Hi! There are a lot of tablets on the market today and picking one to work on will really come down to what you’re comfortable with using, or what you prefer.
I’m most familiar with standard tablets (Such as the Wacom Intuos 4, or Graphire) as well as the Wacom Cintiq and a newcomer to the game—the Yiynova MSP19U.
If you’ve never used a tablet of any kind, I will most recommend trying to give some a test run. Often, there are stores that have demo items out for you to test. I’ve seen them more often in specialty stores though I think electronic stores *might* carry them too. Asking around to friends might also lead to someone having a tablet you can test out. If you try drawing and it doesn’t work out so well, don’t get discouraged. It’s a bit of a learning curve to get used to it and once you do, you’ll be pretty happy :)
When I got my tablet, it was the standard style (not a screen style). It was a Wacom Graphire. It was pretty good for my immediate needs of coloring/shading. Drawing was tricky for me because I had a hard time wrapping my brain around drawing down, and looking up. After about 5 years, my tablet died and I bought a Wacom Intuos 4. This was a big upgrade because it’s a more sensitive tablet and it also had almost a grit/tooth to the surface. Barely noticeable if you ran your hand across it but it seemed to grab the pen tip more like real paper. This drove my hand nuts for a few days since I’d previously used a tablet with a slick plastic shield on it.
I loved the Wacom Intuos 4 (Medium size I believe) because it was bigger than my tiny Graphire, and it had a spin wheel on it for making brush sizes larger/smaller.
It was also lightweight and the USB cord was removable so I could bundle the cord and pen up in a little zipper bag so it wouldn’t scratch the hell out of the tablet’s surface as I brought it around. I did eventually scratch it but it wasn’t too bad (I also think you can buy a surface sheet to help protect it).
Tablets make magic with brushes. A brush and mouse make a line, but a tablet pen lets you use settings like pen pressure, tilt, jitter, and more! My brushes came alive with tilt and pressure settings and produce some of the most wonderful dry brush looks. Once you get the hang of drawing with it, you can have a ton of fun playing with the settings. Adjusting tilt or pressure sensitivity just a tiny bit can yield a lot of a change in how a brush behaves.
With the Intuos 4, I felt like I had a lot more control, and it worked so well with brush settings in Photoshop (I’m running CS3).
This was rad until I started working at Disney and I was immediately spoiled by a screen-style tablet. I have a Wacom Cintiq at work, and once I got the hang of it with a little calibration, I was addicted. The funny thing about tablets is, it’s all personal preference. I have a coworker who has a Cintiq on his desk, and he uses an Intuos to draw/control with his pen (no mouse at his computer). He uses the Cintiq only as a second screen as it’s very wide.
The things I love about the Cintiq are the sliders on the back of the tablet that let me control the brush sizes. It’s such a bad habit for me because when I work on a different non-Cintiq tablet, I reach for these sliders by habit. I also love the adjustable stand that lets you tip it back so you have a better drawing surface.
Now, while a Cintiq is absolutely amazing, the kicker is the pricetag. It’s still so very expensive! It’s a major bummer because a lot of artists cannot afford it and that is a shame because it’s a wonderful tool. Using a tablet opens up a world of awesomeness in using brushes like I mentioned.
A few years ago, my friend Kyle and I were roaming around Siggraph in Los Angeles, and saw a new monitor tablet on the market. It was brand new and not as robust as a Cintiq but by gosh, it was less than half the price of a Cintiq!
This past year, I was looking for tablet options and I saw a post by the artist Ray Frenden, and he was blogging a review of a new tablet. I don’t know if it’s the same company as the one we saw at Siggraph but it looks like a similar tablet. Frenden reviewed the Yiynova MSP19U (you can read his review here)
*Note—if you are interested in that tablet, make sure you read Frenden’s post and make sure you get the MSP19U model as the MSP19 model is not as good concerning the digitizers.
I bought one last spring and So far it’s been pretty good! I still can’t get over the price difference! While this one does not have the brush size sliders on the back, I’ll deal with it. The calibration was a little wonky for a few tries but I’ve been having balance issues in the past year (I have a harder time visually finding the center of something, and I feel like I veer to the left when walking) so that caused me to mis-calibrate the tablet.
With this particular tablet, you cannot have both Wacom drivers and Yiynova drivers installed at the same time. It’s just wonky and can result in things not behaving.
The tablet’s surface is slick glass unlike the Cintiq, and I found that to be tricky with my hand (my skin sticks to it), so I asked my friend Lindsay to knit me a fingerless glove I can use when drawing. It lets the side of my hand glide freely without any sticking. I absolutely love the glove and how easy it makes it to draw/color on the tablet.
Frenden also just yesterday posted a new review for another tablet—a 19” Monoprice Tablet Monitor and he says it beats the MSP19U (Read his review here)
There are a lot of options, and it’s awesome that there’s competition popping up in the market. That said, just take your time when looking around, and once you do make a choice, make sure you follow all the instructions for installing drivers. Make sure your computer is compatible with the tablet as hardware, and make sure you have enough RAM. I doubt that’s an issue these days but my computer is getting on in age and it can get hard/frustrating if it slows down when I want to use a tablet, as it suffers from lag. Just make sure things are compatible, and check to make sure you get the most recent drivers—and always continue to check to make sure your drivers are up to date :)
I hope you can get a chance to test some different tablets out and get a feel for them! If you have any more questions, or if I missed something, feel free to ask me!
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