How important is it to have a graphic tablet and do I really need it? This is a question that I get asked quite often and wanted to elaborate on it. It may be that you've never tried one or perhaps you never got used to it and did not like the experience. Is that normal and how imperative is it that you get used to using one?
Those are a few question among others I wanted to explore openly.
For those of you who aren't familiar, we're talking about tablets like Wacom products that allow you to use a pen to take the place of your mouse. It enables really fine artistic control and fluid motion. If you aren't familiar with them yet, be sure to take a look before reading further.
As a retoucher, I have grown fond of using one. I feel that there is no alternative to using one and wouldn't do without it. With that being said, I wanted to look at the question openly without bias. Over the years and through the countless people I've met in our industry, I have found that my sentiments weren't necessarily the same as everyone else. I found that many people just didn't like using one or never got used to it. They asked me for help so I decided to look into it.
A majority of my own personal network seemed to like using one but the demographic was skewed because they were more inclined to be retouchers or they were photographers who were more serious about retouching. Also, a vast majority of them were in fields that demanded more out of retouching.
So when I looked at the wider gamut of photographers, it wasn't as one sided as I had originally imagined.
How long does it take to get used to one?
As a follow up question, I would ask how long they took to get used to using a tablet, for those who already owned a tablet. Surprisingly, I found that people picked it up at different paces. There were the lucky ones who picked it up immediately. They made the connection right away and it made sense to them. A larger majority took a few days to get used to it. Initially, they saw the benefit and liked it but needed time to fine tune the experience and dial it in. Others took a week to fully get accustomed to it. Many could never get used to it in the end and actually ended up selling theirs.
I sat a little on all ends. Initially I did not enjoy it right away. In my mind, I knew it was the better way and took some time to force myself to learn. I put my mouse away and used it for a few days till I become fully accustomed to it.
Why is there such a large disparity?
As much as I would love for everyone to get used to using one right away, I had to realize this typically isn't the case. I had to find out why this happens.
One of the common things I found had to deal with their history with writing and drawing. I've seen that many people who picked the tablet up right away had a good relationship with being able to draw or write well. They either had great handwriting or loved to draw and paint. Their brains were more artistically inclined to pick it up right away.
With those that had issues picking it up as fast, it was partly due to a disconnect with being able to relate what their hand was doing to what was happening on the screen. They weren't able to put the two together and it was an inconvenience.
In the end, there wasn't a conclusion as to why there was such a large difference on how fast people picked up using a tablet. Many, as mentioned, didn't pick it up at all. What was clear though is that it is expected that it will take time to learn and you will have to give it a fair chance. However, it is worth it if it you can adjust yourself to it.
Why do some people never get the hang of it? How can I make sure I get used to using one?
Some people eventually get used to using a tablet and others simply don't. What is the difference between these two types of people? I asked those who sold their tablets how long they gave theirs a shot. I found out most of them did not give it a fair chance, they gave up too early. Some actually gave it a fair shot and they just never got a hang of it.
If you don't pick it up right away and you want to be sure you give it a fair chance, there are some tips to make sure you do.
1. Put your mouse to the side! Like learning to ride a bike, you have to put in the effort and time and it won't be easy at first. Use just the pen and immerse yourself in using one for retouching. Keep a mouse around for surfing the web or any other tasks. Other than that, make sure you are just using the tablet.
2. Give it a full week of practice. You can't expect to be comfortable in just a couple of days. When you begin writing on paper for the first time, you have to build muscle memory to make the connection. It's the same principle, you will need time to build the muscle memory to make a relationship if you are using a tablet.
3. Pay attention to comfort. Chances are you may be gripping the pen really tightly or your posture changes when using the tablet. Be aware of your comfort level and make fine adjustments.
4. Practice creating shapes. In Photoshop, create a new blank canvas and begin drawing straight lines and various shapes. Surprisingly this helped me out quite a bit as it allowed me to make the relationship between moving my hand and drawing on screen.
For more tips, here's a great article by Mark Johnson that further goes into actually getting used to using one.
So how do I know if a graphic tablet is right for me?
Now that we've talked about some of the realities of actually using one and getting used to one, it still hasn't answered the main question.
Looking at it from an overhead perspective of our industry, this will relate to the individual. If you find that you are primarily spending a great deal of time retouching in Photoshop, I would definitely recommend getting one. If what you shoot doesn't require you to spend much time in Photoshop doing retouching, it may not be as important. There are a lot of photographers who have a workflow where they don't need to retouch as often. They may simply make selections in Lightroom, batch process them for look and feel, use Photoshop for minor work and then call it a day. This workflow may not warrant the need of a graphic tablet 'as much' as people who spend a vast majority of time in Photoshop working on perfecting individual images.
If you're in the latter, I would definitely recommend getting a tablet while still keeping in mind the realities presented in the article.
On the flipside, there are some artists out there that use a tablet and get used to using one but still prefer using a mouse to do their work! Michael O is one of these artists.
Do you use a tablet or a mouse?
A mouse 90% of the time. My style is more technical than strict digital painting so there is more of a need for clicking around than making brush strokes. I like to use a tablet for hair and some effects.
There is no definite answer so you have to try it out. In the end it comes down to comfort and analyzing what you need it for. Remember, these are all tools that make our world and work better. It does not mean that one may necessarily be superior than the other. You also can't ignore the fact that many people like myself do better with tablets. On the contrary, you can't disregard the fact that some people may never get used to using a tablet and they may work better with a mouse and that is okay too! As long as you try every option given to you to make sure you don't miss out on it, that is what matters the most. What is best for you is not the same for everyone. Keep in mind that many people who use a mouse to retouch won't be as expressive about the fact as those who have gotten accustomed to using a tablet either so public perception may be skewed at times. The best thing you can do is give using a tablet a real shot, you will thank yourself for it if you love it, I know I did.
To our readers:
To expand public discussion, I want to hear about your experience with using a tablet.
1. Do you use one and how long did you get accustomed to it?
2. How many of you have tried and never got used to using one?
3. What do you primarily shoot?
4. Do you find the tablet was really beneficial to your workflow outside of retouching?
5. What tips do you have for people who want to get better at using it from your own experience?