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Pen tablets, also known as digitizing tablets or graphic tablets, are input devices that can be used to substitute or complement a mouse. They’re very popular in the graphic arts field and are considered by some as an indispensable aid for any creative arts professional.
Working with a tablet is faster and more efficient than with a mouse. Your hand can travel from point to point on the screen in a single movement instead of repeated slides, as with a conventional mouse. It also allows more natural input for activities such as drawing and photo retouching. Having pressure sensitivity is very handy and most graphic programs can benefit from this input. Touching the tip of the pen on the tablet surface is the equivalent of a click, and the pressure can be used to vary stroke width, opacity, effect intensity, and other attributes. There are two buttons on the pen and either can be programmed for right click or other commands.
Holding a pen is also much more ergonomic than using a mouse, and most users with repetitive strain injury (RSI) or tendonitis suffer less pain when using a tablet. Working with a mouse requires repetitive muscle movements while the rest of the hand keeps still, creating uneven muscle fatigue. A pen, on the other hand, allows you to work in a more relaxed position and eliminates the forearm twisting that strains muscles and tendons. At the end of the day, it feels much more natural and relaxed.
There are a few areas in which tablets are not the ideal input devices. Most games don't work very well with pen input, as their interfaces were originally designed for mouse control. Think about controlling a first person shooter with a pen. It definitely makes little sense.
In the architectural and engineering fields, there's a split: some users love it, some hate it, mostly because the mouse scroll wheel is very handy for zooming in and out on programs like Autodesk AutoCAD and Wacom tablets have that feature on the tablet surface, requiring putting the pen aside to use it. Pressure sensitivity is also ignored in those programs, neglecting one of the tablet's main features. On the other hand, the more ergonomic position and programmable buttons could more than make up for it.
If you choose to buy a graphic tablet, invest in a standard and well known model, multi-touch feature is becoming a standard this day. Also pay attention to the tablet size you choose, having a tablet too small for your screen leads to a jumpy cursor and makes fine selections too difficult. A tablet too big for your screen feels slow, requiring too much hand movement, and may tire your arm muscles quicker.
Tablet sizes should be relative to your screen size and resolution. The smaller the tablet surface, the less hand movement will be necessary to move the cursor on the screen. Having a tablet too small for your screen leads to a jumpy cursor and makes fine selections too difficult. A tablet too big for your screen feels slow, requiring too much hand movement, and may tire your arm muscles quicker.
For dual display use, keep in mind that the overall screen proportion is much more horizontal than the tablet itself. Through the system preferences configuration panel, the tablet can be set up for different screen mappings, single screen mode or screen switching with a hotkey. The most natural way, is to keep the screen proportion exactly the same as the tablet surface. If you use dual displays, this means that some of the vertical area of the tablet would be inactive and that the horizontal resolution available will be mapped to a much bigger number of pixels—for example, 3840 x 1080 for dual 24" displays. This would require a larger drawing area than a single screen. An alternative that works fairly well is to use a smaller tablet and set up a hot key combination to switch the control between the two screens.
Working with a tablet is a paradigm change and may require an adaptation period for hardcore mouse addicts.
All tablets work with absolute positioning, while mice are relative positioning devices. This means that you can slide your mouse several times to move the cursor across your screen, while on a tablet all you do is move your hand and position the pen tip on the corresponding point on the tablet surface. This changes your eye vs hand coordination logic and can be a little difficult the first time. This is no issue for our students at all as they are thought how to use the device and be more comfortable drawing with it.