5 Great Tablets for Drawing


Just like traditional art supplies -- tablets aren't cheap.
Just like traditional art supplies -- tablets aren't cheap.
Tara Moore/Taxi/Getty Images

Buying a tablet computer for art is a tradeoff, but professionalism doesn't have to come at the cost of price. The first generations of drawing tablets were serious machines: bulky, expensive and not particularly versatile. As touch-screen technology and other inputs have improved, graphics tablets evolved to better represent a wider range of drawing experiences. And, if you can't fathom spending the cash without getting some traditional computer functionality in return, there are even a handful of mainstream tablet options that might suit your needs.

When you get serious about making the investment in a graphics tablet, it helps to have some idea of what you want, even if you end up changing your mind in the end. Shopping for an art tablet is a lot like shopping for traditional art supplies, because the artist's skills, specialties and technique all play huge roles. And, as anyone who's stocked a home art-studio would know, none of it comes cheap.

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A serious illustrator is likely to prefer one of the many dedicated graphics tablets available, which tend to have a streamlined, utilitarian design that's intended to mimic traditional illustration technique and the feel of drawing in a sketchbook. Though the pencil-to-paper comparison might require some suspension of disbelief, it's easy to see the appeal. There's a lot of variation amongst different tablet models in terms of how the surface interprets the artist's strokes (finding the right one is key to a comfortable and intuitive drawing experience). Need less pressure, or more precision? Try different stylus and pen models, which further refine and customize the tablet.

But higher-end, multipurpose tablets are better at performing computer functions (such as processing speed) and, because they have more support from developers and the computer industry, they're more customizable with software, apps and accessories. So, for our list, we chose a mix of tablets designed specifically for drawing and others that just happen to be well suited for artistic tasks. Let's get started!

5

HTC Flyer

As touch-screen technology and other inputs have improved, graphics tablets have evolved to better represent a wider range of drawing experiences.
As touch-screen technology and other inputs have improved, graphics tablets have evolved to better represent a wider range of drawing experiences.
Eternity in an Instant/Taxi/Getty Images

Android devices aren't really known for catering to creative types -- they've traditionally been favorites of the technically-inclined crowd, thanks to the platform's developer-friendly approach. They're solid computers, however, and so in theory, can handle the requirements of a graphics tablet. In spring of 2011, Android and HTC put that theory to the test.

The HTC Flyer is another tablet that's primarily for the multitasking crowd, but its speed and agility are a bonus if you're inclined to doodle. At a nimble 7 inches (17.8 centimeters), it's easy to carry around, but that can be said of most of its competition. The Flyer is noteworthy because it features a pressure-sensitive stylus, which improves control. (It's actually one of the first Android tablets to be designed for use with a stylus, and though others have come along in the meantime, the Flyer's still got creative street cred.)

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The Flyer also has a well-designed and intuitive interface, so nothing slows down the creative process. Drawing apps are reasonably versatile and rather simple to use, although experienced digital artists might find the options a bit short on the depth and breadth required for particularly detailed illustration. So, though reviews caution that the Flyer might be too lightweight for really dedicated artists, this tablet option should suit the mainstream customer quite nicely.

4

Wacom Intuos 5

Wacom makes drawing tablets. They've been around for a while. They've gotten pretty good at it -- and they make a whole bunch. It wasn't easy to choose the Wacom models we'd highlight here, but we did manage to find a mix of characteristics with a broad range of appeal. Since the Intuos range was just updated in spring 2012, it seemed like a promising candidate and worthy of a closer look.

The Intuos 5 is in the mid-range of the Wacom lineup, which means that it comes with some pretty nice features at a decent price (comparable to an entry-level regular tablet). You're first likely to notice that the drawing surface is surrounded by a rubberized frame. This might come as a disappointment if you're the type who likes to doll up your gadgets with colorful cases or patterned protective wraps, but Wacom products tend to be pretty stark. Whether or not you like the aesthetics, the texture is a nice feature that will improve handling and durability.

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So while the Intuos 5 might be short on external glamour, much of its magic is found in the screen. It features multitouch (yup, like an iPad) which eliminates the need for a mouse (a common burden of drawing tablets). Wacom is known for super-sensitive stylus input that allows the artist to have intense control and the Intuos is no exception. It even goes a step further -- Wacom claims the screen can distinguish between deliberate and accidental touches (such as brushing your wrist against the frame, which could cause a huge digital smear or paint spill across your composition).

3

Apple iPad

Some of the highest-rated and most popular drawing apps for the iPad are available for just a few dollars.
Some of the highest-rated and most popular drawing apps for the iPad are available for just a few dollars.
Klaus Vedfelt/Riser/Getty Images

Apple is known for making stuff designers want. The first-generation iPad quickly became known for providing a pleasurable drawing experience in a multipurpose tablet. Two updates later, the iPad can do so much that it might actually be a drawback -- who needs all those distractions? But a strong fan base would probably assert that the perks outweigh the negatives (especially when the negatives come in the form of games, movies and music). When you're ready to sit down with an iPad and focus on your art, the device's strong support from the art community and tech industry means that there's a never-ending array of options. The solid hardware, light weight and portability and super-pretty display can all enhance the creative experience.

Some of the highest-rated and most popular drawing apps for the iPad, like Procreate and SketchBook Pro, are available for only five bucks. Other, more specialized apps include Zen Brush and Colored Pencils and are easy to add to your iPad for just a few more dollars. Bigger budget? You can also perk up your iPad with lighter-duty versions of Adobe's professional-quality, industry-standard Creative Suite software.

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The iPad's glossy touch screen might be tempting for the finger-painting crowd, but the finely tuned sensitivity means it's also well suited for more professional accessories. Styluses come in pencil-tipped and pen-tipped options, and an array of brushes can round out your digital toolbox.

2

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1

The eagerly-anticipated Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is kind of an odd duck for the graphics tablet segment (though it's definitely not an ugly duckling). On the surface, it's a pretty standard, though upscale, tablet that offers all the usual trimmings. But, according to industry wonks' early reviews, it was designed specifically to reel in the artists' crowd. Tech blog Gizmodo even suggested it was intended to be a solid competitor to Wacom's various graphics tablet options.

On the surface, this claim is a bit confusing: the Galaxy Note certainly doesn't look like an art tablet (though, like most Samsung electronics, it's got good, crisp visuals and competitive display specs). It's also easy to get the new Galaxy Note tablet mixed up with Samsung's established Galaxy Note smartphone, because they share a lot of the same characteristics, as well as the moniker. (Stop doing that, guys. Seriously.) But Samsung's pushing the "fashionable" line with gusto, so it's worth seeing if the Galaxy Note 10.1 lives up to the hype.

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It takes a little exploration to really understand the tablet's potential, but the effort is worth it. Like its smartphone predecessor, the Galaxy Note 10.1 includes a slender, nubby-tipped stylus, which has enough functionality to achieve the artist's potential -- no need to spend the extra cash to upgrade to an aftermarket option. (Cool feature: the tablet can reportedly detect the angle at which the tip of the stylus is making contact with the screen, and the art apps translate that data into determining the user's intended amount of shading -- in real-world terms, it's akin to gently tilting your charcoal stick against the paper to achieve a slightly different texture.)

So grab that stylus and start poking around -- the Galaxy Note has a solid portfolio of creative apps, right out of the box. Even though Android users often complain that new apps and upgrades are often delayed because developers tend to focus on the Apple market, Galaxy Note 10.1 has plenty of tools to keep an artist inspired.

1

Wacom Cintiq 12WX

We already had a primer on Wacom's art tablet design prowess, so it's time to move a bit upmarket. If you're in a position to drop four figures on digital art supplies, you're in for a treat.

Wacom has a few ranges of tablets with different styles, features and price points. The Cintiq is the most expensive line by far, but if lower-end tablets haven't satisfied you, it's worth taking a look at the 12WX. It's the entry-level Cintiq...in other words, it's a reasonable price point for professional-level equipment, and still falls under the "tablet" designation. (The other Cintiq models would be better described as semi-permanent tabletop equipment -- definitely not portable. And they cost as much as a lifetime's worth of laptops...but they're really nice!)

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The Cintiq is designed to mimic the feeling of drawing on paper, and users claim it's the best available replication of the experience. A 12-inch (30.5-centimeter) LCD monitor provides a crisp display with sharp contrast and 16.7 million colors. That same hard-working screen is loaded with sensors for sensitive and accurate pen input -- it can even determine the angle of the stylus. The Cintiq features a full palette of drawing, painting and editing options (as it should!) but these pro-quality programs reportedly blow others out of the water (and unlike the higher-end programs that can be added to other tablets, these are included in the Cintiq's price). That alone could spare you a couple hundred dollars' worth of unexpected or impromptu add-ons.

Lesson learned: Don't always assume nicer things are out of reach; sometimes, they're worth the investment. So if you're serious about your art -- like, really serious -- the Cintiq is worth considering.

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Author's Note

"Gifts for the Aspiring, But Untalented, Artist." Thanks, Gizmodo. You always cut to the quick.

As a former aspiring artist, almost (but not completely) devoid of talent, there's no way I could resist a peek at this article. And, while researching the various tablet options, the idea of getting a tablet for art is rather appealing (even though I've so far resisted the impulse to acquire one for day-to-day use). But think! All my failed drawings, the ideas I thought were good but turned out not to be, can just be shunted off and stored forever on my computer, instead of sitting in real life on the easel in my bedroom, where their presence silently mocks me. With a tablet, I can indulge in my whims, and then I could hide the resulting sketches forever on my hard drive, just like my abandoned screenplays.

When I clicked on the link, my eye cut right to the Wacom Cintiq 12WX. It's the smallest Cintiq available, although its silhouette vaguely recalls '90s-era handheld video games. Thought those were pricey back then? The Cintiq 12WX rings up at about a grand. At that price, potential buyers (and I'm including myself in this category) should be sure their interest in the craft is more than a fleeting fancy. Even an LCD screen and super-sensitive stylus won't make a master out of me.

There's nothing quite like spending a ton of money on a fleeting interest to convince yourself you're a true untapped prodigy, or that you've found a hobby to sustain you for life. (Like my guitar. And my scooter. And, for that matter, all the money spent on my college art classes.) But, as we've already discussed, the tablet market is flooded with options, and practically any artist should be able to find one perfectly tailored to his or her talents. I think I'll scale back my expectations accordingly, since Gizmodo suggested another option: The $40 Crayola Trace & Draw. Even though it requires good old-fashioned paper, this kiddies' tablet might be more my speed.

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Sources

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