As per the Statista report, the global market size corresponding to pen tablets is expected to increase beyond the $800 million mark by 2027 — almost twice where it stands in 2022. Yet, is the growing popularity of drawing tablets justified? How do you choose a drawing tablet? You’ll find everything answered in this detailed tablet buying guide.
New-gen artists are steadily moving beyond the confines of papers and pencils to lend some spark to their digital arts. The growing popularity of NFTs, animated content, comic books, sketches, tattoos, and more pushes artists towards adopting a more portable drawing resource. But finding the best tablet for drawing requires proper research.
If you’re just getting started in digital art, it is essential to know that two types of drawing tablets are available in the market. Specifically, Pen Displays, i.e., drawing tablets with a screen, and Digitizers, i.e., drawing tablets without a screen. You need to pick one depending on your preferences, power of the host device, field of work, skill sets, and more.
It isn’t always easy to do right by your creative setup despite knowing the buying prerequisites. And that is why I’ve prepared a detailed list of things to consider when buying a drawing tablet. First, I’ll talk about the types while slowly moving on to the factors to consider, followed by the winner for each section. So without wasting any more time, let’s get started.
- Types of Drawing Tablets
- Factors to Consider when Buying a Drawing Tablet
- Popular Brands
- Frequently Asked Questions
Types of Drawing Tablets
Before I move ahead with this beginner’s guide to drawing tablets, it is important to cut the clutter and understand the types of digital art tablets available across the retail space. And trust me when I say you need not let these types overwhelm you as broadly, drawing tablets set apart as Display and Non-Display variants.
Type 1: Pen Displays
As mentioned, these devices come with dedicated displays, cool, aren’t they? Yes, you would still need them to connect to host computing devices, but the display lets you see what is being drawn and created.
Here are the aspects that I would like to evaluate pen displays against:
Display and Sensitivity
Pen displays from the likes of Huion and Wacom offer sizable displays. You can even pick something as big as a 24-inch drawing screen if you play your cards right. But that’s not why you should get the pen displays. The screens aren’t just big here but come with excellent color fidelity — helping you get the creative designs out with accuracy and precision.
If you seek numbers, a good-quality pen display can help you experience over 120% of the sRGB color gamut sitting atop an IPS screen. And you can get devices offering HD and Full HD or 1080p resolutions to maximize performance.
In most cases, the panels offered by display tablets are responsive enough but you can still experience some latency or lags on mid-range devices. Yet, in most cases, premium drawing tablets hardly disappoint.
This attribute relies greatly on the price you are willing to pay for drawing tablets with screens. For a high-end device, you can even expect wireless connectivity, allowing you to work on the designs without those wires hanging around. Still, 3-in-1 USB support is the bare minimum you get on these devices. And that too with a supplied cable to take care of connections.
At the end of the day, a drawing resource is like a standalone tablet minus the processing setup. However, the drawing experience depends on the model you pick. Still, if you plan on persisting with the likes of Wacom and Huion for your creative needs, the drawing experiences are literally unmatched.
You can draw the best designs, all thanks to the inventive stylus pens, and even expect them to come out accurate, courtesy of the display’s excellent LPI and color fidelity.
Type 2: Digitizers
Trust me, there are quite a few users who prefer drawing tablets without screens. Digitizers are excellent bets for them as they offer exceptional drawing experience, minimal latency, and ultra-fast responsiveness.
Here are the factors that might influence your choice of a digitizer further:
Pressure Sensitive Surface
First of all, digitizers do not come with built-in displays. Instead, they are more like drawing pads where the design imprints are sent directly to the host device. They have extremely responsive and sensitive active areas that make them excellent resources for logo designing, sketching, and other creative stuff.
Standard digitizers support wired connectivity — often better than pen displays. But there is a catch to using them with specific host computers. Before you consider the ports and wireless connectivity options, if available, it is important to see whether the tablet supports the ecosystem that your host computer belongs to.
As per personal preferences, I feel a digitizer is a better bet when pure drawing experiences are concerned. The lack of display ensures that the stylus works even better.
Factors to Consider when Buying a Drawing Tablet
Now that I have explained both types of tablets with pens, some terminologies and concepts surfaced, including pen pressure, sensitivity, working area, OS compatibility, and more. In the subsequent sections, I shall discuss each of these factors in detail while talking about the nitty-gritty of a tablet purchase based on the same.
1. Display or Active Area
Arguably the most crucial aspect to look for in a drawing tablet, the display/drawing area doesn’t require a lot of perspectives. Simply put, it is the region that lets you interact with the tablet and helps you create designs, patterns, sketches, and more.
If you have your eyes on drawing tablets with dedicated screens, you might want to consider something between 24 inches to 12 inches of real estate. But there is a lot more than just the screen size. If you look carefully, you are expected to find an HD (1366 x 768 pixels) or Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) screen, depending on the budget.
For creators, color accuracy is a much-needed feature, and most pen displays offer at least 65% of the sRGB color gamut to get the job done. However, you can go up to 120% sRGB if you are ready to pay the premium price. A higher color palette ensures better color accuracy, which a comic book creator might relate well with.
In case you are only fixating on a graphic tablet, you can focus on the active area over anything else. Small digitizers offer 20 square inches of surface area for scribbling, signing, drawing, etc. However, professionals can easily go up to 100 sq. inches or more, depending on their requirements.
Coming to some of the other display-specific traits, you need to zero in on the pressure sensitivity of the tablet surface before proceeding. If you are a high-level professional, aim for a higher tracking speed to minimize latency. In most cases, digitizers offer better responsiveness than Pen Displays with IPS panels, so you must choose carefully.
2. Stylus Pen
For starters, the stylus pen is arguably one of the most important aspects of a drawing tablet, regardless of the variant you pick. You cannot pick any drawing-friendly tablet and expect the bundled stylus to be your buddy right at the start. No, there is no need to be scared as I’ll guide you on finding the right tablet with a stylus.
Let’s start with the type of stylus pens first.
Active Stylus: This type of pen needs to be charged and can be mostly associated with standalone drawing tablets — the ones with built-in processing hardware. In most cases, these pens aren’t suitable for drawing tablets requiring host connectivity.
Capacitive Stylus: Also termed as passive stylus pens, these products are usually bundled with digitizers and Pen displays. They do not require charging and feed off the surface of the drawing tablet itself. If you are into specifics, these stylus pens, in relevance to the drawing tablets, are also termed EMR pens.
The EMR pens use the Electro-Magnetic-Resonance technology and ensure that the power is received from the tablet, then powered by the host. Now that the stylus types are out of the way, leaving us with passive/capacitive/EMR choices for the pend displays and digitizers, it is crucial to focus on other stylus traits that are equally important to consider.
Regardless of the stylus pen, it all comes down to its pressure sensitivity, which varies between 4096 and 8192 levels. High-end creators are better off settling for 8192 levels, especially while sketching and shading. A stylus pen with 4096 pressure sensitivity levels is still good enough for logo designing and standard illustrations.
If you are interested in purchasing a trendy yet efficient tablet for drawing, consider looking at the stylus even more closely. You must give some thought to the availability of bundled nibs, palm-rejection support, higher LPI for those sharp lines, tilt recognition for creating some of the more inventing sketches, and on-stylus buttons to make life easier.
3. Controls & Functionalities
Most devices come equipped with on-device buttons and keys. And here are the nooks and crannies of the same that you should keep in mind before proceeding:
On-Device Express Keys
On-device keys help you manage the workload of designing more efficiently. It works in your favor by ensuring that deleting something, pasting something, or realigning something becomes easier without interacting with the host computer. It is advisable to have 4 to 8 shortcut keys on the device to help you with basic functions.
However, if you have space-intensive requirements, you can use a dial-based functionality instead of purchasing a key-intensive tablet.
Your art tablet can do several things. And it all depends on the software suite it supports. If you want a standard digitizer for signing, make sure the pen and the surface recognize the MS Office suite. However, an all-inclusive drawing pad must offer support for Photoshop, Krita. Illustrator and other relevant apps.
Despite being OS-Agnostic, the software support is often bundled with the tablet, which can be used on the host computer, with or without a screen view.
4. Connectivity and Compatibility
If you plan on picking a digitizer or a pen display, OS compatibility and overall connectivity are some of the traits to consider. Here is how you can add them into the scheme of things:
There are a bunch of high-end and mid-range tablets that allow you to connect to the host device via the USB/HDMI port. Mostly, you will always find a 3-in-1 cable bundled within. If you prefer connectivity over anything else, you can always go out on a limb, consider paying extra, and purchase a device with multiple ports, even for the peripherals, if required.
The tricky part, however, is to pick a tablet that offers wireless connectivity. This feature will allow you to connect it to your host device wirelessly without worrying about the incessant usage of wires and ports. They often offer Bluetooth and other forms of wireless connectivity to make life easier for the user.
Which host device do you own? Yes, this is an important question as you need to ensure that your drawing resource is recognized by the same. Most creative devices, including digitizers and pen displays, work seamlessly with a handful of platforms: Windows and Mac. However, you can always research and pick a device that supports Android, Linux, and even Chrome.
Finding the right set of OS compatibility is crucial as, without it, you might suddenly find creative apps like Photoshop not working on the concerned drawing tablet. Maximizing the OS compatibility suite is the key to finding a suitable device.
5. Design & In-Hand Feel
Most people do not give much thought to the design and form factor. However, there are a few aspects that you need to be mindful of before proceeding with the purchase.
These devices can get heavy and chunky. But you have been expecting them to be, right? However, you can still care enough to look at the size, build quality, drop resistance, sleekness, and other aspects before proceeding. Here, the aim is to find something robust, durable, yet minimal to ensure that carrying it around isn’t a lot of effort.
There are a few digitizers and pen displays that come with bundled stands. However, even if do not get one, you might want to check the compatibility with other third-party stands, just to ensure better usability.
In addition to the mentioned design-specific elements, it is important to note that usability, feel in hand, and roundness of edges come forth as important aspects.
6. Pricing and Expectations
Here comes one of the most important yet underrated aspects: pricing. The price of a drawing tablet inadvertently determines the skills it supports. The options you get according to price variations are enlisted as follows:
Price Range: $1000 or above
- 15+ inch screen/ 150+ square inches of an active area
- 120% sRGB color palette
- Wireless and wired connectivity
- 6 and more shortcut keys/ Dial
- Bundled stand
- Rubberized Chassis
- 8+ pen nibs
- 1-year warranty
Price Range: $200 – $1000
- 10+ inch screen / Up to 100 square inches of an active area
- 90% sRGB color gamut
- Wired connectivity only
- 4+ keys
- Bundled stand
- Pen nibs
- 1-year warranty
Price Range: Less than $200
- 6+ inch screen / 20 sq inches of an active area
- 65% sRGB color palette
- Wired connectivity
- Less than 4 keys
- Fewer pen nibs
- 1-year warranty
*Note: The expected features might vary depending on the features supported by the concerned tablet brand.
Now that you know what things to expect from your next drawing tablet, here are the top brands to consider and their USPs.
Arguably the best OEM when it comes to manufacturing drawing-friendly tablets, Wacom is for its top-notch build quality, reliable stylus, out-of-the-world customer support system, and promptness. The quality of display and responsiveness make Wacom devices good enough for professional sketch artists.
Huion is a manufacturer that relies on value for money over anything else. Huion manufacturers some of the more dependable drawing and graphic tablets and ensures that comic book creators, logo designers, and others have a lot to work with.
As a company, XP-Pen takes pride in manufacturing products that can give Wacom Cintiq series a run for their money. Best known for excellent display and multi-OS compatibility, XP-Pen is good enough for professional illustrators and tattoo artists who are mostly on a budget.
In case you are into smaller graphic pads, I would recommend Veikk over any other manufacturer on the market. Veikk has great devices aimed at business professionals and online tutors with portability and value for money in sight.
Gaomon makes good quality drawing resources. But they excel when it comes to stylus quality. If you are a tattoo artist who is into lining and shading more than anything else, I would recommend a Gaomon any day. Plus, they offer a surprisingly good build quality.
Frequently Asked Questions
Drawing tablets are more like large drawing pads that offer an experience similar to that of sketching on a piece of paper. However, they need to be connected to the computing host device via the USB port for them to work.
While the specs sheet depends on your skills, you are better off looking for a brilliant display or a large active area, a compatible stylus pen, and an OS compatibility suite covering most platforms.
Yes, it is a worthwhile investment, especially if you are a professional sketch artist, illustrator, logo designer, manga creator, or any other type of creator.
The device’s size is directly related to your skill sets, professional requirements, and responsibilities. For instance, a sketch artist would require a 24-inch screen, whereas a standard logo designer can make peace with an 11.6-inch screen.
Although each of the mentioned top brands listed here is good enough, I still prefer the likes of Huion and Wacom over everything else. If budget is a constraint, you can go with XP-PEN.
That is almost everything you need to know about drawing tablets — both pen displays and digitizers. This buying guide should nudge you in the right direction when selecting the perfect resource for your professional and personal workload.
You should know that no metric is absolute enough, and I might consider adding a few more pointers to the list as and when the OEMs introduce the same. This exhaustive guide should suffice, allowing you to pick the suitable device as per size, portability, OS support, built-in suite, compatibility, stylus support, and other parameters.