Best Drawing Tablets 2021
There are a lot more options when it comes to what are the best drawing tablets and digital drawing devices now than ever before, and the quality has sky rocketed. Here is a comparison from someone who has been using these devices since around 2010.
Short answer : What is the best Drawing Tablet?
With any of these options below you are certain to be happy, but there are some pros and cons to each of these devices, read on if you want more info. And remember, only the iPad is a stand alone device!
I am not reviewing every tablet under the sun here, this is my opinion from years of working with tablets and trying tons of different devices with tons of different results (I have a first gen Microsoft surface tablet sitting behind me that I thought would be the best thing ever... hint: it sucked)
So, do you like portability? You want to just pick up a bag and run off to paint, or drop on the couch? Because that's what I have been really digging for a while now. Being able to just take the tablet and sit wherever I want and to draw whenever I want really has put this at the top of my list for drawing.
Its like having a sketch book in your bag all the time, but with programs like Procreate (Which I believe is only 10$ for a permanent license how great is that?) its also like having a watercolor setup, oils, pastels, camera, TV, music system ... you get it. These things are great.
I can not stress enough how wonderful the portability of this device is.
#2 The software experience
If you haven't gotten the chance to play around with an iPad yet, you are really missing out. They are great devices and I hope that continues on into the future. Since the interface is so damn nice, it makes for a really nice device to develop and work on, and developers have gone at it hard!
Procreate which is 10$ is one of the best digital painting apps I have ever used. They suppor the hell out of it and keep updating it. Apple seems to be supporting the company directly as well. Just a great program, and again, 10$... less than one month of Photoshop.
Sketchbook by Autodesk: Yeah this one is free. I don't know why its free but it is. Its great, does a great job of mimicing brushes and real materials. Again free, just get it and try it. There really is no catch, and I really don't know why.
Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo: around 14$ each, again forever. These programs are direct replacements for Photoshop and Illustrator. They are great and they are optimized for the iPad. Also as a side note, dont bother with adobe apps on the iPad, they are all subpar compared to other options and the company wants you to still do full subscriptions.
#3 Upgrades, backups and storage
There are a lot of ways to backup and keep your information and device safe, really too many to go into here but the first part solutions from apple make it so that when you want to transfer or upgrade to a new device you can very easily just take everything off the old one and drop it into the new one. All your programs get transferred over and its just like moving the same workspace you had into a new system. If you have had to deal with the pains of upgrades and trying to get all of your software and peripherals over to the new system you know exactly what I am talking about.
This iPad also has a USB-C plug, so you can plug in external hard drives, so storage isnt a problem. I recommend these drives from Samsung https://amzn.to/3g9lt68 they are great drives that are rediculously fast and about as small as a minimalist wallet.
#1 You have to buy a case, pen, and I recomend a paperlike screen protector
Yep, there are several extra things you should really buy along side this. And for art the most important thing is the apple pencil that you have to buy separately. Now on the bright side, the apple pencil is fantastic. Do not bother with buying other stylus, even the ones from wacom are no where near as nice as this one no the iPad. Pressure and angle sensitivity is great. And while it is most definitely possible to paint while only using your fingers, the pencil really does take it to the next level. Without it I would not consider this tablet against the wacom or xp-pen systems.
There are two generations of pen, for the device I linked you need the second generation pencil which you can buy here : https://amzn.to/3oqJEAd
If you try to get another iPad, many of them also use the pencil, but some use the first gen and others won't accept any pencil, so do your research first.
Get a case, I really like this one https://amzn.to/3g6ZUmN and this company KAVAJ. It feels great in your hands and that little strap does an amazingly good job of keeping your pencil attached and not loose in your bag or lost.
Also get a paperlike screen protector https://amzn.to/3qqhbwa , they are really nice to draw on and makes it feel like you are working on paper. I really enjoy mine and am just this year starting to want to replace the one on my iPad pro 12.9 from 2017. Happily I still have 2 more that came in the package. You can probably try another company as its a simple concept, I am just linking the company that made me very happy with the results.
#2 I think there is a more powerful iPad pro 12.9 coming soon
The title says it, I think that they are going to be upgrading the iPad pro line sometime in the first quarter of next year with the new cpu chips that apple has begun making. Those chips are a massive generational leap in power and I want you to know that I am personally waiting to upgrade until I see those new chips in the new year. But I already have an ipad pro 2nd gen that I am using and enjoying, so that's a different boat.
And why am I not recommending my 2nd gen ipad? Mostly its the apple pencil. The second gen pencil is just better, charges while magnetically attached to the side of the ipad and doesn't have a loose cap. Its a nice device, and if you want to save some money and get the older version, things run great on it. But the newer models handle video recording and editing better and making progress videos of work is fun. I will be replacing my ipad when the next gen comes out probably.
Oh man is this thing huge, and working on a huge surface can be great. Being able to sweep your arm along and make long graceful curves and being able to see every little detail of your work without zooming in is awesome. I used a previous flagship the wacom cintiq 24HD for a very long time, and having tested this one I can say its just great. The pen is responsive and feels great in the hand, and its an overall premium device.
The little remote is a fun way to add some hotkeys to your work, I prefer to not have loose parts and would rather those buttons were just embedded in the side of the device, but I can see why people like it.
This has the best colors of anything in this list. I am not going into the specifics of color gamuts here, because that is a long discussion that I get massively distracted and into far to many details about. This thing covers 98% of CIE1931, if you know what that means you know how great that is. If not, its gorgeous, you can see so much more color on this than on most other monitors its just silly. You will also need to learn about how to make sure those colors make it to your printer or to the web properly, there is a lot to learn when it comes to digital color.
Again, this thing is HUUUUUUGE! It weighs 29 lbs, and if you get the awesome ergo stand with it (which I recommend if you will be using it a ton, it costs extra sadly here is a link https://amzn.to/39F45Fb ) that's around another 66lb. So this is not mobile at all. Don't even think about it. And really you should have a second person to unpack it.
#2 Needs a computer
I don't think I mentioned this before, but you have to attach this to a computer, its like an ultra fancy monitor and mouse in one. I think most people considering these devices would know that, but I just want to make sure that you do to.
And Wacom does sell a tablet that has a computer in it already, don't buy that. Just get an ipad if you want an all in one. And if you don't, go get a computer you really like. Get a souped up PC or ones of those new M1 Mac minis that are so amazingly powerful.
Oh and keep in mind the price of software too. Those cheap prices I mentioned for the iPad don't exist for computers. You can go free with some software, but I have not found a free option I like. Most around 100$+
Yep, that's a big ol price tag. 3,300$ MSRP is a pretty hefty price tag. If you are reading this in some future time when the price is lower, how are ya doing future person? Why are you wondering about my recommendations for 2021? It was a weird year.
But this is pricey, it's great but it hits the pocket hard. Make sure you can just afford it, or that you will be using the hell out of it. I personally still consider it, but it's little brother took up so much desk space that I moved over to using an iPad on a stand. Boy I wish the iPad was just a bit bigger. That leads us to the next one on this list!
Yep, I am putting this at the top of the list, because as I write this XP-Pen sells this device for 900$, but I recommend buying it from Amazon for the shipping and various discounts that can make it cheape. A device that, while not as amazing as the Wacom Cintiq 32, is still a damn good device, and has a rather large when you are working on it.
24" is just a very manageable size, you can really work on details at this size and still feel like you are almost swimming in your work. Why did I not recommend any of the smaller drawing tablets from any of these companies? Because you should really just go get an iPad if you are working much smaller, maybe consider a 22" size tablet, but I think this one is the winner.
#3 Input and Output
This device is a bit unique in the landscape of drawing tablets right now. It needs a power cord attached, as they all do outside of the iPad. But it uses a USB-C cable to attach to the computer. This is really nice just having to plug in one cable. And don't worry if your computer doesn't have a thunderbolt 3 USB-c/ USB4 / Whatever the hell they decided to call it next (The naming of USB protocols isn't my fault!) because this tablet comes with a multi cable that will let you connect it to any computer that can have an external monitor hooked up to it.
#4 Those side buttons
Yep, This one has quick command buttons embedded in the frame, and a little spinny wheel for changing brush sizes. I can not begin to stress how nice it is to have those buttons. Really love em.
#1 Needs a computer
Again, I just want to make sure people know, this is not a stand alone device, you need a separate computer to run it. And keep in mind you need the software too, its much more expensive on computers than it is on iPads.
#2 Not portable
This thing is much lighter, but its still not portable. But really there aren't many negatives to this device.
All three of these devices are great, I gave you the most clear cut descriptions I can, from here its up to you. Use those links I provided and Amazon throws money my way. I decided to start putting these lists up like this since I am always doing these break downs for friends and family I may as well make the companies pay for my direct advertising.
And no, no one paid me or gave me anything to write this. I have just been asked several times recently and though I would lay it out nice for everyone.
Have a good one!