Technology has enabled exciting advancements in how art is created and shared. Many artists consider themselves to be either analog or digital creators, but what if you could bridge the gap between these two worlds?
A drawing tablet can do just that. The best of these can mimic the traditional drawing or painting experience, while capturing your artwork in a digital format that can be edited at will, letting you achieve results impossible in a purely analog world.
Drawing tablets are well worth the investment, but it can feel intimidating to choose the right one. There are hundreds of models on the market, ranging from a few tens of dollars to several thousand. Where do you even start?
First, it helps to understand the basics. There are two broad categories of drawing tablets: those with screens, and those without.
Drawing tablets with screens provide instant visual feedback on your work, and more closely mimic the pen-and-paper feel that you’re likely familiar with. Tablets without screens are cheaper, but need to be connected to a computer, and you’ll need to glance over at the monitor to see your work.
Other important factors to consider are pressure sensitivity levels (a measure of how accurately the tablet and/or stylus can detect differences in pressure), the size of the active drawing area, the screen resolution, and whether or not the tablet comes with a pen/stylus.
Different people have different needs, of course, and different budgets as well. Based on features, performance, price, and intended audience, these are our picks for the best drawing tablets on the market today.
- Dimensions: 25.6 x 15.7 x 2.2 inches
- Weight: 12.3 lbs
- Screen: Yes
- Resolution: 1920x1080 FHD
- Shortcut Buttons: 16
- Dimensions: 17.4 x 11.0 x 0.5 inches
- Weight: 3.3 lbs
- Screen: Yes
- Resolution: 1920x1080 FHD
- Shortcut Buttons: 8
- Dimensions: 14.1 x 8.9 x 0.6 inches
- Weight: 2.2 lbs
- Screen: Yes
- Resolution: 1920x1080 FHD
- Shortcut Buttons: 0
- Dimensions: 10.4 x 7.8 x 0.4 inches
- Weight: 13.8 ounces
- Screen: No
- Resolution: 2540 lpi
- Shortcut Buttons: 4
- Dimensions: 11.0 x 8.5 x 0.3 inches
- Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Screen: yes
- Resolution: 2732x2048
- Shortcut Buttons: 0
Best Drawing Tablet: Wacom Cintiq 22
Wacom manufactures a complete line of drawing tablets, ranging from budget models to professional-grade equipment. The Wacom Cintiq 22 is an excellent mid-range choice, offering impressive features at a reasonable price.
Overall, it’s the best drawing tablet with a screen on the market. If you want to save money and don’t need a screen, the Wacom Intuos, described below, is a great alternative.
The Cintiq 22 features a large 21.5″ screen with vibrant colors and a 1920×1080 anti-glare FHD display. This gives you plenty of space to work with, but of course, it comes at the cost of a good chunk of your desk space. It has a built-in stand that can be adjusted, allowing you to customize the screen angle to find a comfortable position.
This tablet has 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity, along with a low activation force. In plain English, this means that the Cintiq 22 recognizes even the lightest pen strokes, and intelligently responds to your movements and the amount of pressure you’re applying.
Included with the tablet is the Wacom Pro Pen 2, a stylus designed to feel like a regular art pen. It charges automatically while it’s in use, so you never have to worry about a dead battery. The pen has a comfortable rubber grip, and programmable buttons that can be customized to match shortcuts on your favorite design software.
When plugged into a computer via the included HDMI and USB cables, you can use the Wacom Cintiq 22 with dozens of popular design and art applications. This includes the Adobe (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc), and Corel (Painter, Draw, etc) suites, ArtRage, Clip Studio Paint, and many more.
There are only a couple of downsides of the Cintiq 22. Firstly, that FHD screen resolution isn’t particularly impressive given the price point of the tablet and the size of the display. Secondly, the use of HDMI and USB-A cables isn’t ideal if you’re planning to use the tablet with a recent laptop that doesn’t have either or both of those ports.
You can get around the latter issue by using a USB C hub, but if you’re happy to spend more, the higher-end Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 solves both problems at once, thanks to its 4K display and use of a single USB C cable for all of its connectivity needs.
Runner-Up, Best Drawing Tablet: XP-PEN Artist 15.6 Pro
The XP-PEN Artist 15.6 Pro is a great option for those who want a drawing tablet with a screen, but don’t want to splurge on an expensive Wacom.
XP-PEN is an up-and-coming tablet maker that offers impressive features at a fraction of the price of more established brands. The Artist 15.6 Pro is one of its mid-tier options, with a 15.6″ display and battery-free stylus: smaller and larger models are also available.
The display on the XP-PEN Artist 15.6 Pro is one of its best selling points. As with more-expensive brands, the screen is fully laminated, which helps reduce the parallax effect and provides an experience more similar to a pen-and-paper feel. That 15.6″ size provides a useful amount of drawing real estate without taking up your entire desk.
The included pen is highly sensitive, with 8192 pressure levels (the same as the more expensive Wacom model above), and 60 degrees of tilt.
This model is fairly customizable, with eight programmable keys along the left hand side of the tablet. These can be customized to match shortcuts in your favorite design software. The red dial lets you zoom in and out of your work, so you can quickly fine-tune details or get an overall view as needed.
The tablet is compatible with most popular art applications, including Photoshop, Illustrator, Clip Studio, and more. Its cross-platform compatibility makes it one of the best drawing tablets for PC and Mac alike, particularly for the money.
Overall, it’s a quality, well-rounded device that will suit many graphic artists, especially those who don’t have four figures to spend on a drawing tablet. The main downside is a lack of flexibility about your viewing angle: the included stand isn’t adjustable, and there are no VESA mounting holes for attaching to a monitor arm either.
Best Drawing Tablet for Beginners: Wacom One
The Wacom One offers many of the features that the company is known for, at a much more affordable price point. It’s not a super cheap tablet by any means, but it’s budget-friendly enough to be justifiable for beginner and intermediate artists.
The 13.3″ display means the One doesn’t take up much space on your desk, but you’ll also find yourself scrolling around more often on larger drawing projects. Despite being at the lower end of the Wacom range, the screen itself is top-quality, with a matte finish and just the right level of friction to make you believe you’re sketching on real paper.
The smaller size makes the tablet easy to travel around with, at least, and it’s particularly good for students and others who need to regularly take notes and make annotations.
It’s also easier to use than some high-end drawing tablets. It’s simpler, intuitive controls make it easy to get started, but it has enough features to satisfy the needs of more experienced users as well. The only thing it’s lacking in this regard is the shortcut buttons you’ll find on higher-spec models.
Underscoring its beginner-friendly nature, the Wacom One includes free trials for several popular design applications. The tablet comes with a two-month trial to Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom, a six-month trial to Adobe Fresco, and a three-month trial to Clip Studio Paint Pro.
If you don’t yet have subscriptions to these applications, these free trials offer a good opportunity to test out several at once.
Other than the smaller screen size, the only other downside worth mentioning is the cable setup. Frankly, it’s a hassle: a proprietary 4-in-1 “X-Shape” cable that includes USB-A, USB C, HDMI, and power. That’s a lot to manage, and as with the Cintiq above, laptop users in particular may need a USB C hub to be able to plug everything in.
Despite its limitations, however, the One does many things well for not a lot of money, at least by Wacom standards. If you’re just starting out on your digital illustration journey, and especially if you do a lot of note taking and document annotation, it’s the ideal choice.
Best Cheap Drawing Tablet: Wacom Intuos
The Wacom Intuos is perhaps the best drawing tablet without a screen, and the most budget-friendly model on this list. For a wallet-friendly price, you can pick up an Intuos and get an affordable introduction to the world of drawing tablets.
The biggest and most obvious difference here is that the Intuos doesn’t have a screen. Instead, it plugs into your computer, and you need to use your monitor or laptop display to see what you’re drawing. This can take some getting used to, and feels a more disconnected than drawing on a tablet screen (or on actual paper, of course).
Thanks to the lack of screen, the Intuos is extremely portable and lightweight: it weighs under 0.6 pounds (0.9 pounds for the larger model.) Compatible with PC, Mac, and ChromeOS, it includes a Wacom battery-free pen with 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity. That’s around half the sensitivity of higher-end models, but it’s still quite accurate for most uses.
Note that the Wacom Intuos comes in two sizes, small and medium. The active area on the smaller version is particularly small, at just 6.0 x 3.7″, so it’s worth springing for the medium model (8.5 x 5.3″) unless you plan to frequently travel with it and space is really an issue.
Best General Purpose Tablet for Drawing: Apple iPad Pro 12.9
Want a drawing tablet that you can also watch Netflix and check Instagram on? The Apple iPad Pro is your best bet. Any iPad Pro model will work, but the latest model (6th generation) is the best option if you can get past the price tag.
The iPad Pro includes everything that Apple is known for: intuitive design, a wide variety of apps and uses, powerful processing, a high-end camera, and yes, expensive accessories that aren’t included! For the iPad Pro to be a drawing tablet, you’ll need to shell out for the Apple Pencil 2 as well.
If you can stomach the price, the iPad Pro is an excellent and versatile option. The current model has the powerful M2 chip (the same one you’ll find inside Mac computers,) which makes it blazingly fast for pretty much any task you can think of.
The inclusion of that fast CPU is important when it comes to using the iPad Pro as a drawing tablet. Unlike the other tablets we’ve mentioned, you can run design apps like Photoshop and Illustrator directly on the iPad rather than on your computer.
These apps require a lot of processing power to run smoothly, but the latest iPad Pro handles them like a champ. This also means that the iPad Pro is a great option for drawing on-the-go, as it doesn’t need to be plugged into a computer to use.
The other big selling point of using an iPad as a drawing tablet is the stunning display. Apple always makes a big deal of its screen technology, but in this case it’s justified. The Liquid Retina XDR display on the latest model is the best you’ll find on any tablet, drawing or otherwise, and looks incredible.
We wouldn’t recommend buying an iPad Pro solely for its drawing capabilities, since similarly-priced models from Wacom tend to provide a better experience. The glossy glass screen on the iPad is comparatively small, with little tactile feedback. While adding a matte screen protector helps, it dulls the colors for every other use.
For anyone looking for a powerful general-purpose tablet and a drawing tablet in one, however, it’s very much the best choice. That’s especially true if you want to be able to pull out a single, portable device and start drawing wherever and whenever the creative urge hits!
Main image via REDPIXEL.PL/Shutterstock.com, product images via Amazon