Drawing the old-fashioned way

The Wacom ArtZ II graphics tablet lets you work the same way you do with a paper tablet. You just pick up the tablet's pen and write, draw, or paint. Unlike your mouse, the Wacom ArtZ II graphics tablet has a natural feel and is accurate. For example, try signing your name with your mouse. Disastrous, isn't it? With the ArtZ II, recording your signature is as easy as signing a check.

Wacom makes graphics tablet in a range of sizes from 4"*5" to 18"*25", and all work with Windows NT. They have a transparent overlay that lets you draw over other artwork or use CAD templates. Across the top, the tablets have a programmable menu strip that you can use to program keyboard shortcuts.

TABLE 1: Applications that Support Wacom's Graphics Tablet
Adobe Photoshop 3.0.4 and 3.0.5
Adobe Systems * 408-536-6000
Web: http://www.adobe.com
Corel PHOTO-PAINT 6.0RB
Corel * 800-772-6735
Web: http://www.corel.com
Fractal Design Painter
Fractal Design * 408-430-4000
Web: http://www.fractal.com
Ron Scott QFX 5.1
Ron Scott * Web: http://www.qfx.com
FutureWave SmartSketch 1.0R2 and 95
FutureWave Software
619-552-7680 or 800-619-6193
Web: http://www.futurewave.com
AutoCAD
Autodesk * 415-507-5000
Web: http://www.autodesk.com
NetWriter
ParaGraph International * 408-364-7700
Web: http://www.paragraph.com/netwriter

The pressure- and tilt-sensitive pen makes the Wacom tablet shine over other tablets and mouse devices that I've used. These pens don't have cords or batteries to get in your way, and they are very responsive. The pens have a button on the tip and one or two on the side. The tip responds like a left mouse-click and is pressure sensitive. You can program the side buttons to respond as mouse buttons with a right-click, middle-click, left-click, left double-click, or a left click-lock, which is useful for dragging stuff around the screen. Also, you can program the buttons to respond as an Alt-, Control-, or Shift-key modifier. Two models of these pens have a pressure- and tilt-sensitive eraser, which works like an eraser on a pencil if an application is eraser-aware.

I reviewed the ArtZ II 12*12 graphics tablet on a 200MHz Pentium Pro with 32MB of RAM running Windows NT. The tablet comes with a pen, a serial cable, a power supply, software, and a manual. (See "Wacom Graphics Tablet Models,", for information about the complete line of products.) Setup is easy. You connect one end of the serial cable to the back of the tablet and the other end to the back of your computer. Then you plug the power transformer into the wall outlet and the other end directly into the computer end of the serial cable. Hooking up the power to the serial cable rather than the tablet seems kind of strange, but it keeps the wire clutter on your desk to a minimum. After you plug in the tablet, boot your system, pop in the 3.5" floppy, run the setup program, and click Continue. The program sets up a Control Panel applet and installs some drivers and system services. Reboot your system and log on. You now have a functioning tablet that you can use instead of your mouse.

Initially, using a pen to select menu items and to open, close, and resize windows felt strange. But after opening Adobe Photoshop 3.0.5 and using the pen to draw and paint, I really like it. You can customize the Photoshop tools to respond in various ways to the pressure-sensitive pen. For example, you can set up the paintbrush tool to change color, darken, or (my favorite) change width by changing the pressure you apply with the pen on the tablet.

If you do a lot of work with Photoshop (or any drawing tool for that matter), I recommend taking a serious look at these tablets. You won't know what you did without one! Table 1 lists applications that support Wacom's graphics tablet.