I get asked "What tablet should I get" quite frequently at conventions and through e-mails and other internet communication. I thought I'd take the time to write up a thread on my thoughts on the different tablets. Half of this post is tablet stats, half is opinion ;-)What is the major advantage of a tablet over a mouse?
Drawing with a tablet is more like drawing with a pen on paper then the mouse will ever be. The major advantage of the tablet over a mouse is the pressure sensitivity. This is particularly evident in inking, tactile brush strokes, and airbrushed shading. The tablet senses when you're pressing lightly, firmly, and anywhere in between. You can use this feature in many compatible art programs (ie: Photoshop, Painter, PSP, Paint Tool SAI, Opencanvas, and more) and have it affect your paintbrush and tools in different ways.
Personally, when I ink I use the pressure to taper the width of my lines. When I press lightly, I get a nice thin line. When I press more firmly, my line gets thicker. The combination of subtle tapering and thick and thin lines without having to contantly change brush sizes or make adjustments in the tool options is awesome! You can also use the pressure to adjust the size of your textured paintbrushes, allowing you to taper the strokes and have the digital brush behave a bit more like real paint. Finally, you can set the brushes and tools to adjust how opaque they are based on pen pressure. This is particularly useful for shading and rendering. You do not need to be constantly changing out to lighter and darker shades paints or higher and lower opacity.
There are several other handy features of drawing tablets, but they are often model dependant. Pressure sensitivity is the big thing!Bamboo:
[list=]The Bamboo Pen
has 512 levels of pressure sensitivity. It's a smaller tablet, and costs $69.
The Bamboo Craft
has 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity. It's a smaller tablet, comes bundled with some art software*, and retails for $129.[/list]*Photoshop Elements and Painter Essentials. Elements has a different interface and is a very very watered down version of Photoshop. Painter Essentials is watered down painter and I believe it limits you to one layer, but you still get to play around with all the great brushes.
I recommend the bamboo line for anyone just starting in digital art, or those who do artwork as a hobby and work digitally less than 10 hours a month. The Bamboo is very cost effective, and a great way to get introduced do digital art without dropping hundreds of dollars and a piece of equipment you may or may not decide to continue to use, and that will be outdated in a few years anyway. You get the major benefit of owning a tablet, the pressure sensitivity. The small size, lower pressure of the Bamboo pen, and lack of keybindings make this more of a beginner or hobbiest's tablet, but it gets the job done admirably. The low cost means you can blow more of your budget on the pricey art software that you may have had your eye on as well!Intuos:
[list=]The Intuos line
ranges widely in price and size (the larger the tablet you buy, the higher the price), but they're 2048 levels of sensitivity. They have keys you can bind to functions.[/list]
If you know that you enjoy doing digital artwork and you plan on doing lots more in the future, the Intuos line is really slick, and if you have the cash to spare, I highly recommend it. You can enjoy working on a larger area and making broader pen strokes then the tiny bamboo. In addition, you have the fantastic ability to keybind the little buttons to the right or left of your tablet. This is particularly useful if you keybind functions such as "undo" or "brush size up or down", zoom in and out, or your alt/ctrl/and command keys (it's nice not to have to constantly reach for your keyboard!) This can be a huge time-saver!
I'm not quite sure how much of a difference the higher pressure sensitivity makes. Past a certain point I'm not sure that my hand has that noticible an amount of pressure difference it is capable of exerting! I know some artists swear that the higher sensitivity makes a difference in the curves of their artwork. Cintiq:
[list=]The Cintiq line
is wacom's line of tablet with screens built into the tablet. There's a 12 and 21 inch version, which cost $1000 and $2000 respectively.[/list]
The obvious advantage of the cintiq is the screen. I know that artists will often complain that the hand eye coordination and not being able to see what they're doing directly can make using the bamboo and intuos a bit more challenging. (There is a learning curve with these, and it's very possible to get used to it!) Having owned both a screen and a non-screen wacom, I can say that having the screen under my pen is a real treat. Having the screen didn't really do anything to improve the quality of my artwork, but it did help cut down on the amount of time I spent drawing. With inking in particular, I'd make a lot less mistakes and use a lot less undos then I did when I didn't have a screen tablet.
The disadvantages of this type of tablet are fairly numerous.
They're ridiculously expensive.
They're not all that portable. You have a pretty huge hub and 4 cords you need to haul around, even with the "portable" 12 inch version. You need a power outlet, as the screen uses up too much power to be able to draw from your laptops USB alone.
The monitor of the tablet will die out long before the tablet itself does. I've had one for three years and it's covered with mura bruising and does not have as much color contrast as it did when I purchased it. Even on its brightest setting, the "white" of the screen is never really white.Tablet PC/Laptops:
When I refer to tablet laptops and PC, I'm not talking about the ipad or other such devices that have come about in the past year. I'm referring to laptops that have been around for the past 6-7 years that have a monitor on them that spins around and is a touch screen, enabling you to draw right on it while still being a fully functional laptop.
The nice thing about these tablet pcs is that they may cost the same (or not much more than) a standard laptop. If you want to save yourself 1-2K on a Cintiq, and were looking at getting a laptop anyway, these might be a good choice. When you go tablet-laptop shopping, make sure that the laptop you're purchasing is powered by wacom technologies in its spec sheet. Many are not, and are only good for writing down notes on the screen, not making artwork.Another bonus to getting a tablet-laptop is that you can run off the battery power of your laptop and are truly portable. Cintiqs require a power outlet and you're carrying around a couple pounds in cords and hubs.
If you have any thoughts on drawing tablets, suggestions for other similar tools, or questions, feel free to add to this.