This content originally appeared on Mashable for a US audience and has been adapted for a UK audience.
Paint pots and canvases are a thing of the past. Technology has digitized almost every art form. While there’s debate over whether newfangled concepts can really be considered works of art (we’re talking about you, NFT), it’s undeniable that technology has made art much more accessible.
Digital technologies allow graphic designers and illustrators to simulate different media using a selection of devices and tools: a tablet, a stylus, a touch-sensitive panel, and some creative software like Adobe Fresco. This flexibility, in addition to the quick turnaround and finished product, makes digital art commercially attractive.
Of course, tablets, styluses, and pads can cost quite a bit. And it’s all a bit confusing if you don’t know your art-based technical jargon. As far as we’re concerned, the best place to start is with a drawing tablet. And we can help you paint a clear picture of how to choose one.
Why should you use a drawing tablet?
A good tablet — plus your software and pen — will affect how well you can transfer your drawing skills to the screen or, if you’re a complete beginner, the control you have over your artistic process. Meanwhile, different software — such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop — will offer different media and editing options.
What types of drawing tablets are there?
Most drawing tablets can be placed into the following categories:
Graphics tablet — The simplest of the bunch, essentially a touch-sensitive pen panel that you can plug into your computer so you have more control over your cursor (and therefore your digital pen) while you draw. The movement of your stylus on the pad will be reflected on your computer screen.
Pen display — Probably what most people think of as drawing tablets, these panels will allow you to see the marks of your stylus or pen as you go. Instead of having to plug into a computer, these are stand-alone tablets capable of producing art on their own.
Computer tablet — iPads and their ilk are powerful minicomputers for which drawing is just one of many other functions. Often using them for art will require the purchase of a pen or some accessory for better control and creative software of your choice.
Keep these categories in mind when shopping for a new tablet.
Do you have to be a good artist to use a drawing tablet?
Artists of all skill levels can use a tablet. But consider your skill level before you buy. If you’re not entirely comfortable drawing without looking at your hand moving across the paper, for example, you might find a graphics tablet a bit difficult to use, as you’ll need to look at the monitor while you draw with your hand. In that case, a pen display or iPad might suit you better.
What is the best type of tablet screen for drawing?
A tablet’s screen is critical to its performance. If you’re trying to create photorealistic artwork, the high resolution is well worth the price. But if you just want to practice your drawing skills more casually, a regular tablet with a lower resolution will be more cost effective. Screen thickness will affect parallax—the displacement of a line or object based on a person’s perspective caused by the distance (however small) between the pen and the interface separated by the screen. Minimizing parallax will help keep your perspective consistent.
How sensitive are drawing tablets?
They can be of different sensitivities, but again, think about what works best for you. Some may prefer a super-sensitive touch screen that will pick up every feather-light pen brush, while others will want a less responsive tablet that they can press harder to keep the line steadier or prevent accidental traces.
Tablet feel is also crucial. Obviously, it won’t feel the same as drawing on paper, but the material and build of the tablet can determine how much give, rub, and slide there is. The tactile aspect of the tablet is very important to consider, especially if you are someone who is very particular about their setup.
How big are drawing tablets?
Size and weight are some of the most important aspects to consider – whether you want a small, portable thing to carry around with you for sketching, or a heavy-duty device equipped with lots of extra features that will stay on the desk you. The size of a tablet generally corresponds to the dimensions of its active area (ie the part of the tablet you can actually draw on), so in addition to portability, consider the size and detail of the work you intend to do. It’s never fun to run out of space to draw on.
What is tracking speed?
This means the delay time between pressing the pen and displaying the corresponding line on the screen. The higher the tracking speed (measured in PPS — points per second), the less lag and the more immediate the result. And while the lag is annoying at the best of times – even just for things like loading our email inboxes – it can make finer work like drawing impossible.
How do you choose a stylus?
The tablet sometimes comes with a stylus. If not, you will need to purchase one separately. Either way, be sure to choose a stylus with a handle you like and features you need. In addition, styluses have their own different types: battery-powered (thicker, needing extra batteries), rechargeable (thinner, less reliable), and the latest EMR (wireless charging from the tablet itself).
What is the best drawing tablet?
It’s always a good idea to try before you buy a product like this. The feeling of it is extremely important. But here are some ideas to at least start to get an idea of the kind of tablet you might want.
These are the best drawing tablets in 2023.