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I've always felt curious about graphics tablets, but I've never even used one. Most people I know either give up or love them.

I'm not a big illustrator myself, but I do the occasional doodle and would like to know if there are any other advantages for non-illustrators.

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

I'm primarily a web developer and designer, so I do most of my work directly in Photoshop/Gimp cutting and clipping and filtering. I eventually stumbled upon the opportunity to purchase a very inexpensive reconditioned Dell Latitude XT, and my experience has been pretty positive. It allows me to much more easily create masks, draw layers, make my selections, etc. The pressure sensitivity is a huge plus, as it frees me up to make minor tweaks without having to constantly re-size my brush or keep my hand on a slider while I mouse-draw.

A few things to be aware of:

1) There are a variety of sizes and styles of tablets, but the industry standard is mostly assumed to belong to Wacom. You can see their products here: http://www.wacom.com/ . As you can see, they provide products for both industry professionals and home/office users at a variety of price points. I would recommend trying out the Bamboo series as a first tablet.

2) If you choose to purchase something other than a Wacom device, be aware that they use a different API to interface with the tablet program and your OS than Wacom does, and they are not completely inter-compatible (especially with Adobe's products). NTrig, the makers of the touch-screen technology for both the XT and the HP TouchSmart have released new multi-touch and pressure-sensitive patches for their devices, which also makes them compatible with the WinTab API, so this is no longer as big of an issue, but it still causes compatibility problems with certain applications.

3) It mostly imitates the feeling of traditional media, but you'll find that it's not a true replacement. I'm terrible with a pen or pencil these days, but my dexterity with the tablet has gotten a lot better; these skills are not completely interchangeable.

Good luck, and enjoy!

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+1 for point #2. My Fujitsu convertible tablet is great for simple things but trying to get Photoshop to recognize pen "clicks" in menus is a nightmare. –  Matthew Read Jan 4 '11 at 21:14
    
Thanks for the comment, and you reminded me I should clarify that it's not just Dell or HP! –  NateDSaint Jan 4 '11 at 21:15
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Also, depending on your OS and what other stuff you're using the Wacom drivers can occasionally have issues with the Windows inking stuff. For the most part, however, the Wacom tablet works well with the Windows inking stuff; you can even train W7 to learn your handwriting over time. –  lawndartcatcher Mar 4 '11 at 13:20
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Couple months back I bought myself Wacom Intuos4 (Large - A4 size) and I absolutely love it.

For photo editing in Photoshop, it's huge difference. It will allow you to a lot of things which just aren't possible with mouse, which is basically any manual editing.

My biggest issue while working with Photoshop was, that I just didn't like the way I had to convert my ideas to something that could be done by simple stroke. While it is possible to draw with mouse, it is insanely hard and slow. But with a tablet, you can draw pretty well after couple of hours of practicing. Then it just becomes super easy to take a small brush, put it on 20% flow & opacity and paint some lights into a photograph.

For web design, it probably isn't that much helpful, since most of the web is repetitive/simplistic enough. But once you get into doing those little details that make your design look unique, like custom icons, or even simple drawn background, tablet yet again becomes very helpful.

The bottom line would be, for photo editing or any type of drawish design definitely YES, for web design only if you're serious about it.

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Converting simple physical or electronic images to .svg with a stylus can yield amazing results in terms of speed and efficiency. –  mfg Feb 10 '11 at 17:13
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I don't tend to find it terribly useful unless I'm actually doing something requiring that kind of input. I mean, it doesn't have to be an actual illustration, but that kind of fine grained input. Really just the kinds of things you'd expect. When I'm doing those kinds of things, though, I definitely prefer it to a mouse. I used an old wacom that I've had a for a few years and it does the job pretty well. I'm mostly a programmer, so I may not be the best example, but when I do graphic design or illustration, I definitely put it to good use. It wasn't that hard to figure out so I think it would work pretty well for light use.

I tend to use inkscape, and I find it works really well to make an initial shape (that isn't just a simple circle or square). Then I can easily tweak it with a mouse after that.

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I have a cheap graphic tablet that works reasonably well on Windows 7 and earlier on Vista. My problem was not the functionality of the tablet but trying to use the stylus while looking at the monitor. I found that personally a tablet PC was much easier to use. I like the iPad but without a stylus, it may be no good for serious graphic design. My own experience tells me that the worth is based on how comfortable we can get with the tablets.

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When doing comic, or a line art drawing/illustration, I would recommend better larger graphic tablets, but indeed for good control in that specific task, (and is not because I draw since 30 years in pencil an paper: In my profession(comic artist/illustrator, game artist, designer) I needed to draw zillions of artworks with all sort of Wacoms) you need pencil/ink and paper. Or at least, a large Wacom. For anything else, even a bamboo is great, as was mentioned in other question recently.

For color, they're all amazing. Is in the area where they save more time and effort.

Edit: Btw, for those with problems with stroke, vectorial tools (or the raster MyPaint) like Flash or Illustrator, allow to force a sort of "average" on the stroke, smoothing possible trembling (often more related to the tracking, interferences, technology limits, rather than your hand). But this settings must be configured to affect minimally or the "average" becomes non practical.

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Two things to add to what everyone else has already said:

  • As the questioner says, people tend to instinctively love tablets or hate them. For a lot of people who don't take to them, the problem stems from the disconnect between the hand and the screen. Until recently, the only alternative to this was the very expensive Wacom Cintiq range, but if you're also in the market for a new PC, take a lot at the Samsung Slate 7 or Asus EP121 - these are suitable for design software and have high quality Wacom technology tablets built right into the screen. They're not cheap, but they're less of a risky investment, since even if you hate the pen you've got a quality touchscreen slate PC. This sort of thing - fully functioning Windows machines with pen tablets built directly into the screens - is likely to come down in price and machines like this could easily be mainstream after windows 8 comes out (here's an gorgeous looking prototype rumour).
  • In many design programs, there are features and techniques which are simply impossible without a tablet. For an aspriring scribbler, without a tablet it's possible you might encounter tutorials etc that ask the almost impossible (and I'll second NateDSmith in saying that the Wacom Bamboo range is great for trying tablets out to see if you like them). For example, the blob brush in Illustrator and pattern brushes in photoshop are brilliant for sketching out designs with expressive flourishes when using a pressure sensitive tablet, but are of much more limited value without.
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Advantage for non-illustrators: it helps preventing RSI. When my hand aches from using the mouse, I switch to a small wacom tablet. It really helps me to take the strain of my wrist and fingers.

I can point more precise with a psychical mouse though, so when I do design work I tend to not use my tablet.

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After going through many blogs and reviews on drawing tablets I finally purchased a product of Wacom. I ordered a Cintiq 13HD and have been using it for 20 days. I am very much impressed with the product, it's working very well.

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We're not really concerned with where you bought the product from, but if you could elaborate specifically on how your tablet has improved your design workflow then that would be very helpful –  JohnB Feb 22 at 12:57
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