If you’re a digital creative – whether it’s through graphic design, illustration, animation, video or photo editing – a mouse is only going to get you so far. That’s why most digital creatives rely on graphics tablets to maximise their creative potential, as well as their precision and efficiency. While touchscreen devices can help in some cases, it is still rather limiting compared to a device designed specifically with digital creativity in mind.
The best graphics tablet will help you edit, draw and create with ease. A graphics tablet and pen/stylus can make the entire process feel so much more natural, allowing you stay immersed in the creative flow of things. Entry-level tablets start at around $60 and range up into the thousands for pro level ones. With so many offerings on the market, it pays to understand what exactly you need in a graphics tablet before you go shopping for one.
We’re sharing with you some key features to look out for when shopping for a graphics tablet so you can make the best choice for you. We’ve also compiled a list of some of the Best Graphics Tablets and Tools for Digital Creatives below. Whether you’re a student, professional, or just starting out with digital art, we’ve got something to suit you needs.
What features to look out for?
When shopping for a graphics tablet, there are a handful of features you should be paying attention to. Understanding what they all mean will help you choose the best tablet for you, allowing you to turn your creative vision into reality with ease and efficiency, without it being overkill.
Tablet Size and Active Drawing Area
When looking at graphics tablets, you’ll notice two sets of dimensions under its specifications. One is the overall size of the tablet, and the other, more important one, is the active drawing area. The active area is where all the magic happens. It’s mapped exactly to your display which means if you move your pen from the left to the right edge of your tablet, it will do the same across your display, even if your display is significantly larger.
If you have a smaller active area, less movement is needed to manipulate your strokes on the screen. This can be a perk for some - depending on their style of work – as it can mean less arm fatigue. For others, such as those working with large displays or very detailed work, this can be a hinderance. In these cases, you’ll have to zoom in very closely to add those fine details or re-map the active area to a portion of the screen. If you’re someone who prefers making large strokes, working with a lot of detail, or using a large monitor, aim for a graphics tablet with a larger active drawing area. If you’ve found yourself running out of room on your tablet or can’t work comfortably on a smaller one, you should also opt for a larger drawing area.
Pressure sensitivity is important to an extent and ultimately depends on your drawing and art style. When looking at tablets, you will often read about levels of sensitivity which refers to the number of distinct points the tip of your pen can detect. This will tell your tablet how thick or thin to make the lines that you draw. Pens/tablets with more pressure sensitivity will create more natural looking strokes that are tapered at each end, while those with little or no pressure sensitivity will look less natural and often have more rounded ends.
Most pens/tablets have a number of pressure sensitivity. These days, they tend to have at least 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, while higher-end tablets generally have around 8,192 pressure levels. If your work is quite nuanced, we recommend looking for a tablet with greater levels of pressure sensitivity.
Tilt support/sensitivity is a feature that enables the device to perceive the angle of your pen/stylus over the tablet surface, varying the thickness and intensity of the line accordingly. Essentially, this feature allows you to shade just like if you were using a real pencil. Graphic tablets at the lowest end typically don’t offer tilt sensitivity and depending on the work you do, this might not even be an issue. Otherwise, if your work does require that level of detail, make sure the tablet you choose has a tilt function!
The resolution determines how sensitive the tablet is to the pen’s position and movement within that area. It is measured in lines-per-inch (LPI) which refers to the number of distinct pen positions a tablet can detect within an inch. This means that the higher the LPI, the better.
Most entry-level tablets typically have an LPI of 2540. If you’re a professional or someone who will be working with very high-res images and super sharp graphics, you should look for a tablet with a higher LPI of at least 5080.
Report Rate Speed (RPS)
The Report Rate Speed (RPS) refers to how frequently the tablet sends information about the pen’s position and pressure back to your computer. A higher RPS means faster response times and ultimately, smoother lines and a higher-quality drawing experience. A lower RPS in some circumstances, may lead to rough or jagged lines due to lagging and a slower response.
If you want to fully consider all that each graphics tablet has on offer, here are some other features to keep in mind.
Pen/Stylus – Beyond levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt functions that a pen/stylus can offer, there are some other things that you might also want to consider – especially if you’re looking to upgrade or change to a different pen/stylus. Such as, whether a pen uses EMR (Electro Magnetic Resonance) to power itself as opposed to a battery-operated pen.
The build and quality of a pen/stylus may affect you. Lightweight pens tend to feel less natural and therefore, a bit harder to work with. However, an overly heavy pen or one that’s not ergonomically designed, may cause discomfort if used over a long day.
HotKeys – HotKeys add efficiency to your workflow and can help to streamline your process. They can be programmed to specific functions so that you can quickly perform certain functions and operations with the press of a button. Some tablets will have these on the tablet itself, while others will have them on the pen, or even both.
Display – While most graphics tablets don’t come with a display, there are many options on the market that do. Graphics tablets with displays allow you to see what you’re working on, use reference images on the main screen as you work on your tablet, and for some, be more precise and efficient. These ones often come with a power supply that needs to be plugged in, which may add some bulk or clutter to your setup, but it's pretty minimal overall and if it helps you get the job done better, then that’s the important part.
Best Graphics Tablets for Digital Creatives
For Students or Beginners – Wacom Intuos
If you’re a student or just dipping your toes into digital art, the Wacom Intuos range is a great place to begin. Whether you’re digital drawing, painting or photo-editing, the Intuos has everything you need to make it happen. First of all, it’s super easy to setup and use and even offers creative applications that you can download for free (Corel Painter Essentials 6 and Corel AfterShot 3) – this makes it a great choice for even the ultimate beginner.
The pen feels natural and has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. Its light weight and ergonomic design ensure it sits comfortably in your hand, allowing to experience both precision and control. It also offers some great versatility, allowing you to tailor the pen to your drawing style with various Felt and Flex Nibs stored inside of it. You can even customise the pen’s two buttons and the tablet’s four ExpressKeys to suit your creative process. Keep in mind that the Wacom Intuos does not contain tilt sensitivity, so if this is an important feature to you, this is not the tablet for you.
The Intuos is completely wireless meaning there are no cables and wires getting in your way as you create. You’ll only need to hook it up when it needs charging, which is about after 15 hours of use. As you’d expect from a Wacom tablet, the Intuos has great build-quality. It offers impressive precision and accuracy when compared to other entry-level graphics tablets, and that’s why it’s our top entry-level pick for students or beginners.
For Creative Professionals – Wacom Intuos Pro
Wacom’s Intuos Pro range is the tablet of choice for many industry professionals and those who are serious about their craft. Once you take a look at it’s features, you’ll quickly see why. The tablet is built with high-quality materials and has a sleek, compact design. It’s designed to make the most of the ultra-responsive Wacom Pro Pen 2, and that’s what makes a lot of the magic happen.
The Pro Pen 2 is designed to be a natural extension of your hand, maximising your precision and efficiency. Natural tilt response along with 8,192 pressure levels enables exceptional sensitivity and responsiveness, providing more accuracy and control as you work. The pen also glides across the surface of the tablet with just a touch of friction creating a natural pen to paper feel.
A great choice for graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, video editors and more. If you need natural and responsive creative control, you can’t go wrong with the Wacom Intuos Pro. Available in a range of sizes to suit your needs, from a small 10.6-inch up to a large 16.8-inch. The medium and large options are also available in the Paper Edition - this combines the very latest Wacom technologies with the drawing paper of your choice for a new way of working.
For Creators Who Need Space – Huion Kamvas 22 Plus
If you’re someone who needs a large active drawing area, Huion’s Kamvas 22 Plus is our top recommendation. Without shattering the bank, it provides you with a 18.7-inch working area that enables you to draw comfortably, control your strokes more precisely and draw more delicate details and lines. The large working area and natural pen experience makes it perfect for illustration, painting, 3D modelling or photo editing.
Thanks to its quantum dot technology, this tablet features a 140% sRGB color gamut that not only presents your work vividly and accurately, but can also minimise the effects of blue light. Additionally, the display is fully laminated to minimise cursor movement while the chemically etched glass can lighten the glare and provide a pen-on-paper drawing experience.
The tablet comes with the battery-free pen PW517, which features PenTech 3.0 to provide better stability with a lower-position pen nib to bring you a lifelike drawing experience. It also supports ±60° Tilt Function, has 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity, and a 5080 LPI Pen Resolution. The Kamvas Plus 22 is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Android devices and comes with a stand and stylus.
For Illustrators and Animators - Wacom Cintiq 16
Wacom’s Cintiq 16 gets its name from its 16-inch display. It’s 16-inches of vibrant colour and HD clarity that’s perfectly equipped for creatives who prefer to work with a screen. Paired with the super responsive Wacom Pro Pen 2, it offers a natural experience that helps you take your creative ideas to the next level. A great choice for professionals, or even just those who find traditional graphics tablets difficult to get the hang of.
Unlike other tablets on this list, you get the added perk of having a display to work with. Displays can make it easier to select different tools, work on detailed images, and allow more precision and accuracy, particularly for those who are new to using graphics tablets. The Full HD (1920x1080) resolution isn’t as sharp as displays on premium laptops, tablets and monitors, but it’s perfectly adequate for the purposes of a graphics tablet display.
The Cintiq 16 comes with the Pro Pen 2, which features 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity and a low activation force, so it recognises even the lightest pen strokes. It offers amazing precision and control, reacting to the tilt of your hand and accurately responding to each movement, immediately. EMR (Electro Magnetic Resonance) technology allows the pen to draw the power it needs from your Wacom Cintiq, so it doesn’t need a battery.
For Photo and Video Editors - TourBox Neo
This one isn’t a graphics tablet like the others on this list, but it seeks to offer the same precision, efficiency, and enhanced workflow for digital creatives. The TourBox NEO is a deeply-customisable creative software controller that is especially ideal for photo and video editors. This controller can be paired with a mouse or a graphics tablet to give you more control and efficiency as you work.
It has a lightweight, durable and ergonomic design that allows you one-handed control of your software, sparing you the trouble of using complicated shortcut keys. It has wheels (scroll, dial, and knob) and buttons that can be used to achieve 50 different operations. The versatile knob and dial provide efficient and accurate brush control, versatile parameter control, smooth and seamless navigation operations, and quick and easy tool switching. Additionally, it comes equipped with massive and unique built-in functions targeting various software, including functions that the keyboard and mouse can’t achieve.
The TourBox Neo is a real tool for creatives, and offers streamlined and ergonomic design that reduces the fatigue of high-intensity creative work. It’s compatible with literally all programs and works with both Mac and Windows devices.
Don't let a screen limit your creativity, especially when there are so many great graphics tablet at every price point! If you're keen to explore some other options before deciding, check out our entire range of Graphics Tablets.