Have you considered using a tablet in your work? Wondering which one to get? The options can be a little overwhelming, so let’s take a moment to talk about tablets!
WHAT IS A TABLET?
When we talk about a tablet with regards to Illustrator, we are not talking about iPads. We are talking about touch-sensitive tablets that can be used with special pens. There are two basic categories that I will split these into, with a big price jump between the two. One type of tablet has a drawing area on it, but you draw on the tablet and watch what happens on your screen. This can be difficult to adjust to because there is a disconnect between what you are physically doing and what you are seeing on your screen. The other type of tablet is actually a monitor that you can draw directly onto, which means there is no disconnect that you need to adjust to.
DO YOU NEED A TABLET FOR ILLUSTRATOR?
Owning a tablet is absolutely not necessary for using Illustrator. Whether or not you need a tablet depends on what you do offscreen. I personally don’t work with pencil and paper much at all. I don’t draw very much, I don’t sketch, I don’t doodle. When I work in Illustrator, the majority of my work is done with the pen tool, which a tablet does NOT help with at all. So for me, even though I own two tablets, I use them only very, very occasionally.
On the other hand, if you are the type of artist who DOES draw, doodle, and sketch with pencil and paper, then a tablet might be a great tool for you! Many, many artists who use Illustrator use tablets!
ADVANTAGES OF A TABLET
Using a tablet in Illustrator will open up many options that are otherwise locked. These have to do with tilt, bearing, and rotation of the pen as well as pressure sensitivity.
Pencil Tool: Using the pencil tool with a mouse can be very awkward. Using a tablet allows you to draw much more naturally with the pencil tool. The pencil tool still functions in the same way, however, with no additional options unlocked.
Paintbrush Tool: Many options for Illustrator brushes are unlocked if you are using a tablet. Notably, the calligraphic brushes greatly benefit from the ability to respond to pressure, as well as tilt and bearing (the angle of your pen).
NOTE that when we talk about paintbrush in Illustrator, we are still not talking about something that looks like more traditional painting. Students ask me a lot about watercolor in Illustrator. While the Bristle Brushes attempt to imitate watercolor as best as possible, vector graphics are still very limited in creating this effect. Rather, I would suggest you take Watercolor 101B, where Monica teaches you watercolor, as well as how to clean up your work for web in Photoshop (which is the program better suited to watercolor).
Blob Brush Tool: Responds to pressure.
Eraser Tool: Responds to pressure.
Warp Tools: Respond to pressure.
Symbol Sprayer Tool: Responds to pressure, tilt, bearing, etc. (However, this is not a tool that I personally use.)
WHICH TABLET SHOULD YOU BUY?
The dominant tablet leader is Wacom, so everything I recommend will come from them, simply because I have never tried anything else. If you have tried and loved another tablet, please let us know in the comments! (I also am aware that Adobe recently announced a tablet, but I haven’t looked into it yet!)
I generally tell students asking what tablet to buy, to set their budget and then spend the whole thing. The more you are spending, the better quality your tablet will be. But I have more guidelines below:
Bamboo: These entry-level tablets start as low as $80 (I’m seeing some lower sales prices on Amazon, which is where I recommend you search for the best prices) and are an excellent choice if you are unsure about whether you would use a tablet or not. Buy one for cheap, and if you love it, you have two options: 1) keep it, or 2) sell it and upgrade, now that you know you like using a tablet! The choices of Bamboos can be a little confusing (bamboozling?). At the time of writing this, there are four Bamboo models. You will want to buy the least expensive (Connect, about $80) or the most expensive (Create, about $200, which has a larger drawing area). The middle two options, as far as I’m aware, simply come packaged with software that you don’t need if you are buying a tablet for the express purpose of using it with Illustrator (and Photoshop etc.). However, if there happens to be a better deal on one of the middle options, go ahead and get it. You just probably won’t be using any of the “extras.”
Intuos: Here we’re getting more professional! These tablets are of a higher quality and have better sensitivity than the Bamboo line. They range in price from about $250 to $800. Any difference in price on the Intuos line corresponds with a difference in size. So once you’re in this bracket, the more you spend, the bigger your tablet. Pretty straightforward!
Cintiq: And here we jump to monitors that you are actually writing on. These start at about $1000 and go all the way up to $3700. The lower price buys you a 13-inch model. The highest price buys you a large screen that also responds to finger touch (whereas other models respond to pens only). These much more expensive models are definitely unnecessary for the average user. These are a great investment for very serious artists who are working in animation, gaming, and intense digital painting. Basically, if you don’t already know that you need one of these, then don’t worry. You don’t.
The lower price point in this category, however, may come in handy for Illustrator users. I own the 12 inch model (an older model) and have it permanently set up as part of my workspace. When I’m not using it as a tablet, I can use it as a second monitor. When I’m ready to use it as a tablet, it’s right there waiting for me. The Cintiq line of tablets actually require a fair amount of set up. Lots of connectors, cables, etc., and you wouldn’t want to be taking it out and putting it away on a regular basis. Bamboo and Intuos, on the other hand, are ready to plug into your USB and go! So these are very easy to tuck away into a drawer when not in use.
[ABOVE: Drawing flowers on my Cintiq; final pattern shown on the right.]
To sum it all up, do you need a tablet for use in Illustrator? No, you don’t need one, but depending on how you work, you might love one! Borrow a friend’s tablet, or buy a Bamboo to see if you like it. Once you’re sure you like it, then give back or sell back your tablet and buy as much tablet as you can afford!
What has your experience with tablets been? Love them? Hate them? Leave us a comment and let us know!