If the graphics tablet was a mouse pad, the stylus would be the mouse. Of course, this comparison ends here, as both of these items allow for much more when it comes to drawing on a computer. As we know, a graphics tablet, for laptop or desktop, is essential to create quality digital drawings. But in order to be totally comfortable, the use of the stylus is essential, and choosing the right accessory to create with comfort and precision is not necessarily easy.
Why use a stylus with my graphics tablet?
Although you have the choice to use or not a stylus on digital multimedia tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the Apple iPad Pro and its Apple Pencil, the Microsoft Surface Pro and its Surface Stylus Pen, or any other tablet or smartphone under Windows or Android and iOS, it remains above all a choice of comfort, in order to navigate between applications, surf the Internet, take handwritten notes on a document, or avoid fingerprints or scratches. Contrary to the multimedia tablet, the possibility of adopting or not a stylus is not applicable with the graphic tablets. Indeed, the digital stylus is of paramount importance for anyone who wants to draw with a drawing device, the graphics tablet and the stylus allowing to replace the mouse and the keyboard, in order to make digital sketches in a natural, precise way, with the feeling of drawing on a sketchbook. By drawing directly on the active surface of your graphics tablet, you will be able to reproduce the strokes, inclination and pressure levels that you could apply with a standard pen, while seeing your sketches being done live on your graphics software. The stylus replaces your usual pencil, and that's why choosing one with a good grip that feels like a traditional drawing pen is essential.
Which stylus to choose?
A matter of compatibility.
Many styluses exist today on the market, and comparing them to choose the best model, with a quality-price ratio adapted to your budget, can become a real headache, as there are so many references available. It is possible to choose the easy solution, and use the stylus usually provided with the graphic tablet. This one will necessarily be compatible with your device, but depending on whether your new graphics tablet is entry-level, or whether you want to invest in the best graphics-enabled touch tablets on the market, the drawing accessory supplied with it will be of varying quality. If it does not meet your expectations, it is then possible to get a digital stylus sold separately, but if you make this choice, many specificities will have to be checked beforehand. Indeed, not all graphic tablets are compatible with all styluses. So make sure that you are getting a digital pen that is designed to work with most graphics devices and software on the market.
Active or passive stylus?
The first thing to do is to check if your stylus will be well adapted to your graphic tablet. Among all the references available, you may be tempted by the entry-level, passive stylus, which offer simplicity and a price defying all competition. But a simple passive capacitive stylus will not be enough to be able to draw via a graphics tablet, as it does not allow you to manage the inclination and the level of pressure applied to the drawing surface. Bluetooth connectivity, in order to communicate this information to the graphic tablet, is indeed non-existent on this type of accessory for tablets. Passive styli are therefore more suitable for smartphones and multimedia tablets, rather than for graphic devices, requiring precision in drawing. You will have to turn to active styluses, much more adapted to the use that graphic artists and designers want to make of them. Much more precise, and offering a rendering much closer to traditional drawing tools, it can transmit information to the graphics tablet, such as the inclination and the level of pressure exerted. However, your active pen will need to be recharged regularly via a suitable charging cradle, or a charger using a USB cable connection, in order to be able to use its full capabilities. Also, although its versatile features and high precision make it a great addition to your graphic palette, the active stylus remains relatively expensive, and is not suitable for all budgets. That's why some new kind of hybrid tablets, like the Repaper by ISKN, now offer a technology that allows you to use an inexpensive stylus, such as the Repaper Stylus, that meets the precision requirements of graphic designers. Indeed, thanks to magnetic sensors integrated in the body of the graphic tablet, and a magnetic ring, placed naturally around the structure of the stylus, so that it remains ergonomic, you can use this stylus as an active digital pen, with all the advantages of this type of styluses, such as taking into account the inclination or the pressure exerted, without the disadvantages of the battery and the Bluetooth connection. You can then edit your drawings digitally, colorize and finalize them, on the most popular software, with the comfort and simplicity of traditional drawing, and even on the move, as this digital pen does not need to be recharged.
The comfort to draw.
Next, you need to pay special attention to the ergonomics of the stylus. Not everyone has the same hands, and both beginners and advanced designers like to use pens and pencils that feel different when held between the fingers. So you need to choose a digital stylus with a comfort level that is specific to your needs. If you don't feel comfortable, because of its shape, size or thickness for example, you won't be able to draw with an ease that allows you to work on accomplished and quality works. Some styli also have a rubber grip for better handling.
Precision above all.
The main purpose of a stylus is to be able to draw accurately. This excludes once again the passive capacitive pens of the entry level, which for the most part use an "eraser" type tip, sufficient for navigating on a touch screen for a smartphone or digital multimedia tablet, but incapable of providing the precision necessary for drawing on a graphics tablet. It is therefore essential to choose a stylus with a fine point, in order to get as close as possible to a pencil used in traditional drawing. Having several spare leads can also be an advantage to get different sensations with the same tool. Also, be careful when choosing your new drawing accessory, as the stylus should respond correctly to the movements you make while drawing. The degrees of tilt, the number of pressure levels supported, be sure that the requirements you want in terms of accuracy, are provided by the characteristics of the drawing tool chosen.
How do I configure my stylus?
Adjust the parameters.
You've got the perfect stylus, but your line isn't quite what you want when you draw on your graphics tablet. So it's time to dig into your tablet's settings, as well as those of your graphics software. And yes, a stylus can be configured! It is interesting to explore the properties of your graphics tablet first. In these, you can access the different tools that can be used with it, and configure the sensitivity of the touch of the tip of your pen, but also the tilt. The higher the sensitivity, the less pressure you will have to apply to create a line at the level of your mouse pointer, and the less you will have to tilt your stylus to get the right response in your drawing software. For even more precision, you can also dig into the settings of your software. Whether it's Photoshop, Illustrator, Gimp, Inkscape, or any other drawing software, or digital photo editing software such as Lightning, pressure and sensitivity options, adapted to each brush or tool available on your drawing application, are at your disposal to achieve the perfect strokes for your use. It's up to you to determine which setting levels will make you most comfortable with your sketching.
Set up your shortcuts.
On a large majority of active styluses, there are one or more shortcut buttons, placed on the side of the graphic pens. If these buttons are confusing at first, they allow you to work much faster, by assigning the most used functions of your drawing software to them. Erasing, changing tools or switching between brush and selection functions becomes child's play, all with a single or double click on the side buttons of your digital pen.
I am still not comfortable with the stylus, what solutions are available to me?
You've tried many different styluses, but whether it's the one that came with the tablet, or a store-bought digital pen, you're still not comfortable with them and with using a graphics tablet. This may be due to the difficulty in managing the hand-eye coordination between your device and your computer screen, but also due to problems with the feel of the pen tips and the drawing surface of your graphics tablet, which sometimes make the pen feel too slippery and not as comfortable as you would feel with a normal pen and paper. If accessories exist, such as films to put on the surface of your tablet or special tips, these elements allow you to obtain a "rougher" drawing sensation, the option of the hybrid tablet, or scanner tablet, can be a good alternative. Like the Repaper by ISKN, the hybrid tablet allows you to draw on paper with your favorite pencils, to which you simply attach a magnetic ring, which faithfully communicates the tilt and movement information to the graphics tablet. The drawing is then transmitted instantly to your favorite graphics software, or, if you don't have a computer nearby, saved directly in the tablet's memory, thanks to its storage capacity. You then have the comfort and precision of drawing on paper, with the advantages of being able to rework it on software afterwards. Moreover, if you want to practice using a more traditional graphics tablet, in order to colorize or retouch your creations digitally, without impacting your sketch on paper, it is also possible, by working with the Repaper Stylus pen, which we have already mentioned, including the integrated magnetic ring, making it ergonomic and sensitive to the tilt and pressure applied.
The stylus is therefore integral to the graphics tablet, and its use requires certain capabilities that allow us to make quality digital drawings. You have to spend some time choosing the right stylus, as some of them are really only suitable for cell phones or multimedia touch tablets, far from the standards expected for the use of a touch tablet accessory specialized in graphics. If the active pens take the lead to have good finishes on graphics software, thanks to the precise detection of the tilt and pressure exerted, their disadvantages in terms of price and the integrated battery, requiring frequent recharging, can put off beginners, or those more used to traditional drawing. Opting for a hybrid tablet called "scanner", offering a passive stylus option, with an integrated magnetic ring that provides the advantages of the active stylus, such as the detection of the inclination and the pressure exerted, or working on paper with your favorite pencil on which you affix the said ring, allows you to compensate for this, and then becomes a more than interesting option.
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