Q. Are all tablets drawing tablets? Marketing for a lot of modern tablets like the iPad boasts about the ability to draw on the devices, but pressure sensitivity is not defined in their specs. What are the core differences between those tablets and graphics tablets designed for the desktop?
A. With the right software, you can probably do some rudimentary drawing on most tablet computers, but some models are more responsive than others when it comes to fine arts or mechanical drawing — and usually advertise that capability as a feature. Pressure sensitivity, when a precise figure is specified by the manufacturer, tends to be attributed to the stylus used with the tablet, like Microsoft’s description of its $99 Surface Pen (for its Surface tablets) as having “4,096 pressure points.”
Some styluses are designed to work best with tablets from the same manufacturer, like Google’s Pixelbook Pen for its Pixelbook laptop/tablet devices or Apple’s Pencil for its iPad Pro line. When shopping and testing potential purchases, you will most likely see the best results from these pairings. Third-party products, like styluses from companies like Adobe or Adonit, may also be fine-tuned for a tablet model.
As for the core differences between using tablet computers and styluses and using a graphics tablet and pen with a desktop computer, the software and distance from the screen are two big factors. Graphics tablets and pens — which typically connect over a USB cable or by Bluetooth — have been around for years and have replaced the mouse or trackpad as an input device for some people.
While you many have less portability and are not drawing directly on the screen, as with a tablet and stylus, add-in graphics tablets work with industry-standard desktop software like Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. You also have more of a choice in the size of the tablet surface, and programmable buttons or shortcuts are often available.
Wacom has been a major maker of graphics tablets for Windows and Mac systems for years, and the company makes its own styluses and drawing tablets, along with digital “smartpads” that convert handwritten notes to digital files. Huion also makes several drawing tablet models.
When trying to decide what to use for your artistic needs, consider the creative software you want to use, as well as your preference for drawing directly on the screen or a bit farther away. And if you want to combine both approaches, you can even find apps that turn your touch-screen tablet computer into an external graphics tablet for your desktop machine, like the $30 Astropad app for the iPad and Mac.
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