Drawing tablets—aka pen tablets or graphics tablets—allow artists to digitally draw, paint, and edit photos while having the same tactile feel of a traditional sketchpad. For the most part, drawing tablets connect to a computer either wirelessly or via a USB cable, allowing you to hand-draw on the tablet surface with an included pen-like stylus. The strokes on the tablet appear on the computer screen, simulating the way a person draws with a pencil and paper. Though drawing tablets have been around for a while, in recent years the market has been dominated by Wacom. And while the company still produces premium drawing tablets, many others now offer similar products for less. In this back-to-school guide to the best drawing tablets, we’ve picked our five favorites in a range of categories—from the best tablet overall (spoiler alert, it’s a Wacom) to the best small tablet—while keeping student budgets in mind.
1. Wacom Intuos Pro Digital Medium
When it comes to creative pen tablets, the Wacom Intuos Pro is the standard for professional digital artists as well as aspiring pros. The Intuos Pro’s reputation precedes it, and for good reason: on a connected Mac or PC, it lets you easily draw and paint digitally, as well as retouch photos. The Intuos Pro comes in three sizes—we recommend the Medium, which is compact and slim (just 8mm thick) yet still features an 8.7 x 5.8-inch active area. To use, connect the Intuos Pro to your computer with a USB cable, or wirelessly via Bluetooth; unsheathe the Wacom Pro Pen 2 from its attractive stand; then select one of several interchangeable pen tips (aka nibs) to give the pen the feel of a traditional artist’s tool. The Pro Pen 2 has 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity, with tilt response and virtually no lag. You can also modify the Intuos Pro’s workspace with customizable express keys, a touch ring, and radial menus. Meanwhile, side switches on the pen offer quick shortcuts. And the Intuos Pro’s multi-touch surface lets you easily zoom, pan, and navigate on your connected computer screen to create and edit imagery with ease.
2. XP-PEN Star03 V2
The XP-PEN Star03 V2 offers a remarkable level of performance for a remarkably low price. With a 10 x 6-inch working area and a battery-free pen that doesn’t require charging, the Star03 V2 is great for beginning digital artists or even more advanced creatives. The pen, which you can use either right- or left-handed, provides 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity to help you create variations in line width and opacity. There’s also a 60-degree tilt function, as well as a one-click toggle between pen and eraser that lets you easily clean up your work. The tablet has eight customizable shortcut keys—brush enhance/weaken, zoom in/out, cancel, hand tool, brush tool, and erase—to speed up the workflow. You can also program these keys to open apps or websites. The Star03 V2 connects to PCs and Macs solely via USB cable—there’s no wireless option—but at this price, that’s a minor tradeoff.
3. Gaomon PD1560
Drawing tablets with high-definition displays used to be out of the price range of most artists—but that’s changing, thanks to brands like Gaomon. The PD1560 features a gorgeous 15.6-inch HD, 16:9 widescreen display, yet still manages to squeeze in 10 customizable shortcut keys on the left panel. There’s even a folding stand on the back that lets you adjust the PD1560 to different angles. The digital pen gives you 8192 levels of pressure and 5080 LPI (lines per inch) of resolution, allowing you to easily draw, paint, and edit illustrations and photos. The comfortable ergonomic pen has a customizable double button on the side, which lets you easily switch between brush and eraser functions. But the PD1560’s real draw is its sharp HD display. In addition to its uses for creative work, the screen is also great for online education and remote meetings, such as Zoom calls. Best of all for the budget-conscious, you can buy the Mac- and PC-compatible PD1560 now for around $200.
4. Huion Inspiroy Q11K V2
Truly wireless pen tablets tend to be a bit more expensive—that’s why we’re so high on the Huion Inspiroy Q11K V2, which requires no cable to connect to a PC or Mac, yet is still affordable. The Inspiroy Q11K V2 provides a cord-free connection to a computer via a USB receiver, which offers 2.4 GHz wireless connectivity. (You can use a USB cable for a wired connection as well.) Also cool: the Inspiroy Q11K V2 tablet comes with a newly designed battery-free pen, the PW500, which is virtually lag-free and offers 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity and 5080 LPI of resolution, to provide accurate cursor positioning from different angles. Plus, it’s been upgraded from the previous version to offer over 60 degrees of tilt recognition. In short, the PW500 stylus lets you draw everything from delicate brushstrokes to fine lines, just like a regular pen. The tablet also has a large 11 x 6.87-inch active area and eight customizable shortcut keys. So if you’re looking to go wireless, cut the cord with this tablet today.
5. Veikk S640
The Veikk S640 is a great choice if you’re looking for the ultimate in portability and affordability. This 8.58 x 5.12-inch digital art tablet fits easily in a bag or even a coat pocket and costs under $50. (Yes, you read that right.) The S640 is only 2mm thick and weighs just 117 grams, but it offers more than enough performance for drawing, painting, sketching, or photo editing. It features a 6 x 4-inch active area, which you can set in either right- or left-hand mode. The battery-free pen produces 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity and 5080 LPI of resolution—on par with much more expensive digital styluses. And its one-click toggle allows you to switch instantly between pen and eraser. Along with being compatible with PC and Mac computers—which it connects to via USB cable—the S640 can also be linked to Android smartphones using the included OTG adapter. Students can carry it from class to class easily; educators can buy it for their students without sinking their budget.