7 top graphics tablets for photo-editing, design and illustration

A mouse will only get you so far when you are drawing, painting, or retouching photos. A touchscreen may be more efficient, but it is only possible if the stylus you use has a high-end design. This is why digital artists and creatives turn to a graphics tablet first. A graphics tablet not only mimics traditional methods of working, but also allows for a faster and more precise workflow.

Tablets can be costly, and pro-level models have prices that go up to  £400. We are now seeing hybrid devices called “pen displays”, which can act as both a tablet or a screen. While these devices can be quite impressive, they also come at a steep price. You need to know exactly what you want before you purchase a graphics tablet.

How to select the best graphics tablet

Although there are technical differences, most graphics tablets work the same. The tablet’s drawing area creates a magnetic field. The pen draws on this magnetic field to generate its own magnetic field. This magnetic field is then tracked by the sensors. This allows the tablet to track the position of the pen, its velocity, and the force with which the tip is being pressed against a board. It can also detect the angle at the pen is held.

These key factors include the tablet’s size, resolution, and pressure sensitiveness. Tablets come in sizes that allow for a slightly smaller active drawing area than an A5 page, but slightly larger than an A4. It is a measure of how sensitive the pen is to movement and position within the area. Tablets are usually available in sizes between A5 and A4.

Pressure sensitivity is described in terms of levels. But don’t get too focused on the numbers. Tablets with 2048 levels of sensitivity and tablets with 8192 levels will be available. However, the higher levels may not be necessary depending on how you draw.

Tablets with higher end specifications also have tilt sensitivity. This allows them to track the angle of their pen and adjust the line thickness and intensity. It is ideal for calligraphy effects or brushwork. Manufacturers will often specify the level and type of tilt sensitivity. It can detect 60 degrees of tilt.

Are there other features that are worth considering?

When you spend a lot time creating art, a lot of people are too focused on the tablet and forget about the pen. A lighter pen can feel more natural and be harder to use than a chunkier, heavier pen. What’s fine for an hour could lead to major discomfort during a long day.

Hotkeys are also available on most tablets. These hotkeys can be used to program specific functions in your favorite software. These can be used to make switching between presets and tools faster and easier if you know what they do. You can adjust line weights or intensity settings with some models.

Most tablets can be connected to a USB cable but there are also Bluetooth wireless connections. This is fine if you want to avoid cable clutter and work with a laptop with limited ports. However, you will need to either keep the tablet stocked up with batteries or plug it into for occasional charging.

What about pen displays?

These pen displays are available at the top-end market. They combine a graphics tablet and a secondary display. You can see what your drawing surface is doing as you draw on it, much like when you use pencils or ink and paper. You can also have reference images and toolbars open on the main screen. The tablet screen can then be used for work. Although this can be a great idea, it may not work for everyone.

The top graphics tablets you can buy in 2022

1. Huion H420: The best graphics tablet for budget prices

This tablet is a great entry-level option, even though it doesn’t offer much. It has a surface area of only 102x57mm, which isn’t great for detailed work. However, you can combine this high resolution with a pen that supports 2048 levels pressure sensitive and create some very sophisticated work.

It is comfortable and thick to hold, and the AAA battery will last for many hours. It feels great on the surface. The pen is very responsive and accurate. This compact, lightweight device is perfect for those just starting out in art and design.

2. XP-Pen Deco 02 v2: The best graphics tablet

The Wacom Intuos line is a great price-rival. This tablet packs a lot of technology at an amazing price. The tablet has a 5080 LPI resolution and the pen supports 8192 levels pressure sensitivity. There are also 60 levels of tilt. This is something you would not get with Wacom. The pen has a 259x159mm area of work and is as comfortable as the Intuos Pro.

Our artist is skilled in using sophisticated pen and brush effects to give illustrations a unique, hand-drawn look. The Deco O1 V2 has eight buttons that can be programmed to switch between preset styles or tools. You think you can’t expect miracles with a PS60 tablet. You might be wrong.

3. Wacom Intuos Bluetooth: The best wireless graphics tablet

The Intuos M is an excellent option if you want to reduce the number of cables running across your desktop. The Intuos M connects via Bluetooth, not a USB cable. This means that you don’t need to plug it in every time the tablet is charging. The built-in battery can last for around 15 hours. Wacom has maintained a high standard of build quality. The tracking accuracy and precision are also top-notch. The Intuos balances out tablets that have too much drag or glide across the surface.

Our only complaint is that there’s no tilt sensitivity (reserved to the Intuos Pro), and that the pen supplied is lightweight and thin, which may not be suitable for some users who work all day. If you don’t mind it or have the budget to purchase a replacement, you can buy.

4. Wacom Intuos Pro S: The best graphics tablet to use for pros

Many professional illustrators and designers choose the Intuos Pro range. It’s easy to see why once you have used it. Tracking pen movements, tilt, and pressure is almost perfect. This removes any obstacles between what you want to draw or paint and what appears on the screen. Wacom seems to have perfected how the pen feels on the surface. It glides smoothly across the screen with very little friction.

This is a sign of how familiar our test illustrator was with the medium version of the tablet. However, he found the small version more appealing after a few hours of usage. You can choose to upgrade to the large and medium models if you require more space than the active area of 6.2×3.9in. Six buttons, a touchring dial and six buttons make this the perfect tool for professionals artists and anyone who needs pixel-perfect precision with a tablet or pen.

5. XP-Pen Art 12: The best value pen display

You need to be able to overlook a few issues when you purchase a 11.6in pen display under  £200. The main problem is the unruly setup that involves two USB ports and one HDMI out on your laptop. This results in thick cables connecting the two, and a device that won’t work on any system without two video outputs. It would be nice if the included display was brighter and had more accurate colours. We have tested it and it isn’t up to 100% SRGB. Also, tilt support would be appreciated.

This pen is otherwise a very effective tool. The pen works well, tracks are excellent, and pressure sensitive works well. It is also thin and light, but it is still quite comfortable. The case also includes a variety of replacement nibs. The display also includes six buttons that can be customized and a glowing dial. Although the Artist 12 isn’t as robust as the Wacom One pen display, it is still more affordable. This is a viable alternative for designers and artists with limited budgets.

6. Wacom One: The most versatile pen display

The Wacom One, unlike the Wacom Cintiq range which is intended for creative professionals, is meant for hobbyists or artists. Although there are some signs of this, such as a lower resolution drawing surface and a decrease in pressure sensitive pen, the Wacom One pen display is still good enough to be used by anyone. It’s a perfect size for viewing what you are doing, but not enough to take up half of your desk.

The screen is also a significant upgrade from the XP Pen Artist 12. It’s brighter, sharper, and has better colour accuracy. You can achieve impressive hand-drawn lines and calligraphy effects with tilt sensitivity. Also, you can create more realistic brush strokes when simulating pastels or charcoal. The Wacom One’s cable management reduces clutter, although it still needs to be connected to a computer or have an additional HDMI output. The pen feels great in your hand, even though it is thinner than that on the Cintiq.

7. Wacom Cintiq 16: Professional pen display

The Cintiq 16 can be used to work on a larger surface than pen displays and graphics tablets. Its 15.6-inch panel is comparable in size to many mobile workstations and performance laptops. Although it doesn’t have the same sharpness as tablets and premium laptops, it’s perfectly adequate for graphics work. The larger size made it easier for users to use tools and create more detailed images.

This device is professional-grade. It has a high level of pressure sensitive with up to 8192 levels, a 5080 LPI tablet resolution, and excellent tracking. Due to the larger size and higher power draw of this display, a separate power supply is required. This is in addition to some very bulky cabling. The cabling is simple and only one connector goes into the tablet. This makes it much easier. A great, ergonomic pen, sturdy legs, and a tilting pen make this a fantastic pen display for creative professionals.

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