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Professional digital artists agree – get a Wacom tablet



Scifi blog i09 put together a list of must-haves for your digital art toolbox according to professional artists of the scifi persuasion. Despite their other disagreements, they seem unanimous on their top tip: get a Wacom tablet.

Being professionals, they all point to the high-end Cintiq pen-input display. And being graphic artists, they assume that you’d connect that Wacom tablet to a Mac. (I used to work in a creative department with graphic artists and also with one in my current job; they love their Macs.) Coming in on the list right after the tablet is pencil and paper. Good tips here for the budding digital artist, as well as budget-saving ideas and recommendations in the comments, including an endorsement for ArtRage.

My own personal tip: as my stunning original piece here indicates, a pen tablet is no substitute for good old time and energy spent on schooling and training.



  1. Eve

    06/22/2010 at 4:05 pm

    I have a Cintiq 12WX, but I never use it b/c I prefer the portability of my Tablet PC (Fujitsu t2010) Allows me to cartoon in the coffee house instead of being confined to the studio. When Apple makes a true, Wacom enabled lightweight tablet (not the 2 ton Modbook), I will finally be ready to Applify my digital studio.

  2. RJ

    06/22/2010 at 4:18 pm

    shutter, i’m so freaking sick of hearing “creative professionals” praise their stupid Macs. The Wacom Tablet itself and programs like photoshop and painter run exactly the same be it on a pc or a mac. I prefer to do my art on pcs but it just sickens me how the whole industry has a “you must use a Mac” mentality. How will using a Mac make my art any better then doing it on a PC? So far none of the rabid mac fans have been able to give me a straight answer outside of “we just love our macs.”

    • Brett Gilbertson

      06/22/2010 at 9:04 pm

      It’s hypnosis. I had an Apple developer sitting behind me on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney the other day. He said “Amazing” and “Awesome” at least 15 times. I nearly got up and smacked him over the head with my rugged motion F5…

      Anyway, you are clearly not succeptible to the hypnosis. Lucky you!

  3. Brett Gilbertson

    06/22/2010 at 9:03 pm

    I had a 22.5″ Wacom Interactive Pen Display here last night for a review… Man, I want one! It is awesome. Perfect companion for your Tablet PC, and I can’t understand why everybody doesn’t have one!!!

  4. John Allison

    06/23/2010 at 12:19 am

    There is one reason that Apple is better than PC for art – and I speak as someone who uses both OSes for work, a Cintiq, and Tablet PCs – namely, the way multiple monitor setups work under Mac OS.

    If you want to have a load of files open at once across two screens – perhaps a few as reference, maybe Google streetview open too, Windows’ big grey box that Applications have to live in gets in the way. You can drag it across two mismatched screens to accommodate all your open files, it covers everything. In Mac OS, the way that files float without the grey box makes multiple monitor, multi-application art workflow easier.

    The Mac isn’t a magic art machine but subtleties like that make a lot of artists and designers’ jobs easier. That one feature has been the killer for me not switching back to all-Windows.

    • Shogmaster

      06/24/2010 at 4:55 pm

      I have the exact opposite reaction w doing Multi Monitors on Macs. I hate the way that an errand tap on the desktop takes me out of the app I was using. much prefer multi Monitor arrangement on Windows.

  5. Chad Essley

    06/23/2010 at 12:32 am

    Slight rant ahead:

    @RJ Agreed! I have always done all of my professional work on a pc, since the day I literally broke my Mac Quadra motherboard over my knee. Not to mention the whole PowerPC / Intel switcheroo that Apple pulled on everybody! I know several artists who had to re-buy all their art software and new machines in order to upgrade. Me, I can run a copy of painter from the windows 95 days, no problem.

    Saying that Apple is better than PC for art is an old bit of hokum that’s left over from the days when the mac could display more colors than the pc. We’re talking 256 color days.. so of course everyone said they were “better for art”. And that stuck to this present day for some reason. But I’ll tell you… from experience, the Mac drives me completely bonkers to use in an actual production environment. The file browser’s layout. Insane. Big candy like buttons? Argh. Every step in the mac seems like back-peddling through mud to me. As for multiple monitors? Grey boxes? You must be talking windows 98, 2000? Tried Windows 7? It’s a totally different world! But to each his own, I suppose.
    Having been a Wacom fan from the very beginning days, I have to say: Wacom’s marketing of itself is terrible!

    For me, being the doodling / note taking type.. the purchase of a new tablet computer depends on one simple thing that ends up being very hard to find. Does the device contain a WACOM digitizer?

    Wacom needs to get it’s butt in gear, and keep a constantly updated list of technology that boasts WACOM inside! (They actually do have a small very very out of date and obtuse section of their bizarre website that points out a few manufacturers which use wacom technology.)

    I’m seeing lots of cool thin / ssd / capacitive touch ipad alternatives out there. But finding out if a device sports a wacom digitizer is like looking for a needle in a haystack..

    I’ll stick with my sxga Le1700 for now.

  6. John Allison

    06/23/2010 at 1:00 am

    Chad, of course I’ve tried Windows 7, it’s great. I’ve been working professionally on both platforms for nearly 15 years. If you need to work across two mismatched monitors in Photoshop (or almost any other application) the Windows UI gets in the way because, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, Windows opens files in “windows”.

    I think part of the reason that Wacom is a little shy of shouting about the products that use their technology is that the Penabled technology is shaky. You have to ask yourself why the enhanced driver isn’t installed as standard on new Tablet PCs. Why?

    On four of the five tablet PCs I have had (Lenovo, Toshiba and Fujitsus of various vintages), I had to fix a registry setting so that the driver didn’t occasionally forget that the pen wasn’t a mouse. That same enhanced driver is underpowered and underfeatured compared to the company’s professional offerings.

    • John Allison

      06/23/2010 at 2:12 am

      Sorry, that was a bit serious Chad, this really isn’t eating me up inside. To each his own of course!

    • Jaycephus

      06/24/2010 at 5:03 pm

      There was a Youtube vid I came across of a guy putting Intuos 3 and its drivers to a rigorous test, and he found that the Wacom tilt/rotation driver code was absolutely trash and needed to be redone, or app devs needed to write their own code. I don’t know if its been improved since then, but it really explained why Painter and other apps that claimed to make use of rotation and the newer Wacom Art pen really didn’t seem to be all that great in practice.

      I was checking out specs on new Penabled tablet PCs just yesterday, and came across one that claimed tilt recognition to 50 degrees. I didn’t know that Penabled tech was doing tilt yet. I wonder if they’re upping their pressure sensitivity anytime soon.

  7. RJ

    06/23/2010 at 7:43 am

    Thank you John for acctually being the first person who has given me an actual reason to prefer a mac over a PC. I never used a dual moniter setup before, but I’m now quite curious to give it a try. But what are the other subtleties you’ve noticed?

    Have to say I completely agree with you on the Wacom Pen Driver for Tablet PCs. I suspect the reason why its so poor is because they rather people buy a Cintiq over a Tablet PC since they’ll make more money from that direct sale over just a componet in another companies package.

    And I just love your quote lol

    The Windows UI gets in the way because, and I can’t believe I’m typing this, Windows opens files in “windows”.

  8. John Allison

    06/23/2010 at 10:17 am

    RJ, I’m glad you liked my windows comment! I can’t stand people claiming that one platform is disproportionately better than another, there’s not a lot in it between the platforms. I love the portability of tablet PCs (so much improved under Vista and Win 7) and how useful they can be when I’m away from home.

    There are things I miss when I’m away from the Mac – Preview will open just about any image file format and I can usually rely on it to give me a predictable printout of that image. “Save as PDF” out of the box is also helpful. No one is going to take their Windows box into the back yard and shoot it over these things. At least, I hope not.

  9. Paul Harrigan

    06/23/2010 at 11:05 am

    I don’t have the same level of problem with opening and dragging files across mis-matched monitors in Windows. There are a few issues — e.g., making sure there are edges available for vertical movement — but they are minor.

    With that said, I agree that Wacom is the best way to go.

  10. Chad Essley

    06/23/2010 at 4:56 pm

    No offense taken! I do tend to come across harshly at times. I see what you’re saying about the dual monitor scenario. I can see some of the beauty of OSX, but for what I do, Windows has always made the most sense.

    As far as the tear away windows in OSX, that’s just a per-application design problem on windows. It isn’t tied to the OS necessarily.

    Did you know that CS4 / 5 Photoshop now supports this feature? Here’s a rather large full resolution screenshot of my setup:

    Those days of the art apps all being confined to boxes in windows, are rapidly drawing to a close.

  11. John Allison

    06/24/2010 at 12:31 am

    Oh, that’s really good news (I’m still using a pre-tabs version of CS on Windows so I’d not seen it). Thanks for showing me!

  12. Jaycephus

    06/24/2010 at 5:17 pm

    Just like to second everything Chad said already. Any issue with Win apps being too bound in a window to really make full use of multi-monitor setups is the app dev’s fault, not Windows, and of course Painter, PS, Solidworks and many other graphic arts or 3D modeling apps are able to permit tool bars or GUI elements to be torn off and placed on an extended desktop under Windows.

    I used to be a ‘Mac guy’, but those days are long gone. If Macs start to provide equivalent hardware at an equivalent price, and app devs start making my programs work on the Mac, then at least Mac would be an option. Right now, it’s not even in that category. And if someone could explain why so many Mac-people are so inexplicably smugly self-righteous. It’s almost like they think they’re helping cure cancer and end poverty by using a Mac. Something like that, anyway.

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