This article will hopefully help anyone who is thinking of buying a digital drawing tablet but is not exactly sure where to start or what is available in the market.
Recently an artist friend contacted for some advice about drawing devices as he was preparing to take the plunge in digital art. He had been dipping his toes into this realm but now wanted a new device that he could really work on. I had been in a similar position just over a year ago and when I had been considering the various options, I had done a lot of research to find out which device best suited my needs. After sharing this info with my artist friend I thought it would be good to collate the info and put it into a blog post for others to benefit from.
I have split the information into the brands/types of tablets available. But the very first step I recommend people take is to determine your budget and then determine what exactly what you will use your tablet for. You may have several uses, which is fine. Once you list them out you can add a priority weighting to them to see clearly what is most important for YOU in a drawing tablet.
For example, your list of uses may include:
- Drawing (obviously) but are you using it for:
- Casual drawing
- Professional commissions
- Drawing (obviously) but are you using it for:
- General computing (emails, word processing etc.)
- 3D modeling
I’ll also briefly explain a couple of terms to keep in mind when you are considering options:
- Parallax: The gap or distance between where the pen touches down and where the dot or mouse appears on the screen.
- Lag or Brush Lag: The noticeable delay or mismatch of speed between the Brush Tool in the art program you are using and speed at which you’re actually drawing each stroke on the screen.
Now, with these in mind let’s consider the options:
Now in my opinion Wacom do the best drawing tablets on the market. Their technology is used in many other drawing tablets and has become an industry standard for design and art professionals. However, they are very pricey and can be quite an investment. I was only able to justify purchasing one myself by the fact that I didn’t have a home computer or laptop at the time. If you already have a laptop it may be too expensive as an additional piece of tech. This is whether you buy from their monitor range (that requires it to be connected to a computer) or an all in one drawing computer like the mobile studio Pro. In either category, they are all over £1000. I think the lowest Mobile Studio Pro model is about £1400.
Their latest pen computer range is the MobileStudio Pro series. This is an all in one Windows Tablet running Windows 10. They have 13 and 16-inch models. I purchased the 13 inch i7 Intel, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD storage. This put the cost of the device over £2200. For drawing its a little overkill but I am using this device for all my computing needs. The next model down (at about £1800) contains an i5, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, more than enough power for creating great art. The 16-inch models can cost a whopping £2800!
Once you can get past the price you start to see where Wacom excels.
The pressure sensitivity is at the highest it’s ever been with over 8000 levels of pressure sensitivity, meaning it can detect the lightest of strokes. The etched matt glass 2K res screen reduces that feeling of drawing on glass and is probably the closest thing I have experienced to drawing on paper. There is next to no parallax and next to no lag when using programs such as Clip Studio Pro. In addition, the pen doesn’t need charging and doesn’t require batteries and comes in a sleek carry case with rubber and felt nibs. The reverse end has an “eraser” nib, making the correction of mistakes feel natural. The drawing aspect of this tablet is amazing and works well with touch input to rotate/shrink/zoom the canvas. Palm rejection also helps reduce issues when leaning your hand on the screen to draw. Not only am I using this tablet to write this post but it was on this tablet that I created my first comic book CATAPULTED which was successfully funded on Kickstarter (click the pic below for more details).
Having praised the MobileStudio Pro there are some downsides. The obvious one is the price. It is an extremely top end device and the price reflects that. Even though this is a premium device there are some technological issues. The battery life isn’t great and will generally last about 4 hours. This depends of course on what you are using it for but it’s safe to say the battery life isn’t breaking any records when compared to its competitors. After assessing where I would be using this device, I decided I would be able to live with this as I’m usually near a power socket wherever I go. It’s portable but it’s not as portable as most other tablets. It’s about as portable as a normal laptop, meaning you would likely get a laptop sleeve and laptop bag to carry it about. It also doesn’t come with a stand or keyboard so you will have to purchase these separately if you want to draw at an angle or don’t want to use the on-screen keyboard. This pushes the total cost up even further. I should also add that the ports are all USB C which future proofs the device but inevitably you’ll be buying adapters for everyday use.
There are some great YouTube reviews of the tablet which helped me immensely. However, I always recommend seeking the device out at a store or Wacom exhibition stand to try it out for yourself.
Now I’m not a big Apple user (I’m an Android guy when it comes to tablets and phones) but I do draw on iPad’s and iPad Pros every time I pass by an Apple store. They are very slick devices and are much cheaper than Wacom products. A decent model can set you back about £1000+ depending on the size/spec you want. If you’ve ever drawn on one, you will find it draws surprisingly well.
The tilt function on the pencil is featured in many drawing apps and works well (a feature also in Wacom tech but few Windows programs support it) which is nice if you want to emulate pencil/graphite drawing. I know a few comic book pros that use iPad pad products with the Apple Pencil to churn out their regular work for Marvel or DC so it is definitely adequate to get the job done. The screens are high resolution and the touch input has been tried and tested for years, but for me, the drawing aspect is let down by the feel of the pencil on the screen. The permanent hard nib on the Apple Pencil constantly reminds me that I’m drawing on a glossy glass screen. It doesn’t feel natural and in addition, the pencil needs charging regularly. Another downside is the that the device is limited by the iOS operating system.
While there are some great drawing apps available, including ProCreate and Clip Studio Pro (although Clip Studio Pro is subscription based as opposed to the one-off payment for the Windows version), I like the range of drawing programs that are available on the Windows devices which tend to cater for the more serious digital artist. However, if you already use Apple products then this option might appeal more as it will sync and play nicely with your other Apple devices/services.
When I was originally considering purchasing a drawing tablet, I had originally settled on a Microsoft Surface Pro. They use Wacom digitizers and are as portable as an iPad (kinda) but they have the benefit of running full Windows which means whether you use full-blown Photoshop or Clip Studio Pro etc., it would be able to handle it (providing you get a decent spec). Currently, the latest model is simply called ‘Surface Pro’ with the previous model being Surface Pro 4 and the next model called Surface Pro 5 (which I hear is coming out soon). Both the Pro and Pro 4 have good reviews – battery life is great, parallax and screen lag are minimal and the price is pretty reasonable (depending what spec model you get, I think an i5 processor with 8GB RAM should be fine for most 2D artistic needs). As with most of these options I recommend trying them out in stores to get a feel for the drawing element. If you do, pay attention to the nib on the pen. On both Wacom and Microsoft tablets you can change the nib and for some reason, in demo stores, they always have the felt nib on which has been worn to pieces and then feels terrible to use. There are decent plastic nibs that give a much better drawing experience and don’t scratch the screen.
Outside of the Microsoft Surface range, there are some other Windows-based drawing tablets such as the HP ZBook x2 G4 (click on the link below for some details on this model). This is a detachable laptop tablet, similar to the Surface series. The tablet uses a Wacom digitizer and has great internal specs but I haven’t been able to test this personally so I’m not sure how well it draws but I suspect it will be similar to the Surface series. The spec is impressive and it looks much more usable as a laptop compared to the MobileStudio Pro.
Other branded drawing MONITORS
There is another category worth mentioning. Now, these options are different as they require a computer or laptop and these options look to extend that functionality by adding a drawing input. Another friend of mine was taking the plunge into digital but was shopping for a tablet on a tight budget. He was going to go down the iPad route but then found an inexpensive drawing monitor that he could connect to his laptop and use with the programs he was already using before. Huion have a popular range that is much cheaper than all the options mentioned above. However, although these devices have a price drop they are not without some sacrifices. Screen resolution doesn’t’ tend to be as good as top end devices (if you are going to spend many hours drawing on it, then this can make a big difference) and parallax/screen lag is a bit more noticeable. As these screens are essentially an extension of your existing computer, portability becomes nonexistent which may or may not be an issue for some people.
Other budget tablet screen options include the following models:
- XP-Pen Artist 15.6 pen display
- Huion KAMVAS GT-156HD
- Huion GT-220 V2
- Ugee 2150
Overall, the best advice I can give is:
- Figure how much you will use it. E.g. how many hours a week so you think you will use it. That can determine whether to go for a higher model or a better screen etc.
- Determine the main purpose of the device. Is the drawing element the most important function or that secondary to ease of use as a laptop? Are you going to create casual art or are you looking to produce professional pieces of work on the side?
- Read reviews – I’ve added some links below to some tech and art sites that I trust that do good, details and honest reviews.
- Try out the tech before you buy. Go to shops and outlets and spend some time drawing on them. This gives a good gut feeling of what works for you.
Finally here are some links to a few useful articles comparing different drawing tablets: