by Frank Freeman


Years ago, after talking to some inkers at the San Diego Comic Con, I heard a lot of talk about inking directly on the computer. They were using the old Wacom serial tablets. I tried one once back in the day and was not really impressed. However, I must admit that I may not have been as motivated as they were and as I am now to learn how to use this tool. Those guys did some amazing work but it just seemed faster to me to do it with ink and paper. Well, a year ago I purchased this fun little Wacom Bamboo. I must say that it has been quite an adjustment. I still do the majority of my penciling on paper but I continue to try to draw and ink directly into the computer. I’m motivated by this concept because if I can get good at it, the possibilities are endless and the productivity gain will be priceless. In this article, I’ll discuss the tools and tricks that I’ve learned and maybe you can apply them to where you are and the compositions you are working on.

Drawing on paper vs. hand-eye coordination needed for the Wacom Bamboo

I think my first impression (well second) is not too uncommon to those artists that are used to drawing on paper and are in the process of switching to digital. I was struck by the disconnect between my pen and the screen. I had to change my thinking as well as my hand-eye coordination. I also found that the position of the tablet pad was very important. Here is what I mean. When looking at the screen, I’d envision the line that I intended to draw and attempt to do just that. When I would try, the line would be way off. The angle wouldn’t even be slightly close. So, getting the pad in the right position is essential.


Practice, practice, & more practice

Just like any trade, you must practice. The more I work with any medium, the easier it becomes and the same rule can be applied to using my Bamboo tablet. Each time I draw using this tool, my brain becomes more used to using it and I will start to forget that I’m not using paper.

Settings and Suggestions

Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve picked up that may benefit you. Have a look for yourself. Any one of these may improve your process by leaps and bounds.

      • Increase your mouse “Pointer Trail”. Doing this will create a drag line behind your cursor and will make it easier to create lines. This may be annoying to see when navigating in Windows. Enabling this setting is much like when you imagine your line on paper by passing you pencil/pen back and forth over the spot where you will be placing the line. I do this when creating circles as well. I tend to practice the line before I draw it and this setting will help make things easier.
      • Here is another setting that may be annoying but can help. You can turn on the “Click” sound in the “Pen Tablet Properties” program. For some, I’ve heard that hearing the click sound can help.
      • Just like drawing on paper, try to keep you wrist straight and draw from your elbow. I was taught this years ago and it is still true today with my tablet.
      • Many professional digital artists use thin cotton gloves when working on the tablet’s drawing surface to prevent their hands from sticking to the surface because of oils and sweat. These gloves are very cheap and you can cut off the finger tips as you really only need it to cover your hand from sticking to the tablet. I would suggest leaving your pinky finger uncut as it still makes contact with the surface. I’ve found that wearing the glove can simulate the feel of working on paper.
      • From within Photoshop, there are some tools that help in creating straight lines. Here are a few. There is that standard SHIFT + Click and Drag to get absolutely straight vertical and horizontal lines. This next one took me a long time to find out about and I’m so happy that I did. It is the Click then SHIFT then Click trick. It has been very helpful when drawing things like building and other inorganic items. Notice that it makes a tapered line. This can be altered by changing the Brush Dynamics settings. By turning the Dynamics off, you get a solid line with no tapering. However, the line may appear fatter than what you intended. I tend to turn the line size down when doing this to stay consistent. This trick can be a little challenging and may require some practice to get the hang of.

Painter’s Rotate Canvas & Photoshop’s Rotate View Toolbamboofun3_small_2I had never realized how much I move the paper in order to get the precision lines that I’m happy with. I hadn’t even thought about this when buying the tablet. Now that I use it, I’ve become very aware of how important the ability to move the paper is. Well, I started looking into this and found that Corel Painter has had this feature for quite some time called “Rotate Canvas”. Now, I’m not a Painter user so while it was cool to know that something is addressing this need, I was unhappy that my product of choice didn’t have this feature.

Not long after deciding to live with the inability to rotate canvas, I heard that Photoshop had a new feature called the “Rotate View Tool” (CS4 I think)! That got my attention. It takes a little getting used to but is a tool that was long overdue. The only drawback is that your computer must support Open GL and it’ll need to be turned on in Photoshop under Edit-Prefences-General-Performance and then clicking the “Enable OpenGL Drawing” under the GPU Settings. Thank you Adobe for adding this!

Stepping up to the Wacom Cintiq

So you have some cash and are considering moving up to the big boy in tablet illustration. Enter the Wacom Cintiq! I can’t help but drool over this amazing tool. A lot of people say that you need to be able to justify this tool. I don’t know that I agree with them. I think that as an artist (professional or not), you can justify adding this to your toolbox far easier than that new plasma or 3D TV. While I cannot afford it at the moment, I can see a purchase of this device in my future. When using the Cintiq, you are able to draw directly on the screen like you would on paper. In addition, you can spin the screen to get the desired line angle or position. It appears that several of the above challenges from line angle to hand-eye coordination are eliminated with this device.

For more on pricing, there are alternative ways to purchase a Cintiq that may be cheaper. I have done some quick pricing in the past and found items being sold on eBay and Craigslist. When I’ve looked, I tend to find them cheaper on Craigslist. If you find someone relatively local, you may be able to try it out before you buy it to make sure for one thing that it actually works and also to see if it is something you can see yourself getting used to.


What a journey learning to move from paper to pixels has been. Somehow, I think it has just begun. I hope that I’ve given you some good tips and insight on how I worked this all out as I continue to try to improve my artistic ability.