Using Pen Tablets in Photoshop

By Dr Diablo | Photoshop CS3 | Beginner

A pen tablet is a computer input device that allows one to draw images and graphics using a pen in the same way we draw with a pen on a paper and is used by computer artists to create stunning digital artworks directly on the computer. This tutorial will teach you how to setup a newly purchased pen tablet using Windows Vista and then configure it to run well on Photoshop.

Pen Tablet & Drawming Result Sample

Our tutorial is divided into the following sections:

  1. Getting Started.
  2. Setting Up Your Tablet.
  3. Adjusting Pen Settings in Photoshop.

Getting Started

Pen Tablet's Box

We used Wacom's Bamboo tablet pictured above as the reference tablet for this tutorial. Once you unwrap your newly purchased pen tablet you should usually find in the box the tablet itself, a tip sensitive pen, and the installation CD required to run the tablet features on your computer. If you plug your tablet instantly without installing the necessary drivers it will still work, but it will only support mouse features and not advanced tablet features such as pen pressure sensitivity that controls brush stroke's depth or thickness. Install the software that came on the CD to make sure that all the features get supported.

Setup Cds

Windows Vista always comes with tablet pc friendly programs for pen usage training and writing recognition, you can access those programs by going through Start Menu>All Programs>Tablet PC. Those programs will help you get accustomed to using the pen tablet across Windows Vista as well as personalizing your pen's handwriting for system recognition.

Tablet PC Friendly Programs

Setting Up Your Tablet

Now that you have all the drivers installed and the pen tablet identified, you can notice that the tablet's surface is now proportional to your screen, which means you can point anywhere on the screen without having to pick the pen up and drag it to the position the same way you would do with a mouse. The illustration below explains how the Pen Tablet is proportional to the screen.

How Tablet's Surface is Proportional to the Screen

Before getting using the tablet on programs, you are going to need to setup some setting to use the tablet's pen more conveniently. A new folder is usually created in your Programs Menu that contains tablet preferences programs installed in the previous step. For Wacom Tablet users, open up the program which brings up the Tablet's Properties and the pen tablet's settings window should appear.

Configuration settings will differ from one tablet to another, however, the most important feature that you need to play around with is the Tip Feel or what is occasionally called the Firmness. You will need to configure this property to determine how hard you have to press to make a thick line when you draw. The higher the firm the feel the more harder you have to press to make your lines thicker, the lower the firmness (more softness) the easier it is for you to get a thicker line when you draw.

Pen Settings

All other settings will differ from one tablet to the other and most of them are self explanatory. It is worth noting that you may have configurable shortcut buttons which can be very helpful.

.Tablet Settings

These were the global settings of the pen tablet. We will now configure Photoshop so that it recognizes our pen tablet input.

Adjusting Pen Settings In Photoshop

Even if you do configure the global settings of your pen tablet, Photoshop will have to be configured personally to actually make use it. To do so, open up Adobe Photoshop and then create a New Document of any size by going through File>New. Go through Window>Brushes to open up the Brushes Panel and click on Shape Dynamics. You will then have to change the Control under Size Jitter to Pen Pressure and that should do it!

Brushes Panel

If you now try to draw using any of the brushes you will notice that the line gets thicker the harder you press the pen against the tablet. The screenshot below explains how the lines thicken when more pressure is applied using an Air Brush of 20px diameter.

Pressure Variation

Here is an example of how is this technique differs from normal brush settings using the same 20px Air Brush.

Diffeence between pressure writing and normal brush writing

These were the essentials for getting your tablet working with Photoshop. Always remember that mastering the pen table will require plenty of practice and like any other skill, so do keep on drawing regularly to shape up your talent!

This concludes our tutorial, I hope that you learnt something new from it, feel free to email me on for any comments or questions or alternatively post in the Oman3D Forum to get instant feedback.

- End of Tutorial.