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.