Advantages & Disadvantages of Graphics Tablets

By Shea Laverty

Graphics tablets are designed to make digital artwork easier and more precise: drawing with a mouse is rarely ideal, and often cumbersome. Consisting of a flat pad and specialized electronic pen, graphics tablets are often used by professional digital artists to more accurately place lines and use movements naturally associated with drawing. While often useful tools, graphics tablets aren't without their drawbacks, making it important to weigh the costs against the benefits before purchasing one.

Pro: Allows Natural Drawing Motions

By taking advantage of the motions employed during drawing, a graphics tablet can produce significantly smoother curves, and makes small, complex shapes more easily than a mouse. Digital artists who are less-than-savvy about the complexities of interfaces used by software like Adobe Photoshop can forgo them in favor of simple, intuitive drawing. Using a graphics tablet, you can more faithfully recreate your personal art style than you can with a mouse or a touchscreen system.

Con: Ill-suited for General Use

Despite their precision in rendering artwork, graphics tablets make a poor choice for basic operations like pointing and clicking to make menu selections. Most interfaces on desktop and laptop computers are designed with a mouse and keyboard in mind, making their operation somewhat clumsy with what is essentially a sophisticated stylus pen. Using the button on the pen to click -- if your pen has a button -- can also become awkward, especially with extended use.

Pro: Pressure Detection

Depending on your graphics tablet and software, the pen for graphics tablets often includes a pressure detection system. As with a pencil, applying more pressure leaves a darker line, while less pressure makes a lighter one. A sufficiently sensitive pen can also be used to trace existing printed images, as it still detects the pressure through the paper. This can be useful in copying your older work into a digital medium for storage or retouching.

Con: Cost of Acquiring

One of the biggest drawbacks to getting a graphics tablet is that they can be a fairly large investment, depending on the make and model. For independent artists or small studios, this cost can be enough to prevent an investment, even if the system itself could actually be useful. Large-scale deployment can also require a significant investment. The cost is compounded when repairs and replacements are factored in, as tablets are damaged or worn out over the course of their lives.