Originally posted January 2016 // Updated December 2020
A Wacom to solve my problem? I believe encountering new problems means that you are growing and stretching yourself into new places. By taking on new challenges you are introduced to new problems that you haven't solved before. Approaching and overcoming those problems means that you grow. So that's all well and good and I do believe it holds true...when you're doing critical thinking or developing a new creative process. I'm not sure today's problem qualifies as a growth problem; maybe it's just a problem problem. That makes sense right?
If you've ever done much image editing work in photoshop or digital design work you've possibly experienced wrist ache from using a mouse to paint, clone, mask, make selections or any other repetitive tasks. I reached that point last week and purchased my first tablet; a Wacom Intuos 4; used. Yep, I'm cheap. Plus I have to see if I like it before going all in on a fancy shmancy new tool. I've read mixed reviews about whether a tablet really solves this problem or not.
Adding a Wacom Tablet to my Photography Post-Processing Tools
I watched some tutorials about using a Wacom for editing photos including this one from Phlearn which is one of my favorite youtube channels for all things Photoshop. It seems pretty easy to setup and start using, lots of photographers and retouchers swear by them, and I'm starting to do a lot more retouching on photos so it made good sense to give this a try. Is this a growth problem or just a problem problem? We'll see if my work gets any better and then decide.
Five Years Later
Well, it's 2020 now so I can give you a pretty good idea of the value this brings to my workflow. I do enjoy using the Wacom, but I never got in the habit of using it regularly. There's nothing at all wrong with editing on a tablet, it does the job nicely, and I like the results I get when I'm using it. The Wacom sits next to my desk and I use it a few times a year.
So why don't I edit photos more often with the tablet?
- It takes up a lot of space on my desk. I got a large tablet thinking I would like the real estate and that working on a small tablet would feel cramped. That might still be true, but even if I had a small tablet I can't imagine keeping it on my desk all the time.
- I don't edit photos every day. If I were a designer who worked in a freehand format every day I would keep this out and work with it more often. When I get a chance to sit down for an extended period of two hours or more to work on some photos I'll pull the tablet out and hook it up. The settings are all saved so I can just plug it in and start working, but I don't think to use the tablet unless I'm getting into some detailed pixel perfect editing.
- Working with the tablet doesn't feel natural. This has everything to do with how often I use it and nothing to do with the way it actually works or the way it's designed.
I love doing actual work on the images where I'm masking, painting, cloning, etc. Anything that requires holding a mouse button and moving the mouse repeatedly to make strokes works brilliantly with the tablet. But since I don't use the tablet every day; moving through menus, selecting tools, and selecting objects in a photo software UI using the pen isn't second nature to me. Switching back and forth between my mouse and the tablet reminds me that I'm such an amateur at using this tool. If I really want to enjoy using a tablet to edit photos, I'd have to invest some serious hours and then use it at least a few times a week to develop muscle memory so I don't have to consciously think about making selections or where I programmed a button for a quick action. So if you're thinking about investing in a dedicated tablet for editing photos, I would recommend against it unless you're likely to use it at least every couple of weeks.
Right now I still do 95% of my editing on a computer with a mouse as my primary peripheral interaction tool. On my radar for 2021 is to finally get an iPad Pro and start including the iPad in my editing workflow in which case the Apple Pencil will be something I use almost daily and I'll get much more comfortable interacting with everything on a screen via a pen device. I haven't really had a reason to move my editing workflow to a mobile device or needed cloud access to my photos. Added to that; I do use photoshop and lightroom for a lot of my editing, and their mobile versions are still catching up to the desktop apps in terms of functionality. I've never been an early adopter just for the sake of trying new things. I wait for everybody else to experience the bugs and headaches and then I'll migrate if and when real advantages materialize.