George Coghill


In part two of this series, I covered the basics to consider when it comes to setting up your digital art computer. Now that the core setup is established, we can get into some more artist-specifc peripherals and accessories: graphics tablets, printers, and scanners.
The phrase “digital artist” pretty much conjures up a graphics tablet, so I’ll start there.
What Are Graphic Tablets?

If you are unfamiliar with a graphics tablet, it is basically an input device for the computer that allows you to use a stylus and manipulate the cursor with what is essentially an electronic pencil, as opposed to the computer mouse. And for those with larger budgets, there are graphic tablets built into computer monitors that let you digitally “draw” on the screen itself.
If you plan on creating digitally, I can’t think of a creative type out there that wouldn’t benefit immensely from a graphics tablet. That said, I know digital artists who just don’t like them. I would highly suggest giving one a chance though. They can improve your productivity by huge factors if the device works for you. I use mine not just for drawing, but for creating vector paths in Adobe Illustrator and even for about 90% of my general computer usage instead of a mouse. Like our analog counterparts, digital artists have an obsession with their drawing tools!
I only have experience with Wacom products, so my comments below will relate specifically to their tablets, but much of the technology and purchasing considerations will apply to other manufacturer’s products (which I will touch on as well).
Pressure Sensitivity

Just about all graphics tablets have pressure-sensitivity, which means the harder you press on the tablet with the stylus, the darker a mark is made on the digital canvas. The better the device, the more levels of pressure sensitivity. At this point in time, even the entry-level models come with 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, which is not only more than adequate but it used to be the resolution of the high-end models not that long ago. Professional models now ship with 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity.

One other thing to consider when purchasing a graphics tablet is the resolution. As in digital cameras, HDTVs and digital images, higher resolution is better. For the tablets, that translates to how smooth the tablet detects the movement of the stylus across the tablet surface. Lower-resolution models will be a bit jittery, and it will drive you nuts. Best to stick with a minimum of 2540 lpi resolution. The tablets in the Wacom Intuos Pro lineup have a resolution of 5080 lpi and this seems to go back at least to the Intuos3 lineup (they are at Intuos5 at the time of this writing). The entry level models have a 2540 lpi resolution. I have an older entry-level tablet (back when they were called the Bamboo line), and it was totally adequate for the sub-$100 price. The pro models are noticeably nicer, and they also offer more functionality on the software side of things — application-specific settings being the main one. I much prefer the pen that the Pro models ship with. That said, they are considerably more expensive.
Wacom is the juggernaut in this category, but many artists are finding good results with lower-priced competitor devices by Yiynova and Monoprice. An entry-level device can be had for much less than $100 with very good specifications. As I have mentioned, I’ve only used the Wacom tablets but I can vouch for their entry-level devices from a few years ago being more than sufficient in terms of specifications. The professional lineup is definitely nicer, and the software offers more flexibility and per-app customization. I’ve also found them to be extremely durable over years of use, so it’s an investment over time.
Tablet Size

As far as what size tablet to purchase, that is going to be affected by your monitor size. My years of use and experimentation are based both on a dual-monitor setup (two monitors configured as one giant computer desktop) and on 13”-15" laptop screens for mobile use. I would suggest that for a single screen up to 20-24”, a small graphics tablet is ideal. For larger monitors or dual-monitor setups, you’ll want a medium-sized tablet. One caveat here is your drawing style — if you are very expressive and use wide arm movements to draw, you may need to consider larger tablets. I am more of a forearm/wrist renderer, and I’ve found that a large tablet on a small screen will amplify your movements dramatically. You can compensate for this in the software, but then you just paid for a large tablet that you are only using a small portion of.
Learning Curve

It is important to consider when trying out a graphics tablet, particularly the standard non-screen models, that there is a learning curve. It will take you a solid month of daily use to get used to drawing with the device. Don’t give up too soon. Be sure to keep your graphics tablet squared to the monitor, and train your hand to draw this way. You’ll get used to it, and with on-the-fly canvas rotation features in graphics software like Photoshop and Manga Studio Pro, you can rotate the digital canvas and use the natural curves of your wrist and forearm movement to draw, just as you do with traditional media.
More Info On Graphics Tablets

CreativePro has a nice in-depth article on graphics tablets here: 

I can’t speak to printers much. When I need high-quality, I outsource that to a local digital print service. I don’t have enough need for high-quality prints at the studio. I would suggest you look into a laser printer, especially if you are an intermittent printer like me. There is no ink to dry out and gunk up and become useless in 3 months. You want to print some photos? Just have a print service or your local drugstore handle that stuff. It will be higher quality, and not a deep-pocket investment in equipment you don’t use on a regular basis.
An artist friend of mine suggested a Brother HL-22400 laser printer in the $100 range, and I have been extremely pleased with the purchase. The newer models are even cheaper, and still highly-reviewed on Amazon. 
If your business needs a high-quality printer on a regular basis, look into printing locally before you invest in equipment. If the need justifies the purchase, then as with any other purchase just do your research, get what you need and maybe a bit more to allow for some expansion. But keep in mind this technology is evolving daily, so the stuff you invest in may be obsolete before you know it.
I do know some artists who print out their artwork for customers. Expect to spend a good $2,000 for a nice large-format color printer.
And if you do need a color printer for your studio, CreativePro covers the basics you’ll want to keep your eye on: 

Believe it or not, I do not have a scanner. But the same thing holds true for scanners as with most of the rest of the equipment discussed so far: even the entry level stuff these days is pretty darn nice.
How do I get away without a scanner? I just take photos of what I need scanned and save them to Dropbox or email them to myself. Usually I just need a rough sketch digitized, so the quality isn’t all that important. I’ve owned scanners in the past. You can get nice scanners for a small amount of money. The downside is that the software drivers for the scanners are often never updated to work with the newer versions of the operating systems once the scanner is a legacy item in the manufacturer’s inventory. Thus, a perfectly fine scanner will no longer work with your new computer or updated operating system software.
CreativePro has some tips on how to use scanner apps for your phone. Personally, I have a geeked-out setup where I save photos taken with the default camera app on the iPhone, save them to a specific Dropbox folder, and my Mac (via third-party software) opens it up in Photoshop and runs a custom action that preps the file for sketch cleanup. But we will get to that kind of stuff in a later article.
I know many of you will want to get your analog art into the computer. Some artists like to ink with traditional tools, then color on the computer. Some want to just scan final art into their computer. I don’t do any of that anymore, since I only create digitally these days. If that is something that you need more help with, these articles on CreativePro will get you headed in the right direction:

To sum up what I’ve covered here: 
• consider investing in a graphics tablet for your digital art setup
• allow for a learning curve (at least a month of daily use) before making a final judgment
• the entry-level models are nice and affordable and a great place to start
• the professional models are more expensive but worth it
• buy a laser printer for all your basic studio printing needs
• print with a print service for high-quality, color or large format
• most scanners these days will be sufficient to scan your art at high-quality if needed
• if high-quality isn’t necessary, just snap a photo with your phone and save to Dropbox or email to yourself
Next Up: Software Part 1 — Graphics Software

Next, in part 4 of this ongoing series, I’ll start discussing the software I use. I’ll start with the graphics software of course, but the article after that will dive into some productivity and utility software I use to automate my setup and allow me more time to create.
George Coghill is a freelance illustrator specializing in cartoon logo design.

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