How to Choose the Best Drawing Tablet for You
Last Updated: July 27, 2017
Drawing tablets, also known as graphics tablets, allow users to combine the precision of drawing on paper with the convenience of using a computer. Whether you’re an artist, educator or hobbyist, a drawing tablet can take your work to the next level.
However, it can be tricky to find the right drawing tablet for your needs, since they come in a range of sizes, resolutions, styles and price points. In this review, we’ll arm you with all of the information you need to pick the perfect drawing tablet for you.
In the table below, we’ve highlighted our top 5 picks for the best tablets for drawing. You can find more detailed information about each choice further down.
At a Glance: Our Top 5 Drawing Tablet Picks
Types of Drawing Tablets
There are two main types of drawing tablets. The first kind must be hooked up to a computer monitor, where you can see what you’re drawing — the tablet itself has no screen. The second kind has a built-in LCD screen, so that it more closely mimics the experience of drawing directly onto paper.
Standard Graphics Tablets
Traditional graphics tablets do not include a built-in screen. Instead, they connect to a computer monitor that displays the artwork. This type of tablet is commonly used by professional artists, including illustrators, animators and graphic designers.
Using a standard drawing tablet is a much different experience from drawing directly onto a surface. It’s somewhat similar to using a computer mouse to color in a picture on a computer, except that you have a much more precise tool at your disposal: the “stylus,” or the pen.
Drawing tablets are able to monitor the location of the stylus even when it’s not actively touching the surface of the tablet. Different types of tablets have different ways of doing so:
- Passive tablets: These tablets use electromagnetic signals in order to sense the position of the stylus when it’s near the surface. The electromagnetic signal also powers the stylus so that you never need to individually charge the pen.
- Active tablets: With this style of tablet, the stylus uses an internal battery to generate a signal of its own to the tablet. Since the stylus has its own power source, the tablet does not need to also power the stylus and the signal can be somewhat smoother.
- Acoustic tablets: These styluses operate by generating a small sound, which the surface of the tablet then picks up in order to determine the position of the stylus.
- Optical tablets: Optical tablets include a digital camera inside of the stylus, which then matches up with the image on the paper to produce an accurate result.
- Capacitive tablets: These tablets use an electrostatic or capacitive signal to communicate the stylus’ position to the tablet.
LCD Screen Tablets
The second style of tablet includes a screen on the tablet itself. This style is a lot easier to use for those without a lot of tablet experience, since drawing on these tablets closely mimics the experience of drawing on paper. The only real difference is that the surface is a smooth screen rather than ordinary paper or canvas.
Many tablets in this style are useful for professional artwork and illustration, but these tend to be quite pricey. Other more general-use tablets, such as the iPad, used to be less precise than standard tablets, but as technology has evolved, some recent versions have become quite useful for drawing. It’s also possible to be more accurate using a touchscreen since you can see where you’re drawing right on the tablet.
General-use tablets can be quite versatile, but some aren’t compatible with the full range of art and design programs that professionals and hobbyists typically use. Depending on your intended use, it’s important to choose a model that can be used with any necessary apps.
What are Drawing Tablets Useful For?
Drawing tablets are used for a wide range of activities — not just drawing! You can use a tablet to make illustrations, design graphics, take notes, paint, project lessons onto a screen or manipulate photographs. Many tablets are multifunctional and can be used as computers in addition to their drawing function.
You can use a drawing tablet to:
- Digitize your work: By drawing with a tablet, you can immediately digitize your images and store them on a computer for future use. You’re able to start over as many times as you like — with no mess.
- Better quality: Using a stylus while using professional graphics programs results in a more precise, clean line, which improves the overall quality of your images.
- More natural feel: Tablets bring the natural, organic feel of drawing on paper to computer graphics.
- Improve speed: Artists of all types can use a stylus to more quickly complete tasks like painting or manipulating graphics with Photoshop. This allows for greater output, since each image doesn’t take as long to complete.
- Project images or notes: Tablets can also be used for a practical purpose: you can use them to project handwritten notes, lessons or images.
- Fine-tune designs: Since you can trace from a piece of paper onto a tablet, they’re useful for working with technical designs — for example, for computer-aided design (CAD).
How to Choose a Drawing Tablet
Here are a few factors to consider when choosing a drawing tablet. By evaluating each tablet by these criteria, you’ll be sure to choose a high-quality tablet that meets your own specific needs.
- Pressure sensitivity: The best tablet pens are highly sensitive to pressure, allowing you to achieve a range of line thickness and density.
- Resolution: A higher resolution means a cleaner, clearer image.
- Size: Some tablets are small enough to fit in your purse, while others are much larger. Of course, the trade-off to a small model is that the drawing surface area may not be as large.
- Stylus: All styluses are not created equal. Some will require recharging, while others have no need. Look for a stylus with a pen-like, comfortable feel.
- Battery life: Consider how often the stylus and/or tablet needs to be recharged to be functional.
- Software compatibility: Standard tablets are compatible with a wide range of art programs like Photoshop and ArtRage, while general-use tablets like iPads are only able to be used with mobile apps.
- Workflow capabilities: Graphics tablets usually have several touch keys for navigating and manipulating your work. Whether you choose a touchscreen or standard tablet, look for easy-to-navigate menus and shortcut keys.
- Price: Tablets range in price from around $50 to over $2000. If you’re an amateur, a less-pricey model will work just fine, and will allow you to get the hang of using this technology. Experienced users may want to spring for more expensive, powerful models.
- Technical support: It’s important to buy from a company that provides a useful warranty and plenty of technical support. A great tablet is worth nothing if you can’t keep it running smoothly.
- Bonus features: Some tablets also have other useful features. For example, a PC tablet can also be used to surf the internet and listen to music while you work.
Our Top 5 Picks for the Best Drawing Tablet
1. Wacom Cintiq Pro 13HD
- Vivid LCD Screen
- High Pressure Sensitivity
- Integrated Stand
- Touchscreen Gesture Controls
- Large Drawing Area
- Requires a USB Connection
- Cables are Short and Inconvenient
There are a lot of wonderful versions of the Wacom Cintiq, but the Pro 13HD is our pick for the best value for the money for professional users. The 13.3 inch display is roomy, yet small enough that it can be transported easily. It features a 1920 x 1080 high-definition screen, making it easier to draw directly onto the screen without needing to transmit the image to a monitor.
This tablet does still need to be connected to a monitor in order to work. There are more expensive Cintiq models that are stand-alone devices, but this one works fabulously for less than half the price. The new version of the 13HD is more expensive than the old version. Both are lightweight, easy to use and powerful.
This model includes four customizable shortcut keys along with touch gestures. It comes with an adjustable stand so that you can prop the tablet up while you work. The screen is made of etched glass, and the pen is lightweight and comfortable.
According to reviews, this tablet is fantastic for advanced artists and professionals. However, it’s also easy enough to use that any amateur with a high budget will appreciate the Cintiq 13HD. Users love the highly responsive pen, large drawing area, smooth bright surface and integrated stand. The main downside mentioned by users is the cable. It would be great if this model had wireless capability rather than needing to be physically connected to a monitor.
If you prefer even larger sizes, the Cintiq also comes in a 16- and 22-inch model.
2. Huion H610 Pro
- Good Pressure Sensitivity Levels
- Thin, Lightweight Design
- Large Drawing Surface (10" x 6.25")
- Good Value for the Price
- Comes with a Drawing Glove
- Poorly Written User Manual
- Some Lag with Particular Art Programs
The Huion H610 Pro is a great mid-range graphics tablet that is suitable for intermediate to professional users. It’s lightweight and easily portable yet also has a large drawing surface area. The resolution is excellent with 5080 lines per inch.
This tablet has a generous drawing surface area of 10 x 6.25 inches, so you have plenty of room to create the vision of your dreams. It also includes 8 buttons and 16 hotkeys, which can be customized to the shortcuts of your choosing. The surface is textured, providing just enough resistance to allow your pen to move around comfortably without slipping.
The Huion H610 Pro stylus does require recharging, but it lasts for 800 hours on a single charge. Its pressure sensitivity is 2048, and it’s of medium heft. It comes with multiple nibs.
According to artist reviews, this tablet is ideal for large computer monitors due to its large surface area. The rough, paper-like texture is a great improvement to previous models, which had a smooth surface that doesn’t feel as natural to draw on. This model is ideal for those who don’t have a lot of money to spend, but want a lot of bang for their buck.
The user manual for this model can be a little difficult to follow, but luckily you’ll only likely need it at the beginning to set everything up.
3. Apple iPad Pro
- Extremely Versatile Device
- Stand-Alone Drawing Tablet with Built-In Apps
- Responsive Stylus
- Vivid Screen
- Pencil Must be Purchased Separately
- Models with Extra Storage can get Expensive
The Apple iPad Pro is our pick for the best tablet that doubles as a computer. This stand-alone device can easily meet all of your web browsing, writing and drawing needs, as long as you don’t need to use any computer-only applications like the full version of Photoshop. The iPad iOS does come with a plethora of mobile art programs, many of which can fulfill the functions of traditional desktop applications.
The iPad Pro comes in multiple screen sizes and storage sizes. The 9.7 inch version with 32 GB of storage will suit most needs. You may want to upgrade to extra storage, but a larger screen is too unwieldy to be useful. The iPad also features 10 hours of battery life, a 12 megapixel camera with flash, and audio speakers.
The screen is vivid and clear, and the stylus is responsive and comfortable. One downside is that the Apple Pencil must be purchased separately, which adds onto the expense of using this as a drawing tablet.
Users say the iPad Pro works wonderfully for drawing and is a major improvement from past iPad models. They say the 9.7 inch model is extremely lightweight and easy to pack, and the stylus feels just like using a pen on paper.
The cons of the Pro? The price. If you need a model with a lot of storage and the fact that you also need to purchase the Pencil separately can easily send you up to the $700 range (depending on current prices).
4. Microsoft Surface Pro 4
- Very Responsive Pen
- Vivid, High-Resolution Screen
- Versatile Enough for Multiple Uses
- Large Drawing Area
- Kickstand Included
- Keyboard Not Included
- Somewhat Large for a Tablet
The Microsoft Surface Pro is a stand-alone device that can be used as both a computer and drawing tablet. The associated keyboard must be purchased separately, but it snugly connects to the tablet for a full laptop experience and quickly detaches again when all you need is a tablet. It also comes with a stylus included at no extra cost.
The Surface Pro’s price depends on the amount of storage and memory that you need. The most affordable model comes with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, which is plenty for regular use. This makes the Pro 4 an outstanding value for the price.
The screen is a generous 12.3 inches. It comes with a built-in kickstand. The stylus is comfortable, smooth and responsive.
Reviewers of the Surface Pro 4 mention several pros and cons. Several felt dissatisfied that the keyboard doesn’t come included with the tablet, since it’s integral to the experience. Other key issues include a smaller variety of apps as compared to the iPad, and an overly large screen.
Some users may prefer the generous drawing surface area, but using such a large device as a tablet is somewhat inconvenient. However, the screen itself is bright and has great resolution.
5. Wacom Intuos Draw
- Easy to Set Up
- Compact & Easily Portable Size
- Simple Shortcut Buttons
- Stylus Does Not Require Charging
- Surface Area may be Too Small for Some
- Stylus Nibs Wear Out Quickly
The Wacom Intuos Draw is a classic beginner tablet. It’s reasonably priced and it’s compact enough to be carried anywhere. It’s easy to use and low-maintenance, with just 4 customizable keys and a battery-free stylus.
The Intuos Draw has a relatively small drawing surface area of 3.7 x 6 inches, making it suitable for most art and graphics needs though not for more large-scale design work. The surface is textured rather than smooth, which results in a more natural drawing experience. The pressure sensitivity of the stylus is 1024, so the tablet is exquisitely responsive to your touch.
This tablet can connect to your computer wirelessly or via USB. It’s compatible with a wide range of art programs and comes with free online tutorials.
Users of the Intuos Draw say it’s powerful enough to be used for professionals, but is most ideal for beginner artists, students and designers who want a high-quality tablet for learning the ropes of digital drawing. Some users aren’t a fan of the rough texture, while others say that the pen nibs wear out quickly. However, the stylus is easy to grip and responsive.
Though all five of these drawing tablets are great values, our ultimate pick for the best choice is the Wacom Cintiq Pro 13HD.
This model is beloved by professional users for its vivid built-in LCD screen and highly responsive stylus. It offers a realistic drawing experience, and it’s built to last for a long time. All of this makes the somewhat high price tag well worth it.
For those who don’t intend to use their drawing tablet for long-term professional purposes, the other four tablets are wonderful choices; even general-use tablets like the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4 are powerful tools for illustrators and artists. However, none of them quite match the Cintiq in terms of their compatibility with a wide range of apps and platforms.
With a high resolution screen, easy-to-access shortcut keys and generous drawing surface area, the Cintiq 13HD is the best all-around choice.