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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!