So, I started looking for graphic tablets. I found that Wacom has the
best graphic tablets available but I am really confused about getting
This is already fallacious; because it's a question based on false premises. Wacom does not have the best graphics tablets available, it is just the most popular of many tablet brands. Which specific tablet suits which artist best varies on a case by case basis and as such the best tablet vendor for your specific case varies as well.
I am looking for a tablet with price below $150.
These are decent parameters to work with, now I could just tell you which tablet I think is best within that price range (incidentally, with that price range you almost certainly do not want to get Wacom, which I'll explain a bit later)
However, given the purpose of this site, I'm not here to give a man a fish, but to teach a man to fish.
First off, about tablet specs, you will see things like Levels of Pressure and all kinds of other 'specs' that are usually just gimmicks or marketing slang. Levels of Pressure mattered; back like a decade ago when some tablets had 512 levels of pressure and some had 1024 levels of pressure. Now where tablets have 4096 or 8192 levels of pressure, it absolutely doesn't matter, you will not feel a difference, this should not influence your decision, ignore the advertising & marketing, look to the actual reviews instead.
First off lets talk about...
There are a few types of drawing tablets available and which type you intend to get will drastically alter your required budget.
The main types are:
The most easily recognizable option, the regular drawing tablet is a HID (Human Interface Device) comparable to a mouse or a keyboard, but created with the purpose of drawing, the main differentiations between a mouse or touchpad and a drawing tablet are:
- It will allow you to 'draw' with a pen, commonly called 'stylus' which looks, feels and functions quite different from a mouse.
- A drawing tablet supports pressure sensitvity, the bread and butter of most forms of digital art, which functionally allows a program to detect how hard you are pressing down on your tablet to influence all kinds of factors depending on what you want (such as the size of your brush, or the opacity of it, or both at once)
- A drawing tablet supports absolute pointer positioning, whereas mice and touchpads typically only support relative pointer positioning. What this means is that the surface area of your tablet will correspond to the surface area of your screen, so when your stylus is hovering/touching a specific area of the tablet, the computer's cursor will move to the same 'absolute' position on the screen, as opposed to say a touchpad where the cursor position is always relative to it's last position, so you have to touch the pad and drag your finger to move the cursor (it can never instantly shift from one side of the screen to the other, but it can on a tablet). This is vitally important to more directly translate your hand movements to your computer properly.
- Some of these tablets have so called 'tilt support' which allows the tablet to read how your stylus is angled and use that to control your brushes in ways comparable to the pressure sensitivity. As a beginner I would advise you not to worry about whether your tablet has this feature or not, and if it does have it, I would advise you to avoid using it. Learning to control your pressure can take years of practice already, and you should focus on that first before you start thinking about things such as tilt. Until you've mastered pressure, tilt will only be something that will get in your way.
The main benefit of a typical drawing tablet over other options is that it allows you to always see your entire drawing whilst you work (your hand never obscures part of the image, since your hand is not obscuring your screen), a lot of popular and famous artists prefer this type of device over the more advanced or expensive options largely for this reason.
The main problems with this kind of device is that you are not looking directly at your hand whilst drawing creating a 'hand-eye disconnect' causing you to need to re-train your hand-eye coordination. If you're an experienced artist going from traditional art to digital art, re-training said coordination to a usable level may take about a week. If you're a complete beginner, mileage will vary quite extensively since because you most likely don't know basic arm and hand utilization techniques and haven't had enough experience to know what you 'want' to happen when you perform a stroke, it will harder for you to course-correct properly, since you may not fully know the correct course in the first place.
Additionally, this type of device is always just a peripheral device, you still need a computer to plug it in to in order to actually use it.
A very similar device to the aforementioned drawing tablet, however, instead of a blank tablet surface that translates your hand movements onto your screen, this version is both the screen and the drawing tablet in one package.
Some variants (such as the Cintiq Companion) also include a tablet PC meaning that depending on the digitizer you buy, you may not need to have a separate computer to plug it in to in order to draw on it (I strongly advise you to avoid such gimmicks however, because the high resolutions at which digital artists tend to like to work at today require powerful hardware that you can't find within something like a tablet PC)
The benefits of this kind of device over a regular tablet are:
- Easier hand-eye coordination more consistent with the feeling of drawing traditionally, since you are now able to look at your hand while you draw as opposed to the regular tablets.
- Professional artists often need to worry about things like the quality and (in particular) color accuracy of their computer monitors, but if you have this kind of device it is pretty much guaranteed that it's screen is of sufficient quality for professional artist use.
- It's more easy to find huge digitizers than huge drawing tablets (for instance 24" 27" or 32" digitizers are an easy to find if ridiculously expensive thing. Large size drawing tablets however are all but extinct by now but they used to be more common a decade ago)
The main problems however, are so called 'parallaxing' which is essentially caused by the space between the actual screen and the glass/plastic film covering it, as well as the thickness of said glass/film. Essentially, your stylus is not directly touching the actual screen where the image is coming from since there is a protective glass or plastic cover over just aobut any screen (else it'll get ruined kinda fast & easily) so you won't be able to draw with the same pinpoint accuracy as you would on paper. More recent digitizers however tend to have minimized this problem compared to older products.
It also offers inferior ergonomics compared to regular drawing tablets. A regular drawing tablet can be just as ergonomic as a mouse, if you simply place the tablet where the mouse would normally be instead of the typically recommended 'right in front of your screen' positioning. This makes hand-eye coordination slightly more difficult but it pays off in superior ergonomics, where you can use basic computing ergonomic knowledge to maximize ergonomics whilst drawing to be prepared for when you're old and your back can no longer handle being hunched over a digitizer (because that is somewhat inevitable when working with a digitizer, you'll have to lean over it, supremely unergonomic D: )
And lastly of course, as the regular tablet allows you to draw without your hand ever obscuring any part of the image, the digitizer, like traditional drawing, has no such benefit, you need to mind the position of your hand whilst drawing again so you can see what you're doing properly.
Personally I prefer the regular tablet.
Note: These typically come in 2 size variations, Small (A5-A6) and Medium (A4-A5) there used to be Large options available here and there but these are quite rare now and they vary more in size (A2-A3).
For a beginner I absolutely always without exception recommend getting a Medium sized tablet. It's big enough to accommodate arm/shoulder utilization techniques used by professional artists, but small enough to be convenient and portable. Some pros prefer the larger tablets, and the occasional one even prefers the small one (although the small tablets are an ergonomic disaster since they force you to use your wrist and will lead you down the path of carpal tunnel syndrome in the end).
So get Medium for your first tablet, because once you have that you will know if it's just right for you (is for most people) or if you would be better off with a smaller or bigger tablet.
Mobile Devices (Smartphones and Tablet PCs)
Some mobile devices such as tablet PCs and Smartphones come with pressure sensitivity support and when they do you can usually buy an optional pressure sensitive stylus. The most popular such device at the moment for instance would be the iPad Pro coupled with the Apple Pencil.
These are the advantages of such devices compared to digitizers:
- Allows you to more easily draw digitally on the go, when you're out and about since these are highly portable devices (note that it's possible to do the same with a laptop and a regular drawing tablet or a (small, something like 13") digitizer, but that's more like drawing over at your friends home than drawing at the mall kind of mobility)
- May be a decent cost saving option, if you need to get a new tablet PC anyways, and you just pay a bit more to get one with pressure sensitivity, as opposed to buying a digitizer or drawing tablet and computer separately; IF this kind of device suits your needs.
The disadvantages of such devices however can be somewhat crippling
- These devices can come with different operating systems, most of them will ship with either iOS or Android and only very few will ship with Windows (Surface Pro though). This also means that your drawing software choices will be limited by your OS, for instance you are not going to get full fledged Photoshop going on iOS or Android, so you will end up needing to pull some half-baked painting software off the App or Play Store, these mobile painting applications will never match up to their fully featured desktop counterparts.
- These devices have very low performance compared to laptops and desktops, this means that you will be severely more limited in what you actually can do on them, for instance high-resolution canvases, brushes and workflows will be completely impossible, and if you were thinking about getting into 3D then forget about it. The programs may also be a bit (or a lot) slower.
As such, this option is only truly suited for casual drawing or painting on the side, for hobbyists and people who aren't really taking this too seriously or intending to be doing this too frequently; and of course, for artists who want to be able to draw digitally when they're away from home.
So which tablet vendor you want depends quite heavily on which kind of device you want, and it also depends on which year it is, as in the best tablet vendor for a certain kind of device in a certain budget range this year might not be the same next year.
Thus there isn't really a good way to recommend tablets or vendors for this site because any recommendations I give might be outdated 2 or 3 years from now, so instead I will just give the general rundown of the current situation on this market.
Wacom is generally accepted as the best vendor for high quality high-end drawing tablets and digitizers. If you want to buy something like an Intuos Pro or Cintiq, Wacom is a good choice if you have the dough.
The problem with Wacom however is that they ridiculously massively supremely overprice absolutely every single product, and their lower end tablets such as the Intuos Draw line for instance are pure and utter garbage.
In other words, I cannot recommend you buy wacom unless you are buying their top-of-the-line products, and even then I can only really recommend that if you're loaded with cash.
Currently the most popular alternative to Wacom is Huion, they provide much higher quality low-end and mid-range tablets at significantly more reasonable prices (often as much as 3x lower than wacom's comparable devices, and yet still frequently higher quality than wacom's 3x more expensive offerings)
Also last I checked they were the only company to make a truly good digitizer besides Wacom, with their Huion Kamvas Pro line (this may change, but that is a seriously good product, and again, following trends, it's like 3x cheaper than wacom's cintiq equivalents).
For most beginners, at the time of this writing, I would absolutely recommend buying from this company.
There is a shitload of other brands, XP-Pen, Gaomon, Veikk, Yiynova and a good bunch more. Most of them provide superior low and mid-end tablets to Wacom at significantly better prices (we're literally talking 50$ for a good medium sized tablet from huion or one of these companies instead of 200$ for a complete garbage small sized tablet from wacom, it's really a no-brainer) and there will be times when they provide you with a better option than Huion as a wacom alternative. I did not cover all other companies, there are more, and ultimately finding the best tablet to buy today requires a bit of research, look into the most popular non-wacom tablets today, and see reviews and comparisons of each until you find what seems like the right one.
Also even if you're a pro that wants something more advanced like the Intuos Pro, you may still end up buying from Huion or one of those brands simply because as I said earlier, it is still 3x cheaper to buy a comparable device from them and things aren't so black and white as to say that Wacom is simply better when we get to the high end devices, there are things that these companies do better than Wacom, so as I just said, finding the right tablet to buy requires research, or you may easily come to regret your choice when you realize months or years later how much you overpaid for a device that was inferior to significantly cheaper options at the time.
Apple & Microsoft
When it comes to mobile devices with pressure sensitivity (especially tablet PCs) these two companies are the industry leaders with the iPad Pro and the Microsoft Surface series tablet PCs. But similar to Wacom, they are also the by-far most expensive option so if you are in the market for a tablet pc with pressure sensitivity you might want to look into alternatives all the same as if you were buying a normal drawing tablet.
On Tablet Drivers
There's one thing that is consistent among all tablet manufacturers. Their drivers suck, they're hot garbage, they are the worst fucking software you will ever deal with. It applies to Wacom, it applies to Huion, it applies to XP-Pen, it applies to absolutely everyone.
The only people who will not want to rip their hair out at some point over tablet drivers are the Linux crowd (speaking of which if you're part of that crowd, double, triple and quadruple check if your tablet is supported on Linux, often tablets are available through projects like digimend on linux).
This is because the only tablet driver that works perfectly is the Linux community maintained Wacom driver, and before you linux folks hop over to buy Wacom, know that you don't actually need a Wacom device to use the linux Wacom driver since community support projects to add support for unsupported tablets such as Digimend often make them compatible with the wacom driver because it is so good.
But if you're not one of those lucky people, just be prepared, your pressure sensitivity will sometimes stop working, or sometimes work weird, your tablet drivers will crash, you are not allowed to plug in two different tablets (god forbid from two different vendors) at once, and if you want to use two tablets then to switch you have to uninstall the original tablet driver, restart, install the other tablet driver, restart again, plug it in and fucking pray it's gonna work (not a problem on linux tho, you can have all the tablets all the time)
Seriously, tablet drivers are a disaster, just a heads up.
PS: Never forget to enable the 'Force Proportions' option in your tablet drivers. You're welcome.