New Digital Tools for Design Professionals
If you're here reading this page, you're probably the creative type and are looking for a tool to help you bridge the gap between traditional and digital media formats. Perhaps you're well versed in drawing with pen/pencil and paper or painting on canvas. Likely, you've reached the limits of what you can do with just a mouse in Adobe Photoshop/ Illustrator
and want a more natural methodology. Creating physical artwork first and then scanning it in leaves much to be desired in quality and doesn't allow you to produce vector-capable files unless you retrace everything (making you do twice the work and taking up twice the time)
Here's where a digitizing tablet comes in as an invaluable tool (and no, an art app on the iPhone or iPad won't be good enough unless you're satisfied with the equivalent of kindergarten-level crayon doodles). Within this space, Wacom tablets are the premiere industry standard when it comes to digital graphics digitizers. You might be wondering why Wacom. Well, there's a reason why you'll find Wacoms used in almost every professional digital arts studio for sketching, photo retouching, and painting rather than one of their competitors. There's a reason for it's sheer dominance of the field of digital art tablets. And that reason is precision. Ask any artist who has tried other brands and you'll almost always get the same answer: "The (insert other brand here) was alright, but you should try to save up a little bit more and get a Wacom instead." Since I'm going to assume for this comparison that you are in fact interested in using a tablet for high quality design purposes, I'm just going to save us both some time and skip over the widely mediocre alternatives. There are, however, specific product tiers within the Wacom line-up that caters to different user types, so I'll outline them a bit below.
Amateur / Tester / Entry-Level (Wacom Bamboo Fun)
For those just testing the waters or are on a budget, the Wacom Bamboo line is the way to go. These are smaller and accept less input sensitivity levels but also cost less and will give you a feel for working with such tablets. Within this subset are the Touch, Pen, Craft, and Fun models. The Touch
mimics a laptop's trackpad with multi-touch finger input capabilities, but it isn't really relevant to this discussion for digital art and design. The Pen
tablet is well suited for handwriting input, but is a bit too small and only has 512 levels of sensitivity. The Craft
is the same size as the Pen (both have active pen input areas of 5.8" x 3.6") but upgrades the sensitivity levels to 1,024 while also adding multi-touch for finger navigation. While fine for general navigation, these models are simply too tiny for doing accurate detailed work, making them insufficient for most designers.
The Bamboo Fun
is much larger than the previous models with an active pen area of 8.5" x 5.4". The Fun also features 1,024 pressure levels on the tip. Here we finally have a size and sensitivity combination that is actually useful for digital painting. One missing feature though is tilt-sensitivity, which I'll explain in the next section. Pick the Bamboo Fun if you're a hobbyist that's going to draw semi-regularly and just want a decent pen-tool to supplement the mouse and keyboard.
Enthusiast / Professional (Wacom Intuos4 Medium / Large / Extra Large)
For those who are entering a graphic design program in school or are looking to design for a living, you'll likely want one of the medium to large sized Wacom Intuos models. You'll be much happier with the freedom in movement that the Medium
(8.8" x 5.5" active area) / Large
(12.8" x 8.0" active area) / or Extra Large
(18.2" x 12.0" active area) models provide. Because of this, the Intuos4 (the upgrade to the popular Intuos3
) Medium to X-Large models are what you'll find on most digital artists' desks. The larger models provide enough surface area for you to draw from the elbow rather than from the wrist, which is indispensable when making wide sweeping strokes. There are also 8 programmable buttons and a "Touch Ring" that can be mapped to specific functions to further streamline design workflows in graphics software. Pen sensitivity is also increased significantly over the Bamboo line (the Intuos4 has 2,048 levels whereas the Bamboo Fun has 1,024). This means you'll get much more refinement and control in lineweight.
My favorite aspect of the Intuos4 is that it supports tilt recognition of the pen whereas the Bamboo line does not. Tilt sensitivity changes the orientation of the onscreen brush in relation to how you hold the pen over the tablet. The Intuos4 has the option to track the angle and direction of the pen as you draw much like you can angle a felt tip marker or paintbrush to achieve different effects. This adds an extra level of depth and expertise that seasoned artists will appreciate.
Professional+ (Wacom Cintiq 21UX / DTK2100)
You can probably skip over this part and not miss out on anything. Like Morgan Freeman says in Batman Begins, "Oh, you wouldn't be interested in THAT". Really, you're still here? Okay, well this is basically the Tumber-Batmobile of the Wacom line-up, the crown jewel of the... ah, you get the point. The price of the Cintiq line is a barrier for all but the most dedicated designers, and the Cintiq 21UX
(also designated as the DTK2100) is the pinnacle of that elite crop. So just what makes the Cintiq so unique? Combine all the benefits of the already impressive Intuos4 (the larger real estate; the 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity; the tilt recognition) and now combine it with the ability to draw directly on a crystal clear monitor. This allows for unmatched precision even among Wacoms that are already leaps and bounds beyond the rest of the competition. This completely removes the disconnect of drawing on one surface while looking at another screen to see the result of your actions because now your drawing surface is built into your new 21" monitor. Oh yeah, there are also double the buttons that can be used as shortcut keys.
If you want the same functional advantage of drawing directly on the monitor but at a lower price, check out the older and smaller Cintiq 12WX
Whichever of these models you decide on, be assured that your productivity and accuracy with digital drawings will skyrocket after the initial learning period. Once you've grown accustomed to working with a Wacom digitizing tablet, you'll wonder how you've ever managed without one. But be forewarned: if you decide to purchase one of these tablets, you'll never be able to go back to drawing with just a mouse ever again.
Related Post: The Purpose of Digitizing Vector Files from Raster Images.