Why You Should Be Using a Wacom Tablet | Emily McGonigle Photography

There are a lot of things to learn about the tools within Photoshop, but what about external, physical tools?

A lot of newer photographers aren't aware of an amazing device that not only allows you to get back to your elementary school roots of drawing with a pencil, but allows you to make the most of the software based tools found within Photoshop. What is this amazing device, you ask? I mean, did you not read the blog title? It's right in there...

The Great, Amazing, Totally Tremendous, Wacom Tablet

Wacom Intuos Pro (Small)

Wacom Intuos Pro (Small)


This device has changed my retouching life forever. I remember being a wee baby photographer, complaining about lack of accuracy, and carpel tunnel-like symptoms from using a trackpad to retouch (That's right. I said trackpad), but that all changed when a friend of mine offered to sell me his Wacom Bamboo Fun tablet for $70.

I was excited to acquire it from him, despite his laughter and taunts that I would use it once, and it would end up in the back of my closet forever, never to be seen again. That's apparently what he did with it, but I was determined not to waste my precious $70.

The first week was difficult. There are two different modes the tablets can be used in: Mouse Mode and Pen Mode.

To me, the most logical thing was to use the tablet in mouse mode. It seemed like it would translate the easiest, but I quickly learned that Pen mode was the superior mode.

Pen mode allows you to pick up your pen from the tablet and set it down on a different part of the tablet, which results in your cursor jumping right to that point on your screen... like in real life with the ancient paper and pen in hand. Mouse mode, on the other hand, requires you to drag your Wacom stylus across the tablet surface, much like you would with a mouse, just to navigate the screen. That eats up precious seconds, and once you really get into the nitty gritty of retouching, it simply just doesn't make sense.


Pen Mode vs. Mouse Mode


The nice thing about Wacom tablets is that they buttons that can be customized to certain shortcuts or tools that you use frequently. I admittedly don't use this feature as often as I thought I would, especially after purchasing the model that I have, but I do use the stylus buttons like my life depends on them. (At the very least, my retouching workflow depends on them).

"That's great, but is it REALLY that much better?"

Dude. Seriously? Have you ever tried to draw a circle with your mouse or worse, your trackpad? How about a pencil? A crayon? A marker? A pen? Which one is easier? Using a writing utensil, or using your friggin mouse, that requires you to move your entire arm in in one perfect motion?

The learning curve for using a Wacom tablet exists, but the week or two that it takes you to get used to using it is WELL WORTH the time you'll save and the ease that comes with using a device that is as close to drawing directly on your photograph as you can get.

The other really useful feature that you get with a Wacom tablet that you don't get with a mouse or a trackpad is pressure sensitivity. Your retouching is so much more accurate with pressure sensitivity enabled, and it's a lot less likely that you'll go overboard if you're applying a technique a little at a time.


Pressure Sensitivity!


"Okay, fine. But which one should I buy?"

That is entirely up to you. There are inexpensive options for those of you starting out, and then there are super-fancy, expensive options for those of you who are super hard-core (but lets be honest, if you're at that level, you've stopped reading this article by this point, because you already KNOW why you need a Wacom tablet).

You can purchase tablets directly from Wacom, from camera shops both local and online shops like Adorama, and B&H, and of course, there's the every trusty Amazon.

A great option to start with is the Intuos Photo. It's actually the exact same as the Intuos Draw, Art, Comic, or 3D. The only difference between them all is the software that comes packaged with them. So if you already have a copy of Photoshop, and you can't seem to get your hands on anything other than the Intuos Comic... go for it. It's literally the same hardware.

Intuos Photo (Stock Image)

Intuos Photo (Stock Image)


A more robust, and slightly more expensive option is the Intuos Pro. This model has a wider range of pressure sensitivity, tilt recognition, and more fancy buttons to program on the tablet itself. It used to come in 3 different sizes, but now comes in 2: Medium and Large.

I use the previous model Intuos Pro that came in the "small" size. Anything larger than that and it would be more difficult to travel with, and would require bigger movements of my hand to get from corner to corner. I'm really happy with my "small" tablet, so I imagine the "medium" size of the newer model would be sufficient for most people.

Intuos Pro - Medium (Stock Image)

Intuos Pro - Medium (Stock Image)


There's also the Wacom Cintiq, which is really cool, but I'm not even about to go into that. Like I said, if you're even considering a Cintiq, there's a fair chance you don't need me to tell you about it. And if you didn't even know what a Wacom tablet was before this blog post, you don't need to run out a buy a Cintiq right away, haha.

So there you have it! If you're even remotely serious about your retouching, you need to go out and get yourself one of these babies STAT.

And then once you do, or if you've recently acquired one, let me know in the comments below how you like it!

But Wait, There's More...

As you may, or may not have, noticed, it's been a good long while since my last blog. A lot has changed in my life, and I'm gearing up to be A. LOT. more active, as I initially intended to be, with the content on both the site and blog.

BUT... I'd love your help. Let me know in a few quick words what type of content you'd like to see, or any questions you might be harboring about post processing and retouching in general, or about anything specific you've seen me do! Submit your questions and ideas using the box below, and then be sure to come back to see the answers come to life!



Emily McGonigle Photography is a Franklin and Nashville based retoucher, and can be contacted for booking inquiries here.