Choosing the Best Drawing Tablet

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As a digital artist, you'll find that there are many great tablets that are currently on the market. But how do you choose?

First off, there are three categories that tablets tend to fall in: pen tablets, pen displays, and commercial tablets. In this guide, I'll be breaking down each category, the pros and cons, and my personal recommendations so that you might have a place to start and a better understanding of what your personal needs are when selecting a tablet.

For a more general guide on how to get started in creating digital art, click here.

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best drawing pen tablets

Pros: inexpensive, does not require batteries, no complicated bells and whistles Cons: requires an external display, smaller area to work on, not many wireless options

Drawing pen tablets are your run-of-the-mill, standard drawing tablets. They're relatively inexpensive (ranging anywhere from $20 USD to $100 USD), which makes them a great option for new digital artists on a tight budget. Most are USB plug-in and therefore do not require batteries or to be charged, although there are a few Bluetooth options more recently available. However, it is worthy to note that some pen tablets come with styluses that may require batteries or charging, while others don't. Many drawing pen tablets also have shortcut buttons, allowing for further ease when using the device.

The biggest downside with these tablets is that there is no screen and the drawing surface may run a bit small. Because of this, you will not only need an external display/monitor, but you will also need to learn how to draw without looking at your hands. That may sound simple, but when I first began drawing, I found this to be somewhat counterintuitive, and I had to practice in order to feel comfortable drawing on this type of tablet. At first, it may feel like learning a new way of drawing, but don't let that discourage you! I do not regret buying my first drawing pen tablet. Due to the price point and simple set up of the device, I was able to dive right into creating digital art without breaking the bank.

My recommendations in this category:

Cheapest with battery free stylus: HUION H420X and XP-Pen G430S

Solid mid-range: Wacom One and HUION Inspiroy H610X

Higher-end Bluetooth options: HUION Inspiroy Q11K , XP-PEN Deco LW, and Wacom Intuos (comes in two sizes!)

best drawing pen display

Pros: has a touch-sensitive screen, more pressure sensitivity options and shortcuts, some pen displays come with complimentary software or trials Cons: can be pricey, screen sizes and tilt features vary, further research required in regard to styluses and monitor specifications

In contrast to their smaller pen tablet counterparts, pen displays have larger HD IPS screens with varying levels of touch sensitivity, making these tablets the most optimal for more serious digital artists. Most industry artists that I personally know either own a Wacom Cintiq or a Huion Kamvas for this reason. Pen displays come with a wide array of options, from shortcuts to HDMI and USB-C plug-ins to an assortment of settings customization and pen sensitivities. Some companies even bundle their pen displays with free trials of digital art software or a watered-down version of some software.

The biggest con in this category is, of course, the price point. Pen displays can range anywhere from $200 USD to $2,000 USD depending on the make, model, and what it comes with. Some pen displays are also more portable than others, but most still require a computer, laptop, or wall outlet to power the device. Styluses can come either battery-free or a need for batteries, and some pen displays are HDMI only. Researching the specifications of each pen display is key to matching your needs. However, these devices tend to be a well-loved game changer for most digital artists who wanted to make the investment and upgrade.

My recommendations in this category:

Best budget/entry-level: GAOMON PD1161 and HUION KAMVAS 13

Mid-tier options: Wacom One Drawing Tablet with Screen, HUION KAMVAS Pro 16, and Wacom Cintiq 16 (the best mid-to-high tier overall for the price!)

The cream of the crop: HUION Kamvas Pro 22 (and also the HUION KAMVAS Pro 20 for a smaller, cheaper option) Wacom Cintiq 22 (there's also the newest Cintiq Pro 24 but at an even steeper price point)

best commercial drawing tablet

Pros: adaptable, comes with its own OS, can download multiple drawing applications

Cons: can be pricey, battery life may vary, some accessories sold separately or bundled at an additional cost

Lastly, there are commercial tablets, such as tablets from Apple, Samsung, Lenovo, and Microsoft. Commercial tablets are versatile, offer the option of trying out applications for digital art, portable, and function like a small computer. If you're looking for an adaptable tablet for on-the-go that offers more than a standard pen display, then a commercial tablet might be right for you!

However, if you're just looking for a device just for drawing purposes and don't want to worry about memory and battery life, then choosing a pen display or a pen tablet might be a better option, especially when on a budget. Prices on commercial tablets can vary exponentially depending on the brand and specifics of each device. Styluses commercial tablets also tend to be sold separately or bundled together with the tablet for an extra charge. On the other hand, if you're looking for something for entertainment or work purposes, a commercial tablet could be what you're looking for.

My recommendations in this category:

Best budget: Lenovo Tab M8 and SAMSUNG Galaxy Tab A7 Lite

Best Andriod tablets: SAMSUNG Galaxy Tab S6 Lite and Samsung Galaxy Tab S8

Best Apple tablets: Apple iPad Air (5th Gen) and Apple iPad Pro (however older gens tend to be cheaper)

surface pro

I often get asked what I use, so here is my personal example to provide insight on how I chose the best tablet for me.

I currently work on a Microsoft Surface Pro 7. Unlike the previously listed commercial tablets, the Surface Pro line offers the unique ability to run Windows 10/11. When I decided to upgrade from my Wacom Bamboo pen tablet to a more serious tablet, I asked myself what my budget was and what I needed out of my device. I knew off the bat that I felt unsure of making the stretch and investing in a true pen display at the time, and at the time I was also changing jobs and finishing my Master's, which meant that I knew I would on the go use the tablet as a small, portable laptop.

The biggest deciding factor for me, however, was the fact that the Surface line runs Windows OS. I primarily work in programs such as Clip Studio Paint, Adobe Photoshop CC, and PaintToolSAI. I did not want to shop around and try out new art apps; I just wanted an adaptable tablet that could run the software I know. This led me to the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, and after two years of use the tablet is still holding up (although, I could see myself buying a Wacom Cintiq 16 further in the future). The Microsoft Surface Pro 8 is also now out, but the Surface Pro 7 is still a great option, especially if you bundle it with the keyboard/cover and stylus.

Overall, I would argue that asking yourself what your budget is as well as what applications/software interests you is where you should start. Then, see if what you're looking for falls in one of the three categories of tablets, and continue researching the specifications on each device until you find what suits you best. Afterwards, you can start looking into software/applications and figure out how to get started!

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