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Graphics Tablets: Why and How You Should Use One

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When thinking about the best drawing tools, graphics tablets can be overlooked as people turn to iPads to make their digital art. That’s a shame, since graphics tablets have a lot of great capabilities for artists, especially those diving into digital drawing for the first time.

Graphic tablets, or drawing tablets, are drawing surfaces that connect to computers. Using a compatible stylus, anything that is drawn on the graphic tablet surface gets transferred to the computer via a digital art or word processing program.

There are a number of great reasons why graphic tablets can be key tools in an artist’s toolkit. Read on to learn why they can be great, the learning curve you should expect, and how to get started. 

Graphics Tablets Ease the Transition to Digital Art

When I first decided I wanted to give digital art a try, I was worried that drawing on a screen or drawing with a computer mouse would feel weird. I worked so hard to build the traditional drawing skills I had with pencil and paper and I didn’t want to start over with something completely new. 

There definitely is a learning curve with drawing tablets, which we’ll talk about later, but it was less than the learning curve with the iPad. Once I switched to the iPad, I realized the work I had done with the graphics tablet was a good stepping stone.

My first drawing tablet let me feel like I was exploring the digital art world without needing to understand complicated programs. Yes, drawing tablets can use complicated programs like Photoshop or Illustrator, but they also work with basic programs like Microsoft Word. At first, I had fun just writing my name!

What I especially liked about graphics tablets were that the surface felt like paper. This lets you use some of the same techniques I knew with paper and pencil drawing while exploring a digital medium. Also, the stylus felt a lot like a normal pencil. I was used to seeing short styluses with round, bubble-like tips; this stylus had a nice, sharp point just like a pencil. 

Graphics Tablets are Cheap

Graphic tablets range in price from under $20 to over a few hundred dollars. There are a lot of great options on the inexpensive end of the scale with some more expensive options for advanced users.

iPads are great for drawing, but if you don’t already have one to play around with, they can be a big investment for some digital drawing experimentation. Graphics tablets have a much lower barrier to entry and can give you a taste of the digital world without sacrificing your bank account.

I bought my Huion graphics tablet for less than $20, which was the perfect price for me to feel comfortable with taking the leap. Even though there are options that will cost you a few hundred dollars, my cheap little Huion did just what I needed it to do. If you end up loving the drawing tablet life, there are more advanced models to buy down the line, but I don’t see any benefit to them for someone who is just getting started. 

huion graphics tablet

Graphics Tablets are Portable

The Huion drawing tablet I used had an active drawing area of 4”x2.23”. You read that right; I had only a few inches of drawing space. You see, drawing tablets don’t work exactly like paper.

You can draw something that takes up your entire computer screen while only drawing within that radius of a few inches instead of needing a piece of paper the size of your finished product. This is because drawing tablets understand scale, pressure, tilt and other attributes that are communicated through how you use the stylus. 

This small drawing space can be hard to get used to, but it’s also great for people who need something compact and portable to draw one. Heading on a trip or need to clean up your office, simply stow away those few inches of tablet and you’re set. 

Granted, you will need your computer to use your graphics tablet, so you have to take that into account for size and space as well. But, if you’re already used to bringing your laptop with you everywhere you go, adding a drawing tablet to the mix won’t be a big inconvenience.

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You Have So Many Options with Graphics Tablets

This can really be said about digital art in general, but it’s awesome enough to say about graphics tablets specifically. Once you jump into the digital art world, you have all of your computer’s capabilities at your fingertips. And computers can do a lot of things. 

When I first started with digital art, I was so thrilled that I could paint, draw, watercolor, charcoal, and more right from my bed. No more dealing with dirty brushes, messy paints, or fickle pencil sharpeners. Of course, traditional art will never be replaced.

I will always love pulling out my paints, no matter how messy. When I want a lazy morning or art, or I’ve planning a trip and can’t bring along my paint set, digital art is an amazing alternative.

I especially love using my graphics tablet when I’m experimenting with a new design and want to erase things as easily as possible. It’s an amazing feeling to scribble and scratch all while knowing that my “paper” could be as clean as new with one swipe of the digital eraser.

What Does the Graphics Tablet Learning Curve Look Like?

To be honest, there is a learning curve with drawing tablets. Here were my biggest hurdles:

1) What you’re drawing isn’t where you drew it. It was hard to get used to the fact that what I was drawing was nowhere to be seen on the tablet in front of me, but was magically showing up on my computer screen. It took a lot of  practice to understand where I needed to put my pen (stylus) in order to be in the right spot of my drawing. 

2) Drawing tablets can be small. Remember the 4”x2.23” drawing area we talked about? Once you get the hang of it, this small size is awesome. It’s easy to store, easy to take with you, and easy to move around your desk. It can take some time to get used to though. Figuring out where to put your stylus on such a small space can feel strange when it doesn’t directly relate to where it would normally go on a standard piece of paper. You’ll get used to this and learn to love it, but it does take time. 

3) You’ll need to learn a drawing program. This goes without saying if you’re jumping into digital art, but is still something to keep in mind. At the same time you’re trying to navigate your new drawing tablet, you’re also learning how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, or another program of your choice, which can add to your learning time.

4) You need to control your computer and your graphics tablet at the same time. While your tablet will take care of the art side of things, you need your computer to take care of, well, the computer size of things. It can take time to find a rhythm of jumping back and forth between your tablet and computer as you change  the settings on your drawing program.

Is a Graphics Tablet Right For You?

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, you’re probably interested in getting a graphics tablet of your own. Just go for it. If we were talking about iPads, I may tell you to do more research before laying out so much money; they’re great, but that price tag can’t be ignored.

At less than $20, there’s little risk to trying out this new digital medium that might catapult you into a love for digital art. You can get a great drawing tablet for the price of new paper and pencils. Who can argue with that? 

Buying your first graphics tablet will open you up to a new world of art. Even if you decide that you want to stick with the traditional side of things, you’ll know so much more about how digital art works and how to use it. Given that we live in an increasingly digital world where digital art is becoming a norm, it can be valuable to know and understand the digital landscape. 

Of course, I highly recommend my own first drawing tablet, the Huion 4 x 2.23 Inches OSU Tablet Graphics Drawing Pen Tablet – 420. It’s extremely inexpensive, easy to use, small, and durable. It’s also made by a big player in this space, Huion. While off brands can be great, in this case, you’ll know you’re getting a drawing tablet from a company that knows drawing tablets.This can ease some fears of it being inexpensive and low quality. 

Have fun dipping your toes (or plunging!) into the world of digital drawing. I’ve had fun with my digital pencils and I’m sure you will too. 

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