7. Hardware recommendations (Tablets)

Hardware (graphics tablets)

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Big tablets vs small tablets

·        Small tablets are more portable. Also, it can be slightly faster to work on a small screen as it literally takes less distance to get from one corner of the screen to the other.

·        Big tablets allow you to use your whole arm to draw. It encourages good posture and reduces hand cramping when done right. Less need to zoom and scroll around the page with a big screen. More precision with a bigger screen. But the big screen is a lot more expensive, less portable and it is slightly slower to get the cursor from one side of the screen to the other.

Three kinds of tablet:

The big distinctions to be made with tablets are between surface tablets, screen tablets and mobile studios.

·        Surface tablets do not have a screen – they behave more like mouse-pads, where you control with a pen but look up at a different screen. These might seem awkward at first, but you quickly get used to them and they feel natural before you know it. I have made large short films using only a small surface tablet (Wacom bamboo) and the experience was fine.

·        Screen tablets have a screen, so it feels like you are actually drawing onto the screen which mimics a traditional pencil and paper.

·        Mobile studios are screen tablets but they have their own computer operating system contained within it. This means that you don’t need it to be plugged into a computer, it is the computer. Very useful for if you need to work while travelling.

If you are starting out and just want to try animation, get a surface tablet, not a screen tablet. It is like using a mouse but with more dexterity. It is much cheaper than buying a screen tablet. Give yourself at least 5 hours to get used to it. It might feel strange at first but don’t quit!

A lot of the time, animators who are on a tight budget struggle to decide between a poor quality screen tablet and a high quality surface tablet.

Quite often, brands like Wacom set up demo-desks at art shows and conventions. You can walk up to them and try their tablets out. Similarly, most big consumer electronics stores will have a Surface Pro set up for you to try before you buy. It is a good idea to try before you buy if you are able to.

You hopefully already have a tablet. If you don’t, you really should invest in one as soon as you can! Fortunately, there is quite a wide range of different tablets to choose from. Here I will lay out the brands and types of tablet I recommend, as well as some of the ones I do not recommend.

The big players

Wacom

Starting out we have the Wacom range. This is the brand that I back as the industry leaders. These guys don’t mess around. The Wacom range is designed to give the best possible workflow, with the most reliable and streamlined technology. I own 3 different types of Wacom tablet. Wacom have never broken on me. Even a wacom tablet from 10 years ago would work fine today. The problem is the expensive pricing. They are a little more expensive than all the competition. They sell the accessories at ridiculous prices! So watch out for that. But they have a wide range of different price options, including the very affordable surface tablet range (the Wacom One is my favorite entry-level tablet), ranging up to high-end screen tablets (you plug into your computer) and portable tablets (Also known as mobile studios - these have their own built-in computer operating system for working on the go, so they are more like laptops). Wacom give the best experience out of any tablet brand, they are the most reliable. If price is not an issue, I would highly recommend.

Huion

The competitor to Wacom. They do almost everything Wacom does but a little cheaper. They are decent enough that you might not notice the difference between Huion and Wacom. I personally do not agree with the direction they have gone in lately - for example: they prioritize the thin portability of their tablets. What's the point in sacrificing features of your tablet to make it slim and portable, if you are going to plug it into a PC? The buttons feel a bit cheap on them, but they are okay

XP pen - another imitation brand following in Wacom's footsteps. But they get the job done at an affordable price! I currently work on an XP Pen Artist 24 Pro as it was sent to me by the company. It is very good value for money. And I only have minor gripes with the degrees of pen rotation.

Gaomon is also a Chinese competitor that offer even cheaper tablets. While they have improved a lot in the past few years, the build quality of their tablets is... questionable..

Ipad

I do not recommend animating on an Ipad for multiple reasons: IOS gives very little control over modifications so you are stuck with apple’s poor form-over-function decisions. The Ipad animation apps are aimed at hobbyists who just want to give animation a try, making little 3 second loops – not setting out to make an actual film. Because of these, all the animation apps have severe limitations. The Ipad is not a replacement for a computer. It cannot properly render video, import or export files or a myriad of other tasks you will want to do when creating an animated short film. Making a film of any length over 30 seconds on an ipad would be an up-hill struggle. They might be fun to doodle sketch on but anything more advanced than that would be a nightmare. They are generalist tablets, not designed for professional animation. Do not waste your money on one. Invest in a serious tablet and computer if you really want to do this.

Microsoft Surface

The Surface series from Microsoft is perhaps the most ambitious series of pen tablet technology here. It tries to be everything to everyone, and it almost succeeds. I own a Surface Book 3. It is a powerful all-in-one touch-screen laptop for creatives. I use it for every-day tasks like writing emails, documents, web-browsing. It is a very nice laptop which I enjoy using, but I very rarely use it for drawing or painting. This is because it is not specialized equipment, and you can feel this when you use the pen in Photoshop or TVPaint. The pen tablet technology is a bit lacking - it is lagging behind the specialist brands. the taper on my lines is poor, diagonal lines come out shakey (not because of my hand), and overall it is very difficult to find a comfortable drawing position on this for working hours on end. It feels like the developers made this computer for creatives who dabble. A little bit of video editing, here, a bit or photography there, and a little bit of drawing on top. not for animators who spend hours upon hours upon hours drawing in hyper concentration mode. It doesn’t quite compete with the big boys when it comes to pen technology, but I still love it as a laptop to bring with me when I travel.

Budget

Only you can choose how much money to spend on this. But I would say that getting a good reliable tablet is an important investment for anyone who wants to make a lot of hand drawn animation. Before I was getting sent tablets by brands for free, I spent my hard-earned money on Wacom, and I am glad that I chose Wacom – they are the most high-quality trusted brand.

Your tablet and your computer talk to each other

When you first plug your tablet into your computer, the computer does not know anything about the device. it has no way to communicate to the device, no common language. That is why driver software is important. Driver software is a little app you download for free with your device - and this allows your computer operating system to talk to your tablet. A lot of the problems that can happen with a tablet have little to do with hardware and a lot to do with the driver software. Back when I was using an old Windows 7 PC, I had a lot of trouble with my Wacom tablet - the driver software would crash multiple times a day. This was actually due to problems with Windows 7, and not with the Wacom tablet. Once I upgraded to a Win10 PC, I had no more problems with driver software. try to make sure you are using the latest version of the driver software by your tablet manufacturer. They try to patch any bugs or glitches in each new version of the driver software.

Using a mouse?

It is not recommended that you animate with a mouse. It is very hard to control a mouse enough to draw. It is not a drawing tool. They have no pressure sensitivity. Far less information is stored from a mouse stroke rather than a brush stroke.

As soon as you can, upgrade to a cheap tablet. Luckily, tablets start at an affordable price. If you are unsure, get yourself a small surface tablet like a Wacom Bamboo (One) to get started.

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