The Best New Tablet Tools for Visual Artists

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Tablet sales are booming, projected to reach $229.3 million global sales this year and overtake PC purchases by 2015, IDC reports. For visual artists, who have used tablets for years, this demand surge is creating new devices and tools that bring exciting opportunities. Tablets make it easier than ever to create, polish, and perfect visual art.

Brands

The iPad defines the tablet, and is good for graphic designers who prefer Macs and applications such as Adobe Photoshop. The iPad supports Photoshop Express and the Photoshop Touch app, which integrates with Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Along with the iPad and the iPad Mini, other popular tablets suitable for artistic applications include Android tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, the Samsung Nexus 10 and the Kindle Fire HD. Windows tablets, such as the Samsung ATIV Smart PC & Smart PC Pro, the HP Envy x2, the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2, the Asus Vivo Tab, and the Microsoft Surface RT and Surface Pro are also viable options. Lenovo has a new line of tablets that support multiple platforms.

Besides these general-purpose tablets, creative artists can use specialized graphics tablets. Here, Wacom leads the pack, with its Bamboo, Intuos and Cintiq lines, which now include tablets geared towards mobile collaboration. Other brands include Adesso, Aiptek, CalComp, DigiPro, Genius, Hanvon, IBall, KWorld’s Kanvus line, KYA, and VisTablet.

Tablet Differences

A tablet shopper might wonder, what is the difference among all these options? One factor is screen size, which affects both functionality and price. Standard tablets range from 7 to 10 inches for an average of $381, with larger and more expensive models available, such as the 18.4-inch Dell XPS 18.

Graphics tablets borrow nomenclature from standard paper sizes. Smaller A6 tablets provide an active area of approximately four by six inches, and can go for less than $100. Large A3 tablets offer an active area closer to 12 by 19 inches, for a higher price of several hundred dollars or more. Towards the top of the line is the 24-inch Cintiq 24 HD, which runs around $2,500.

General-purpose tablets vary by operating system, using iOS, Windows or Android. Other considerations include resolution, processor speed, memory, and software compatibility and bundling.

Graphics tablets have different interfaces for connecting with computers. Most use USB. Some use serial interfaces or Bluetooth.

Input Devices and Methods

Tablet devices and graphic tablets vary by input device. Methods include keyboards, mice, touch activation, gesture, and stylus pens.

Some tablet inputs and screens support an important graphics feature called pressure sensitivity. This enables artists to control line thickness, transparency and color density by varying input pressure, which is useful for simulating pen and painting techniques. Graphics tablets have traditionally offered sensitivity levels of 256, 512 and 1024, but Wacom’s new models go up to 2,048.

Tablet Graphics Applications

What can graphics designers do with tablets? The most basic benefit is easier input. For instance, instead of having to draw a rough sketch on paper and scan it in for Photoshop editing, an artist can use a pen stylus and tablet to create a digital original.

After a digital image has been created, the full power of tablets comes to bear in the image editing stage of the design process. Wacom’s new Cintiq Companion integrates with Adobe Creative Cloud’s Photoshop, providing all the image editing capability of that powerful program. Android tablets can now access the same functionality by using Adobe Touch Apps. Android devices can use other apps to employ custom painting and sketching tools and many other useful art features.

Creative Commons image by Creative Tools

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