How to Use A Graphics Tablet? A Step By Step Guide

Here we are for the second part of this folder on retouching, we go with this article and the next we focus on the hardware tools essential to photo editing.

I am not going to make a special ticket on computers in this folder, the reason is simple, the hardware changes a bit too often to write an article, which can stay on the length without having to be updated regularly.

I will concentrate on the two elements that I think are essential for working properly.

  • Computer screens
  • Graphic tablets

Maybe you’re wondering why I did not start with the screen?

The answer is simple, the screen, everyone has one, although not all are necessarily adapted to retouching, everyone has a screen.

We can, therefore, consider the change of screen over the long term, according to his budget and his vision of things.

The graphic tablet is something rarer and not necessarily found in all households.

There are three types of people:

  • The one that does not have a graphics tablet
  • The one that has one and that it never uses
  • She who has one and cannot do without.

There are no other alternatives, no one has a graphic tablet that he simply uses from time to time, either we adore or we hate.

Which graphics tablet to choose?

You should know that there are several brands on the market of the tablet and that in fact, the choice is really vast.

The following manufacturers are among others:

  • Aiptek
  • Genius
  • Hanvon
  • Trust
  • Wacom

As each brand offers several models, we find not far from a hundred different products, from the simple tablet to 30 € to the professional versions to more than 4’000 €.

This huge choice is an advantage, which quickly turns into a handicap, which tablet to choose from among the impressive number that is offered to us.

By the time I write these lines, almost everyone agrees that the best brand, the one that stands out is Wacom .

It displays an incredible statistic as 85% of the tablet market is owned by this Japanese firm born in 1993.

This success is not due to chance, but it is the consequence of quality products.

My first advice will be to orient you towards this brand, which in addition to a very good quality offers a very wide range of products.

The choice of the tablet:

As explained above, it is difficult to find oneself in the midst of many different models.

I will try to guide you with a very tight selection of three shelves which, in my opinion, are ideal in their price range.

These are only examples I recommend, but it is in no way a definite and stopped choice that I invite you to follow absolutely. Instead, it is a simple proposition to help you follow a certain logic for your final choice.

We will begin this selection with …

The entry-level:

If you’re not sure about the tablet, if you’re not sure and you’re still asking questions, it’s best to invest in a simple tablet, but it’s good quality and you will not regret the price if We do not “cling” to the concept.

wacom bamboo tablet

In the worst case and if you become addicted, you can keep it as a rescue or travel shelf if you switch to a higher model.

For that, I can only advise the Wacom Bamboo , which besides being excellent tablets compact and easy to use, have a very good value for money that makes them particularly interesting.

There are cheaper alternatives to competition, but we are far from the quality offered by the Wacom Bamboo.

The medium/high-end:

If you are sure of yourself, you want a tablet of very high quality that offers everything you can expect from such a tool without reaching stratospheric prices, do not hesitate, Is the Wacom Intuos5 Touch s you need.

Wacom Intuos5

Personally, I have version M, because I also use it for graphics.

This tablet is tactile multi-touch, it takes into account the pressure on 2,048 levels and the inclination of the stylus to have an even more precise and fluid work.

This is, in my opinion, the best choice for a photographer, who does not risk to regret the investment, although this one is a little more consistent than the Bamboo.

The high-end:

Here, we arrive in the very high-end, the absolute dream for any retoucher and other lovers of the image, the Wacom Cintiq 22HD touch!

Get all the benefits of the Intuos 5 touch, but instead of working on the tablet, you’re working right here on a very high-quality 22 “HD screen.

It is the absolute tool, but this one costs more than 2’000 €, the dream at a price!

Personally, I’m looking more and more at the 13HD version of Cintiq, which has the advantage of being compact, offering good feeling and having a price that is realistic, since in Switzerland it is found for less Of 800.- CHF.

Basic settings:

To begin with, I will advise you a basic setting, which is going to be there only to leave on a work base adapted to the photo and more particularly to the localized retouching and this, whatever the program.

I will take as an example the settings for a Wacom , but they will be easily transferable to other tablets.

Here is the tricky point of this basic setting, because there are really two schools, as I explained a bit to you earlier.

Indeed, one can either decide that the left click is done when one touches the tablet with the stylus, the standard setting, or when one presses the front button of the stylus.

I think at first, for a simpler ergonomics, I would disable the left click at the contact and I would leave it only on the front main button.

This has the advantage of being a way of doing pretty close to the mouse and therefore more intuitive, some will claim that it is a pity because we lose a configuration button on the stylus.

In fact, many people put the right-click on the front button of the stylus and the “maj + ctrl / cmd + z” – which is the shortcut to go back – on the back button of the stylus:

If you were using my configuration, I would advise you to put the right click on the back button of the stylus.

Since most editing programs do not have double click utility, it is advisable to simply disable it:

Pressure monitoring:

We will see in the chapter of this file on retouching programs that they do not all take into account the pressure of the pen.

The pressure, if recognized on the retouching program, will serve several purposes, control the thickness of the line or even the opacity and even both at once.

There are many other possibilities depending on the program used, Photoshop is clearly the one that allows going further in the management of the pressure.

To settle it, no advice other than to do according to your needs and way of working.

It is necessary to test with the panel of the configuration of the tablet what is for you the most pleasant, for my part, I recommend a setting little sensitive, which in my opinion allows a little better control in photo editing.

Test and see what suits you best.

Programming buttons:

The tablet allows you to program different buttons for specific actions such as keyboard shortcuts.

Depending on the tablet you choose, you will have more or fewer programmable buttons, usually between 4 and 8.

In a photo setup, it is rare to use these shortcuts, yet some can be enjoyable depending on how you work.

For example, one of the keys I programmed allows the shortcut “maj + alt / ctrl + cmd / alt + N” to open a new empty layer on Photoshop.

Feel free to look at what may be useful to you and if this shortcut really saves you time because the trap is that sometimes releasing the stylus to press the button takes longer than doing the gesture in a traditional way.

Useful surface:

As explained above, the surface of the tablet represents the surface of your screen.

If for the drawing we need to make ample gestures, the photo editing is most often subtle and requires short and precise gestures.

This is why I recommend you reduce the useful surface of the tablet.

You can see the surface that I use on my Wacom Intuos5 touch size M.

Different configurations:

Depending on your programs, specific needs and ways to work, you can configure your tablet in several different ways.

For example, my tablet is not set in the same way for LightRoom as for Photoshop, I even have several different configurations for Photoshop depending on the type of work I have to perform.

So do not hesitate to use this possibility to be as comfortable as possible.

Refining the settings?

As explained a little before, one has to get used to its tablet and in fact, for a while, a little forced to use it so that it becomes natural.

The basic settings I recommend may not suit you, so it’s important – not to say capital – to change the settings to see which ones fit us best.

The more you try, the more you get used to using your tablet and the more enjoyable it will be for you to use it, until you cannot do without it!


The graphic tablet is an important instrument, one quickly becomes addicted as soon as one makes the right gestures and the right adjustments.

Whatever your retouching program, from the moment you go to do localized development that requires precision, the graphics tablet will be a real asset for you.

Both for accuracy, ergonomics and time-saving.

I can only recommend you very strongly to get started, I think you will not regret a single second!

I will give you an appointment for the next part of this file that will tell you about screens!

Good luck and good photos!


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