10 Minutes with Flash: Graphics Tablets and Flash MX 2004
About a million years ago, someone invented the graphics tablet and gave designers everywhere the ability to draw in a more natural way. Photoshop users have enjoyed this luxury for quite awhile, and the release of Flash MX 2004 has brought Flashers the same benefits. Tablet support in Flash has hardly been discussed in the geek world, so for the next 10 minutes, I'll show you what's been missing from your life. (This article is for those of you who have not yet discovered the joy of using tablets.)
Step Away from the Mouse with your Hands Up
The first thing to know is that Flash MX 2004 only includes support for Wacom tablets, and the Intuous 2 is probably the most reasonable to purchaseat around $220. It's got a great reputation and some killer features. The stylus, for example, supports more than 1,000 levels of pressure and includes tilt support so you can draw with natural movements and hand positions. It also comes with some graphic editing software, but you can use the tablet with just about any program you already own. In addition, it includes a mouse, so you can replace yours with the tablet, its mouse and stylus, and simply swap back and forth whenever you want. (Personally, I grab the mouse with my right hand and the stylus with my left, and I have battles for domination. Fun for the whole family!)
Using a tablet, you can draw and paint in strokes that look realistic. If you press lightly on the tablet, a thin, light-colored stroke appears. Pressing harder results in thicker, darker strokes; and you can go from light to heavy within a single stroke. Also, you can use the stylus instead of your mouse for everything you normally do on a computer. The cursor follows your movements around the tablet, which represents the entire screen area of your monitor. In other words, the top-left corner of your tablet's active area is the top-left corner of your screen.
After you acquire a Wacom tablet, there is a variety of ways to configure it. You can adjust the sensitivity of the stylus, the double-clicking speed, what the buttons on the stylus do, the sensitivity of the eraser end of the stylus (ohby the way, it includes an eraser), the tilt range, the functionality of the buttons on the tablet itself, and even what applications you want to use with your tablet (if not all of them).
To set up your tablet, install the driver software and open up the Wacom Tablet application, shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 The Wacom Tablet application helps with all your configuration needs.
Now, the thing that can be most difficult to get accustomed to is how to use the stylus to move the cursor around your screen. Unlike the mouse, which sits on a mouse pad, the stylus needs to be held slightly above the tablet without touching it. To click, you press down on the tablet. If you're a "hard-presser," drag the Tip Pressure Feel option under the Tip Feel tab to Firm or something near it. If you're "normal," leave the slider at its default setting. Draw inside the box marked Draw Here to test the sensitivity of the stylus.
After you have the Tip Feel configured, move on to the Double-Click, Eraser Feel, and Tilt tabs in the application and then set them as well. For Tilt, you can broaden the tilt area so much that the tablet recognizes stylus movements even if the stylus is lying on its side.
Under the Tool Buttons tab, you can configure the eraser end of your stylus to do several things, including open an application, but leaving it set to work as an eraser is usually a good idea until you've become so good at drawing that you never ever need to erase something (yeah, right). The main button on the stylus can be clicked on either end, and you can set each end to do something different. I have the button closest to the tip set as Click and the other button set as Right-click because there's no other convenient way to do it with the stylus, and I'm a right-clicking fiend.
Under the Mapping/Speed tab, it seems best to set Mouse Acceleration to Low and Tracking Speed to a slower speed (the left half of the slider bar). This keeps the cursor from moving too quickly, allowing for more precise and controlled drawing. Also, setting the Positioning Mode to Pen allows for absolute positioning of the cursor (if your stylus is at the top-left corner of the tablet's active area, the cursor appears in the top-left corner of the screen).
By default, the row of buttons on the tablet itself is used to create a new document in the program you're currently using, open and close a file, save, print, cut, copy and paste. In the Tablet Buttons tab of the Wacom Tablet application, however, you can customize each of the buttons to do something else, such as change the pressure of the stylus or open a specific application, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2 Set the buttons on the tablet to open your favorite time-wasting Flash game.
After you're done configuring your tablet, quit the Wacom Tablet application and open up Flash. This is where the fun starts!