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I'm finally thinking of going with a pen- or stylus-based solution for pixel art & animation. This would be the first time I've seriously used a pen for drawing digitally since my 1984 Atari CX77 Touch Tablet.

Software Criteria

I'll be using one of the popular Windows pixelling / animation apps like Cosmigo Pro-Motion or ASEprite on my Windows 7/8 workstation. Maybe some Photoshop too. Because the spriting apps probably don't hook up in any special way to specialised devices, a simple, mouse-emulating type of stylus would probably be best (no drivers, no fuss).

Traction, Accuracy & Responsiveness

The Atari CX77 drawing software I used as a kid didn't use a pointer. You pressed down on the tablet while holding one of two buttons (IIRC) - one to draw, one to erase. So traction on the drawing tablet was a very important part of control. Aside from this I've drawn with pen / pencil / paper for much of my life. So surface traction & immediate response are very important for me to feel more comfortable than using a mouse.

UI control

I don't really mind switching to the mouse where necessary, though it would be nice to use the stylus to do everything -- work in Windows and draw where necessary. In this case maybe a stylus button is necessary, since selection is not based on press, instead movement is. It's crucial that if I move the pen on the surface (whatever that may be), that this moves the mouse pointer. I cannot handle this hovering thing: I tried a Wacom Bamboo some years ago but when I realised I could not move the mouse cursor without lifting the pen off the pad, I was disgusted. It wasn't the UX I expected or desired. I don't need pressure sensitivity, although I guess it wouldn't hurt; I'd be working with limited, opaque palettes anyway, so opacity and gradients won't matter, only solid colour placement.

I'd prefer a device that doesn't require fancy driver installation and that basically operates just as the mouse does, only provides better accuracy (but if I cannot get that without going fancy, not the end of the world). This will allow compatibility with the things I want to do.

Hardware palette

I've seen this on some Wacom tablets. It would be a nice to have, though the apps I'd be using would anyway have their own onscreen palettes and probably wouldn't tie into the hardware.

Alternative Option: Touch

I'm aware that touch devices offer another option, but for now I'm just trying to tell whether there is anything I can use that allows what I've described above, cheaply.

Question: Any idea where I can get such a device as outlined above?

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It's good that you're thinking through your requirements, it shows that you're already making the first step to a higher quality output.

Let's address each of your criteria:

Software You mentioned that your software probably doesn't hook up to any special tablet functions. You should discover whether that is truly the case or not, and which devices are recommended for those particular programs if they are supported. I can say with confidence that regardless of the tablet you choose, you can set up your programs to react to the majority of the tablet's features with some adjustments. This means that you really shouldn't limit yourself to only mouse-emulating devices.

Traction, Accuracy & Responsiveness These qualities are almost always derived from the price tag of your drawing tablet. You won't find that modern tablets have very much in common with the way your old Atari tablet worked, you'll have to try a few out in the store to find the one that fits your style. Most likely you'll have to adapt a bit to the way these new technologies work.

UI Control Let me start with the bolded text, because it pops out a bit as a red flag. Pressure Sensitivity is one of the most powerful features of modern touch tablets, and saying that you don't need it is a tad troublesome. While I understand you're working within the pixel space, and so you may not find it immediately useful, it is the ability of these sophisticated devices to do so. You will find uses for it far beyond your original expectations.

The issue you had previously with a Wacom Bamboo sounds like a bit of inexperience with setup. Within the drivers (that will come with ALL touch tablets) you are able to modify the behaviors of your tablet, and can de-activate and modify the feature you describe.

Final Thought At the end of the day, all this talk really doesn't have much effect on what brand of touch tablet you will buy, because there really is only a few choices on the market. Wacom is the most popular and widely recognized brand of drawing tablet available and there are very few serious competitors. One of their competitors is called Huion (http://www.huion-tablet.com/), and I'm sure someone may come along to mention another, but really that's it.

So what you're stuck with is which Wacom/Huion you want to buy. For the most part, it sounds like you need a very inexpensive tablet, with minimal features. Despite your previous issues, the Wacom Bamboo fits this description. However, you need someone to set it up correctly for you, so that you will get the UX/UI that you are looking for and are not disappointed and frustrated.

Hope this helps!

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I've decided on a touchscreen display for my workstation, thus enabling me to work with finger (for when zoomed in on the pixel grid sufficiently) and stylus (for finer work at a lesser degree of zoom). There are some very nice 20+" touchscreen displays now available for reasonable prices.

Frankly, I can't be asked to adapt to what I already see as a technology that is reaching the end of it's useful lifetime, i.e. the "draw-here, look-there" approach taken by traditional graphics tablets. Particularly as the pressure-sensitivity aspect is a big part of that which I do not require or want.

  • Theres is a ergonomics aspect to this aswell, you need to be able to tilt your touchscreen and bring it close for prolonged use. The separate tablet is easier on your neck in this regard without good infrastructure. – joojaa Jan 4 '15 at 15:52
  • The new Dell touchscreens offer this, so I'm not concerned. But you are indeed correct on that point. – Engineer Jan 4 '15 at 18:38
  • Its not so much tilt as the fact that your monitor needs to be further away when not drawing, about 60% closer in fact. You also need space outside the monitor to hold your arms rested against. I know at least two industrial designers who had to stop working because they didn't think about ergonomics, and now they can only hold a pen/stylus in their hand for 15 minutes at time. – joojaa Jan 4 '15 at 18:42
  • I work on a Macbook Retina 15 inch at maximum resolution 40cm away from my face. If anything, this will be an improvement. And my desk is... large. ;) – Engineer Jan 4 '15 at 18:59

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