Both of these models are compact designs with very little additional space around the active area. This makes these consumer models very compact and easy to transport along with your laptop computer.
Of course, as less expensive consumer models, these tablets do not have many of the bells and whistles of the Pro line. For instance, and pen has only 1,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, while the tablets have only half the DPI resolution of the Pro models. There are no programmable buttons and no touch ring for executing customized commands. The upside of this configuration is that there is no need for the additional bulk around the tablet’s active area to accommodate all of those buttons and controls.
The Intuos consumer tablets do not have wireless capability built-in, but they can be used wirelessly by adding a Wacom Wireless Connection Kit. This kit can be purchased separately for $40, and includes a transmitter and a battery that can be easily inserted into the tablet, along with a tiny receiver that is inserted into the USB port of the computer with which the tablet is communicating. The Wireless Connection Kit is an accessory that is well worth the investment for most users.
The basic Intuos consumer tablets are very affordable, with the small size offered at $99 and the medium size model selling for $199. While more expensive than the consumer line, the Intuos Pro line is reasonably priced when you consider all of the additional features and functionality. The small Pro tablet lists for $249, the medium size lists for $349, and the large tablet is priced at $469.
Of course, all of these pen tablets can be found online at reputable outlets at slightly lower prices. For instance the Intuos small tablet can be found for as little as $75, and the Intuos Pro medium sized tablet can be found for $335. From time to time, you can also find some models bundled with popular graphics software at a discounted package price.
Using a pen tablet for daily use has many benefits. It’s an ergonomic way to control a computer – and also a great way to draw and edit photographs. If you work requires significant drawing or the use of programs that require a lot of cursor movements, a pen tablet can increase your productivity and lessen the strain of working at the computer for hours on end. Any of these well-designed Wacom pen tablets would be a welcome enhancement to your computing experience.