As a photographer, there always seems to be a new piece of gear or a software upgrade that we just have to have. Sometimes it can be hard to see through the hype and figure out if we really do need that next thing, or if it would be a waste of money.
Today we’re looking at graphics tablets, and just how much advantage you will get from using a pen versus sticking with your mouse.
Types of graphics tablet
First, let’s take a look at the types of tablet that are available. Popular brands like Wacom will offer a wide range of choices. Some of them are very simple: a piece of plastic which is connected to your computer via a USB cable, allowing you to ‘draw’ on the surface with a stylus pen and see the results appearing on your screen.
Then there are the more advanced versions. Some might have dozens of different functionalities – buttons on the side of the tablet, different attachments for the pen, and so forth. Some even allow you to see the image you are working on through the tablet screen, just like using a touchscreen device.
The level of advancement you want from your tablet is ultimately up to you. Can you do the job with a basic model? Absolutely. It’s up to you to decide whether you want the other functionalities, based on how you edit images and what functions you think you might use the most.
Control of edits
One of the major things that a graphics tablet has over your plain old mouse is that it offers more control. It feels more natural for us to draw with a pen, being able to finely control the point and direct it to where we want it to go with the minimum effort. This is really great for drawing on layer effects, erasing with a finer degree of accuracy, painting on effects such as dodge and burn, and so on. If you are an advanced enough Photoshop user to be utilising our Summerana packages, then you can probably benefit from the finer control that a stylus brings.
Compared to working on a laptop touchpad, the results are even more startling. It is notoriously difficult to control the pad – anyone who is old enough to remember the craze for making art in MS Paint will attest to that. There is almost no comparison between the two options. Using a stylus could totally revolutionise the way that you do edits.
It is also easy to control some functions. For example, some models will allow you to customise the buttons on the side of your stylus – you could be able to increase or decrease the size of your brush just by tapping a button as you continue to work. You would hardly need to pause! This kind of small change can really streamline your editing process.
Ease of use
It is very simple to get used to using a tablet, because it is just like drawing on paper. The one thing that you have to adjust to is drawing in one place and seeing the results somewhere else, but you will get used to that quickly. It also feels a lot like the kind of touchscreen work that a lot of us are used to already from using smartphone apps – again, with a much greater degree of accuracy and control.
There is one area in which a tablet will be less convenient than using your mouse or trackpad, and that is the fact that it is an extra thing to carry. You need both the tablet itself and your stylus with you – and artists are forever complaining about losing their stylus! It’s easy enough and not too expensive to replace, but it is still a hassle not to be able to find something that you need to complete a project.
Tablets tend to be fairly hard-wearing so long as they are not subjected to heavy use. Personally, I have had a basic model for well over a decade, and it shows no signs of slowing down. I also still have all of the small parts, including spare stylus nibs, so it can be done if you are well-organised!
Range of uses
The ways in which you use your tablet can be very wide. You can easily use it just for editing photographs in the same way that you do now, getting around Photoshop just that little bit easier and with much more control. But if you have a creative streak, then you may well find that you end up using it differently.
You can create art with your tablet, making pencil or brushstrokes through Photoshop just as you would if you were drawing on paper. You can use the stylus to write with your own handwriting – perfect for electronically signing a document or leaving a personal note with an electronic card. You could even create graphics for your Instagram or Facebook stories with your own authentic handwriting, much neater than using the touchscreen of your smartphone.
You could surprise yourself by unlocking a whole new world of creativity with your tablet – and even if you just stick to photography, the level of edits that you can do could be greatly increased. You can easily paint in a new sky by compositing two images, or remove the background from a product shot by drawing around it. Making paths is easier with a tablet, and you even have more control over manipulating levels or curves graphs.
To conclude, most photographers could almost certainly benefit from using a graphics tablet. The increase in control and artistic ability is not to be underestimated. However, not everyone will need a top-of-the-range model. In fact, most of us will be happy with a mid-range or even basic device, just good enough to make Photoshopping easier. It’s a worthwhile investment to get your post-production speed down and increase your ability to earn!