Driver SoftwareAll tablets require drivers, so you'll want to make sure the manufacturer provides a driver that is compatible with your operating system. You'll also want to look at what kind of features are offered in the driver software for the tablet you choose. The driver controls many aspects of how the tablet functions, and some of the higher-priced tablets offer advanced capabilities due to the driver software. Some examples of advanced driver features include the ability to map certain areas of the tablet surface to portions of the screen, programmable menu strips, tool customization, tilt sensitivity, application-specific settings, and more.
Bundled SoftwareBundled software can add a lot of value to your tablet purchase. Most tablets come with a painting program, and some will include utilities that offer enhancements to take advantage of your tablet. Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Painter Essentials are the titles most commonly bundled with graphics tablets. Some tablet manufacturers also bundle handwriting recognition software for converting hand written notes into text, although this is less common now that handwriting recognition is built into Windows Vista and Mac OS X.
Other considerationsSome tablets have a transparent overlay on the surface that can be lifted up to slide a photo or piece of artwork underneath for tracing. Also consider the warranty period for your tablet and whether or not replacement parts can be easily obtained. Most tablets can be installed alongside a mouse or other input device, so if you share your computer with other users, there's no need to swap out devices.
PriceGraphics tablets can be quite expensive, with most of them in the hundreds of dollars range. Prices are coming down, however, as more manufacturers are offering tablets aimed at the home user. These tablets are generally priced around $100 or less, though they lack some of the professional features of the more expensive tablets.
Do I need special software to use a graphics tablet?
No. A tablet will work in any computer software and can even be used exclusively as a mouse replacement. To get the most out of your tablet, however, you will want to use it with graphics software that takes advantage of the pressure-sensitive features and tilt controls offered with most tablets.
Can I use a tablet and mouse interchangeably?
Yes. Most tablets can be used alongside a mouse with no problem whatsoever. In fact, many tablets now come with a mouse as part of the bundle. These bundled mice must be used on the tablet surface in order to work. If you prefer another mouse, though, you should have no problem having both connected at the same time. You'll want to be careful to keep the tablet's pen or mouse away from the tablet surface when using another pointing device--it can cause endless cursor confusion if a pen is left on the tablet while attempting to use another device!
How long will it take to learn to use a graphics tablet?
Not long at all! Just a few hours of practice is all it will take to coordinate your movements and get used to tapping instead of clicking. I always suggest new tablet owners first play computer solitaire for a little while using the pen and tablet. If you have Windows Vista, Inkball is another fun game that can help you get used to using a tablet. After you're comfortable moving the cursor, dragging, and clicking with the tablet, you may want to go into the configuration program for your graphics tablet and customize some of the options. You can adjust the tablet software according to whether you generally write with a heavy hand or a light hand. You will also want to customize any special buttons on your stylus or the menu bar on your tablet, if one is provided. Most people like to configure the pen buttons for double-clicking and/or right-clicking.