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First of all, what are you going to use the tablet for? For those who are looking for a tablet they will use only very occasionally, for very simple jobs, then investing a lot of money in a Graphire or a Intuos may not be necessary. The Volito2 or new Bamboo may well serve your needs very well. For anybody interested in more serious work however (as I am sure most of you reading are) these tablets are likely to be a little small, and not equipped with the full functionality you will require (they are not as accurate as the upmarket models...although most beginners may not even notice this). These tablets are aimed far more at the amateur home user and those who wish to use a tablet as an alternative ergonomic input device. This is reflected in their comparatively small size, and reduced accuracy. It is worth remembering however that they are fully capable tablets, and can be used for drawing and rendering. If you are serious about your art work however, then you should be looking a little higher in the Wacom range.

This leaves the Graphire4 or the professional grade Intuos3 to choose between (we will leave the Cintiq for another article). The major differences between the Graphire4 and the Intuos3 (besides appearance) is the level of accuracy and functions they offer. The professional level Intuos3 offers for instance 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, and an accuracy of +/- 0.25mm compared to the 512 levels of pressure and +/-0.5mm accuracy on the Graphire. The pen is also registered up to 6mm from the tablet on the Intuos compared to only 5mm on the Graphire (how high the pen can be from the drawing surface whilst still moving the cursor). These are the kinds of things that do make a difference to the realistic feel and comfort of use in the tablet. However, having used both myself , I feel that a non professional would take some time to notice the difference...and importantly, despite these differences the Graphire is still a very good tablet. As well as these differences in accuracy, the Intuos also comes equipped with some very useful shortcut buttons and a slider bar. These buttons found on either side of the tablet (or on the left side of the A6 Intuos) can add a great deal to the usability. They can be programmed to perform a great many shortcuts, which can make life a lot easier when using a program such as Photoshop.

When choosing a tablet  it is also very important to decide what size you want and require.  When using a Wacom tablet in its normal mode the usable area on the tablet corresponds exactly to the size of your screen. For example if you draw a line half way across the tablet, a line will be produced on the screen covering half the monitor. This means that if you purchase a A4 tablet (active area 30.5 x 23.1 cm) you will have to draw a line 15cm long to cover half the screen, whereas on a A3 wide tablet (active area 48.8 x 30.5 you will have to draw a 24cm long line to achieve the same (regardless of the actual size of your screen). It is important to remember that this means choosing a larger tablet will necessitate much larger arm movements merely to navigate around. Having owned an A3 tablet myself though I never found this to be much of an issue. Conversely with a small tablet you may find that you quite simply do not have enough room to move and be expressive. Nevertheless, when it comes to actually drawing using a tablet both of these problems can be partially overcome by the fact that you can zoom in and out of your image (something you cannot do on paper). For example, when drawing a vehicle you may begin by zooming out and laying down the larger lines...but as you get into more detail you can slowly zoom into the image..meaning your actually strokes on the tablet stay roughly the same size. This is something that will become second nature from the first few minutes of rendering on a tablet. A final thought when considering size is the space you have available on your table, and whether you intend your tablet to be portable or not. These are pretty easy considerations to think about, just beware to check the actual floor space of the tablet. An A3 wide tablet for instance has a complete physical size of 62.3 x 42.9 x 3.6cm.

These things considered what may your choice be? The first choice to make is of course the size you require. For actual sketching and rendering work on the tablet it is my belief that you certainly do not want anything with a smaller working area than A5. Beneath this and you simply wont have the space to draw. On the opposite side many may find the A3 tablet just too large and tiring to use, although it does give you plenty of room to be expressive with your line work. Whilst you can of course try drawing on paper to find a size that you think you can work on, this is not fully representative as you cannot zoom in or out. The best recommendation is to actually try to borrow or at least access a tablet to try. Having used many myself however, I consider the A4 tablet to be the best compromise (or alternatively an A5 widescreen format).  If you do have your heart set on the larger sizes of tablet however it is important to remember that the Graphire is only available in two sizes (with active areas of A6 and A5). If you do decide on one of these sizes, in my opinion the difference in accuracy between the Graphire and the Intuos is slight, and although noticeable, as a first user of a tablet you will certainly not be disappointed with the Graphire. Indeed my first tablet was a Graphire and I still use it today. If however you are interested in working in super fine detail, and the extra button functions are important to you (or you just want the extra size) then of course the Intuos should be your choice.


As a user of Wacom tablets myself for seven years now I have never encountered one that did not do as I asked of it.  With this in mind, so long as you have sensibly answered the question of size and extra functions you should be pretty happy with whatever model you purchase.
WACOM TABLETS
www.wacom.com

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of the questions I often receive at DesignerTechniques is which tablet I would recommend. This is not as easy a question to answer as you might at first suspect. It depends a lot on exactly what you are going to use it for, how much space you have, your budget as well as good old personal preference. Since starting work as a full time designer I have been lucky enough to have access to virtually any tablet I want. My current tablet for instance is the fantastic Wacom Cintiq 21UX. It is as close to drawing on paper as you can get today...without actually drawing on paper (you actually draw where your lines appear). At roughly 2500USD (from Wacom Americas) it of course has to be understood that, although fantastic, it is probably a little too expensive for students on a tight budget. If you are one of the lucky few who can however afford the Cintiq then I can think of little reason not to give it a go. Suddenly you will have available to you a whole new world of creative possibilities. If you are however not one of the fortunate few, then which Wacom should you consider as an alternative? Wacom have grown a reputation as the worlds leading producer of drawing tablets, and there is probably not a car design studio in the world that does not use its products. And for good reason. Well built and reliable they do exactly what you hope they will do. Wacom however build a large range of tablets, and many people are unsure which to buy. To answer this there are some questions you need to ask yourself.
page last updated; 2014-06-15
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