Here’s the tools that I rely on, and am happy recommending to others:
This is my workhorse. I use it every day, and it hasn’t let me down. I’ve used other tablets in the past, but this one does the job. I prefer the Medium. The small is a little cramped for me, when doing detail work. The large means that I have to use big arm movements to draw lines. With the Medium I have enough space to work with, and I can drop it in my laptop bag and carry it around.
I tend to bind the wheel to brush-size but can toggle to zoom and canvas rotation. These can be total lifesavers. The last feature of note is the number of levels of pressure sensitivity in the pen – I don’t get any sense of there being levels of sensitivity. It gives a fluid sensitivity that’s wonderful.
Compatability – I’ve had no trouble getting this t work with Photoshop, Corel or Artrage. It really couldn’t have been easier to use. Just plug-and-play.
There’s an Intuous5 now – the reviews look good, but I’ve not played with one yet.
This was the first Wacom tablet I used and it changed my life. Small enough to fit in a laptop bag, but big enough to use on a regular basis. They’ve been superseded by the Bamboo Splash now, but as with the Intuous5, I haven’t played with a Splash. However, at only $64 the Splash is a bargain if it’s anything like the Graphire. Nonetheless, I can still recommend the Graphire without reservations, even second hand.
The one problem I had with the Graphire was that I had to cycle through some of the available drivers to find the ones that work best for your machine – especially to get it to play nicely with open source software like the Gimp. Wacom is popular enough that there’s normally a blog post out there by someone who’s done the heavy lifting before.
All the same comments apply as for the Intuous. The Graphire has fewer levels of sensitivity and no rotating scroll wheel to bind to zoom and rotation. It also doesn’t have tilt sensitivity which is a nice feature for some of the newer dynamic Photoshop brushes.
And in case you think this is just a love-in, I’m recommending Wacom for a reason. I had a large Nisus tablet before and it was just bad. The drawing area was too large, the precision wasn’t there, and the pen had the battery inside which caused it to be heavy, and to have a really unbalanced weighting. After the Nisus I picked up a small Graphire and I haven’t looked back since.
Well this really goes without saying – all my work uses photoshop. It’s the industry standard for a reason. The Gimp does a lot of the same things well, but for speed, workflow and memory management Photoshop still has Gimp beaten hands down. Conveniently a lot of the workflow is similar between the two, so if you get started using one you can switch across later relatively easily.
And a review to finish up with:
I got an Adonit Jot Touch for a birthday present this year and I’ve been working with it on and off. Like many people, I’ve been waiting for a good stylus for the iPad that has pressure sensitivity, and this seemed to be the one.
The most important conclusion I’ve come to is that the software is key.
I was initially really disappointed. Using the Adonit with Artrage, or with Sketchbook Pro was very laggy. When drawing a line I often had over a centimeter between where the stylus was, and where the end of the line was on the screen. And this wasn’t due to me drawing particularly fast. That kind of lag makes this hard to use for quick sketching – the exact task the iPad should be great for. When I switched to my finger, the response time was incalculably better. The experience of drawing with a finger in Artrage or Sketchbook Pro was nicer than with a stylus – not exactly what I was hoping for.
However – keen to identify whether this was a fault of the software or a barrier thrown up by the bluetooth communication time – I opened up Procreate. In Procreate the lag is hardly noticeable – which makes me very happy indeed. If Procreate can get it working, then Artrage and Sketchbook should be able to solve this too. I love the features in Artrage, and would much prefer it to Procreate for working up sketches.
With the lag addressed – what’s the rest of the pen like? The clear plastic disk attached to the tip make it very easy to see where you’re drawing (though if you pick one up make sure to add a screen protector to your iPad screen). The pen has a lovely weight to it – and the magnetic usb charger is great. It holds it’s charge for a long time – it’s sat in my bag for months without being recharged. Pairing with the iPad is also easy – all the programs I used recognised the pen quickly and ‘just worked’.
I actually like using this pen in Paper – though of course that app has no pressure sensitivity. The precision alone is a good feature.
But what about the pressure sensitivity? I have to say I like it a lot. All three of the apps I tried it with have pens that have a width sensitivity to the pen pressure (or something that mimics it closely). That makes creating ink line art feel much more natural and sketchy than a non-pressure sensitive stylus. The colouring with opacity set to pen pressure is generally a little more clunky. Procreate overrides the opacity and ties it only to pressure. So you can’t have a maximum opacity of 10% at full pressure for example, so you’re confined to just pressing very very lightly if you want low opacity brush strokes. However, these are software issues that are likely to evolve with future releases.
Conclusion? I like the pen, it feels natural and it’s night and day better than drawing with a finger on the iPad. Is it worth stumping for pressure sensitivity? Well, the software doesn’t feel like it’s quite there yet. I’m an optimist, so I believe that Artrage and Sketchbook Pro will fix their lag issues, and then the more powerful features of these will be brought to bear. If you’re looking for a Cintiq replacement – look elsewhere. There’s no full Photoshop clone on the iPad and you’ll never have the same control over the degrees of pressure sensitivity and how they map to brushes. But for quick and dirty sketching – I think this is a nifty tool that will only get better as the software catches up.
I’m using the Adonit Jot Touch with a 32Gb iPad 2