The best drawing tablets give you a level of control over your digital art that is stunning. Learning computers as a child in the mid-'90s, the digital art tools that were commonly available were Microsoft Paint and a mouse — sure, some folks had fancy Macintosh computers and Wacom tablets, but for most of us, all that was achievable was the most rudimentary MS Paint pixel art.
Today the best drawing tablets make it possible to draw and paint digitally with a level of control that has (debatably) surpassed traditional media, with AI-assisted filters, 4K screens, and photorealist retouching brushes, the simulacra are now, and the digital art tool chest gives you greater technical control of your creations than oil paint or marble.
Whether these tablets are standalone devices that pair with a digital pen or drawing tablets that plug into your computer and work as a more precise trackpad that’s primed for use with a stylus, drawing tablets offer astonishing control. Some tablet platforms are better suited for some needs than others, however. Read on for a walkthrough on the best drawing tablets for your needs.
How We Picked the Best Drawing Tablets
As a digital artist, I own and use three different types of drawing tablets for graphic design, illustration, photo editing, and more. These tablets can be used with lots of different digital art software, from raster graphics editors like Adobe Photoshop, to vector editors like Affinity Designer, or even 3D sculpting tools like Zbrush. To frame my picks for this article, I used my years of experience with digital art, my experience as a tech and hobby reviewer, and I rounded out my personal preferences with a hefty dose of research into some of the alternative tablets out there. Here are the criteria I used to picks the best drawing tablets:
Great pen response is the first thing I notice in a drawing tablet. I like a tablet that tracks my pen with barely any latency when I draw. When I scrub with the pen, shading like you would with the side of a graphite pencil, I like to see the mark following my pen, rather than slowly loading behind me as my hand passes. Other great pen features are programmable buttons on the pen, a flip-around rear eraser, and magnetic response that passes electricity through the screen so that you don’t have to separately charge it.
Balanced touch response is big. I like a tablet that tracks your touch controls without accidental, jarring touch commands firing off as you go. Alternatively, programmable buttons on the side or rear can add a lot.
Screen quality is another important feature in tablets that have them. Traditionally many drawing tablets present a blank face, reminiscent of a pen-controlled touchpad that plugs into your laptop. These drawing tablets without screens are still worth considering for those who are looking for a more budget-minded option. Great digital art has been made on tablets without screens for years. However, where tablets do have screens we noted their quality.
Power and app availability is important. iPads run different versions of applications than their desktop counterpart Macs would. A professional 3D digital sculptor likely wouldn’t get enough power and the right programs on a device such as an iPad (even a remarkably powerful one like the new iPad Pro). Rather, they might be better suited with a simple screenless drawing tablet that hooks into their desktop. Other standalone tablets use standard operating systems that function like laptops and will run standard apps. I noted these types of use cases and differences throughout the article.
Best Drawing Tablets of 2023: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: iPad Pro
Why It Made The Cut: The 12.9-inch iPad Pro includes Apple's M1 chip and a gorgeous retina display, for all the power and fidelity you could need; pair it with an Apple Pencil and Procreate for an incredible digital drawing and painting experience.
— Standalone or Plugin: Standalone
— Screen: Apple Liquid Retina XDR display
— Pen: Apple Pencil 2 or 1 (sold separately)
— Incredible Apple Pencil control
— Endless apps for drawing and painting, including the iPad native Procreate 12 MP camera built right in
— Wonderful screen
— Not as powerful for technical tasks like 3D, design, game design, and film editing as powerful creator computers
It’s hard to argue with the seamless overall quality that comes with an Apple iPad Pro. I own a 2020 version of the iPad Air, and I still think that my iPad running Procreate is the single best experience I’ve had with a digital drawing tablet. The iPad Pro with the wirelessly charging Apple Pencil 2 only expands on the Air.
In iPad native Procreate you’ll find an unlimited array of user created brushes available for download, as well as a powerful basic stock that’s fully customizable to deliver just about any effect you could want. The Pencil presents almost imperceptible lag as you draw, with pressure sensitivity that renders the finest details and the most expressive strokes. Customizable touch commands allow you to set a two-finger tap undo that triggers with your middle and index finger, even while the screen ignores your hand laying on the glass. You’ll easily be able to set complex perspective maps, create swatch books, and even animate. Your iPad is so much more than just Procreate however. Much of the Adobe suite is available on iPad, as well as excellent music apps like the Minimoog Model D, font books, and almost anything else you could want. It should be noted that some more complex digital art tasks such as 3D modeling in Blender, pre-press setup in Indesign, layering synths in Ableton, and such are not as smooth on an iPad as they would be on a powerful computer with an attached tablet. Still, for those who are focused on digital drawing and painting, it doesn’t get much better than an iPad Pro.
Best Budget: HUION H610 Pro
Why It Made The Cut: With 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity and great tilt control from a battery-free pen, customizable keys, and a design that allows you to plug in to a wider array of devices, this is a really good tablet for a very fair price.
— Standalone or Plugin: Plugin
— Screen: No screen
— Pen: Included, battery free, 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity
— Excellent tilt and pressure sensitivity
— Backup nibs included
— Plugs into mobile or tablets
— Some issues with software design
— Pen nibs can occasionally fall out
While there are cheaper tablets than the HUION H610 Pro, the H610 Pro is so remarkably powerful for its price point that its specs compete with tablets which are thirty times its price. This all-in-one tablet costs about half as much as an older generation Apple Pencil (without the iPad).
The HUION stylus delivers impressive tilt and pressure control, and brags about its 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity. If accurate, that’s the same level of pressure sensitivity delivered by the Wacom Cintiq Pro 24, which costs around 39 times the price of the HUION. Like the Wacom, the HUION’s stylus skips batteries, marking through a magnetic field that transfers electricity. It comes with 8 nibs, and a stand. One issue the stylus has, though, is that the nibs can fall out of the pen. With a cord that allows you to plug into a phone or a tablet, Mac, or PC, the H610 Pro is a deeply versatile device that’s a great pick for those getting into digital art, or any digital artist who’s looking to save a little money. For other budget-friendly options, here is our guide to the best cheap laptops.
Best For Professionals: Wacom Cintiq Pro 16
Why It Made The Cut: With a huge, bright 98 percent Adobe RGB screen, 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity, and powerful button arrays on both sides, the Cintiq Pro is a powerhouse drawing tablet suitable (and priced) for the pros.
— Standalone or Plugin: Plugin
— Screen: 4K, 98 percent Adobe RGB, 300 nits
— Pen: Battery-free pen included, 8,192 levels of pressure, eraser, two programmable buttons
— Incredibly lush screen
— Pen detail is immaculate with tilt response you can feel
— Programmable buttons are a nice tool
— Very pricey
— Some latency in strokes being recognized by screen
— Some touch control jumpiness
What’s better than a super responsive battery-free pen with programmable buttons and an auto eraser that’s intuitive to flip into play? All that combined with a tablet that comes with an immaculate screen (we’ll talk about that in a second). The Wacom Cintiq Pro 16 is a professional creator’s drawing tablet with a feature set that makes it worth its considerable price.
The Cintiq Pro’s screen is its real selling point. This huge 16-inch screen sports some of the best color accuracy around. With a 4K resolution you’ll have no trouble drawing in super-high resolution. The screen also delivers 98 percent Adobe RGB — a considerably larger color space than most PC computers, and a larger Adobe RGB than is delivered by iPad. The Cintiq does have a couple shortcomings for a device that’s so pricey. While its battery free pen offers gorgeous detail control, it does have a tendency to lag slightly on my laptop when I’m drawing fast. I also find its touch controls more finicky than my iPad’s. Still, when using my Cintiq in the Adobe Suite on my laptop I find that I have more technical control for highly detailed projects with lots of assets (like book design) than I do on my iPad. That’s why I think the Cintiq Pro 16 is the best for active professional creatives who use a computer as the centerpiece of their digital studio. Read my review of the Wacom Cintiq Pro for a more detailed look at the tablet.
Best Standalone: Microsoft Surface Pro 8
Why It Made The Cut: A standalone tablet that runs on Windows and features a responsive pen with 4,096 pressure levels, the Surface is both laptop and tablet in one, and can be upgraded for some truly powerful creative control.
— Standalone or Plugin: Standalone
— Screen: High-res, 120 hertz (Hz)
— Pen: Not included, 4096 pressure levels
— Compatible with any Windows applications that its hardware can run, not specific tablet-only apps
— Highly portable
— Strong battery life
— Pen sold separately
— Neither the pen or screen live up to iPad
The Surface is an excellent little tablet-laptop to sling into a backpack and take to the coffee shop. Running Windows like a PC, the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 is a hybrid laptop, rather than an iPad clone, and you feel this quality. I find file storage to be far more intuitive on my Surface than I do on my iPad, and because of this it’s the natural choice for me when I want to take a tablet with me to the coffee shop to do some writing or to work in InDesign.
While I think my iPad running Procreate does beat out my Surface running Adobe Fresco for drawing or digital painting, I still think the Surface is very much worth a look. The Surface still presents a beautiful drawing platform, that’s smooth and intuitive. The fact that it can run word processors on Windows, play games at 120 hertz, and even run your digital audio workstation are all bonuses. While the iPad is better for pure drawing, many users that want a solid standalone drawing tablet that can double as a laptop will find a great friend in the Microsoft Surface.
Best For Kids: GAOMON S630
Why It Made The Cut: For an attractive price, this tablet features 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity, programmable hotkeys, an easy to connect setup, and looks cute.
— Standalone or Plugin: Plugin
— Screen: N/A
— Pen: Included battery free pen with 4096 pressure levels
— Cute design
— Excellent pen that’s as responsive as some industry leading models
— Useful hotkey touch zones
— Small work space
If your child develops an interest in digital art, the GAOMON S630 is a wonderful place to start. The mini tablet connects to your PC or Mac, and features a cute pattern of spaceships and alien cartoons.
For its low price point, the GAOMON has a few features that are surprisingly top notch. Featuring a level of tilt and pressure sensitivity that competes with some of the gladiators of the drawing tablet arena, the included battery-free pen feels almost too good to be true for the price, and features two programmable buttons. Should the nib fall out, the GAOMON comes with eight included. The device also capitalizes on four hot key touch points along the top. The GAOMON S630 is an excellent, budget-friendly starter drawing tablet that’s the perfect size and price to fit growing hands and growing skills. It’s a perfect gift for anyone shopping for a child. For more recommendations for kids, explore the best tablets for note taking.
Things To Consider Before Buying A Drawing Tablet
Before you buy, it’s a good idea to take account of everything you need from your drawing tablet, and make sure that it’s a good fit for you.
Yes, we all want a drawing tablet that’s good for drawing. But few artists stick to just one pursuit. It’s worth considering if you’ll be using your drawing tablet for a few different hobbies or skills. If you need a standalone drawing tablet that can also double as a mobile laptop for Excel spreadsheets, you might need a different product than someone who’s buying a drawing tablet for designing tattoos. If you think you might occasionally want to use your drawing tablet to help you sculpt in Blender, you’ll need a tablet that can link with a PC, as something like an iPad won’t run the software.
Screen or No Screen
Many drawing tablets that connect to computers don’t include a screen. Usually you can get a powerful drawing tablet for hundreds of dollars less if you forgo the screen. However, learning to use a drawing tablet connected to a laptop without a screen is a bit like learning to play piano. There is a learning curve to drawing in one place and seeing it happen elsewhere. Drawing tablets with screens solve this problem by doubling the screen of your computer, so that you can draw directly onto the image and watch your marks follow the tip of your pen.
Price varies substantially among drawing tablets. The most expensive drawing tablet on this list is about 45 times the price of the cheapest. They can also get more expensive than that. Because of this price discrepancy it’s important to figure out exactly what you need before you buy. You don’t need to feel pressured to spend $1,000 on a drawing tablet. You can get a very capable drawing tablet for under $100. As a general rule standalone tablets like the iPad Pro, or Microsoft Surface cost substantially more. Professional-grade drawing tablets with top-notch screens will also require you to pay a premium.
Q: Do you need a computer to use a drawing tablet?
Some drawing tablets require a computer. Other tablets, like the iPad Pro and Surface, are designed with computers in them.
Q: What is the difference between a graphic tablet and a drawing tablet?
Graphics tablets and drawing tablets are the same thing. In 1979, Apple became the first company to release a drawing tablet, which was titled the Apple Graphics Tablet. Today’s drawing tablets are graphics tablets.
Q: Is a bigger drawing tablet better?
Sometimes a bigger tablet is better. This depends on how you draw. If you tend to draw small, detailed images, then extra size might not matter. However if you draw more gesturally, then you’ll likely benefit from more space. For tablets with screens, more space can give you the perspective you need to draw detail without losing sight of the whole image. Usually larger tablets will cost more. In the end it’s up to you whether the extra space is worth it.
Q: How long do drawing tablets last?
Drawing tablets can last for years. Wacom’s are famous for their longevity. iPads generally last for years. As with anything, some cheaper tablets probably won’t last as long as more premium options.
Fantastical concept art sketches of alien worlds, intuitive photo retouching, manga slides, or Flash tattoo designs: they’re all at your fingertips on a great drawing tablet. You might be shopping for a tablet to pair with your brand new laptop, or looking for a standalone tablet with a state of the art digital pen, you might be an amateur sketching woodpeckers in the park, or a pro illustrating weekly magazine covers — whatever way you work, tablets can open up your drawing practice. For a wonderful professional level tablet with a stunning display, check out the Wacom Cintiq Pro 16. If you want something that won’t break the bank yet still gives you the control you need, consider the very moderately priced HUION H610 Pro. The iPad Pro and iPad Air on the other hand takes the cake for the best overall drawing tablet, for their incredible seamless drawing control and versatility.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.
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