Tablet Love

This page serves as a quick reference for my ramblings on art tech. If you’re jumping into that 21st century swamp, I hope some of this is of use. Most of the answers to questions I receive are covered in the posts/media below.

Art Tech/Tools Posts

More on the Tablet Computer as an Art Tool

Being an early adopter of tablet computers for making comics, I get lots of inquiries about my preferred tools and setup (no, I don’t use the Surface Pro anymore, though it’s a great machine). I’ve also been privileged to test stuff from most of the major tablet computer companies (Wacom, Microsoft, Samsung, Fujitsu, etc.), and in the case of Wacom, to even be involved in product development feedback/testing.

Above: Me, doing my tablet computer thing in a video by Intel. An embarrassing title, but a nice video.

A quick word on product-selection. Regardless of the specific tools I use, I think a couple points are universal for anyone wanting to make comics/illustrations/digital paintings on a tablet:

1. You need a full, professional operating system, not iOS or Android. There are sketch tools available for them, but their apps are not powerful enough to do print-resolution work, especially if you need to do anything quickly. As a working artist, quick is the rule.

ipad shame

But I’m so GOOD looking!

iPads and Android tablets are designed to consume media, not create it, and I say this as an historic owner of two Galaxy Notes, a Galaxy Note 10.1, etc. You CAN make art on them, but only in a very limited capacity. I did one storyboard job on my phone as an experiment, and rough storyboards/layouts are totally possible. Are they preferable? They are not, sir/madam.

The issue for many artists is that Windows is the only game in town when it comes to professional tablet computers with styluses(stylii?). Apple users typically fear Windows like the ebola virus (Have you or anyone you know used a PC in the last 30 days, inside or outside the country? If ‘yes’, stand over THERE.). Arty folk decry Windows for its perceived bugs, unfriendliness to right-brainers, and normcore aesthetics, but here’s reality: All the pro software we use on these systems is the same, feature-for-feature, on either platform, and files created in one ecosystem can be opened in the other. They are also both very stable. I’ve used Macs and PCs, and find them to be equally solid. I haven’t seen a Blue Screen of Death on a Windows machine in ten years. Can crashes/glitches happen? Yes, but no more frequently than on Apple products, in my personal experience. If you’re coming from a Mac, you’ll need to invest a little time getting familiar with the OS, but much of that is also similar.

2. You need RAM. Lots of RAM. It’s the most important part of your hardware after stylus input. I’m thrilled that we now live in a world where tablet computers are starting to ship with 16 GB of RAM. “WHAT?” you cry. “Why would anyone–” Because you do this for a living, and you need to wait for your computer to compute as little as possible. You should be looking for a tablet with 8 GB of RAM at minimum. That’s what I counseled Wacom to do with their Cintiq Companion, and now they’re making one with 16 GB. It’s the way to go.

3. If you get a Surface Pro 1st or 2nd gen, you MUST download the Wacom Feel Drivers, or you won’t get pressure sensitivity in many programs. Manga Studio works out of the box, but only if you set its driver preference to ‘Tablet PC’.

4. This brings me to my last point: If you make comics and you haven’t made the switch to Manga Studio/Clip Studio Paint (same program, different publishers), it’s time. If you’re coming from Photoshop, you will simply not believe the power of the drawing-specific-tools, the added finesse of the digital brush handling (no more lousy little ‘tails’ on every brush stroke), and the hugely similar interface and effects options compared to Photoshop. Manga Studio costs so little compared to Adobe’s stuff that you would naturally think it must be for hobbyists. It’s not. For drawing, it’s far better for a digital artist’s purposes in every way. The proof of that: Every artist I’ve turned onto Manga Studio 5 (or above) never uses Photoshop for drawing again. I can’t think of one. If you’re out there, let me know!

5. There are still things analog does better. Aside from the tangible appeal of working with pencils, inks, and paints (which I still do quite a bit), there’s a lot to be said for the efficiency of performing an art technique in its analog form instead of wasting time trying to perfectly emulate an analog technique in digital. Watercolor, for me, still reigns as a way to lay down quick washes of randomized texture that possess rich character and quality. The generation after mine won’t give this a care unless the luddite revolution takes place, but for me, I cannot digitally recreate to my own satisfaction what I can with paints and brushes on paper, when it comes to achieving a particular look at great speed.

There are now many good options for making digital art on-the-go. I love having all my tools with me wherever I go, as well as the ergonomic options of not being locked to a desk. I’m definitely in the minority as someone who doesn’t feel the need for a second computer/laptop/whathaveyou, but I think that’ll change as the tools get better and better. Right now, I’m very happy with my setup, to the point where I’m no longer looking for the next thing to fix a specific gripe- and that took a while, and several different systems that I either returned, gifted, or sold off. All that to say, I know my specific needs and tendencies, but you will have your own. My encouragement is that you research, and get hands-on with as many options as possible. Have fun!