Sometimes people ask me to describe the benefits of using a tablet over using a mouse. Other times I like to impose my opinion on others without being asked, because I have seen the light—and I'm not talking about the red glow of the LED in your optical mouse. Actually it's the cool blue glow from the light on my new Wacom Intuos3 tablet. "Enough already," you're saying, "get to the benefits!" Ok, here's the best analogy I can think of. Fire up Photoshop, open an image, and try to select an object using the Lasso tool, or try your hand at painting a decent happy face on the canvas. Now, grab yourself a pencil and a piece of paper, take off your shoe and sock and stick the pencil between your first and second toes, gripping it tightly. Place the paper on the floor and start drawing with your foot. Write your name. That's the difference between the control you have using a mouse versus a tablet. Got the picture?
Figure 1 A 6"x8" Wacom Intuos3 tablet, as used in this article.
Reaping the Benefits
Some of the benefits of working with a tablet instead of a mouse are obvious while others are not immediately apparent. One example of the obvious is the ease of drawing and painting in a natural way. It's difficult to do a graphics tablet justice in this area (without sounding like an infomercial), but 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, tilt sensitivity, and an eraser that works just like the one on the end of your pencil (minus the torn paper, smudges, and rubber fragments), combined with the functionality and ergonomics of a pencil or pen, makes a tablet superior to a mouse in virtually every way. Pressure sensitivity means you can make your strokes heavy or light, depending on how hard or lightly you press the pen to the tablet. Tilt sensitivity allows you to control opacity, color intensity, and other brush settings. Just click on Color Dynamics or Other Dynamics under the Brushes palette and set the Control drop-down list to Pen Tilt. These can also be set to Pen Pressure if you prefer. Tilt sensitivity is even more useful when you work with the optional airbrush, shown in Figure 2. If you make a mistake on a stroke but don't want to undo the entire thing, you can quickly flip the pen upside down and erase just the section that went astray, rather than having to click on the Eraser tool and fiddle with the settings. Even the eraser is pressure sensitive!
Figure 2 The optional Wacom airbrush
The less obvious benefits of using a tablet include reducing repetitive stress injuries and helping to stave off carpal tunnel syndrome. More features include USB connections and the Plug and Play option. Tablets are also both Mac and PC compatible; so you can use the tablet on a Mac in the morning then move the same tablet to a PC in the afternoon. The tablet provides the pen or mouse with power, so no cords or batteries are necessary. That's especially nice when you're trying to be creative and spontaneous. Another nice feature is absolute positioning, which gives you a 1:1 representation of the screen to the tablet. So if you move the pen (or mouse) to the bottom left corner of the tablet, that's where your cursor will be. No more lifting your mouse and repositioning it because you went off the edge of your mouse pad. With the Intuos 3, the tablet is your mouse pad (just don't use a regular mouse on it unless you want to scratch the drawing surface). Ever try adding your signature to a document by using your mouse? It's easy as pie with a tablet and stylus (the fancy term Wacom uses for their pens).
Figure 3 Comparing text written using a pen versus a conventional mouse