What is a graphics tablet? Differences between graphics tablets and computer tablets

If you are just a beginner in graphic design or want to become a digital painter, you may be a little confused while looking for the right tool for your work. The branch of graphics tablets develops quickly, and there are so many tools that can meet your needs… It can be overwhelming. So, what exactly is graphics tablet, and which tablet should you choose? In this article, I will answer these questions and provide the basic pieces of information.

What is the graphics tablet?

A graphics tablet (also known as the drawing tablet, pen tablet, drawing pad, digital drawing pen tablet) is a device that enables an artist to draw digitally. It has a pen / stylus which you use to draw on the tablet’s surface – similar to the way a person draws images with a pencil and paper.

The story

My cousin decided, that for her 18-th birthday she wants a graphics tablet. My Mother is her Godmother, wanted to fulfill her wish + as I’m the graphics tablet user for 10 years now, the task of choosing the gift was assigned to me.

So when she visited us, I decided to talk with her about graphics tablets to find out what exactly she wants. And… it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be…

You see, my cousin never used any graphics tablets, only saw some videos on the internet, where people draw on them. And that’s all she knew about graphics tablets. She talked about tools like IPad, or Wacom Companion and had no clue how much these devices cost. And they cost A LOT – unfortunately, we are not that rich to buy them for ourselves without thinking 10 times. While talking with her, I also found out that she doesn’t have any PC/laptop, she uses her smartphone to connect to the internet if needed, and do her homework. That was a big problem.

Why not having a PC or laptop is a problem? – About standard graphics tablets.

The standard graphics tablets are an input hardware devices. They are connected to the PC via USB (there are also wireless graphics tablets).  These tablets require drivers in order to work properly, which you receive on CD together with the tablet, or you can download them from the manufacturer’s official site.

Graphics Tablet ≠ Tablet Computer

Everything you install – drivers, apps, etc. you do this on your PC, the standard graphics tablet simply won’t work without being connected to the PC. It’s not a computer tablet that has it’s own system like for example Huawei MediaPad (random example) – that’s not the tool used at work by digital painters.

Below you can see my graphics tablet connected to the laptop via USB.

Graphics tablets come in different sizes. Sometimes, you can see such labels like S, M, L and XL, which accordingly means: “small”, “medium”, “large” and “extra large”. Below you can find a label with all details (mm and ints).

Graphics tablet sizes:

S  “small”  size: A6  105 x 148 mm  4.1 x 5.8 in
 “medium”  size: A5 148 x 210 mm 5.8 x 8.3 in
 “large”  size: A4 210 x 297 mm 8.3 x 11.7 in
XL  “extra large”  size: A3 297 x 420 mm 11.7 x 16.5 in

Important info: That are the work surface sizes, so you have to keep in mind, that overall, the tablet is bigger.
PS. The smaller tablets are obviously cheaper.

There’s no predominant size that could be called the best and most optimal – there are many professionals who prefer A5, because everything larger is just too large for them, and they have to “wave” with their hand more while working, which slows their workflow and make them tired sooner. I would say that it’s rather a matter of habit. I’ve personally used the A4 and A6, both are fine for me, you can see my the tablet’s comparison on the photo:

That’s how Wacom Intuos 4 L and Huion signature pad H420 look like.

The tablets I call the “standard graphics tablets” don’t have an LCD screen built in. You don’t need a screen on your tablet to draw, you just use the tablet’s pen similarly to the computer’s mouse, and look at the PC’s monitor while using the tablet.

Graphics tablets with LCD monitors.

More fancier graphics tablets. Similar to the tablets described above, but with an LCD screen. They mostly come together with a stand, where you place the tablet to get the 90-degree angle in order to draw more comfortably – you can adjust the angle. The standard graphics tablets don’t need this stand, you just lie them down on your desk.

The graphics tablets with LCD monitors advantages are: greater precision, more natural workflow (you look directly on your hand when drawing).
The disadvantages: cost more than standard graphic tablet.

Standalone Graphics tablet – no need for PC

There are of course the standalone graphics tablets, with their own system, but again, that are not the computer tablets which you see daily.  That are highly advanced devices with a few thousands levels of pen-pressure sensitivity, and the ability to detect the angle of your stroke.

Such graphics tablets can work as a stand-alone workstation, or can be plugged to your PC. Let’s take for example the graphic tablet manufactured by Wacom – Cintiq® Companion 2nd generation.

Check out this trailer to get a better understanding how such tablets work:

It’s a great tool for professionals, makes your job easier, and the possibility of not being stuck with PC is just awesome. I spend hours daily traveling to my job or parents, and plan in the future to get such tablet for myself.

So, why I don’t have it yet?
The Cintiq® Companion 2 is expensive. I already have a Wacom Intuos 4, that meets my needs and allows to create high-quality work. It’s definitely not a tool for beginners/ people who are not sure if they want to pursue a career in graphic design (or any related jobs, where such tablet will be used daily).

Back to the story

Is not easy to pick your first graphics tablet, when you haven’t got any chance to try any. It’s even more complicated, if you don’t have a PC/laptop, as my cousin – who don’t draw daily. And haven’t use any software for painting, or graphic design like Adobe Photoshop.

I’ve thought about her situation for a couple of weeks. My Mom is not a millionaire, so obviously, the budget for a gift was limited. I’ve decided, that the best solution will be to get her a laptop.

We purchased a notebook KIANO, with 8GB ram. It’s not much, but it extended my mothers planned budget. I decided to give away my tablet Huion signature pan h420, so she could use it together with graphics software and decide if digital painting / graphic design is for her.

If you have a PC/ laptop, and you plan to purchase your first graphics tablet, I would suggest you to look at the standard graphics tablets, with A5 size. They are cheaper than A4 and totally sufficient.

I hope this article helped you to learn about the differences between graphics tablets and computer tablets. If you have any questions, please let me know! 🙂


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