Graphics tablets are not always the first thing you'd think of when someone mentions digital imaging. Most people use a mouse, and although the some mice today have high resolution and smooth ball-free operation, graphics tablets can offer undeniable advantages.
The major factor is ergonomics, as we should all be familiar with holding and using a pen and it's a fact that the chance of repetitive strain injury is reduced compared to using a mouse. Editing fine details of an image with a pen held in your hand is much easier than having to hold a mouse with your entire hand. Pens allow for a more comfortable and precise movement, and can even be used regularly for general operating system use if you like.
Wacom have provided a pen, pen holder and mouse with this Graphire2 tablet. The pen is basic with tips at each end, both are configurable in the setup software. The mouse is wireless and ball-less and is quite usable. To be able to use it though it must sit upon the graphics tablet, so it can be a bit annoying if you constantly want to swap between the two. The plastic surface of the tablet can be lifted up allowing you to place a photo or image underneath to trace over. When trying this however, we found problems in aligning the area on the monitor to the tablet.
Two CDs are provided in the package, one contains the drivers and user manual, the other Corel Painter Classic. The drivers provide a dedicated setup for the tablet in the control panel, an animated image of the features available in this panel is shown below:
- Works with all your software because it just takes over the functions of your mouse, this is great if you want to use the tablet pen permanently.
- The mouse is ergonomically shaped for comfort of both left and right handed-users.
- The pen has absolute positioning - the active area of the tablet represents the full display of any screen size. There is no need to drag the pen across the tablet to reach the right place on the screen.
- When using the pen, 512 pressure levels are available using the sensitive tip and eraser. The harder you press down on the pen tip, the thicker the line produced.
- Holding the Graphire2 Pen is more natural than gripping a mouse since the forearm rests more naturally without needing to be rotated through 90deg.
- Both Mouse and Pen are cordless and battery-free, the mouse doesn't have a ball so is maintenance free.
- Compatible with Windows 98/2000/Windows ME/Windows XP and Mac OS 8.51-9.1. Computers need to have a USB connection.
- Costs around 75.
The setup software is very comprehensive and you shouldn't find anything lacking. Corel Painter Classic is an excellent product to include with the graphics tablet and is so easy to use even children could have fun with it. Programs such as Photoshop and Paintshop Pro, although excellent for image editing don't provide the many different brush types and options Painter Classic does. Shown below is a screen-shot of Painter Classic:
One of the benefits of this tablet is the ease with which you can achieve selections in your digital imaging software. It's easier than with a mouse because holding a pen is more natural, and personally I find when using a mouse it is hard to get a smooth selection. Shown below is the crop from a flower photo:
To select around the petals of the flower, I used the lasso tool in Photoshop Elements. First the mouse was used to create the selection, as shown below:
The red area shows where the selection edges were, and also where the selection has overlapped or missed the target of the petals. The mouse used was just a standard ball mouse (not the provided Wacom one) and the main problem was tension in my hand throwing the lasso tool off a few pixels occasionally. Also the ball in the mouse wasn't completely free of dirt so would occasionally jump a little itself. Next the pen was used for the same selection:
Still not a perfect selection, but far better than the mouse one. The pen is a lot easier to use for selections and is more comfortable too. The only drawback when using a pen in your digital imaging software is going through menus and clicking on icons doesn't feel so natural or easyas using the mouse.
With the tablet having 512 pressure sensitivity levels, this allows you significantly more control than a mouse can provide. Shown below is an example of several tools from Painter Classic which also show the effect of gradually exerting pressure using the pen.
We found that both atraditional mouse, and this tablet have their benefits and drawbacks. The pen and tablet combination excels in many aspects of digital imaging, and provides a natural ergonomic experience. The mouse is still the best tool for navigating menus and doing general operating system tasks. When you first use this tablet and pen you might find it a little quirky or difficult to use, however like riding a bike you soon get used to it and will possibly wonder how you ever managed without it.
Wacom have provided a good software and driver package with this tablet, and it's an improvement of their older model. This is the perfect tool for the budget conscious buyer wanting more control in their digital imaging software and is good value at 75.