Computers / Tips and Solutions

7 Fundamental Tips for Using Your Wacom Tablet

If you’re reading this article, you either own a Wacom tablet, have just purchased a Wacom tablet, or you’re considering buying a Wacom tablet. When it comes to photographers, graphic designers, or any other computer artists, one of the single most important accessories that you could own is a tablet.

To an artist, precision is a key element, and a bulky mouse doesn’t give you that. Try silhouetting a vector-mapped image with a mouse, and you’ll end up with tears on your keyboard—real tears. Trust me. The Wacom tablet, with its pressure-sensitive screen and fine-point pen, gives you the right tools to excel in your field.

But the Wacom tablet definitely has a learning curve. Here are a few tips on how to effectively use some of the great features found on your Wacom tablet.

  1. The first (and arguably most important) thing you should do when you install your tablet is to program your pen. You can customize and assign keystroke options or scrolling options to the buttons on the side of your pen. For instance, I have my pen button settings set to “Scroll” when I click the top button and to “Right Click” when I press the button on the bottom.

Make sure to program your pen with custom options once you set up.

You can even customize the buttons to perform different functions for different applications without going into the setting every time. For instance, in Photoshop you can have the top button set to Command-X and, for Microsoft Word, it could be Command-Y. Invest some time and play around with the settings to find your ideal personalization.

  1. While we’re on the subject of pens, this is a biggie, and a pet peeve of mine. Always return your pen to the pen stand. It is one of the most ubiquitous items in your home—you must have dozens of pens around the house. It’s very easy to finish editing a piece and walk out of the house holding the pen. I left one in the refrigerator once. Replacing a regular pen may cost you a buck or two (unless you own a Montblanc Le Grand Platinum Fountain Pen or Pelikan Souveran, in which case  you’re going to want to put it back in the case and hire a security guard) but replacing your Wacom pen could run you between $70-$100. Imagine losing that multiple times, and you’re looking at, well, you can do the arithmetic. The point is, it’s a simple enough thing to do, so just put it in the pen stand when you’re finished.

Always put your pen back in its dedicated stand when you have finished your work session.

  1. The Wacom tablet has an amazing array of buttons along its left edge. Most power users don’t really use these, but they’re extremely helpful. These buttons are called the “ExpressKeys.” They can be customized to perform your favorite functions, and are quick and easy to access. Just like the pen buttons, you can assign different functions to different applications. 

You can customize your ExpressKeys to smooth your workflow.

Some of the options include Display Toggle (to switch between multiple monitors), Precision Mode (which adjusts the pen and brush stroke), and Pan/Scroll.

  1. Here’s another secret for those unfamiliar with the Wacom line of tablets. Inside your pen stand is a variety of nibs for your pen—10 nibs, to be exact—and a removal tool. My favorite nib (the one I currently have on my pen) is the felt tip. I prefer it because it gives more friction on the tablet, and I like to have some resistance when I’m using the pen, as it feels more natural. The White Stroke nibs are also very popular because of the dual springs, which give a brush-like feel to the pen. You’ll have to play around with each nib to find the one that’s right for you.

Inside the pen stand, you will find 10 replacement nibs for your pen.

  1. With all those options for customizing your pen, it can be hard to remember which buttons represent which function. Hello, Express View. If you need a quick reminder of what a specific ExpressKey represents, simply rest your finger on the button and an overlay of all the keys will appear on screen.

For Express View, rest your finger on the button and an overlay of all the keys will appear on screen.

  1. Wacom tablets are designed to feel as natural as possible. Use your tablet like you would any piece of paper and pen; in other words, handle it as naturally as an organic object. There is no need to hang your hand awkwardly over the tablet as you try to work in Photoshop, and don’t be afraid to rest your hand on the tablet as you use it—your hand will be ignored when your pen is within a 1/2"  of the Wacom tablet, so you can touch the tip to the tablet when you want to click.

Use your tablet the way you would a leaf of paper and a pen.

  1. Finally, don’t get frustrated with the learning curve. Touch tablets are a relatively new tool and, as with any new tools, you have to take time to get acquainted and customize them to your needs. Getting over your old mouse can seem like an overwhelming task that requires some practice and patience. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to use the tablet as a tea coaster and go back to using my mouse, but in the end it is worth it, especially when you see your workflow speed up and your productivity increase.  Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back.

So go and play, try new things with your Wacom, and don’t forget to experiment with all the features. Most importantly, have fun with it! Do you have any tips to share? Join the discussion in the Comments section, below!

Discussion 14

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Well written, very interesting and informative. Thank you! 

Thanks for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed! :)

Thank you for this article! I have now confidently ordered my first Wacom tablet!

Glad to hear it! Let me know how it goes!

Thanks for reading!

How to choose between the medium and the large size Wacom Pro Tablets?

James, it really is dependent on your needs. I do graphics as well as photo editing and I have the Large size. I found that I need a bigger surface, for free movement.

Another thing to consider is how much space you have on your desk, you don't want to buy the biggest size only to have it keep falling off your desk.

A pro of getting a smaller size is that its great for traveling, you can easily slip it into your laptop case.

One last thing to keep in mind is that B&H has a great return policy, so you can buy one, see if the size works (or doesn't work) for you and choose to return or exchange it.

Hi James. I am a photographer using the Wacom Intuos 3 for many years. I use the small version which is more than adequate for all uour needs. I was like you before buying it, you don´t need the medium or the large sizes.

Just another tip: if you don't like staying 1/2" away from the tablet with the pen, you can assign an express key to toggle on/off the touch function.

Great tip! Thanks for sharing! :)

Good information I didn't know the tips for the pen were different kinds. I going to check that out now 

Glad you enjoyed the read! Let me know how the search for the perfect tip goes!

Yes, thanks for tips, most of which I'm already using. What does really bother me is the lack of resistance that you get with paper. I find the tablet useful but too slick for me to do much drawing. Mostly, I used scanned drawings or photos as bases for my paintings. 

The tablet can be quite good for filling in as the pen allows for far greater sensisitivty than does the mouse. Sensitivity is based on the angle of the pen, at least in Photoshop and if you have it set to be sensitive. That, to me, is the most useful thing about having a table--it's actually possible to lay down a stroke that goes from opaque to fairly transparent as you change the angle of the pen. I use the white tip, though not the pen buttons--too low on the pen for me. So I use the tablet buttons a lot along with the pen.

Still tough, however, to break away from the old mouse.

Thank for sharing that tip!

And it definitely is tough to break from your mouse but I think you'll agree that it’s worth it!

Sarita, Thank you for the tips & reminders! I have a question. I'm planning to buy a new Wacom tablet. I used to have two used Wacom (Intuous 3) tablets and it seemed that the larger one was perfect for my 27" iMac (I now have a MBP) but the smaller one sort of squeezed the image. I tried all sorts of things to fix it but it never functioned properly. I ended up using the larger one all of the time. Is the size of the tablet relative to the size of the screen? Or was mine just defective? (BTW, Sarita is my wife's name. It's common here in India. It means river.)