Category Archives: Art software

tablet pro app review

Conquer your workflow with Tablet Pro Windows app

tablet pro app review

Tablet Pro app lets you ditch the keyboard and mouse

Tablet Pro, an app accessible from the Windows Store, offers on-screen touch controls that can make you work more efficiently, potentially trimming hours from your workflow. We don’t hear a whole lot about Windows apps, and some tablet PC users may have never even visited the Windows Store. But now there’s a good reason to.

The app allows you to ditch your mouse and keyboard and work on the couch or anyplace, because all the controls are moved to the screen. You can program dozens of keyboard shortcuts, use gestures and a digital trackpad, zoom way into any part of the desktop, and use pen and touch simultaneously. More info and videos can be found on the company’s Web site.

Developed by Takashi Yamamoto and Justice Frangipane, the app was once called Tablet PC Mouse.  Its features have expanded to make it a must-use for serious digital artists who want to get control over the Windows touchscreen.

Installing Tablet Pro from the Windows Store

The app works on any device running Windows 10 or 8.1 with multitouch–it will work on pen-only touchscreen computers, but you won’t be able to use gestures.

There are two stages to installation–first the app, then the desktop program. Both are free and provide the touchscreen trackpad with basic gestures. There are also several optional paid features. You get an automatic 14-day free trial of the whole package upon downloading the desktop program. If you continue, you can purchase the package or buy them a la carte.

The Artist Pad is the feature that would be of most interest for readers. Here’ s a quick look.

Artist Pad on-screen menu

I highly recommend that you sign up for the free “14-day challenge” email series where Justice walks you through each step via video.

Tablet PC headaches solved

If you use a tablet PC, you’ve probably experienced the conundrum–a tablet ought to offer mobility, but you end up having to use a keyboard to access shortcuts, as well as a mouse and trackpad to move the cursor.

With a convertible tablet PC, you may end up using an extra keyboard because your computer’s keyboard becomes inaccessible in tablet mode, or, you may be using a clamshell laptop and leaning over the keyboard in order to reach the screen–you may even be working “upside-down” to avoid reaching your arm over the keyboard to access the screen. Or you may use a detached tablet on the couch or on a plane, with the keyboard awkwardly next to you on your lap. No more acrobatics are needed–Tablet Pro solves these headaches.

There is precedent for improving productivity via on-screen controls– the Vaio  Z Canvas has a shortcut menu, and there’s Radial Menu, which expands on Wacom’s radial menu. (See all these methods in this post about best tablet computer hacks), but Tablet Pro goes much farther, giving you dozens of shortcuts and layout options.

The main timesaver is reducing the amount your hand has to travel to access tools. All those little seconds add up.

Krita demo using the app

Seeing is speeding

One common annoyance is that Adobe icons scale to such a small size. You will be be able to see them larger when using the app. And because you can increase the size of buttons, “fat finger syndrome” is abolished.

You can also use touch to adjust volume and brightness, and swipe between desktop and your projects, and swipe through slideshows. I especially like the ability to zoom in not just in art programs, but to anything. It’s like having a skin over Windows 10 that makes it do just what you want.

With a Cintiq, the hotkeys, buttons in the tablet body that let you program keyboard shortcuts, rank highly for the way they increase productivity. Now you can have shortcuts on any tablet PC using any digitizer, such as the Surface Pro, which uses N-trig.

The Four Parts of Tablet Pro

The four paid desktop features are Artist pad, Zoom Desktop, Virtual Mouse and Gesture, and Game Pad. I would suggest Artist Pad as a minimum, but I also really like Virtual Mouse and Gesture and Zoom Desktop. It’s helpful to be able to zoom in on anything on your desktop. It’s cheaper to install the whole shebang than just do three features without Game Pad. (And you could use Game Pad to program shortcuts as well.)

Artist Pad preset panel with Photoshop

This screenshot shows you one of the presets for the Artist Pad. You can see that the pad can be transparent , and you can also bring up on-screen keypad and make that transparent.


Because the app does so much, there is some complexity in setting it up, especially the more advanced features. The primary users of those will be animators and artists with a complex workflow. Following the 14-day challenge will increase your understanding of its many features, and if you’re a quick study, there’s an option to go through the videos faster than the 14 days.

Not all artists need keyboard shortcuts; even if they’re not for you, the app is useful for different work styles and even for non-art use. A lot of businesses work on tablets now, and Tablet Pro is currently being used by thousands in hospitals, casinos, by U.S. government land/property assessors, special-effects studios, professional artists and designers, and more. With 2-in-1s becoming the norm among the public, it makes sense to have on-screen controls that go beyond just the built-in on-screen keyboard.

Tablet Pro lets you customize the Windows interface, lose the mouse and keyboard, and enjoy Cintiq-like hotkey functions. It may be just what you’ve been waiting for.

Here it is in the Windows Store.

Astropad 2.0 faster now: use iPad Pro as Cintiq

For those anxiously awaiting, today’s the day the new Astropad 2.0 is being released. Some improvements:

The Liquid engine, developed by Astropad, is now 3x faster and the company has managed to lower the pixelation by a while lot. The polling rate is much faster to correct issues with latency and improve images. It’s also now using way less memory so you can work longer and not run down your power so quickly. The pressure curve has been improved. Gestures are now available on more programs., including ArtRage, Clip Studio Paint, Mischief, Affinity Designer and Photo, Lightroom, and Sketcbook. You can now auto-hide the cursor. And, the UI has been given an overhaul.

Astropad turns your iPad or iPad Pro into a Cintiq-like input device and allows you to use any programs that are on your Mac. It’s available at the iTunes store. For OSX only.


vector 10 colors

Vector vs. raster for noobs

For newbies: vector vs. raster files

If you’re new to digital art, you may have heard these terms, but perhaps you don’t quite understand, or know which to use when. Here’s a rundown of the differences between these two image types.


Raster images, also called bitmap images or raster graphics, are made up of pixels. Most freehand drawing programs utilize raster, though some use vector too. Photographs, once scanned and digitized, or coming from a digital camera, are raster.

raster image

Raster image: photo of lotus

Pixels are tiny squares expressed in points per inch, also called dots per inch (ppi or dpi). Each pixel can be edited. Using Photoshop or another image editor, you can zoom in and see an individual pixel.

To understand pixels, think of a Chuck Close portrait, made of tiny little squares whose edges are invisible unless seen very close up. To see pixels, you need to zoom way in.

A 6″ x 6″ image at 300 dpi is is 1800 x 1800px or 324,000,000 million pixels! That’s a lot of information. A computer can handle that with no problem.

Early computer games were made with pixel art, which has a pleasing, toylike look whose popularity has resurfaced in films like Wreck-it Ralph.

Online images are usually 72ppi (often called dpi–though the terms are used interchangeably, there is some difference in meaning, but people know this and will understand). Print images usually use 300ppi. A very high-res image might be 600ppi.

Raster images cannot be enlarged without losing some information, resulting in fuzzy, “pixelated” images. Large, high-res images can slow down your computer, especially when you use a lot of layers in your drawing program. Despite the inconveniences, drawing freehand using raster graphics feels more similar to drawing on paper than drawing in vector does.

Raster image file types (this is not all of them but the main ones):
jpg (jpeg), gif, png, psd, tiff

Raster programs include Photoshop, Sketchbook, Gimp.

(See our introductory article about art tablets)

Uses of raster files

Photographs and digital drawings and paintings are usually raster. Most art online is raster to begin with, or vector art that was rasterized, because browsers don’t display vector files. Scanners output images into raster. The majority of freehand digital illustration is done in raster.

raster digital painting

Digital painting in raster, done in Krita. Image credit: David Revoy / Blender Foundation (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Page

Pros: Feels and looks like freehand drawing, can edit pixels, not much learning curve to start, most people can open files to view

Cons: large file sizes when in high-res, enlarging images creates pixelation, cannot edit lines.


Vector images are not made of dots. They are made of paths. A computer uses math to create the image you’re drawing as a wireframe.

Vector images can be resized with no loss of information. They can be blown up very large and will look the same. Vector art tends to look smooth, simple and geometric. It can resemble cut paper. Some artists are able to do vector art so that it has as much detail as any other kind, and it doesn’t look simple at all.

When you make vector art, you manipulate points. Vector art lends itself to working with a pen or mouse. It can feel like working in collage, where you create shapes and move them around, combine, or subtract them. When shading, if you zoom in, you will be able to perceive that the gradations of color are actually distinct shapes.

Some vector-based programs: Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, Inkscape, Flash, Autocad

Flash is a vector-based animation program. You can use it to draw non-animated art as well.
Autocad is a vector-based drafting program used by architects and engineers.

Many art programs now let you use both vector and raster–for instance, if you’re in Photoshop and need to open an Illustrator file, you open it as a Smart Image. Manga Studio allows you to use both raster and vector.

vector logos

Logos as examples of vector illustrations

What if you’re working with a client who doesn’t understand the difference?

Clients often do not understand the difference. It’s not our jobs as artists to explain it to them, it’s our job understand what they want. I once had a client ask me to do a job requiring detailed images delivered “in vector.” This job involved a lot of freehand drawing, which I do much better at in raster. At first I considered converting my raster images to vector, which would not have worked well.

But then I realized maybe they only meant they wanted art that could be resized easily, and they knew vector art did this. So I asked them if high-res Photoshop (TIFF or JPG) files were OK, and they said yes. Phew! Remember that clients don’t always know the terminology, so keep communication clear.

Raster to vector: Auto-trace

vector image

Image after being “Auto-Traced” and turned into vector

You can “auto-trace” raster images in vector programs such as Adobe Illustrator, meaning convert them to vector, but if you keep all the colors you will end up with a very large file too complex for some uses. If you don’t use all the colors, you will see the edges between the colors with the naked eye. So when printing photos or detailed raster art, it’s better to leave it as raster. Going the opposite way, converting vector to raster, does not change the image much.

vector 10 colors

Vectorized photo reduced to 10 colors

Uses of vector files

Most logos and text is created in raster. Fonts can be manipulated in vector. Graphic designers use vector extensively. Illustrators increasingly use vector for even detailed art, as the software becomes more sophisticated.

Some vector file types:
AI, CDR (Corel Draw), sometimes EPS

Pros: Enlargeable, prints well, is possible to do a beautiful illustration without great drawing skills (I do not meant that in a negative way), smaller file size. Can change line width and characteristics after drawing the line.

Cons: Challenging to get much detail, steep learning curve, not everyone can open them to view them.


Vector illustration by artist Jannie Ho. She makes it look almost like raster.

Both file types support layers. Like raster, some vector programs support pressure sensitivity.

Want to try?

If you want to try a free vector and raster programs, Inkscape is a versatile and fun vector program. Gimp is a free raster program often compared to Photoshop. There are free vector and drawing apps for tablets.

You might say that using raster to “paint” and vector to “draw,” or design, unless you’re one of those artists who can make vector look like raster or like traditional media.

Vector and raster images are


Video: how to use Intuos Draw and ArtRage for a portrait

In this video by Wacom Americas, artist Barbara Leitzow shows how to use the oil paint tools in ArtRage to paint a portrait using the Intuos Draw. ArtRage is an affordable digital painting program with tons of fun features, such as brushes that look like real oil paint, and even glitter (can’t go wrong with glitter). If you don’t want to sink the money into expensive digital art software at this time, ArtRage is a great place to start (and you may even decide to continue with it)–it has mobile and desktop (Mac and PC) versions. The program supports Wacom features such as Tilt and Rotation, and even has settings for various Wacom styluses. It has layers and blending modes, and you can choose different canvas textures. ArtRage gives you a lot of control and customization abilities. It’s optimized for touch, with a lot of tools on-screen. It gives you the ability to mirror and duplicate strokes. The interface is simple and intuitive. It’s as easy as drawing with crayons.