Graphics Tablets and How to Buy One
A graphics tablet is a piece of computer hardware, almost always connected via USB port. Tablets come in many different sizes and aspect ratios and are designed to make drawing on a computer feel more natural.
Many computer users and traditional artists wonder why tablets are so useful. Anyone who has tried a tablet, however, has no doubt. Reactions range from "That's amazing!" to "Where can I get one?"
The answer to the latter question depends on what you're looking for. Wacom is far and away the best-selling and most famous tablet manufacturer, with at least 80% of the market share according to some sources. They make the professional-grade Intuos, as well as the less pricey, but still well-made, Graphire. (More information on Wacom tablets is available on the Wacom and Wacom tablet nodes.)
Wacom's reputation for excellence is certainly well-deserved. However, they're not the only tablet manufacturer out there. Genius, Adesso, Aiptek and Trust also make graphics tablets that often offer much more bang for your buck.
When considering a tablet, the most important factors are size, aspect ratio, and pressure sensitivity. The aspect ratio is obvious - for wider screens (usually 9:16) buy a widescreen tablet, and for traditional 3:4 screens, buy a "normal" one. Unfortunately, widescreen tablets are still relatively rare and the only options seem to be a wide-ratio Intuos or any of several Aiptek models.
The next concern is size. Although bigger is almost always better, price can be prohibitive. When weighing price against size, remember that a 6x8 tablet offers twice the drawing space of a 4x5 tablet, and a 9x12 offers twice as much again. However, it all depends on your drawing style. Artists who work with small, detailed strokes are much less cramped by a small tablet than artists who work in long, sweeping motions.
A third factor is pressure sensitivity. Most tablets offer either 512 or 1024 levels of sensitivity. This can be a guide as to the quality of a tablet, although it's far from a perfect measure. Consider the reputation and expert reviews of a tablet before making any choices.
A final note: yes, Wacoms are the most popular tablets out there for a reason, but the other manufacturers are nothing to sniff at. Genius, especially, makes quality graphics tablets for a third of the price of an equivalent Wacom. Consider these alternative tablets, but remember, you get what you pay for.