Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review: Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet

It's impossible to draw with a mouse. That's the first thing you learn whenever you try to do anything delicate in Photoshop. Any circles that you draw, turn into little jerky discrete movements, and even straight lines are a challenge.

When I needed to work on Independent Cycle Touring, I knew the most difficult chapters to work on would be the chapter on mapping and routing. What I wanted to do was to build up a large database of maps in the reader's head that could pattern match and see good maps versus bad maps, as well as how to interpret certain features. I needed to be able to scan the maps, circle all the highlights, and then annotate them.

Photoshop, it turns out, is pretty good at this. I viewed a few videos about how to tweak Photoshop for the Wacom tablets, and then bought the lowest end model, the Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet. The idea behind the tablet is that you have a pressure sensitive pen that can control various items like width, bluring, and other such variables. All I wanted to do, however, was to be able to draw a circle and make it look natural.

Natural is hard. Really hard. For my sample chapter, for instance, each circle had to be drawn at least 2-3 times. Another weird thing that I didn't realize at first was that the tablet maps itself to your entire display surface, so if you have a dual screen setup, that makes the pen really sensitive. I ended up zooming in several levels, drawing, hitting Control-Z (undo), and drawing again. While I at first had thoughts of making the pen sensitivity work for me and give me nice fades, I soon resigned myself to just being able to draw circles that didn't look like crap.

Would I recommend the Bamboo Pen Tablet? Maybe. If you need to draw, I see no other choices. Now that I've been through the InDesign tutorial, maybe I would consider using the ellipse tool instead of drawing. But ultimately, it's the reader's opinion that count, so if you look through the sample chapter and tell me what you think of the hand-drawn portions, I would very much appreciate it.
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