Best drawing tablet and graphics tablet reviews, 2016-2017
Choosing the best drawing tablet for your needs can be hard. We help by offering detailed reviews and news. Whether you seek the best graphics tablet or a tablet with screen, you’ll learn a lot here. Our reviews are based on testing, research, and attending conferences and trade shows such as CES and illustration events, as well as using drawing tablets since they were available.
Why use a tablet? Working digitally makes it easier to draw, paint, write, upload, and share your art.There’s a solution for every artist and budget. Even cheap drawing tablets will greatly improve your art workflow.
Below are our top picks for best graphics tablets, pen-display tablets with screens, and the best tablet PC laptops or 2-in-1s. They are digital drawing pads, monitors, or computers you can draw on.
To see all tablets reviewed so far and more, please go to our Comparison Chart page.
BEST DRAWING TABLET 2016-2017: OUR TOP PICKS
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|Wacom Cintiq 13HD Pen & Touch||Cintiqs go up to 27". Top brand with the most features, including pen tilt/rotation sensitivity.||Read our review|
|XP-Pen Artist 22E tablet monitor||The XP-Pen Artist 22E is similar to a Cintiq but much more affordable. It has 8 customizable hotkeys (16 total, 8 on each side of the screen, for easy access with either hand).||Read our review|
|Wacom Intuos Pro Medium (2017)||Premium graphics tablet. Pro Pen 2 with 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity. (Model: PTH660)|
Intuos Pro Paper Edition option uses real pens and paper. (Model: PTH660P)
|Read our review|
See our article on choosing a Wacom graphics tablet.
|Huion 610 Pro||Popular, affordable Wacom Intuos Pro alternative.||Read our review|
|Wacom MobileStudio Pro ||Two sizes, 13 and 16. 3D camera option. Pro Pen 2 with 8,192 levels.||Read our review|
|Microsoft Surface Pro 4||Popular Windows 2-in-1 for art, notetaking, general.||Read our review|| |
|Apple iPad Pro||iOS portable tablet. 12.9" or 9.7", tilt-sensitive, works with Apple Pencil. We recommend the 12.9" size for drawing.|
Read our review
|Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen||Android portable tablet. Great size & value. Wacom S pen; you can also use a larger Wacom pen on it (more info in review). New 10.1" HD||Read our review|
Wacom dominates the digital drawing pad market with their Cintiq tablet monitors and Intuos graphics tablets. but they’re not the only game in town for computer drawing pads. They offer the most advanced features and excellent build quality, but some other brands are not bad.
Best graphics tablet: Wacom Intuos Pro
Our favorite is the Intuos Pro Medium. It’s the most popular model among artists, photographers, and designers.
The Intuos Pro’s advanced features enable you to customize your workflow, work quickly, and exercise the most creative control.
If you want to draw on paper, the Intuos Pro Paper Edition may be the best graphics tablet.
The size allows freedom of arm movement and enough room to draw and edit. The Pro Pen 2 delivers a whopping 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity.
As an economical Intuos alternative, the Huion H610 Pro also made the list of top graphics tablets.
Top pen display: Wacom Cintiq
The Wacom Cintiq is the most popular in pen-display monitors. Like the Intuos, the Cintiq offers extensive controls, pen-tilt sensitivity, and the Pro Pen 2 with 8,192 pressure levels. Its rotating stand gives you freedom and the drivers let you customize keyboard commands on a per-application basis.
You can also map the pen buttons to keyboard commands.
Wacom products come bundled with some art programs. Wacom Touch models also let you use your fingers for gestures, or finger painting on Cintiqs.
Recent developments for Wacom include the Cintiq Pro and Wacom MobileStudio Pro. The Cintiq Pro is similar to the 13HD and also comes in 15″.
Top affordable art tablets
In more affordable options, we also really like the XP-Pen 22E and Yiynova MVP22U . They bring a larger tablet with screen to those on a budget. The Ugee 2150 is also a good choice. Artisul makes tablet monitors with great build quality and straightforward drivers in the 10″-13″ category. The Huion 610 Pro graphics tablet does a lot of what the Intuos does.
We test and review a lot of these non-Wacom offerings on this blog.
Our picks for portable and mobile drawing tablets
Portable tablets are great travel companions–not only can you draw, write, type, and transmit, but they can serve as cameras, phones, and navigators. They are good digital sketchbooks.
Our top choice: iPad Pro. We love the iPad Pro 12.9″ because of its size and the tilt-sensitive Apple Pencil. It’s an excellent stylus for drawing. It even lets you use the side of the tip to do shading.
The Apple Pencil at 22 grams weighs a few more grams than most active pens and it’s skinny. While most artists are happy with it, there are some who don’t like the thinness. Using a rubber grip should help with comfort.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen is nearly as good for art, and more budget-friendly. We feel it’s the best Android tablet for drawing, and it now has an HD screen. You can get a larger Wacom pen for it if you choose. The enhanced S Pen it comes with can be used at different angles.
Portables give you access to large app stores, iPad to the Apple app store and Samsung to the Google Play store, which has millions of Android apps.
Windows drawing tablets with stylus
A Windows tablet PC might be right for you with its versatility as combination computer and screen you can draw on. You need to take the processing power into consideration. An i5 or i7 is best to run Photoshop.
There are also portable Windows machines with less powerful Atom processors that are good for use with less demanding art software. For instance, the Surface 3, while it has been around for a while, is still a good all-around budget 2-in-1.
Several Lenovo ThinkPad Yogas have Wacom pens and are powerful and rugged computers with comfortable keyboards. The Lenovo Yoga 14 is a powerful touchscreen with a Wacom pen and plenty of horsepower. The unique Lenovo Yoga Book combines a graphics tablet and screen and comes in Windows and Android.
The new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 has been released with a Wacom AES pen, and the new Dell Latitude 2-in-1 that’s more powerful was announced in Jan. 2017 and will soon be released. The Lenovo Miix 720 is another promising newcomer with a Wacom pen.
(Most tablet PCs offer full-size ports, while portables have micro USB. If you’re not looking for an art device but rather a portable with a full USB, check out our article about tablets that sport full-size USB ports.)
Top high-end PC choice: Wacom MobileStudio Pro
The snazziest of all the drawing tablets, this all-in-one slate from Wacom packs a lot of power, 8,192 pressure levels, Cintiq controls, two sizes of 13 and 16, and a 3D camera option. Its form factor makes it portable. We did a hands-on MobileStudio Pro review. This is probably the best tablet PC for artists, if budget allows.
Before you buy
Before you buy, consider your budget and specific needs.
Do you need high-res files? Are you a Photoshop user? Do you need customized keyboard commands?
Will you be traveling or commuting with your device? Do you lose small parts easily? (If so, you might want to pick one that has a pen silo or way of attaching the pen, or a suitable carrying case). Will you do OSU gaming?
Do you prefer to draw at a desk, or on the couch? Will you be using a multiple monitor setup? All these things make a difference in how happy you will be with your purchase.
OK, what’s the best drawing tablet for the money?
If you want a portable sketchbook with a screen, I’m going to go with the Galaxy Tab A with S Pen 10.1″. You will have portability, the whole Google Play store, an SD card slot, and a Wacom pen. I think this is a great drawing tablet for carrying around.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The best drawing tablets feel the most natural to use the pen on. What’s beneath the screen has a lot to do with this.
There is an active digitizer under the screen. The digitizer picks up signals from the pen.
Nearly all artists need pressure sensitivity. Pressure sensitivity makes it so that the harder you press down, the thicker your line gets, just as using a pencil on paper. In some programs, you can also control opacity and other features.
You also want good pen accuracy. “Parallax” is the name for the little gap you may see between your pen and line. Though it’s fairly easy to get used to, it can get in the way of accuracy.
And, you want no lag time (also called latency) between when you touch the pen to the screen and when you see your line.
Palm rejection is important. It enables the computer to distinguish between touches your hand and from the pen, so that you don’t accidentally make a mark with your hand while drawing with the pen. This is only an issue if the model has multitouch.
Multitouch is the ability to use gestures such as zoom, pan, and navigate by using two or more fingers. Art software is increasingly made to integrate with touch.
Many Wacoms have touch, from Cintiq to Intuos and Bamboo. Our article on how to pick a Wacom graphics tablet will help you understand the ins and outs of Wacom’s offerings.The touch feature is not a necessity.
TYPES OF TABLETS
Understanding the different forms is essential to picking the right tablet.
Graphics tablets are opaque and made mostly of plastic and attach to a computer. They do not have a screen; you draw on them while looking at your computer screen. Some people call them computer drawing pads. The keys on the side, and the buttons on the pen, can be programmed to various commands.
Graphics tablets are considered the best drawing tablets for beginners or those on a budget. If you mainly want a cheap drawing tablet, this is the type for you. Our graphics tablet reviews take an in-depth look at individual models.
Pen-display tablets. Many prefer a tablet with a screen, such as the Wacom Cintiq, for its directness. It’s a monitor your draw on that mirrors your computer display. Because you draw on it, it’s referred to as a tablet monitor. Most people prefer drawing directly on a screen.
Tablet PCs run Windows. They are mostly laptops or 2-in-1s that you can carry, but there are also some larger ones such as the Surface Studio. Some of the best ones you can carry around are the Surface Pro 4, Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14, or the art-centric Wacom MobileStudio Pro.
The best choice for students might be a tablet PC 2-in-1, as it can be a general-use laptop as well. An i7 or i5 processor is recommended for running Adobe programs.
There’s not one best drawing tablet for Mac or PC. If you have one you have to attach to your computer, it will work equally well on both, though occasionally some drivers will have a little variation in certain art programs in different operating systems.
There is Linux support for some. Not all art programs enable pressure sensitivity.
Click to see a comparison chart of all we’ve reviewed so far, with handy links to reviews and shopping.
Who uses tablets for art?
Illustrators, graphic designers, photographers, cartoonists, animators, crafters, architects, doodlers, and other visual artists use a digital drawing tablet with stylus. There are specialized, art-centric drawing tablets, and general computers with art capabilities. There is no one-size-fits-all.
Digital Drawing Tablet Brands
Wacom (pronounced Wah-kem) dominates the market. Their Intuos and Cintiq line are considered to be tops in functions and quality. The Intuos and Intuos Pro line is considered the best graphics tablet brand, and the Cintiq pen-display monitor line is considered to be the top tablet with screen. Wacom offers the most advanced features and controls, including pressure sensitivity in Adobe Illustrator.
Companies such as Ugee, Yiynova, Artisul, Monoprice, and more make both graphics tablets and tablets with screens that offer most of the same functions. See our reviews of these affordable drawing tablets here.
These non-Wacom brands do not get pressure sensitivity in Illustrator, but the ones I have tried do get it in vector layers in Clip Studio Paint.
This site contains many drawing tablet reviews, so use the menu or search bar on the right to find them by type or brand.
Infographic: digital art tablets at a glance
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Here’s some more info on some of our top choices. (Note: if you don’t see some of these on the chart, it’s because we had to make room for the new, but they are still recommended).
Powerful Tablet PC 2-in-1: Vaio Z Canvas
We like the Vaio Z Canvas in this category, with the Microsoft Surface Pro line close behind. These, as well as the Surface Book, are Windows tablet PC 2-in-1s with detachable keyboards. Microsoft released the 28″ Surface Studio all-in-one in Nov. 2016.
(Click for our Surface Pro 4 review)
You may decide that a 2-in-1 or tablet PC is the best tablet for the money, since you can use it as a computer as well as an art studio.
Slate tablets have been getting rarer, but Wacom has just created a new one with its MobileStudio Pro. A slate has no keyboard specifically made to connect with it–you can connect your choice of keyboard via USB or Bluetooth.
Best tablet PC Convertibles: Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga line
A convertible tablet is a laptop where the screen swivels or bends back so you can lay it flat with the screen facing up. We like the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14, 460, Carbon, and X1. The 460 is a good general-use PC convertible that’s not too pricey. The 14 has a discrete graphics so is good if you’re a heavy graphics user. ThinkPad Yogas bend into different positions called modes.
The Wacom MobileStudio Pro (mentioned above) supplants the Cintiq Companion 2. Critics of the CC2 don’t like the fan noise, and the battery life was not so great, but drawing is smooth and silky.
Wacom Cintiq HD Pen and Touch
The Cintiq is a combination of tablet and monitor. This Cintiq 27HD Pen Touch (below) has to attach to a computer (laptops are fine, as are operating systems Windows, Mac and Linux). These come in sizes from 13″ to 22″ to 27.” Touch is an optional feature.
Here’s a 22″, 18 lb. Cintiq 22HD Touch, used by artists and animators.
We also like the XP-Pen Artist 22E. Click for review.
Click for our Wacom Cintiq 13HD review.
What about the regular iPad?
The non-Pro iPad runs a mobile Apple OS. can’t run full Photoshop, only apps, and it does not have pressure sensitivity.
You can use a pressure-sensitive stylus with it, such as the Jot Touch . (Read our iPad stylus reviews.) But you are better off having an active digitizer.
But overall, the regular iPad is not the best art tablet for the majority of users.
You can also use any of them with 3D software such as Blendr. Most are pressure sensitive, giving much more of a feeling of sculpting. The Wacom Intuos 3D has some software specifically for 3D sculpting.
Trends in drawing tablets
Trends right now include real-world elements such as ways to digitize using real pens and markers, stronger 3D program support, innovative input devices such as the Microsoft Surface Dial. Though it has yet to hit the shelves, increased sophistication in optics, such as scanning 3D objects from the screen and being able to manipulate them.
Best tablet for beginners
If you’re just getting your feet wet, it may be wise to try a graphics tablet, as it’s the least expensive of the options. The Wacom Intuos Draw is the simplest Wacom. It doesn’t have touch. It’s small, so good for kids and small drawings. It may be the best graphics tablet for beginners.
Any tablet is fine for beginners. The main challenge with tablets is learning the software, such as Photoshop. There is some learning curve to customizing the keyboard and pen shortcuts. But they are not difficult and you don’t have to use them.
It’s best to start with a simple drawing program such as ArtRage or Sketchbook Pro and work your way up to Photoshop.
Using a pen to edit photos offers great accuracy and sensitivity and can improve photos beyond using only a mouse or trackpad. Some photographers find a small tablet size to be ideal, while others find that the best graphics tablet for photo editing has a larger surface.
Types of digitizer
While this may seem dull and technical, the digitizer affects the feeling of drawing, so it’s important to understand the basics. The digitizer in a tablet refers to a layer under the screen or surface that reacts to the pen and maps its location on the screen. Those with pressure sensitivity are called active digitizers.
The main active digitizer systems are Electromagnetic Resonance (EMR). Wacom has its own patented EMR system which is found in Cintiqs and older tablet PCs, Wacom Intuos graphics tablets, and Samsung tablets with Wacom. Non-Wacom tablets also use a form of EMR.
Most artists consider EMR to be the best digitizer, as it’s the most sensitive, highest resolution, natural-feeling, fluid drawing experience.
Wacom EMR has a batteryless pen, meaning the pen is “passive,” because it draws power from the tablet. (You will still hear these pens called “active pens,” a general term for pressure-sensitive pens whether they are technically active or passive).
Wacom AES digitizer
The newer Wacom-penabled tablets have Wacom Active Electrostatic Solution, also called Wacom ES or Wacom AES. Some of these pens take a battery; others can be charged via a charging port. AES is nearly as sensitive as EMR. Here’s a diagram from Wacom:
Microsoft’s Surface line, all use N-trig, though the original Surface Pro and Surface 2 used Wacom EMR. The Vaio Z Canvas also uses N-trig.
N-trig DuoSense pens take a battery and are based on projected capacitive touch technology, and combine pen and multitouch. You do not see the cursor while drawing. When you draw, the mark is right below the pen.
Though we do not feel the N-trig has as fluid a drawing experience or the accuracy of Wacom, some of the best tablet PCs use N-trig and many artists do like it.
Synaptics is a less popular type of digitizer in the a the art-tablet world, but it’s still out there. One computer with Synaptics is the HP Spectre x360. The drawing experience with Synaptics is OK, but not as good as the others.
Apple iPad Pro
Apple doesn’t release info about levels of pressure sensitivity, but the Apple Pencil is very sensitive, and accurate as well. It also has tilt sensitivity. You don’t see the cursor with the iPad Pro.
Lower-priced Wacom competitors use drivers based on or similar to UC-Logic and older, expired Wacom patents. These include XP-Pen, Ugee, Hanvon, Atmel, and more. These provide an excellent drawing experience, with responsive pressure sensitivity.
Which digitizer you choose to use is a personal choice based on preference.
Drawing with the active pen
The following are different aspects of digital drawing. The first two are elements of the drawing experience.
The pressure curve refers to how hard you press to get your lines to a certain thickness or opacity. It’s an adjustable setting. If the pressure curve is steep, small increases in pressure will produce a thicker line or deeper opacity. If the pressure curve is shallow, you will need more force to increase line width or opacity.
Initial Activation Force
This refers to the amount of pressure needed to make a mark. Wacom EMR requires the least pressure; even gently gliding the pen over the screen produces a mark. On N-trig, the IAF seems to be about the weight of the pen itself.
Tilt and rotation sensitivity
The best graphics tablets and tablets with screens have pens that get natural tilt sensitivity (angle detection). Wacom Cintiqs and Intuos have this, and so does the iPad Pro. On Galaxy Tab A with S Pen and Galaxy Note, Samsung’s Enhanced S pen has it to an extent. The Lenovo Yoga Book offers 100-degree tilt sensitivity.
Tablet PCs (except the Lenovo Yoga Book Windows) don’t have the tilt feature even if they are Wacom-penabled.
A tablet PC won’t give you customizable keyboard shortcuts, though you can use an on-screen menu for this.
Best drawing tablet software
For Mac and Windows, the Adobe Creative Suite, which includes Photoshop and Illustrator, are the most popular, as well as Clip Studio Paint, Sketchbook Pro, and CorelDraw, and ArtRage, which has a lot of fun features such as glitter and impasto. Gimp is a free program similar to Photoshop, while Inkscape, also free, is like Illustrator.
For mobiles, Procreate for iPad/iPad Pro is a favorite, and on iOS and Android, Sketchbook, ArtRage, and Infinite Painter are all fine programs.
What about Apple?
Steve Jobs did not like tablets too much at first, though he later changed his mind and put out the iPad–but even then, he didn’t like the idea of a stylus. Things have changed at Apple, and now the Apple Pencils is considered probably the best drawing stylus.
The iPad Pro is the only pressure-sensitive Apple tablet (not counting the old Axiotrons, which used Mac OS). The iPad Pro can be a professional digital drawing tablet. Used with the Astropad app, it can become an input device like a Cintiq.
2-in-1 PC, pen-display monitor, or mobile? How to decide
A familiar quandary for artists is trying to decide between a Cintiq and a tablet PC or even a mobile sketchbook. That is a difficult choice. This New York Times article outlines the difference between a tablet running Windows and one with a mobile operating system. Mainly, a mobile operating system won’t be able to run desktop Adobe programs such as Photoshop.
If portability is not extremely important to you, then a Cintiq or other tablet monitor will give you a more satisfying art experience. A large screen makes a big difference. But if you’re a sitting-on-the couch person, the best drawing tablet could mean something portable and small.
But if you don’t want to deal with having to attach your tablet to your computer, then a tablet PC with pressure sensitivity is not a bad choice.
Children are natural artists, so we’re also reviewing tablets for kids.
Digital art advantages
Creating digital art doesn’t mean you have to stop using traditional media. Even the most expensive drawing tablet won’t do you much good if you haven’t developed your skills.
Working in layers, such as with Photoshop, provides great freedom. Clients pretty much all want the artist to deliver digital files.
With all the choices, everyone from doodler to pro should be able to find the best drawing tablet for their needs and budget.
Click here for a closer look at the newer offerings in tablets for digital artists.
Here’s an introductory video by Wacom about using the Intuos.
We have created this site to help you find YOUR best art tablet for drawing, painting, designing, sketching, editing, and doodling. Please share, like, follow, and repin. We love to hear from you in the comments, and are happy to answer questions.
Tablets are a great way to make art that’s “pretty as a pixel.”
history source: Wikipedia
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