Tips for mastering a graphics tablet and pen
By Jacci Howard Bear – Updated September 06, 2019
Are you a new graphics tablet user? Do you get frustrated with the pen and reaching for the mouse much of the time? For some people, the transition from using a mouse to using a tablet and pen is difficult. Sure, holding a pen is more natural and less strained—for writing on paper. Using it with a computer can feel unnatural and counterintuitive at first.
Before You Begin
With a pen or pencil, you tend to look down at the paper. With a tablet and pen, you have to look up at the screen to see what you’re doing. It can be disconcerting at first. Don’t give up. Longtime graphics tablets users swear by their tablets for most tasks, especially within graphics software. Not only is the pen more ergonomic, but it also provides precise control.
Hearing all about the benefits of a pen over a mouse doesn’t make it any easier to make the switch. The mouse is familiar. We know how to use a mouse with a computer with all our software.
Before you throw down the pen and grab up the mouse, set aside some time to get familiar with your tablet and pen outside the pressures of real work. Play with it when deadlines aren’t looming. Experiment with the settings. Just like software, you will not learn all the bells and whistles overnight. It’s not hard to use a graphics tablet and pen, it’s just different.
Tips for Transitioning to a Graphics Tablet and Pen
- Don’t try to make the switch under the pressure of a project deadline. When you have a newsletter to send out or business card design due for delivery is not the time to be learning new tools.
- Practice using pen and tablet with the default settings to gain basic familiarity.
- Configure pen and tablet settings such as sensitivity and button functions to suit you. Not sure what works best? Experiment. You can come back at any time and change the settings if you find they aren’t working for you.
- Use the pen to navigate your desktop. Practice opening and closing windows, clicking and dragging, and right-clicking on items.
- Play games. Using your pen and tablet to play games is a low stress but fun way to practice clicking and dragging.
- Open a text document in your word processing program of choice. Practice using the pen to highlight text and move it around. Practice selecting paragraphs, words, even individual characters, and moving them to a new position in your document. This can help you get comfortable with small, precision movements even if you plan to switch back to your mouse for word processing.
- Open your favorite graphics program and practice writing your name and drawing simple shapes.
- Open a photograph or a piece of clip art in your graphics software. Use your pen to trace over elements in the image. Practice using the masking tools to select different portions of the image. Manipulate the photo using various tools, especially those you use regularly. No pressure, this is just for fun and learning.
- Open a picture and a blank image side-by-side in your graphics software. In the blank image, try to draw the other image using your pen and tablet. Use different pens, pencils, and brushes to try to mimic the original.
- Do a little warm-up every day such as writing your name and playing a quick game of Solitaire before starting work until you are comfortable enough with the pen and tablet that you don’t automatically grab your mouse first.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to use the tablet and pen exclusively. You can use a mouse or other input device for programs where the pen provides no real added benefits.