Ergonomic set-up for art tablet?
December 20, 2017 6:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about getting an art tablet, presumably a small or medium Wacom, but I've been concerned about the ergonomics.

Here's a fair amount about where to put an art tablet. There are no perfect solutions.

I've currently got a pretty good ergonomic set-up-- the laptop is high enough that the top edge of the screen is a little below eye level. I have a separate keyboard that's a smidge above my elbows.

I'm wondering whether I could get away with sitting the tablet on top of my key board and sliding the tablet to the side when I want to type. Would I need to apply enough pressure to the tablet when I'm drawing that it would move the keys?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have used both large and small tablets in professional settings and I don't ever recall suffering much physical strain from the setup I used. Granted, my setup might be slightly idiosyncratic because I'm left-handed but use a mouse with my right hand, so I could switch between both the pen and the mouse easily. I kept my tablet to the left of my keyboard with the keyboard scooched just slightly to the right. This way I could draw with my left hand and use keyboard shortcuts with my right, or switch to the mouse if it was the more appropriate tool.

The thing with a tablet is that unlike drawing on paper, you don't need it in front of you. I could keep the tablet off to the left and out of the way, even when I was using it, because you watch the monitor as you draw, not your hand. It requires some getting used to that disconnect, but it's the basic skill of tablet usage.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that it sounds like your setup might be more complicated than it needs be.
posted by picea at 7:37 AM on December 20, 2017

picea, I'm glad you're not having problems, but some people do.

It's not just the mentions of pain in my link, but Paint or Pixel, a book about traditional and electronic media in sf art, makes it pretty clear that electronic media are less safe for artists on the average.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:44 AM on December 20, 2017

You will not be able to get away with sitting the tablet on top of your keyboard. Even the weight of the tablet would likely press down the keys, and drawing on it definitely would. I would go ahead and get the tablet even though there is no perfect ergonomic solution- if you spend a lot of time on the computer you will most likely come out ahead, as the ergonomics for a pen tablet are far better than those for a mouse and less likely to cause RSI type injuries. I've had a 15+ year career in digital art (though only a small amount of it drawing on a tablet 8+ hours per day) and in my opinion, and from the experience of those of my coworkers who do spend their entire day drawing, if you work for a reasonable amount of time per day (ie not 12+ hours), take fairly frequent breaks, and stretch and do some occasional wrist exercises, you'll probably be OK with an imperfect solution.
posted by matcha action at 8:03 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't see how you could out the tablet on top of the keyboard. It would press the keys and would be an uneven/wobbly surface for drawing. If you put the keyboard on top of the tablet it will also cause problems if it's touch enabled. Sometimes my screen does crazy things and I realize a pen or paper or something is resting on my tablet while I'm not using it.

I have the Intuos Draw (the blue one) and I put it all the way to the right where a mouse might traditionally live. It's also touch enabled so you can use it as a mouse in a way without the pen if you wanted to. That position feels the most natural and ergonomic to me. You can move it around and see what feels right for you.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:19 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

matcha action and Bunglegirl, thank you.

I'm wondering about lowering my keyboard a little and having a shelf above it for the tablet, but that might be more trouble than its worth.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:01 AM on December 20, 2017

The set-up in those pictures assumes you're using a mouse while you're using a tablet, which makes it more awkward to find a good arrangement. But my tablet functions as a mouse, so I never need a separate one while I'm using it.

Are you concerned about keeping the tablet directly in front of you? For me, it's perfectly comfortable to keep it where I would normally put a mouse. There's no twisting or overextending. It's actually more comfortable than having it centered in front of me.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:03 AM on December 20, 2017

Looking at the pictures, it's also a more awkward problem because it assumes a "big" graphics tablet, but you're thinking about a small or medium one.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:11 AM on December 20, 2017

For my attempt at your setup I'd probably try using a wireless ergonomic or split keyboard and keeping it under the desk, either sitting on your lap or on a movable keyboard tray mounted under the desk that you can pull out or swing over when you need to type. Or store the keyboard completely hidden under the desk, or under a transparent desk surface (like so) if you're not a 100% touch-typist. Or put the monitor or tablet on a sturdy stand (like so or so) that you can slide the keyboard underneath when not using it. (The links above in parentheses are from Google image search, not specific product recommendations.)

If you'd like to test the setup with a cheap tablet, the Wirecutter pick for best drawing tablet for beginners is on sale for $55 (but check return policies). Obviously ignore this if you're planning to buy a pro tablet first thing.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:17 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you also do traditional media, what sort of work surface do you use at what height and angle? Every single one of those layouts in your link seemed full of ergonomic peril to me, since I'd expect my drawing surface to approximate the relative height and angle of a drafting table (and those are broadly variable to boot – I tended to have two work modes, an upright sketching mode and a more flat position I tended to get into for detail work). Do you use an external display or just the integrated display of the laptop? Where are you going to be looking when you draw?

What I've found as a developer using two big displays is that I basically want an "A" position where I do most of my work, and a "B" position where I may move my body and chair in order to optimize the second workflow. In your position I'd think about having a tablet station with an external display directly above the tablet, so you can rotate your chair and use the whole thing without twisting. But I don't know if you have the furniture, the room, or the budget.
posted by fedward at 9:32 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Looking more at your Ergonomics of Graphics Tablets link, many of the uncomfortable setups seem to be made more awkward by using all of the various devices on the same flat level. Like for the positions 2A and 2C you can move the keyboard to your lap or to an under-desk drawer/swivel stand; for 2G connect an extra wireless keyboard placed under the desk and move the laptop back; 3J use the wireless keyboard underneath again and/or raise the laptop on a riser, etc.

And on all of these setups, if you're not using your mouse to draw or do other fine detail work, you can connect a trackball and place it anywhere you want, since you're moving the trackball with your fingers instead of moving your mouse or hand. I LOVE my Logitech M570 wireless thumb trackball; I use it either held in my hand like a TV remote or placed on my lap. So far it's survived, uh, numerous times being dropped on the floor when I forgot it was in my lap as I stood up.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:49 AM on December 20, 2017

I do a variation on this. Rather than placing my keyboard directly behind the tablet, I have it slightly angled off to the left.
posted by xyzzy at 1:41 PM on December 20, 2017

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