This article tries to help artists who are looking for a portable drawing tablet.
There are many great tablets for artists, but only a handful that combine the ability to run graphically intensive programs, have sophisticated levels of screen sensitivity, are lightweight, and have the battery life to be called truly portable.
Why Get a Portable Drawing Tablet?
Whether you’re an experienced artist, a student just starting out, or reigniting your old artistic flame, it’s likely you’ll be bewildered when trying to choose a tablet to draw on.
There are as many tablets as they are drawing styles. So which to choose? This article is aimed at people who want to take their creativity into coffee shops and onto trains with a really portable device.
What Artists Need from a Tablet PC
First, take a look at the technical specifications. Graphics tablets need a good processor and you want to get as much RAM as possible. 8GB would be preferable.
Next, bear in mind that most tablets are more like your smartphone than your PC. They run apps, not full programs like Photoshop. Running the full versions of such programs requires a greater level of processing power only found on a few tablets. Fortunately, some of these are getting very affordable.
Do you want to draw directly on the screen or onto a separate pad? If you want a portable drawing tablet you’re going to end up drawing on the screen. That’s what I prefer anyway, but your mileage may vary.
The screen should have multi-touch capability so that you can manipulate the screen while drawing on it. (Multi-touch is what lets you pinch your smartphone’s screen to make a photo bigger or smaller.)
Finally, there’s the pressure sensitivity of the screen or pen. Devices come with levels of sensitivity ranging from 256 to 2048. Opinions vary about whether this makes a difference. Some experts insist a human can not tell the difference or make use of such minuscule variations. Others swear that having used a 2048-level device they could never go back to one with less range. Personally I agree with the former and think 256 is enough for everyone.
More important is the accuracy of the pen – some can’t be used if it is too perpendicular to the screen, and some have nifty features built in. In terms of portability, it’s also worth considering that some tablet pens need batteries to work – a small detail but potentially irritating if they run out an hour into your transatlantic flight!
What Counts as a Portable Drawing Tablet?
There are many great tablets for artists, but sadly most need to be plugged into a PC or Mac to work. If you’re going to lug your laptop around with you all the time then it might not be such a hassle to stick a drawing tablet such as a Wacom Cintiq 13HD in there too.
For true portability, a drawing tablet should feature the ability to draw directly onto the screen, have a place for the stylus so you don’t lose it while you’re out and about, and crucially, have long battery life. Last but not least, there’s the small matter of the weight.
That eliminates some otherwise superb tablets. The Companion 2, for example, is a thing of beauty, but with a battery life of only 4 hours it can’t be considered really portable.
Top Portable Drawing Tablets
The iPad Pro will appeal to many. Though it wasn’t in shops when this article was put together, it has many of the features artists want – great drawing apps, a pressure-sensitive stylus, true portability, plus it is much more than just a drawing tablet. Still, it is essentially a giant iPad (with a more powerful engine) so it can’t run full versions of software such as Photoshop.
Thus, we must continue our search. Fortunately, other top brands have great devices. Artists should seriously consider these tablets:
Apple iPad Pro
The fact that drawing, as a creative activity, comes with plenty of benefits is well-known. If you are a talented creative professional, an artist a graphic designer or you simply like to draw, paint and sketch, you probably know that the digital era has brought with it devices that make this activity so much more efficient. Regardless of your motivation, drawing can help you make a living out of an activity that you truly like, it helps you express yourself in a creative way and brings a lot of health benefits such as improved memory, problem solving skills and an increase in emotional intelligence.
Today’s market is rich in drawing tablets for all needs and requirements, but they aren’t all meant to be used in the same way. Apple’s iPad Pro is one of the best such devices that you will find out there. It belongs to one of the three main category of drawing tablets: tablet computers, pen displays and graphics tablets. If you don’t know much about these three categories, let us enlighten you. This is a tablet computer; one of those high-performance devices, equipped with an excellent screen and a stylus that makes it so easy to draw beautifully.
The reasons why the Apple iPad Pro is preferred by creative artists is its portability and technical specifications, all leading towards great drawing and sketching results. This tablet has an LCD Liquid retina display, True Tone screen and graphics that reach the level of an Xbox One. The Apple Pencil 2, the first of its kind, has been released along with this tablet and has a new magnetic dock that helps users attach it easier. The active drawing area of the screen measures 10.32 x 7.74 inches. With a 2K screen resolution and great pen pressure sensitivity, drawing becomes a delight on this device. Its only downside that sometimes annoys users is the fact that it has a glossy finish on its screen. If that becomes an issue, you can use a matte and anti-reflector screen protector.
There are plenty of apps that are compatible with the iPad Pro, meaning that they have compatible features and Apple Pencil compatibility. The tablet’s latency is as low as 20 milliseconds and the technology behind the screen that manages to render such realistic pencil strokes is impressive. If you are considering buying a drawing tablet, you should know that compared to other, more specialized ones, this is quite affordable and extremely portable.
XP-Pen Artist 15.6 inch
New generation tablets for drawing are amazing for so many reasons. They allow artists to express themselves and put their talent on “paper” by using innovative technology. The results are simply fantastic. If, in the past, graphic tablets were sort of rudimentary and did not allow users to draw just like on paper, nowadays they have evolved so much that professional drawing artists to place lines and do natural motions. The curves are smoother, the shapes can be small or complex and the fact that they all use advanced pens eliminate the ugliness and discomfort of using a mouse. More than that, they have great precision in rendering artwork. What more could you be asking for? The XP-Pen Artist is one of the tablets that creative professionals adore. Here’s why.
At an affordable price, the Artist 15.6 model comes with a generous screen size, has a realistic drawing surface, a matte screen, unlike the iPad Pro and a pen with pressure sensitivity that is highly responsive. To be more precise, it has 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity and a report rate of 266RPS, which makes it as good as the Wacom Cintiq, another tablet that every drawer wants to have. Its screen rotates 90 to 180 degrees, but it doesn’t come with a stand, which might make it uncomfortable at times. However, you can buy a separate stand to make your work easier.
This tablet supports 4K and works on both Mac and Windows. Setting it up and configuring it isn’t as easy as on the iPad Pro, though. You can use it right of the box, for sure, but if you want to start working with Adobe Photoshop or other apps, there are some steps that you must do. Luckily, the instructions that come with the device are pretty comprehensive. Compared to other similar graphic tablets on the market, this one truly offers value for money. It is inexpensive and is capable of rendering extremely realistic results. After finishing the setup process, it is easy to use, too. Its pen, the P03S stylus hasn’t changed much since the last model, the Artist 10S, but it is very lightweight and easy to use. It features a toggle button and switches quickly between pen and erase functions.
In terms of portability, this tablet is quite large. With a 15.6 inch screen, it is much larger than the iPad Pro and therefore offers more drawing surface. However, it is heavier and requires having a special carrying case or bag. XP-Pen has made it as thin as possible for this size, though. It has a thin profile of 11mm, which compensates with the size. Its total size is 17.4 x 11.02 x 0.5 inches and weighs 3.2 pounds.
If your objective is to create realistic art and have endless possibilities in terms of drawing and sketching, this tablet is perfect for your needs.
Wacom Cintiq 22
Before buying a drawing tablet, there are a lot of elements that you should take into consideration, so that you can make the best choice. Resolution, pressure sensitivity, tracking speed, the size, connectivity, OS and software compatibility, bundled software, portability; these should all be of the highest quality and influence your buying decision. The Wacom Cintiq 22 is one of the new-generation models that fulfill all of the artists’ needs. Unlike traditional graphic tablets, this model does not connect to a PC. It is a touch screen monitor that you can draw on directly and it comes with a lot of awesome features.
Wacom is well-known for its focus on top-notch technology, especially in the creative area. The Cintiq is a series of tablets that is designed to offer users the smoothest experience that they can have while drawing digitally. Despite its high price, artists all over the world prefer to buy it over more affordable tablets. The reasons are obvious: it integrates advanced technology that allows you to create complex designs.
Although it doesn’t score so well in the portability area, measuring 25.5 x 15.7 inches, it is the best in its class in so many other areas. Its 21.5 inch display has full HD native resolution, displays up to 16.7 million colors and has a wide viewing angle of 178 degrees. Its interactive multi-touch and Pen Technology allows you to use a wide variety of movements to set various commands, as well as gestures. The Grip Pen is very comfortable, as it has rubberized grip and very efficient thanks to its nib. Other replacement nibs are included in the box. Although it has 2048 pressure levels and makes one of the best pens on the market, the tablet doesn’t come with a pen holder, so you must always know where you put it.
The Cintiq 22 HD comes with an adjustable stand that allows you to change the incline according to your needs. Around the bezel, there are buttons that you can use to set hotkeys. Generally, this graphic tablet is highly customizable. More importantly, it facilitates the digital flow, by allowing the user to draw directly on the screen, offering a more natural way of working. However, it doesn’t have an OS, like the iPad Pro, for instance. Therefore, you must connect it with a Mac or a PC. The software bundle that you will need to work with it can be accessed by using the download key on the back of the CD. If you are ready to pay the price, this tablet for drawing will definitely change the way you work, thanks to the quality of its screen and its graphic capabilities. It is a good buy for both professional creatives and beginners.
Microsoft Surface Book 2
Microsoft is well-known for its interest towards graphic features, which is why it has integrated innovative technologies in its devices a long time now. The colors, contrasts, RGB range, blacks and brightness are often superior compared to other premium tablets that you will find on the market. Because, oh, yes, the Surface Book 2 is a premium tablet indeed. Unlike traditional graphic tablets, the advantage of this 2-in-1 is that it comes with a detachable keyboard, has its own operating system and has sky-rocketing performance. This makes it ideal for business users, who need high performance, portability and high-quality screen, as well as an overall excellent design. On the other hand, it has these amazing graphic capabilities that make it ideal for creative professionals, too. Therefore, if you are passionate about drawing or you work in this industry, with Microsoft Surface Book 2, you hit two rabbits with one shot.
The Surface 2 is the best drawing Android tablet, which is why it is worth your attention if you like to draw remotely, outside of a regular office, in a coffee shop or while traveling. In terms of portability, this device ranks high thanks to its light weight and ultra-slim display. The tablet is available in two sizes: 13.5 and 15 inches. For drawing, the ideal size is the 15-inch display, as it offers a wider active surface.
Many users tend to compare this tab with the Surface Pro, as there features are somehow similar. In terms of what an artist truly needs, we believe that the Surface Book 2 is more convenient due to the screen size and flawless pressure sensitivity and palm rejection. The Surface Pen is extremely accurate and makes it comfortable to draw and write on large screens. It is made of rubberized material, so that it creates friction when touching the screen. However, just like the iPad Pro, this tablet has a glossy screen and not matte, so if you are planning to use it outdoors, you might want to buy a matte screen protector.
Another advantage that users have when buying the Surface Book 2 instead of traditional graphic tablets is that it is compatible with a wider range of apps. Except for the preinstalled sketch apps on the tablet, you can use it with Medibang Pain Pro, Photoshop, Affinity Photo, Krita, Sketchable, Paint 3D, Affinity Designer, Corel Draw, Concepts, Autodesk and many more.
GAOMON PD1560 15.6
Ideally, a drawing tablet should be affordable, portable, with great graphic features. Finding one that fulfills all of these needs isn’t a breeze, but it isn’t impossible either. Gaomon’s PD1560 tablet is proof that this is possible and that artists can enjoy the benefits of an inexpensive, yet performant graphic tablet. This model is cheaper than most models in its category, yet it has enough active drawing area of 13.5 x 7.6 inches, a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and high pen pressure sensitivity of 8192 levels. Just like most graphic tablets, it doesn’t have its own OS, so a connection with a Windows or Mac PC is essential.
This tablet’s wide display is great for drawing. Together with its smart pen, it creates the perfect conditions for creative work. In addition to the tablet, the manufacturer included a wide variety of accessories, too. If you decide to go for this budget tablet for drawing, you will also get a stylus, cables, an adjustable stand, a stylus holder, extra nibs, a stick-on screen protector, a drawing glove and a transportation case. These are quite a lot of accessories for a product this inexpensive.
In terms of comfort, the stylus isn’t as comfortable to use as the one that Cintiq has to offer, for instance. It is only natural to sense a slight difference, as the price differs a lot, too. It is ideal for beginner graphic designers or users who simply want to draw for fun. The screen is made of glass, which is why you will sometimes need to use the included screen protector. The drawing experience is good overall with the Gaomon PD1560 15.6 inch tablet, but it shouldn’t be taken for a top-notch product. It is more of an entry-level portable drawing tablet that has good capabilities, but not excellent and that is recommended for beginner to intermediate artists.
Microsoft Surface Pro 2
It does a bit of everything (including whatever graphics stuff you throw at it) and being a slightly older model the price is very, very competitive. Its battery life is 8 hours and it weighs less than 1.5 pounds. The stylus is fine, but you might think about upgrading to a Wacom Bamboo.
The 2GB of RAM is on the low side for running some graphics programs, but it can run them. There’s a reason all the tablets released in late 2015 owe so much to the Surface template – they’re the future of computing.
Packing a Wacom digitiser, the Surface Pro 2 functions as an almost complete graphics studio. Not so long ago this was a thousand dollar plus device. Now you can sometimes find them with deep discounts, making the Surface Pro 2 the best all-round portable tablet for artists.
The artist in the following video has a somewhat heavy German accent but he knows his stuff.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 or 4
The Surface Pro 3 is an expensive option, but one that is much more than a drawing tablet. It’s basically a powerful PC squeezed into a compact, portable unit. The keyboard is detachable and the tablet itself weighs 1.2 pounds. Battery life is a healthy 9 hours.
It’s the first in the Surface range to use N-Trig technology (instead of Wacom) which helps with the lightness. Is N-trig better than Wacom? That’d need a 2,000 word article to sort through! The main problem with N-Trig seems to be a weakness when slowly drawing diagonals. There are workarounds, but it’s something to bear in mind if you draw slowly (see video).
Artists who buy this are unlikely to use it as a dedicated drawing machine – it’s also more than capable of running games, business software, and whatever else you might use a tablet for. The same cannot be said of cheaper models.
It is pricey, though this would replace a laptop AND your drawing tablet. So from that point of view it’s a great piece of kit.
The Surface Pro 4 is new on the market and better than the 3 in almost every way. My favourite feature is that the pen attaches magnetically to the side of the tablet. Fun!
Note – you need the i7 version to run Autocad 3D. The i5 is enough to run all other major software, though you can expect it to get sluggish at times.
Lenovo Yoga 14
With good pressure sensitivity, this hybrid tablet PC (the keyboard is fixed to the screen by a hinge) is a viable option for artists who are buying a new laptop. The touchscreen, good specs, and NVidia graphics card make for a top portable artist-friendly setup.
Certain programs don’t have much luck detecting palm input, which will drive you crazy. Anything with a pen-only mode does much better.
Battery life is barely acceptable at 6.5 hours. Some buyers of the Yoga 14 can be found lamenting the overall battery performance in various tech forums. They seem to have been unlucky though – perhaps there was a problem with one batch. Most users are happy with their purchase.
Toshiba Encore 2
Creating art on the Encore 2 is very achievable. The pen is actually made by Wacom, so it’s great for artists. The device has a linear, predictable pressure curve and it is pretty good at detecting when your palm or a trailing finger is just resting on the screen. It doesn’t take much pressure to start drawing (3 grams, which is pretty good). Unlike some devices, there’s no interference when drawing near the edges of the tablet. It feels a little bit like you’re drawing on paper.
The main drawback is that sometimes apps will detect the initial touch on the screen as being heavier than it really was.
The stylus needs a battery, which is a minor nuisance.
It’s theoretically possible to run Photoshop on it (Windows 10 lets you run full programs on tablets at least 8 inches in size) but given the specs it’s likely to be somewhat laggy and slow.
It’s 1.21 pounds in weight and the battery life is an underwhelming 4-6 hours. The price is very low now but artists needing proper portability might need something with a better battery.