When it comes to the world of illustration and graphic design, having a graphic tablet isn’t only helpful, but essential for any professional in the field. They provide high precision and sensitivity when it comes to design creation. Graphics tablets are exceptional when it comes to viewing, editing and arranging photos. With tablets, you can manipulate designs much easier than with a mouse and traditional computer monitor. It allows for more possibilities, higher levels of creativity and cleaner end products. In recent years, tablets have advanced and now incorporate their own built-in high-quality screen, making them able to operate autonomously without the need to connect them to the computer.

Users are able to transport them around effortlessly, using them on the go and throughout the home or office without restraint. Whether that be in the park, at a desk, at the kitchen table, in a coffee shop or on the sofa, designers can work on their projects and stimulate their creativity from wherever they desire. Nowadays, there are a plethora of brands that have begun manufacturing and distributing their own models of tablets, all claiming theirs to be the best. While it may be impossible to determine which tablet is the best, they are without a doubt a huge advantage for any professional graphic designer.

Key Facts

  • The main purpose and biggest asset of graphic tablets are being able to draw, write, edit images and create various graphics without having to use a clunky computer mouse. It facilitates fine-motor movement and enhances how it translates into digital creation. They can help any illustrator, designer or 3D modeling professional create cleaner, more precise and high-quality design products.
  • The main tool that makes graphic tablets amazing for digital artists is the stylus pen. This digital pen allows you to draw directly onto the screen, providing increased sensitivity and more precision with product creation. This new age drawing utensil is comfortable and easy to use.
  • One of the first questions you’re going to want to ask yourself when choosing a graphic tablet is whether you want one with or without a screen. The use you intend to give the tablet will help you determine which of these options would best fit your needs.

Ranking: The best graphic tablets on the U.S. market

With so many models on the market, it can be hard to know which graphic tablet will perform all the functions you need with the least amount of complications. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 products on the market along with a short description of their features and varying characteristics. This list includes a wide range of products that satisfy varying needs and preferences; all at a great value for your money.

No. 1: Wacom — Intuos Graphics Drawing Tablet

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Amazon’s Best Seller, this graphics tablet by Wacom is an all-purpose tablet that can be used with any software for digital art, photo editing, and animation. It has 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity and 2540 LIP. It easily connects to either your Mac or PC via a USB cable and is great for areas with limited desktop space, leaving more room to create.

Easy to set up, this graphics tablet works for both left and right-handed use. The pen never needs to be charged, so you can start creating right when the inspiration hits without having to worry about breaking your workflow. It has a slim and compact design that has a large drawing space of 6.0” x 3.7”. Its system requirements are window 7, 8.1 or 10 (excluding windows 10s).

No. 2: HUION — H420 USB Graphics Drawing Tablet

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Compatible with all major graphics applications including Corel Painter, CorelDraw, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Fireworks, Macromedia Flash, Comic Studio, SAI, Paint tool SAI, Infinite Stratos, 3D MAX, Autodesk MAYA, Pixologic ZBrush and more, this is Amazon’s top choice for graphic tablets. Its board functions both as the cursor as well as the screen.

It comes with pen scrolling functions that allow you to easily scroll documents and web pages by pressing the middle button on the pad. For your convenience, there are three express keys that work to close or save the current page you’re working on. It also has a USB interface that eliminates the need to install an external drive.

No. 3: XP-PEN — Artist12 Pen Display Graphic Monitor

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XP-PEN’s latest and smallest 1920 x 1080 HD graphic display comes with 72% NTSC color gamut, offering vivid images, vibrant colors and extreme detail for a stunning display. It features a slim touch bar that can be programmed to zoom in and out or easily scroll up and down. The Artist12 pen tablet comes with an 11.6-inch display area, equipped with 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity for precise work.

This tablet has 6 handy shortcut keys and a multi-function pen holder. The XP-PEN advanced P06 passive pen was made for a traditional pencil-like feel. It features a unique hexagonal design, non-slip and tack-free flexible glue grip with a partial transparent pen tip and easy eraser at the end. The Artist12 graphic tablet must be used alongside a computer.

No. 4: GAOMON — PD1560 Pen Display with Arm Stand

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This top-rated graphic tablet by GAMON has an exceptional full HD high-quality screen with 5080LPI resolution. It has a viewing angle of 178 degrees and a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080. This model goes above and beyond in providing color accuracy and sharp lines for maximum creative potential. It includes a rechargeable pen that takes only a couple hours to charge and will last you up to 350 hours of work.

Super easy to set up and use, there are 10 shortcut keys on the drawing monitor, which can be customized according to your own creative needs. With the adjustable monitor stand, you can find the most comfortable position. This product is compatible with Windows 7/8/10 or later, Mac OS 10.11 or later and is with most drawing software including SketchBook Pro, Clip Studio Paint and Illustrator, among others.

No. 5: UGEE — M708 Graphics Tablet

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The UGEE M708 graphic drawing tablet features a 10” x 6” large active drawing space with a papery textured surface. It provides a generously large surface for a smooth drawing experience with your digital artwork creation. It is the perfect natural, no-lag sketch for superior painting and drawing tasks. It’s great for artistry design and for creating unique brush effects for photo retouching.

The battery-free precise stylus pen has 8192 pressure sensitivity that allows you to draw accurate lines of any weight and opacity; the sharper you’d like the line, the lighter you would press. It has 8 customizable express keys on the side for short cuts like erase, zoom in & out, scrolling and undo. It offers a more convenient drawing and helps to improve the productivity and efficiency of your work.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about graphic tablets

When the time comes to get a graphic tablet, you must keep in mind a series of important aspects. First and foremost, remember that there are many different models of tablets, which come with different features and made for different uses. To help you navigate the world of these graphic tools, in this section we go over all the basic information you’ll need as you shop.

With graphic tablets, you can draw as if you were drawing with a pencil, offering many advantages to artists.
(Source: Wutthichai Luemuang: 94858907/ 123rf.com)

What are graphic tablets exactly?

Graphics tablets, pencil tablets, drawing tablets or digitizers are digital devices consisting of a hard plastic surface, which functions as a drawing pen and pad that responds to physical pressure. It allows artists and graphic designers to easily transfer their vision directly into their computer program. This new-age technology allows artists to manipulate and edit their designs and drawings on a whole new level, enabling them to produce smoother lines, smaller details, and more complex shapes.

What are graphic tablets used for?

While graphic tablets can be multi-purpose with various functions, their main purpose is to replace or complement the work of computer illustration programs that allow artists to draw, write, edit images and other graphic design work. Many are used to replace the computer mouse, performing the same functions but more accurately, efficiently and with more precision.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using graphic tablets?

With graphics tablets, you can draw just as you would if you were using a traditional pencil and paper pad. Drawing and painting with pencil-shaped tools (whether it be a pen, paintbrush, etc.), is much more natural and efficient than attempting to draw on a computer with a mouse. The movements are much more predictable and more easily controlled with a pencil. Graphic tablets combine technology with the ease of pencil drawing, providing a pencil-shaped tool that is paired with a touch-sensitive pad that responds to pressure. It allows graphic designers to create directly through their design programs with more control and accuracy and less frustration.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that because this product functions via relatively new technology, most of the top models come at higher prices. Although they are overall very simple to use, they can take some getting used to. Many have programmable shortcut keys and distinct operating systems, requiring a bit of a learning curve. However, once you learn its tricks, your whole creative process will take a new route and you’ll never want to work without it again. Below we’ve created a simple table summarizing all the different pros and cons of using these handy new tech tools.

Advantages
  • Much more precise lines than those created with a mouse
  • Sensitivity to pencil pressure on the tablet makes it possible to create shaded tints and easily draw darker, thicker lines
  • They are easier to use when making quick changes
  • The more modern ones incorporate a touch screen
Disadvantages
  • High-end models are often an investment
  • Learning the technique and getting used to them can be a little difficult at first

What are the main functions of graphic tablets?

Graphic tablets are indispensable tools for drawing, illustration creation, photo editing, and 3D modeling. From movie creation to developing marketing material, to photo retouching – they are great for both professional and amateur artists. Graphic tables have large roles in architecture firms, industrial design companies, and even educational settings.
Banks and other similar businesses often use small and simple graphic tablets to collect customer signatures. It’s quick, easy for the customers to use, and saves directly into the companies database. Some of the best programs that can be used with graphic tablets are Photoshop, Pixelmator, Blender, Illustrator, Affinity Designer, and Affinity Photo.

A graphic tablet is an indispensable tool for illustrators, designers or 3D modeling professionals.
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How do graphic tablets work?

Via touch technology, graphic tablets instantly replicate the drawing movements of the electric pen as if it were a pen on paper. When you draw with the stylus, the information is transferred and the corresponding image is created and recorded on the computer and on the tablet’s screen – if it comes with one. Most pens will come with an eraser setting, mimicking pencils.

The speed of response and lag will depend on the model, quality of the processing system and brand. The cheapest ones will, of course, be the least reliable and often the slowest. High-end models respond instantly without lag and produce the best quality images. Keeping the system up to date and the tablet in good condition is crucial for maximum and long-lasting performance.

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Even though graphic tablets connect to the computer via a USB connection, most new models can also connect to other devices via Bluetooth connections.

What types of graphic tablets are there?

Today, we can separate graphic tablets into two main categories; those that come with built-in screens, and those that come without it. Those with screens offer a wider variety of features and are the common choice amongst professionals in graphic design, illustration and 3D modeling.
Those without screens are much more affordable and their applications range from basic photo retouching to more efficient computer drawing.

However, since the emergence of models with built-in screens, the number of complex features have sky-rocketed, transforming them into multi-purpose tools able to carry out a larger number of different functions.

Below we have included a table to help you compare and contrast the two distinct categories we’ve described above.

Functions No built-in screen With built-in screen
Features They replicate and transfer drawing patterns as if they were sheets of paper, information is transferred to the synced computer monitor where you can see and manipulate the design further. The design is reproduced directly on the tablet’s screen as well as on the computer monitor, except for those that work completely independently.
Main applications Used for simpler graphic design tasks and for photo retouching. They can easily replace the mouse taking over all its usual functions. They are mainly used for graphic design and illustration at a professional level.
Price Their price is usually considerably cheaper, even in the higher-end models. Their price is significantly higher, especially high-end devices.

Is it necessary to include the stylus pencil when investing in a graphic tablet?

The primary advantages and benefits of a graphic tablet are all related to the stylus pencil. With these electronic tablet pencils, you can effortlessly create and modify your ideas directly onto your graphics programs, just as you would if you were brainstorming on a piece of paper. It completely eliminates the need to transfer your vision from paper to a computer program. Most tablet pencils function via a small battery that is charged through a USB cable. There are some newer models that come without it, making them lighter.

Many of them have slightly different features, so it’s good to look carefully at the distinct characteristics of each to decide which is best for you. However, generally speaking, it’s best to have pens with pressure levels between 2.048 and 8.192. Some models come with one or two small programmable buttons on the side that allows for shortcuts and quicker creation processes. It’s important to make sure you have spare tips, as they can wear down and break with years of use. And of course, it’s important that you choose one that is comfortable and easy to use.

Sarita AshkenazyGraphic Designer

“To an artist, precision is a key element, and a bulky mouse doesn’t give you that. A graphic tablet, with its pressure-sensitive screen and fine-point pen, gives you the right tools to excel in your field.”

Purchase Criteria

To make sure you select the best graphic tablet for your needs, there’s a number of features and characteristics you’ll want to carefully analyze and compare between your options. To help, we’ve compiled a short purchase criteria that will help you narrow down the best product for you at the best possible price.

  • Screen
  • Pressure and precision points
  • Display resolution, colors and contrast
  • Pen
  • Dimensions
  • Compatibility
  • Brand

Screen

Deciding whether or not you want the tablet to come with a built-in screen will be one of the most important early decisions. Not only does it greatly affect the price of the tablet, but also it’s performance capabilities. If you want a tablet for graphic design, high-level animation or 3D modeling, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll need a tablet with a screen. They allow for higher quality design production, and are key tools for professionals.

For those with screens, it’s important you choose one with high resolution and high contrast. However, if you’re simply looking for a digital pad to collect basic written information or designs, a tablet without a screen may be perfectly sufficient. They’re great for replacing mouse functions and for collecting signatures. Often, a simple drawing pad is all that is necessary, and they come at more affordable prices.

Pressure and precision points

Low-end tablets usually have pressure sensitivity ratings around levels of 1024. More advanced models have a sensitivity to both pressure and tilt, usually at 2048 levels. The level of sensitivity you want will be determined by how complicated your projects are, the amount of fine detail or retouching you’ll be doing in your various tasks. For basic photo retouching, for instance, lower levels of pressure sensitivity will more than likely suffice.

However, for illustration or graphic design, high-pressure sensitivity is almost always preferred. The ability of the screen to accurately and precisely transfer information onto the surface of the tablet or onto the computer is crucial. If the movements of your hand and pencil cannot be replicated exactly and the tablet is constantly lagging, it won’t be useful. It’s important that the brand and model you choose is reliable and functions flawlessly.

Display resolution, color and contrast

In the case of graphic tablets with their own screen, a good screen resolution is essential. If you want it for semi-professional or professional jobs, it should be at least 1920 x 1080. Today, you can find drawing tablets with resolutions up to 4K. If you’re buying a tablet made with a built-in screen, it’s important to check the quality of resolution that it provides. For both semi-professional and professional jobs. Having perfect screen resolution is necessary for producing the highest quality designs, images, and photos.

You want to make sure the design you are creating in front of you will produce a final product that matches exactly the image you have in your mind. The colors, depth, and contrast created should be as accurate as possible. A good tablet has the capability to produce and differentiate at least 16.7 million different colors and shades. Most tablets, even lower-end ones, have this ability. Good viewing angles should range anywhere from 160º to 178º. Good contrast levels range between 700:1 and 3000:1.

Pen

Choosing the right pen is another very important aspect when looking for a graphic tablet. It’s good to think about if you’d want an extra-long pen, a thicker pen, a thinner pen or a pen with a special grip – amongst many other varying characteristics. Pens can differ also in size, weight and the materials it’s made out of to accommodate the preferences of the user. Additionally, the pen should be well-made, offering high levels of precision.

In this sense, it’s good to take a close look at the different types of tips that each pen can have, as well as the presence of buttons on the side. Some pens are quite simple and are made just to draw, while others are equipped with shortcut buttons and other special features that can be individually programmed. Some tablets include more than one pen, allowing you to continuously have one available as the other charges.

Dimensions

In general, the dimensions of your graphic tablet should match those of the computer monitor you own. However, if you’re purchasing a tablet for the first time, it may be wise to purchase a smaller one, enabling you to handle and maneuver it much easier. Good, compact-size tablets range between 10”-12”. The use you intend for it should be the main determining factor for the dimensions you choose.

For collecting signatures and basic photo retouching, you probably don’t need a very big graphic tablet. However, professional illustrators and designers that work on a number of large projects will more than likely want a large, good quality screen where they can see everything with the utmost detail. For these kinds of users, 24-27” tablets will be the preferred choice.

Compatibility

Today, most tablets are compatible with both Windows 7 and above, and Mac OS 10.8 and above. However, it never hurts to make sure before you buy a new device that will work with your tech. You should always double-check that the tablet you’re interested in purchasing is compatible not only with the computer you own but with all the design programs and tools you use as well.

Some of the most common programs are Photoshop, SAI, ZBrush, Maya, Illustrator, Krita, and Toomboom. In addition, having a tablet that regularly receives updates from its internal systems is advised, so you can be sure you’ll get the most out of your tablet and it will last you for years working as though it is brand new.

Brand

Choosing a good manufacturer is usually a guarantee of a quality product. However, since the graphic tablet market is not as well known to the general public, some of the most prestigious and reliable brands may not be as recognizable. This is the case with Wacom Business Solutions, XP-Pen and Shenzhen Huion Animation Technology Co.

For many people today, Wacom is the best brand on the market. Its tablets incorporate the multi-touch function so you can work with both hands. With one hand you can work with the stylus pen, while simultaneously zooming, scrolling or rotating the canvas with the other. In addition, almost all devices come with a 2-3 year warranty.

Summary

Graphic tablets are the new age pencil and sketch pad that you didn’t know you needed. They are an extremely useful tool for those that work in graphic design, illustration, photo editing and more. They allow both professionals and amateurs to easily create high-level projects that translate directly into almost any design program available on the market. However, one must do thorough research before deciding which tablet is the right one for them.

With all the different styles, models and brands of graphic tablets available, choosing one can be overwhelming. There are tablets with and without screens, various models of pens, tablets of all sizes, those that function in conjunction and independently from computers and more. Because of all the options, doing proper research and reading other consumer reviews will help you choose the tablet that suits all your needs.

If you feel that this guide has been helpful, you can leave us a comment with your thoughts or share it with your friends on social media.

(Featured image source: Garloon: 21070497/123rf.com)

Why you can trust me?

Brett is a keen observer of the latest technology trends and knows his way around the industry because he runs an electronics store. He writes about it in his spare time and wants to help others learn more about the technology industry.