For drawing, painting, and sketching on the computer, a graphics tablet is a must. The question is often asked, “Do I need a tablet to use Painter?” Strictly speaking, no. But if you ask me, “Do I need a tablet in order to get the results I’m after?” the answer is most definitely yes. Let me tell you why.
Think of how you hold a mouse, and think of how you hold a pencil. Holding a mouse is like holding a rock, or a block of wood. Good for block painting, perhaps, but not drawing. Holding a graphics tablet pen (called a stylus) is exactly like holding a pencil or paintbrush. Not only that, but the surface you’re touching with it (the tablet) is pressure-sensitive. This means it knows how hard you’re pressing down. This is not possible with a mouse.
Another great thing about tablets is they allow you to sit back and relax while you work. As you can see in the photo above, I’m pretty relaxed. That’s a good thing when you’re laboring over a piece for many long hours. Actually, I tend to sit back with my leg crossed, holding the tablet in my lap. Very comfortable.
People tend to have two objections to adopting a graphics tablet: price and weirdness.
Well, there’s no question, the price is rather high. My experience, going way back to the Wacom Art Pad days, is that you get what you pay for (to a point). That said, my teenage daughter is happily learning Painter on her Dad’s old Art Pad, so there’s something to be said for the entry-level products out there. They do work, but I would recommend that you get the best you can afford (common art supply advice, I suppose).
One caveat: big is not necessarily better, when it comes to these tablets. I have a large 23″ monitor, but my tablet (an aging Intuos 2) is only 6×8″, and I’m very happy with that. Unless you have a grand-gesture style of working, you’ll probably be quite content with a 4×5 or a 6×8 tablet.
Tablets do take some getting used to. But take my word for it, you will soon find it very natural. You may think you’ll never get used to drawing down here and seeing your paintbrush move up there, but you will. Resist the urge to splurge on the extremely expensive Wacom Cintiq (which is a tablet with a monitor for a drawing surface). Most people adjust very quickly to regular tablets. I’ve never used a Cintiq, so I can’t really advise you about how useful they are. But I will say that my Intuos 2 has served me fine for 4 years now and I never think of replacing it. It’s part of my right arm now.
I don’t plan to include opinions and ramblings on this site, but in this case, I feel it’s necessary to state my opinion rather strongly. For 2D work (e.g., Photoshop, Painter), ya gotta have a tablet. For 3D work, a mouse is probably better.
For more information:
Sue Chastain, who maintains the wonderful About.com Graphics Software resource, has written an article about graphics tablets, so if you need more information, I’d start there. There’s lots of other useful stuff there, too, about all the basics. Check it out.