Wacom Tablets

I have heard it said that the difference between using a Wacom Tablet and a mouse for photo editing is the difference between using a paint brush and a brick for landscape painting. An overstatement? I feel like it’s time for me to seriously consider working with a Wacom. I do a lot of photo editing, some in Lightroom and a good deal more in Photoshop using the TKv6 panel. In any case, I’m an old guy and don’t know too much about this technology. Is it worth making the switch? Is it a difficult learning curve? Which tablet should I buy Intuos or Intuos Pro? I’d really appreciate hearing from some folks who are using this technology in terms of their experience and recommendations. FYI: I am using an iMac 5k retina, 27 inch, 3.8 GHz processor and 16GB memory. Thanks for your help.

Nope, not an overstatement. I have an older model Intuos 4 with the 4x5 in. active area. Using the pen for editing makes life much easier, at least for me.

If I was going to replace mine, I would go with the Pro. Be sure the size you buy fits well in your work area.

For doing everything that requires painting on layer masks, painting in Quick mask mode, making precise selections with the lasso, and spot cloning, the pen makes this easy, and precise.

The main ‘learning curve’ is setting it up the way you want that fits your style, and getting used to pen itself. Wacom has excellent tutorials, and I am sure you could find a bunch on the Web.

Worth every penny, for sure.

I’ve been using a Wacom tablet for about 15 years. I now have one for my desktop machine and one for my laptop when I travel and teach because I can’t stand the thought of trying to teach post processing with a hammer like a mouse.

The pressure sensitivity is something you have to use to fully understand. Being more precise with a pen is also something that will change the way you work.

When/if you choose to get one, take your mouse and put it in a closet or someplace else that is a pain to get to. You’ll probably hate it at first, so you have to use it to get it. Then when you get used to it, you’ll forget where you put your mouse, and you won’t care!

I have a Wacom Intuous Pro Medium on my desktop, and a Intuous Pro Small for my laptop. If I were to purchase another, I’d go with the Small. I find the surface area is more than enough to work with, yet not so large that the hand/arm movements are too big.

You’ll have to watch a couple of tutorials to enable the brushes in PS to take advantage of the pressure sensitivity. LR is pressure sensitive with things like the Adjustment Brush or other brush tools in the Grad or Radial tools. Certainly not enough that if you were only using LR that I’d be pushing a switch. For PS, it really is better.

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This is a really good point, and I glad @Keith_Bauer brought it up. Mine is a ‘small’ size, too, and like Keith, I find the ‘active area’ to be plenty big enough, even with large images on my 27" monitor.

I have the older version of the small Intuos Pro. It’s really nice to work with in PS. I find it a lot easier to refine masks, brush in sharpness, or pretty much anything I would use the mouse for doing. It’s nice that you can customize the buttons on the pen and on the tablet to how you want to use them. Assigned one button to that pesky Shift-Option-Command-E merge. Now my fingers don’t have to do as much keyboard yoga. Also like that I could customize the brush to increase or decrease in size by clicking and moving the pen vs hitting the brackets. I have the same Mac specs as you.

One caution, Photoshop CC 2019 has a lagging issue with the pen right now. I’m hopeful it will be fixed soon, but it’s either go back to PS 2018 or be annoyed for the moment.

Thank you all for your replies. It really has helped in making my decision. I plan to get an Intuos Pro Small. I was amazed to discover how many of them, used once or twice and practically brand new ,are available on Kijiji. I suppose many folks pick them up imagining they will use them and then give up on the learning curve. I’m looking forward to including this in my workflow.

A question for Wacom Tablet users. Someone mentioned locking up your mouse. I have a Wacom and liked the idea of it, but I never figured out how to use it easily for anything but photo editing. Is there a trick to using it to replace a mouse for everyday tasks like moving around in text when I want to correct a typo?

There aren’t any tricks to it. The issue that most folks struggle with when they are used to a mouse is that you start moving your mouse, usually have to pick it up, then move more to get to some location on the screen. Wacom tablet surfaces are mapped to the screen, i.e. the upper left corner of the screen is mapped to the upper left corner of the active part of the tablet surface, lower left to the lower left, etc. That means you just move your pen over the surface to the select the corresponding location on the screen. Once you get that figured out, the mouse becomes superfluous (my opinion).

Thanks, Keith.

Dennis, you can also set the functions of button on the pen by opening Tablet Properties and choosing what the buttons do.

Just bought my first Wacom yesterday (Intuos Pro small.) Definitely a learning curve!

Cool! You’ll like it once you get acclimated.

Be sure to go to Wacom’s support page and download and install the latest driver if your version is not the latest one.

Dennis I am kind of in the same boat.
Have owned one for a couple of years and while I use it and appreciate it’s benefits using anything with pressure sensitivity (mainly brushes in PS) ;
I still keep a wireless mouse connected and use that for most everything else. Still cannot get used to using the tablet for web browsing and day to day normal things I am so programmed for using a mouse for.

I suspect if I truly lock up the mouse I would either learn the tablet better or throw the tablet away.

I just started using a Wacom for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I decided to go all in and while I didn’t lock my mouse up, I haven’t touched it since. I find the pen is actually easier to use for my general word processing and web surfing. It’s just motor memory. But not using my whole arm as I would for a mouse, virtually eliminates the fatigue that I often felt after being at the computer for a time.
I do have a couple of questions, however. Sometimes, in Photoshop when I’m using a brush, the circle that is the brush will disappear and I’ll have to start the operation over again because I’m not entirely sure where the brush went. Also there is the issue of lag. Sometimes it is barely noticeable but other times it becomes a big deal, like a half second delay. Does anyone else have this problem and is there a way to address it? The second question is about sensitivity. If I’m doing an operation, like say, cropping where I’m pulling the border to where I want it, or levelling a horizon. When I get it where I want it to be, how do I keep it there as I lift the pen off the tablet? Often, there will be a little shake as I take the pen away and I struggle to be accurate. I’m sure there is something I could be doing to solve this problem. Appreciate any insight.

Kerry: if the brush disappears try the Caps lock on your keyboard. Happens to me quite often.

Lag I suspect is your computer, PS is a demanding program. May want to reduce your number of windows/programs open when using it or try the adjustments in the settings to assign more of your memory to PS. Reducing the history count and some other things can also speed up Photoshop if it is lagging.

The shake type issue I am not certain, likely an easy fix. I have that problem more with my wireless mouse than I do the tablet.

Decided to research the lag problem and it may have only a little to do with the Wacom. I came across this very succinct tutorial by Greg Benz on how he sets up his brushes for photoshop and why. He’s a big Wacom proponent and here he is talking about opacity, flow, spacing and pressure sensitivity and how all of these settings act together and affect each other in ways that I never fully understood. He shows when and why lag happens and how it can be reduced. I hope it’s okay if I post this link, I found it surprisingly helpful: Optimal brush settings in Photoshop

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I notice he recommends 100% opacity and to vary the flow.
I do the opposite, always 100% flow and I vary opacity.

Not saying one is right and one is wrong just that you may want to experiment on your own rather than go by one person’s preference.

Probably some good free videos on PHLearn on Wacom Tablet settings and brush settings I would trust a little more than your link to be perfectly honest.

Well, of course, you’re right, we do have to find our own way. But Greg is a very talented guy and I do value his opinion. Naturally, it’s all an experiment anyway. Actually, Matt, I’m not sure I follow the logic of your approach if what I’m trying to do is imitate drawing with pen and paper. With a pen and paper I keep my pen on the paper adding more and more until I get to the level of saturation that I’m after. If my opacity is set to 100% and my flow set low, to say, 5% I can do the same thing with my tablet - building until I get the level of opacity that suits my need. And I don’t have to keep taking my pen off the tablet to get there. But if I set my opacity low then when I reach the limit of my setting, I have to take my pen off the tablet in order to add more. I’m not saying that is an onerous task but it doesn’t accurately imitate my experience of drawing or shading, which is why I thought Greg’s way of approaching it made a lot of sense. Naturally, to see if that works for me, I’ll have to find out through experimentation and practice.

Guess it depends on the desired result
I am not using to draw but use to say dodge and burn on a layer set to soft light (not using the ps dodge and burn tools)
If I am dodging I might set the max opacity at 25% and then control from 5-25 with how hard my pen pressure is
I might want a little over 25 in some places but would never want close to 100% for dodging/burning that would be too strong.
The flow at 100% insures that I have even distribution and never more than 25% since this is the opacity max even if I paint over that area (not talking about ever lifting the pen but multiple passes)
I usually want a very feathered look so use a soft brush (0 %) for the type of dodging / burning I am describing

If you did the reverse and went 25% flow and 100% opacity the effect seems to be stronger to me, even with light pressure I am getting more than I want and the paint builds in certain areas so you can end up with well over 25% in a spot quickly which would look bad and hard to correct
For me it doesn’t work as well, could be my lack of precision though.

Again it may definitely matter depending what edit you are using the tablet and pressure for.
Try both and see what works for you

If there is 1 thing I have learned about photoshop is that there are dozens of ways of doing basically the same thing
Most basic example curves and levels why do both exist when they basically do the same thing
None of them are the right or wrong way

100% opacity, low flow
Low opacity, 100% flow
In the end it may be the same just 2 different ways of doing it