Ask The Desk: Digital Drawing Tablets, Typing Paper, & Astrobrights

Joe asks:

I need your advice on the purchase of a drawing table for my 10 year old granddaughter. She really is very good and I wish I could attach one of her drawings for you to see. She draws constantly and learns from books that I and her parents have bought her. She also uses Youtube tutorials. For example, she is presently working on a 100 character challenge, wherein one draws and names 10 characters a week for 10 weeks. I think she is like 4-5 weeks in on this challenge. I taught her a couple of things I learned from Art Supply Posse such as outlining pencil drawings with a fine line alcohol marker of which I sent her an assortment. All of her markers are now double ended alcohol markers. Anyway, she said she would like to have a tablet to use for her artwork and this is where I would appreciate your advice. I remember hearing you discuss Cintiq/Wacom tablets. I think you talked about Apple Ipads as well. What drawing tablet would you recommend for someone who is 10? Thank you for any help you can give.

I talked with my husband at length about your question and what we would do for our niece or nephew who are 10- and 12years-old, respectively. We debated at length about the best options. Not knowing your granddaughter’s current computer access, I’ll run through a few options and describe them as best I can.

There are two categories of drawing tablets: a direct drawing tablet like the iPad and the Wacom CINTIQ (both allow you to draw directly on the screen with a pen tool) and the indirect style — like the Wacom Intuos (imagine a trackpad that only works with a pen tool). There are nuances within each of these: the iPad can also be used for other uses like watching movies, email, chat, playing games, etc.

The advantage of a device like an iPad is that it is a standalone device. It requires no additional hardware other than the pen (which Apple sells separately). Both the iPad device and the pen requires charging but both are wireless so it can be used anywhere in the house, in the car, etc. It does perform better when it has regular access to wifi for updates to software and OS. The recommended software for drawing on the iPad is the beloved ProCreate. It’s $9.99 and worth every single penny and then some.

Wacom CINTIQ

The advantage of a Wacom CINTIQ (collectively called the Pen Displays) like the Wacom One and Wacom CINTIQ (this is the one I use) is that they are hardware and are plugged into a computer (or even an Android device in the case of the Wacom One). The pen that ships with the CINTIQ is wireless and battery-less which means it always works. Because the CINTIQs are hardware, they tend to have a longer lifespan as long as the drivers are kept up to date by the manufacturer. If you don’t already have a computer, though, it’s a larger investment. And… the benefit of using a CINTIQ is being able to work in professional software from the Adobe CC suite (portal for educational discounts) to animation/3D software like Toon Boom, Lightwave, Maya, etc.

Wacom Intuos

Then the last category, and the least expensive option, is the indirect input, Wacom Intuos tablet. This tablet uses a wireless, battery-less pen tool (often the same pen as the CINTIQ) and a tablet that plugs into a laptop or computer. The Intuo Pro can be used wirelessly with the addition of a battery. I started on a Wacom Intuos tablet and, to this day, still use one as an alternative to a mouse but for drawing I much prefer the CINTIQ or iPad. However, if cost is an issue, the precision available with a Wacom Intuos tablet is far better than a mouse or trackpad. It’s not as intuitive as drawing directly on a screen but makes it much easier to fine tune lines, select vector points and other detail work.iPad 12.9" and 11"

So, after all that exposition, here’s my recommendation. If money is not an issue, go for an iPad Pro 12.9 with Pencil 2. Be sure to add a protective case. The Pencil charges when connected to the iPad but the case will make sure the Pencil doesn’t get lost. I also recommend a surface cover called PaperLike that makes the iPad screen more, well, paper-like and less slick and glossy.

Ipad in case
This is my iPad 10.9″ with the protective case. It’s older so it has the original Pencil in the Kaweco Apple Pencil Sleeve.

The 11” iPad Pro would be a good alternative and a bit cheaper. I use the 10.9” iPad Pro though I’ve always wished I sprung for the larger 12.9” model. I would still recommend the accompanying case and PaperLike screen. And, of course, ProCreate.

If your granddaughter already has a computer, and can get a student discount on the Adobe CC suite, then a Wacom CINTIQ is a great option as well. It’s obviously less mobile but will feel like a “pro move”.

If your granddaughter is interested in illustration in animation, Laura Price gives a peek into the world of a working illustrator at Disney as well as showing some of her tools, tips and techniques.

Best of luck to you and your granddaughter, wherever the journey takes you!


Erika asks:

Hi! I was wondering if you have ever used Smythson paper in a typewriter? If so, what paper did you use and how did it turn out? Thank you for your time!

Different typing paper
I typed on kid’s construction paper, a page ripped out of an old book, learn-how-to-write paper, a decorative sticky label and a dollar bill because why not?

Hi, Erika

I have not specifically put Smythson paper in a typewriter but I have used lots and lots of different kinds of paper in lots and lots of different kinds of typewriters: label stock, card stock, old typing paper, index cards… pretty much anything I can get onto the platen (the rubber roller). If the paper is very thin, I will put a sheet or two of plain copy paper behind it (tip from Tom Hanks to protect the platen from damage). Some slick paper like label stock might cause ink to smear or dry slowly and very thick card stock might crack or get stuck when trying to get it on the platen so proceed with caution.


Lori asks:

Hi Ana, and the ladies of The Desk, I learned of Neenah through Field Notes. Walmart has Astrobrights card stock paper. Do any of you have experience with this card stock paper? I admit I’m drawn to them because of the space themed names for the colors. I figure I would find a way to use them with letters. But who knows until I handle them.

Neenah Astrobrights

I remember using Neenah Astrobrights paper for band flyers when I worked as a copy jockey at Kinko’s when I was in college. For a fledgling graphic designer, it was a cooler job to work in a copy shop than as a waiter. We had access to all the large size copy machines to make weird zines, posters and flyers. So, what I can tell you is that while Astrobrights are tons of fun, those neon colors are not very lightfast. In other words, the colors will fade when exposed to light. As for their fountain pen friendliness, I did not have any on hand but if you are using the cardstock/cover weight, it should be able to handle most gel pens, felt tip and rollerball pens for sure and probably some fine and medium fountain pens. If you are not hoping to archive your creations for ALL OF TIME, I say go for it. It’s just paper. If anything, it can be used to make envelopes, folders and other receptacles for your fountain pen friendly paper. Just don’t sear your retinas!


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3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Hi,
    You can also use Huion tablets (similar to Wacom) at a fraction of the cost.

    To quote from my blog:
    Windows 10 hardware

    For a non-touchscreen PC my main recommendation is to buy a pen tablet that will plug in via USB. Price quotes are from May 2020.

    No screen tablets which plug into a pc cost £35 new on Amazon or £5-£20 used, £17+ new, on eBay. I use a larger working area Huion but this H420 is the current starter model with 2048 levels of pressure. The higher pressure equals better drawing lines produced. This is great for drawing, a mouse replacement or writing on your pc screen. The area you have to draw on is about the size of a credit card, 10.2 x 5.7cm, which is small so you will end up using your wrist for drawing instead of your whole arm. If you draw a lot I would recommend using a larger version. Video review – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9d7MjGRtsOs.

    The Huion H640p no screen has 8192 levels of pressure and cost £40 on Amazon or from £20+ used on eBay. The working area of the tablet is 16 x 9.91 cm. (To compare, a piece of A5 paper is 14.8 x 21 cm.) Video review 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJoqPi0-K8w. Not the best review video but current model. Video review 2 – previous model – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AS1f-xM8Ntg.

    The next no screen model size is the Huion H950p with a working area of 22 x 13.7cm (approximately A5 in size) costing £80 new on Amazon, or from £20 on eBay used.

    Graphics screen tablets, like the Huion Kamvas Pro 12, are a computer screen that you are drawing directly onto. These have 8192 levels of pressure and are more user friendly to use than a no graphics version. They start from around £150 used, £200+ new, so I would only recommend buying one if you are seriously studying art or graphic design as the H640 does a similar job for half the cost. The work area quoted is quoted at 25.6 x 14.4 cm and is a nice size to work on. (To compare, a piece of B5 paper is 17.6 x 25 cm so this is between A5 and B5 paper). Video – https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/C1eQ4xJGGAS.mp4.

    Other makes of graphics tablet are available but I find these Huion models quite reliable and affordable to use. The latest drivers are available from the manufacturer’s website. XP Pen tablet are priced similarly and are also available on Amazon.

    The drawing tablets that you can buy on the high street are over priced in my opinion for hardware that does the same thing but you do have better legal protection if things go wrong.

    Some of the best free drawing programs which use pressure sensitivity are Krita, Autodesk Sketchbook (went free in 2018), my paint w64, and Paint.net.

    1. I’ve had some colleagues try the Huion tablets and found that the drivers are not updated as regularly as Wacom’s. So, if the operating system or the drawing software is updated, it can “break” the tablet. This may be getting better but initially the customer service for updates was iffy. Hopefully, this is improving. On the flipside, Wacom is feeling the heat from the Chinese competitors and has been lowering the prices of their tablets to provide options for entry-level and student users.

  2. Hi Anna,

    My drawing tablet is a XP-Pen Star 06:wireless tablet! It’s an older-ish model so I got mine for around $60? Not too bad for what you get. It’s pretty large though . It’s so much more convenient because of wireless accessory kit. That’s more of a luxury tho tbh, and it isn’t the most inexpensive thing either .

    My mom has a wacom intuos comic tablet, and that one’s much smaller! What is the one tablet you would like to recommend for my teenage brother.

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