graphic tablet Guide

Graphic tablets are computer input devices used by artists and architects. They have the precision of a pen and paper combined with the versatility of computers and computer programs. Graphic tablets use a pen stylus to emulate using a pen, brush or other drawing tool, and they translate the strokes made by the user onto the screen. Graphic tablets can even be used as an alternative to computer mice, and they're sold along with other computer accessories and peripherals.

>> Consider graphic tablet size

One of the most important considerations when determining which graphic tablet to buy is its size. You'll see two sizes listed for graphic tablets: the footprint and the input surface, or working area sizes. The footprint is the size of the entire device, and the working size covers the area where you move the stylus. As the footprint increases, so does the working size. Larger graphic tablet are appropriate for uses that require more detail, such as architectural plans. However, you might prefer a smaller input area, because it requires less arm movement. As you do your graphic tablet comparison, be sure to understand your needs, so you can properly choose which graphic tablet to buy.

Tip: Make sure to check whether the graphic tablets you're considering are optimized for widescreen computer monitors. You'll want to match the tablet to your monitor for the best performance.

>> Consider your input surface

Most types of graphic tablets use the computer's screen as the only display. Thus, strokes made on the plastic surface of the tablet show up on the computer's primary display. Some tablets, though, use a touchscreen display, enabling you to see the strokes made by the stylus directly where the pen touches the tablet. These are generally far more expensive than non-display tablets, but are more natural and intuitive to use. Some types of graphic tablets also have a transparent overlay, so that a picture can be inserted for tracing or reference.

Tablets also have various buttons next to the input area that you can customize to perform almost any function on the display: scrolling, zooming, copying or even opening an application.

>> Think about pressure accuracy

Pressure accuracy is another important feature to consider when determining which graphic tablet to buy. It's determined by the pressure sensitivity of the tablet, which is how many distinct levels of pressure the tablet can sense. Currently, the most common pressure sensitivities are 256, 512 and 1024. Higher pressure sensitivity results in a greater difference between the faintest and the strongest strokes. So, when you press harder with the stylus, the stroke will appear darker, thicker or harder, depending on the tablet and the specific program's settings. Sometimes, you can customize these settings to create a range of desired effects.

>> Look for bundled software

A graphic tablet needs drawing programs to bring it to life. The most basic painting and drawing programs provide a blank canvas on which to express simple ideas. More advanced programs, however, can emulate various traditional media, such as oil paint, chalk or pencil. Graphic tablets sometimes come bundled with such software, most commonly "light" versions of the full professional applications. Even these light versions, though, can let you perform many artistic tasks. Different types of graphic tablets are bundled with different software, so be aware of this when deciding which graphic tablet to buy if you don't already have access to painting software.

These programs aren't the only software included with graphic tablets. In order for each type of graphic tablet to function, a "driver" must be installed to properly connect your tablet to a computer. Without it, your tablet won't have any pressure sensitivity and might not even function at all. Always check the compatibility of a tablet's driver with your computer's operating system to know which graphic tablet to buy. After you install the driver software, check the manufacturer's web site for an updated version of the driver. The update might correct bugs or add functionality to the tablet.Another graphic tablet advantage is handwriting software, which is a fun, simple tool bundled with most graphic tablets. This function allows your computer to translate your handwriting into editable text. Generally, these programs work better with more use, as the software learns over time how to better translate your handwriting.

>> Consider the stylus and accessories

A stylus, usually fashioned in the shape of a pen, is the main input device for a tablet. One comes with each graphic tablet, but replacements, in various colors and styles, can also be purchased. However, when determining which graphic tablet to buy for your own needs, consider tablets that also include a mouse. In most cases, tablets can be used at the same time as a traditional mouse. Some types of graphic tablets, however, override normal mouse function. These tablets often come with a mouse that you used on the tablet itself, as if it were a mouse pad. The mouse buttons can often be customized as well to function like the buttons on a stylus. Wireless tablets are also available, using Bluetooth connectivity.

Graphics tablets are a creative and fun way to interact with your computer, especially if you're interested in the visual arts. With both budget and professional models available, you can afford to indulge your creative side in digital form.

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