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Digital computer drawing tablets VS Touchscreen tablets

By Andrei Girbea , updated on November 8, 2013

Based on some emails I’ve received lately, there seems to be a confusion between the new touchscreen tablets and the digital graphic/drawing tablets. That’s why I’ve put together this short post, in order to explain what’s the catch with both of these types of devices.

First, the digital computer drawing tablets, also called digitizers or digitizing tablets, are mainly used for drawing and sketching by graphic designers. They come with a sensitive surface and a special pen used to draw things on this surface. The tablet is connected to a PC/Mac or laptop and the things you sketch are transferred in digital format on the computer. This way, you can easily digitize hand-drawings, notes, hand writing or you can easily transfer an image from a regular piece of paper to a computer (by tracing it on the graphic board).

Graphic tablets used for digitizing content

Graphic tablets used for digitizing content

There are many types of such digitizers available on the market. However, here are the main criteria you have to consider when looking for one of these:

  • Size. For regular users, something with a drawing area of 4 x 6 – 8 x 10 inches should be enough. For graphic artists, bigger is better. However, bigger will also be expensive, so think about what are you going to need. In most cases, a tablet with an active area around the size of an A4 paper should be enough.
  • Type. There are different types of technologies such drawing tablets use. Most of them are passive or active, but please read the details on Wikipedia for more details.
  • Connectivity and interface. It’s important to see how you can connect the tablet to the computer. Most tablets these days use USB connections, but you can also get them with Bluetooth if you want to get rid of the extra wires.
  • Accessories and extra functions. It’s important for a tablet to have a comfortable and reliable pen. However, some models come with extra accessories, like an optical mouse pad that will work on their surface, special cases, etc. Although not crucial, such add-ons can be important when deciding between different models.
  • Software. Drawing tablets usually come with matching software and drivers, needed in order to connect them to your computer and utilize them in your daily tasks. Also, you might get Free Software bundles which might be useful, however, in most cases, you won’t need the majority of programs included in the pack, so don’t get fooled by this aspect.
  • Brand. There are a couple of brands known for their history of producing quality graphic tablets, and by far the most known is Wacom. So, if you find their products, go for them you won’t be disappointed.
  • Price. Last but not least, there’s the budget matter. A decent tablet can vary from around $50 to $300. Of course, there are more expensive devices too, but those are not meant for everyday users.

With these in mind, one of the best place to get such devices online is Amazon, mainly because they offer a great collection of digital drawing boards and also for each of them you can read specs, see pictures and go through reviews from those who bought them before and cared to post their opinions. See the list of best selling drawing tablets by accessing this link.

Most popular toushcreen tablet - the Apple iPad

Most popular toushcreen tablet – the Apple iPad

Now, what’s the difference between these graphics tablets and the new category of touchscreen tablets? Well, they’re completely different types of machines. While the first are only used to digitize images drawn on them, touchscreen tablets are full computers with a touch control interface. The Apple iPad, Dell Streak or the recently announced Asus EEE Pads are some examples of such computers.

These usually come with big color displays and use LCD screens. They can display all kind of content like on a regular monitor, plus you get the ability to control everything with your finger. However, touch-tablets can’t really be used for digitizing content , because in most cases they are not as precise at this job as dedicated graphic tablets like the ones we’ve talked above.

So all in all, we have two different types of devices. One only focused on digitizing various things and only usable for this exact purpose, and the other, touchscreen tablets, which are compact mobile computers with lots of utilities.

So you now know what are the main differences between the two. Of course, this post cannot contain answers to all your questions, so if you by any chance have anything to ask or add, please leave a comment.

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Andrei Girbea, Editor-in-Chief at TLBHD.com. This project was born as part of my search for capable mini-laptops that I could easily lug around to work, and still provide the performance that I'd need on a daily basis. I'm primarily using such ultracompact devices and have been testing them since 2006.
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eunice song

I want to have a touchscreen drawing tablet, but those are quite costly in comparison to regular touchscreen tablets. Are there any good touchscreen tablets that would work well for drawing and sketching?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x