Tablet for 12yo girl for drawing?
December 20, 2012 5:49 AM   Subscribe

Art tablet for computer PC for a 12 year old girl?

My niece is really getting into art. (she is 12, turning 13 in a few months, doing online school at home right now.) She would like a tablet to use with her PC computer.

I'd like something that is a good introductory tablet, and would be easy for her to use.

This isn't a Christmas present, so I have time to shop around. I'd like to encourage her interest in art as much as possible - it seems to be something she really enjoys doing, and I'd like to be supportive.

Mr. Needlegrrl suggested an iPad mini - I would prefer to stay away from tablets that do other things, simply because I'm afraid she'd get distracted and use it for other purposes. This isn't about getting her a cool new techie toy to surf the web with, it's about being supportive of her art. However, if a tablet is the best thing, I'm open to suggestions on that as well.

Suggestions of apps, programs for her computer as well would be welcomed. I'm really not sure of a price tag - how much are we looking at spending here? I'd prefer $100ish, but am willing to pay more if I need to (obviously, with the mention of the ipad mini suggestion above).
posted by needlegrrl to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A clean, used 6x8 Wacom Intuos 3 (or even an Intuous 2) tablet would be a perfect drawing tablet for a beginner. Ebay has them for a wide range of prices.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:53 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I got a 9- by 12-inch Monoprice tablet earlier this year, on the advice of this professional artist's review, and I love it. (The artist has since switched from using his much more expensive Wacom tablets to using his Monoprice tablets full-time.) The price for even the 9- by 12-inch one is well under $100.

(A couple tips: If you get a Monoprice one, you'll want to make sure to download the latest driver from here. And personally, when I went through the setup software, I disabled the pen's side button; every tablet pen I've used has one, and I'm just not into using them. But that's my personal preference!)
posted by limeonaire at 5:58 AM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding the Monoprice suggestion! It's hecka cheap for the quality -- I'm getting myself one, also on the recommendation of several professional artists.

Don't worry so much about "introductory" and "easy to use" -- I got into Photoshop when I was 13, and figured out the whole shebang myself, because it was something I was interested in and it let me achieve the cool things I wanted to achieve. Now, it's a skill that has gotten me ahead in jobs and personal projects as an adult.

Unfortunately, most quality image programs (Photoshop, Manga Studio, ArtRage, Sai) are pretty expensive. (I got mine from, uh, a friend online, 'cause I didn't have $300 as a 13 year old.) PaintTool Sai would be the most bang for your buck in terms of programs.
posted by Pwoink at 6:38 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Wacom Bamboo is around $80, and comes with the excellent ArtRage Studio painting/drawing software. It's the perfect combo for your niece, and after using all the drawing gear out there, no way I'd go with anything besides a Wacom.
posted by dbiedny at 7:54 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

And Pwoink, the most expensive version of ArtRage, Studio Pro, is under $60, a bargain by any metric, IMO.
posted by dbiedny at 7:56 AM on December 20, 2012

You should ask her what she wants. When I was approximately that age, I asked for a drawing tablet and my dad got me a handwriting recognition tablet (this was pre iPad). It was kind of cool, but in no way did what I wanted to do. If she wants a full on drawing tablet then an iPad mini isn't going to fill her needs, on the other hand if she wants a tablet computer then a drawing tablet isn't going to do much for her.

If it turns out that she wants the drawing tablet then personally I still stick with Wacom... But in this case, I would probably offer her a couple of options... like, "Would you rather have this Wacom tablet or instead have this Monoprice tablet plus some other stuff?" (Or maybe even "We will spend this much for serious art supplies--we were thinking a drawing tablet--what do you want? If you want something that costs more than that, then you can make up the difference.")
posted by anaelith at 8:58 AM on December 20, 2012

Best answer: I'm a beginner on a tablet, but not a beginner artist (my dad was an architect, my mom was a commercial illustrator) nor a beginner with graphics software (PS CS3, Painter X, Paint Shop Pro 3 through 10, Inkscape, GIMP, others) nor a beginner with computers (I am an IT professional and an MCSE.) I can't see the review limeonaire linked on tumblr, tumblr is blocked at work, but many of the customer reviews on limeonaire's other link (amazon) mention having problems getting the tablet to work because of problems with the drivers. That was exactly my experience with the cheapie I bought (digipro) as a toe-in-the-water approach. It came with a USB tablet driver and other software on a CD but the driver was quite a few versions old and hung up often. I found the company's website and downloaded the most recent driver package but the installer wouldn't work--can't find this file, can't find that file. I used pretty much every trick I ever learned about installing recalcitrant USB drivers, which is quite a number. No joy.

What finally worked was copying in the entire CD contents to the hard drive and locating the actual driver and driver-installer subdirectory. I unzipped the contents of the downloaded driver package somewhere else and made certain that all the files were later versions with identical filenames (they were). So I deleted the contents of my copy of the CD's driver installer directory, copied the downloaded files there, and then burned the whole shebang back to a blank CD. Even gave the new CD the same volume name as the old one, just in case. AND THEN ran the setup.exe in the root of the new CD. Worked, new driver installed. Tablet now works fine.

tl;dr -- cheapie tablets can be a great bargain (I see amazon is selling the same tablet as mine for $29.95 for an 8" x 6" version, which is ten bucks less than I paid for a 5" x 4" last summer; limeonaire's monoprice 12" x 9" is very tempting also) but it's probably a good idea to have either a good bit of computer experience or a computer-knowledgeable and patient friend who owes you a favor when you get ready to plug'er in and hope to see pen strokes in your screen workspace. Seems to me that dbiedny's suggestion of a wacom bamboo with artrage included may be the best price/features/vendor support tradeoff. (But 5.8" x 3.6" active area seems pitifully small to me. The 5x4 I bought is useable for what I use it for--detail work zoomed in to the pixel level--but otherwise pitifully small.)

P.S. the hardest thing to get used to for me in transitioning to a tablet was that if you're used to painting on canvas or drawing with a pencil on paper you're used to seeing your hand and your marking tool and your work surface all at the same time. You lose that everything-at-once view with a tablet because your marks are going to the screen so you have to look at the screen and can't look at your hand and "pen" on the tablet. Most difficult point for me is making that very first mark in a new session. The pen doesn't make any marks unless it's actually touching the tablet surface but it controls the on-screen cursor slightly before touching down. While looking at the screen, I have to bring the pen tip down close to the tablet surface until it's controlling the cursor or "paintbrush" crosshairs or whatever, move the pen around sloooowly until the cursor is exactly over the place the first mark should go in relation to the work I did last session, and the lower the tip caaaafully down to touch the surface and make the first mark.

P.P.S. concerning what software to give her with the tablet, a major consideration (maybe the major consideration, unless you're a full graphics professional) is whether the package has a good active online user base. Are there active message boards where she can post questions, or post images and ask for hints and critique? Have lots of people put up tutorials about how to do X or get Y effect with the program you're considering? You could have the greatest draw/paint program in the universe and if it's just you and the program and the manual you could get, like, discouraged...
posted by jfuller at 9:39 AM on December 20, 2012

Best answer: Hm. Yeah, I've used third-party cheap tablets before, and found them almost unusable (I still have an old one I bought from a student for $20 buried somewhere in my closet—it was not worth the $20!). But in my experience, the most crippling factor with those was poor sensors, poor battery connections, and/or too small of a drawing area. I can assure you, the Monoprice has none of those problems! (And no, I have no personal interest in the company—I've just been thrilled to have a cheap tablet that works!)

Drivers can be an issue with anything like this, but I definitely didn't have to do that sort of extensive troubleshooting when I installed the Monoprice tablet. I think I installed the driver from the included CD, then went to the driver website I linked above and downloaded the latest version to update it, then installed the free Wacom Intuos 3 drivers, as recommended by the artist who reviewed the tablet (it can help trick some apps into working with the tablet). Then I restarted the computer (need to do that after installing these drivers) and it worked; the only other thing I did was to go in after that and tweak the settings (on Windows, you can do that via the little notification-area app that installs with the drivers, and on a Mac, there's a little settings app you can use).

So at least in my experience, it was pretty straightforward, but YMMV!
posted by limeonaire at 11:08 AM on December 20, 2012

That seems pretty hopeful, limeonaire. That size tablet at that price is a real temptation. I assume it doesn't come with much included software besides drivers, which is fine. Software I got! In fact one of the things that's always made me reluctant to get a wacom model is that the price includes bunches of bundled software, none of which I want. (It's always the downsized version. Not much call here for PS Elements or Painter Essentials or Autodesk SketchBook Express.) Thanks very much for the reccie!
posted by jfuller at 11:55 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We're going with the Wacom Bamboo for now, since she doesn't have any of the software already, and then if she really likes it, we may upgrade to the Monoprice so she has a larger area. Thanks for all the great suggestions!
posted by needlegrrl at 5:55 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use a Bamboo Pen & Touch at home, and got a cheapie Monoprice for work (both the same size, a small 4x5). The computers at work don't allow us common users to install software or drivers, so the Monoprice runs with just the standard Windows 7 drivers.

Honestly, it's hard to tell the difference. And yes, I can do graphics work on both.
posted by themissy at 9:39 AM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

The difference between the weight of the stylus with a battery in it, vs. no battery, makes a real qualitative difference in how the two feel in the hand. The Wacom wins every time, IMO.
posted by dbiedny at 10:18 PM on December 22, 2012

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