Being a Graphic Designer requires many plug-ins, tools, and applications to get things done—and fast. Many of us have discovered Wacom tablets. Really, we discovered the pen and got excited. Deep down, we know the pen is mightier than the mouse, even though the biggest challenge is getting one’s hands on a Wacom tablet and working through the learning curve. Recently, I managed to get my hands on the Wacom Intuos Pro Pen & Touch Tablet.
The benefits of using any Wacom Tablet as a Graphic Designer might change the way you see your mouse. Upgrading to the Wacom tablet experience means your workflow will become easier, faster, more efficient, and fun. Did I just say fun? Absolutely. As I’ve mentioned, you will have to endure the growing pain of a learning curve. Quick tip for that: Lock your mouse away and browse the Internet for 30 minutes exclusively with the pen. If you are at work, browse through web apps that your company uses without touching your mouse. Crawl before you walk, because once you fire up Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, you will hit the ground running.
The Pen Pressure
The Intuos Pro Grip Pen is a joy to use. The rubberized grip keeps the pen comfortably in your hands for hours. It is also lightweight and doesn’t need batteries. There are three buttons on the pen that are programmable, but for most applications, it works well right out of the box. The first two buttons, located by your index finger, act the same as the left-click and right-click of a mouse. The third button is one of my favorites to use when I make a mistake in Photoshop—it’s an eraser. Yes, the top of the pen is an eraser in some programs. Flip it over, as you would with a pencil, and just erase the mistake away. Love it.
For programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, the pen is capable of 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity and it recognizes when the pen is tilted. Now, if you’ve never used one before, this may not seem important. I am sure you’ve sketched or drawn something on a piece of paper, or at least, signed your name. You know that the way you angle the pen determines the way the stroke will appear. You know that if you apply light pressure on the pen, the lighter the “ink flow,” or thinner the line. With that basic concept, Graphic Designers can now draw lines digitally that they could only do physically on true paper. Those 2,048 levels of pressure may be overkill for some, but they are there to use. For more information about the pen’s versatility, read the B&H Explora article, Wacom for Photographers.
The Touch Tablet and ExpressKeys
If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the Touch Tablet is where all the magic happens. First of all, I want to make one thing clear to you: the tablet is multi-touch and you can use your fingers directly on the tablet. Yes, the pen is still awesome. Yes, you can do single clicks like a mouse. Yes, you can double-click. And yes, the pen can execute multi-touch gestures as shortcuts. It is amazing.
Anywhere between one and five fingers, the Touch Tablet will recognize and execute based on the preset or customized gesture. Out of the box, the finger gestures are superb and work just the way you would think. As you get more familiar with the Wacom tablet, you will lean toward customizing some gestures. The touch controls are easy to use and very responsive. If you use pinch to zoom or scroll on your mobile phone or tablet, you will be very pleased with the responsiveness it allows in programs like Photoshop and Illustrator.
In Photoshop, I discovered that you can rotate the canvas after I had just executed a zoom gesture. This was a thrilling discovery for me because I was using the paint brush. The new angle allowed me to paint more efficiently from a comfort level comparable to angling a piece of paper in real life. It’s the little things.
I could go on and on about the touching area of the tablet, so let me move on to the buttons, called ExpressKeys. The version you have will determine how many ExpressKeys you have. The Wacom Intuos Pro Pen & Touch Tablet, large and medium, have a total of nine buttons. The smaller version, seven. There are eight ExpressKeys (six for the small) that are split north and south of the Touch Ring that houses another button in the middle of the ring. These ExpressKeys, in comparison to the Intuos5, are significantly better. The Intuos5 is still a great product and most owners can make a hard case to not upgrade. But the groove-touch buttons on the Intuos5, versus the actual buttons of the Intuos Pro, do not compare. There is nothing like pressing a button, hearing a click, or feeling that button being pressed, to assure feedback. If you have an Intuos5, I warn you—do not touch the PRO or the 5’s gotta go!
Customizing the ExpressKeys
Even co-stars sometimes occupy a secondary tier on a show. Wacom Intuos and Cintiq products have ExpressKeys to take that credit. Those Expresskeys help you customize your experiences with the tablet. Ultimately, these will make you faster and more efficient when you use the tablet. Wacom has created an easy-to-use interface for anyone to get right in there and start changing things around. Not your thing? It’s cool. You will have a default setting for most of the programs already, and there’s even a universal setting for other desktop applications.
In Adobe Photoshop, I found Expresskeys to be very essential for my workflow. The standard assigned functions were great, right out the box, one dedicated for turning the touchpad off and on. Another key brings up the Wacom Radial Menu, for even more shortcuts. Yes, that Radial Menu is also customizable and can have submenus. Those keys I’ve decided to keep.
One of my most-used functions is “Save for Web.” I’ve replaced one of the Expresskeys with the four-button “SHIFT+CTRL+ALT+S” combination. Now, I’ve used Photoshop and Illustrator for many years, so my hands can do that keyboard shortcut even when I’m asleep. I’d bet some of you looked at your keyboard just now. I cannot tell you the joy I receive from hitting a single button to execute that command. Seriously, tell me in the Comments section, below, if you looked down to locate those keys. Now imagine assigning functions, actions, layer mergers, and more to a single press button. Efficiency and speed!
The Touch Ring
The Expresskeys are wonderful and programmable and the Wacom Touch Ring is just as important. By default, it will have a scroll or zoom effect in most applications like Photoshop and Illustrator. The Touch Ring button in the middle can allow you to switch modes, such as layers, rotate, or brush sizes. There are four functions for the touch ring to select. Each of those four functions has a light on the tablet and an on-screen indicator to let you know what mode you’ve picked. I repeat—these functions can be customized, even down to the speed needed to cycle through the ring. The Touch Ring gives me the freedom to pan and access other motion-like functions at the speed of light.
Ergonomics: Faster, Better, and Fun
After continuous use of the Wacom Intuos Pro Pen & Touch, I became increasingly faster, which was due to many factors. The ergonomic feel of the Grip pen allowed me to be very comfortable; I would go as far as to say almost more than a real pen or pencil. I was very impressed with the way the replaceable (or swappable) nibs of the pen moved across the tablet. It gave me the satisfactory sensation of drawing on textured paper versus a smooth surface.
The one-to-one accuracy of the tablet with the monitor was quite satisfying, and I run a dual-monitor setup. The more comfortable I became with the device, the more I could move from one screen to the next with no problem. When I needed the full active area of the tablet, I hit a button to lock the dimensions to one monitor for heavy Photoshop action. Yes—I programmed that button into the Radial Menu.
Drawing Bezier curves, or any other pen/pencil-like strokes was a breeze. It is not worth mentioning due to the fact that it is a pen you are holding in your hand. I really mean that. Get past the learning curve, and it will feel natural and fast. The pen does what the mouse can’t.
At one point, I caught myself using both hands on just the tablet. Prior to that, I was using the Pen as a mouse substitute, while keeping my left hand on the keyboard for obvious shortcuts in Photoshop. With the Expresskeys, I could add and customize on the fly, changing it to functions I really needed, evolving my process and having fun creating layer masks. I do not care who you are, layer masking with a mouse is terrible. We tolerate it, but with any Wacom tablet, you won’t have to just tolerate.
The Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and the Touch Tablet are the co-stars of this show. The supporting cast, aided by customizable functions through the Wacom Tablet software, makes this a must-own for graphic designers and for photographers alike. Between the ergonomic feel of the Intuos Grip Pen and the nibs having paper-like resistance against the active surface of the tablet, this is the closest you will come to drawing on paper, unless you want the Wacom Cintiq 13 HD Interactive Pen and Touch, where the active area is also the live screen. You will put your mouse on notice.
Do you need to upgrade from an older model? Start with the Intuos Pro Pen and Touch. Never used a Wacom tablet before? Do not be afraid of the “Pro” in the name. This level of control can assist any level of use, and this includes people new to Photoshop. I have owned an Intuos3 for more than ten years, and have used the Wacom Bamboo before switching over to the Intuos Pro. I am thoroughly impressed. The software and the hardware work well together. It facilitates the experience in the applications you will use. Once you’ve tried it, you will never look at your mouse the same way again.