Pixar’s Alvy Ray Smith and rock legend Todd Rundgren designed the first pen/stylus and digital response pad in the late 1970as, which led to the production of the Apple Graphic Tablet, the first pen tablet for computer-based graphics. In the 40 years since that product was launched, a number of companies have entered the fray. These companies have specialized in creating tablets with larger active areas, more pressure sensitivity, and lower price points. Over the years, the most in-demand graphic tablets have been built with an attached monitor for ease of use – some even eschew the standard electromagnet-based tablet architecture in favor of virtual tablet pressure sensitivity via Bluetooth connectivity. In this article, we endeavor to show you the best tablet options based on overall quality, budget and needs.
- Which Drawing Tablet should I buy?
- The Best Drawing Tablet in 2020
- The Best Cheap Drawing Tablets
- The Best Graphics Tablets
- The Best Drawing Tablet for Beginners
- Best Drawing Tablets for Animation
- What Are the Different Types of Drawing Tablet?
Which Drawing Tablet should I buy?
A seasoned user of the classic Wacom Intuos Pro-style pen tablet has a skillset that users relying on tablet monitors do not, namely the ability to draw without looking at their hand as it draws. Because of this, said users can usually get away with paying anywhere between $50 to $500 for a replacement tablet, depending on their budget and preference. On the other hand, there is nowhere near the same learning curve when one uses a tablet monitor, as you can see the marks as you make them right in front of you. While digital graphics work is much faster this way, especially for beginners and seasoned professionals just now making the leap to digital work, the upfront cost is higher, solely due to the cost of the monitor in conjunction with the tablet software. Depending on your needs, the following graphic tablets will most likely suit your work.
The Best Drawing Tablet in 2020
Wacom Cintiq 22 Drawing Tablet With HD Screen
Wacom, the standard bearer of graphics tablets, created this model of Cintiq tablet monitor as a budget-friendly version of their higher end Cintiq Pro line. Like the Pro line, this product features 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity, an anti-glare, texturized screen and the tilt-sensitive Pro Pen 2. Unlike the Pro line, this monitor comes equipped with its own stand, multi-month trials for two different graphics programs (Clip Studio Paint EX and the Substance suite), and the connections for the tablet are standard HDMI and USB cables.
Where this model trails behind the Pro line is the lack of a Touchscreen mode and a maximum screen resolution of standard HD (the Pro Line supports full 4K resolution). Other than that, the closest Pro counterpart to this monitor is the Cintiq Pro 24HD, which has an extra two inches of diagonal screen space. One thing that both this product and the entire Pro line lack, however, are programmable hotkeys. If you want hotkeys, you have to buy a separate product, the Wacom ExpressKey Remote.
That being said, the build quality, the firmware and driver support, and overall drawing experience is unparalleled across the line, and this particular tablet monitor is the best overall quality model for anyone to buy, even without touchscreen capability, which is not necessarily a dealbreaker, especially for users who tend to get bogged down in detail work. Combined with the middle-of-the-pack price tag, the Wacom Cintiq 22 hits the cost-benefit ratio sweet spot. The tablet works well with both Mac and Windows systems.
The Best Cheap Drawing Tablets
1. Wacom One Digital Drawing Tablet With Screen (13.3″)
This is Wacom’s entry-level tablet monitor. This model is an inch bigger, diagonally speaking, than Wacom’s original small Cintiq tablet, the 12WX. The cabling setup is different (as the stylus style) from the Cintiq 22, and it is definitely a beginner’s tablet, with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, standard HD resolution, and a textured screen. Like the Cintiq 22, it also comes equipped with limited licenses for software (Clip Studio Paint Pro and the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan). This monitor retails for less than half the price of the Cintiq 22, and is a great choice for high school and college students who need somewhere to start without a massive learning curve on mastering the device. The only real drawbacks to this particular tablet monitor are the lesser-sensitive stylus and the monitor’s brightness levels. The tablet works well with both Mac and Windows systems.
2. Aibecy 16 HDT Portable 15.6” H-IPS LCD Graphics Drawing Tablet
Aibecy/Bosto, like XP-PEN, Huion, and others, throws its hat into the ring with a low-cost alternative to the Cintiq 16 with their portable drawing tablet monitor. It features a rechargeable stylus, 20 replacement pen nibs, a 2-in-1 connection cable (Mini-HD and USB-C), a drawing glove and driver installation disc. The stylus features 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity and an adjustable stand with six distinct angles. Unlike many of the models here, this tablet monitor features a Touchscreen option at just over $300, which is otherwise unheard of in a non-Wacom tablet of this size. The tablet works well with both Mac and Windows systems.
The Best Graphics Tablets
1. XP-PEN Deco 01 V2 Drawing Tablet
Japan’s XP-Pen is well known for being budget-friendly alternatives to Wacom’s pricier models. While well-known for their own tablet monitors, their standalone pen tablet, the Deco 1, offers massive performance at a very low price. With the Deco 01, they offer similar performance to the Huion Inspiroy, with 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity in their battery free stylus, eight programmable shortcut keys and tilt recognition. It bests the Huion Inspiroy in surface area, with a 10” x 6.25” active area and an 11.79” diagonal reach and retails for the same price point as the Huion. The tablet works well with both Mac and Windows systems.
2. Wacom Intuos Wireless Graphics Drawing Tablet
While Wacom products cost, on average, much more than their competitors, they make up for that in three key areas: longevity, experience, and innovation. With the Intuos Wireless, their standard pen tablet costs a little over half of the retail cost of the Wacom One tablet monitor, but it does feature the same levels of pressure sensitivity as the Wacom One (4,096 levels). For people not familiar with tablet specifications, 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity was double the absolute maximum level of pressure sensitivity less than 10 years ago in their most expensive product offering, and having that level of sensitivity available now for a tenth of the price is nothing short of remarkable. Granted, other tablets offer more sensitivity for less, but the build quality, reliability, and support from Wacom as a company more than makes up for that.
As for other specifics, the stylus in a battery free stylus, looking similar to the stylus that comes with the Wacom One. The active area is 5.3” x 8.3”, with a 9.85” diagonal length. The wireless functionality allows for more freedom both at the desk and in portable areas with a laptop, reducing clutter and the need for replacement cords. The wireless functionality is available by either using a traditional wireless dongle or, even more innovative, a Bluetooth connection, freeing up computer ports for other needs. Additionally, unlike many of Wacom’s recent offerings, this model comes equipped with four programmable express keys, bringing back extra functionality where it is needed most: onboard the tablet. This model also comes with three software titles, with Corel Painter Essentials 7, Corel After Shot 3, and Clip Studio Paint Pro (with a two-year license). The tablet works well with both Mac and Windows systems.
The Best Drawing Tablet for Beginners
1. Huion Inspiroy H640P Graphics Drawing Tablet
Huion, a firm based out of China, is one of many budget tablet and tablet monitor manufacturers. Huion’s Inspiroy H649P is a great tablet for beginners and retails for under $50. The Inspiroy comes with a battery-free stylus pen that features 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity and, unlike many tablet monitors, has eight built-in shortcut keys that are programmable by the user. Unlike many pen tablets, this tablet supports not only Mac and Windows, but also Android 6.0 and above. The surface of the active area is also textured, giving a “paper-like” sensation to mark making, a sensation that beginners will most likely appreciate. The active area is 3.9” x 6.3”, with a diagonal length of 7.4”.
2. Huion Inspiroy H950P Graphics Drawing Tablet
Another of Huion’s most affordable models, the Inspiroy H950P, costs less than a tenth of what the Cintiq 22 costs, and is a great way for a beginner to dip their toe in the water of making computer graphics, and a great deal for the seasoned pro who is used to using basic tablets. Like the Inspiroy H640P, this tablet also comes with a battery free stylus featuring 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity.
The active area of the stylus is limited to 5.4” x 8.7”, making the surface area a little smaller than the Wacom One, but many seasoned artists actually prefer the smaller size, as the stylus needs to move less to create larger marks. Compared to Wacom’s similarly featured Intuos Pro pen tablets, this piece of hardware costs approximately a fifth of the Wacom standard bearer, with similar performance. The tablet works well with both Mac and Windows systems.
Best Drawing Tablets for Animation
GAOMON PD1560 15.6” Drawing Tablet Monitor
GAOMON, another Chinese firm, offers a fine HD tablet monitor within the price range of the Aibecy/Bosto tablet monitor of the same screen size. This monitor also features a good, sturdy adjustable monitor stand, and unlike many tablet monitors, features 10 built-in hot keys. The stylus is a rechargeable pen with 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity and comes with eight replacement nibs. GAOMON also includes a screen protector, which cuts down on light glare and also adds a paper-like texture to the drawing experience. The tablet works well with both Mac and Windows systems.
What Are the Different Types of Drawing Tablet?
The Pen Tablet
The most basic tablet is the standard pen tablet. It features at least two things: a flat, mousepad-like surface and a stylus in the shape of a pen. Most come with a connection cable, though some are also wireless in one way or another. The tablet surface has a designated rectangular area that specifically picks up the movement of the stylus on or near the drawing surface (a magnetic field resides under the surface). The tablet translates the strength of the electromagnetic field between the tip of the stylus and the surface and translates it out into marks in a graphics program on the screen of the main computing device. The further way the tip (and the lighter the pressure) is from the surface, the lighter the mark is on the screen. The harder the pressure on the surface, the stronger the mark is on the screen. Wacom, the industry leading tablet company, make a number of these tablets. The most current models sold are the entry-level One by Wacom (not to be confused with the above tablet monitor), up to the professional level Intuos Pro tablet. Competitors like Huion, Monoprice, XP-Pen, and so on also offer such tablets at a fraction of the cost, but not with the level of business longevity and support that one usually gets with Wacom. The biggest pro to using a pen tablet is that even the most expensive pen tablets usually cost less than a tablet monitor. That being said, the learning curve is much steeper with the pen tablet, as one has to re-learn how to draw, as the hand is drawing on a blank plastic surface, and the results are showing up on monitor. Once it is mastered, it is hard to work otherwise, but not everyone has the time or patience to learn this manner of making art and/or graphic elements.
The Tablet Monitor
The more advanced tablets that proliferate the market today include monitors. The way these work is that the screen hardware sits just above the magnetic sensitivity field present in all pen tablets, allowing the user to physically see their marks as they make them. This solves the problem of the learning curve with the standard pen tablet, in that beginners don’t have to re-learn how to draw without looking at their hand. However, it also created a new issue: the unnatural feel of drawing on a slick surface like plexiglass. A number of manufacturers, like Wacom in particular, have worked on this issue by creating specially textured screens to mimic a more paper-like feel to the screens; others have screen-protecting films that can be applied for the same purpose (though they both cost extra, and have to replaced from time to time). The biggest positive to the tablet monitor is the ability to work pretty much immediately, while the biggest negative is the cost difference between this and the more basic pen tablet.
The Portable Tablet
This device isn’t anything like the previous two; in fact, it is, itself, both the input device and the main device. This is best known as the standard smart tablet, whether manufactured by Apple as an iPad or by a number of Android-based manufacturers as Samsung Galaxy Tabs, Kindle Fires and so on. These devices, when paired with art and design software, work on a completely different system: Bluetooth wireless technology. The stylus, a Bluetooth device, artificially mimics the pressure sensitivity when it connects with the screen of the tablet and works in conjunction with gyroscopes in the stylus to determine tilt. This also includes the benefit of simulated tilt sensitivity as well. Quite possibly the biggest game-changing version of a graphics tablet, thanks to its immense portability and popularity, it does feature one flaw across all devices: it is not a dedicated device. While multi-use devices are usually ideal when it comes to purchasing tools, most tablets are designed to be consumption devices, and that ability to use the device for unrelated things can be a detriment when work needs to get done.
One of the best features of all drawing tablet devices is that the vast majority of them, regardless of manufacturer, have a reasonable level of good quality for working on art and design. Some might require a more stable environment (i.e., not be plugged and unplugged with regularity), some monitor screens might have better color quality than others, but most function as they should with little fuss. In the end, the biggest determining factor of success with any drawing tablet device is the correct type of device coupled with the end user’s needs. If a child wishes to draw digitally for fun, if they have a smart device, it might be a good idea to invest in nothing more than a stylus that they can use with that device. For students who want to study it more as a possible career move, it would be good to start with either an inexpensive pen tablet, or tablet monitor. For college- and career-track students, a larger tablet monitor would probably serve them best. For seasoned pros who know their way around a classic pen tablet, any pen tablet will do. The key element in success in the art and design fields isn’t the hardware – it’s the desire, effort and care out into the work itself.