Beginner Drawing Tablet Recommendation? (difficulty: Chromebook)
March 6, 2020 6:52 AM   Subscribe

My daughter is interested in doing more digital art. She has a Chromebook and an iPad and a birthday coming up. So I started looking into tablets (like Wacom) and immediately found myself in over my head with potential dependencies and pros/cons, given the technology we already have at home. What should I get for her?

I am trying to find a straightforward beginner's digital drawing tool for my tween daughter. She has an HP Chromebook with touchscreen and an iPad (5th gen). She is not a pro - it needs to be simple and fun to use, nearly plug-and-play. Latest question in this vein is 2011 so I'm hoping the Hivemind has some updated ideas.

As far as I can tell, there are four main approaches we can take. Please help me choose one and (if possible) recommend a specific technology!!

Plan A: I know there are a few "standalone" tablets that supposedly don't require laptop access. Is this a good plan and, if so, any specific recommendations for a beginner?

Plan B: There are a few tablets apparently that work with the Chromebook, but these may not be best for a beginner...?

Plan C: We could get a tablet that hooks up to my Macbook Air instead of her Chromebook. Not ideal but workable. Still don't know which one would be best.

Plan D: I would consider recommendations for cool drawing apps that work with the Chromebook and/or iPad that she already has.

Plan E: ... I don't know, but I'm open to your expertise!
posted by nkknkk to Technology (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's a bummer that it looks like the 5th Gen iPad is not compatible with the Apple Pencil, because that would be my primary recommendation. (Any chance that selling her existing iPad and buying a used iPad that would be compatible with Apple Pencil would be on the table?)

Even without an AP, Procreate for $9.99 would be a great investment. The apps Concepts and Adobe Fresco are also pretty good, the former for a color palette from Comic markers and the latter for really the first genuinely nice watercolor functionality. But definitely Procreate.
posted by past unusual at 7:10 AM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

As an enthusiastic amateur, I love my Apple Pencil, though looks like your iPad is one generation too old for that. (I wouldn't bother with even a Bluetooth stylus. They are not great and would be really frustrating for a kid to deal with. The Pencil is just leaps and bounds better.) Sorry if this advice is useless because you're not interested in upgrading the iPad, but if it turns out you can get your hands on a 6th gen iPad and a 1st generation Pencil for cheap....

I use Autodesk Sketchbook on my iPad.
posted by BrashTech at 7:11 AM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

You don't mention your budget, so few options:

A) Existing iPad with a "dumb" stylus is still a great tool and will only cost you about $15

B) Buy a 1st gen Apple Pencil and one of the previous iPads on the compatibility list here

C) go to the second column on the linked page and spend a big wad of cash on the latest iPad Pro/ 2nd gen pencil.

I think B would give you the most bang for buck (imagining this is a gift). The best app BY FAR is Procreate. It's optimized beautifully for the iPad and Apple Pencil.

That should be all she needs. I've had slate/tablet laptops and several Cintiqs with MacBooks but for my own drawing, it's the iPad(pro) and 1st gen pencil. Fantastic.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:12 AM on March 6, 2020

Response by poster: Not to thread-sit but upgrading the iPad so it can use Apple Pencil is a possibility... but only if there's not a good tablet out there that meets our needs.
posted by nkknkk at 7:13 AM on March 6, 2020

The iPad/Apple Pencil/Procreate is head and shoulders above anything else out there. Other drawing tablets come and go...and to a tween, would probably feel like an off brand compromise.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:16 AM on March 6, 2020 [9 favorites]

...just occurred to me that when you said tablets, you might be thinking of the Wacom Intuos or similar to be paired with the chrome book. I've used them for years but can’t recommend them for drawing....get the newer iPad and 1st gen pencil. I also have a male to female lightning cord to charge the pencil because having to put the pencil directly into the bottom of the iPad is a design atrocity.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:36 AM on March 6, 2020

My recommendation as a very light hobbyist in digital art would be a Microsoft Surface Pro. Even a refurbished older model would be a fine option (mine is a 7-year-old 1st generation model that I still use all the time). Lots of Windows software to choose from, both free and commercial, for sketching, painting, animating, or whatever else your daughter might be interested in. There is also a fairly large online community of people who use Surfaces for art. Maybe not as "hip" as the Apple alternatives, but definitely worth considering.
posted by rudism at 7:40 AM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have a teen (14) in the house that does digital art on the iPad and produces some really good stuff. I have also toyed with the iPad and find it a superior experience to other tablets, TBH. She has improved in her art in leaps and bounds using Procreate.

Tried a Microsoft Surface a few years ago and did not love it. The pen was laggy compared to the iPad. That may have changed with newer versions, this was at least two years ago. But having tried several Wacoms and other tablets with styluses and so forth, I have to give it to Apple for getting it very right with the Pencil and iPads.
posted by jzb at 7:51 AM on March 6, 2020

Best answer: My 11 y/o wanted to do more work digital art. We got her an iPad with Procreate and a generic $20 version of the Apple Pen. The stuff she’s been able to make is pretty awesome. When I was researching the topic it seems like the plug in tablets are generally junk unless you get a really high end one and no one likes drawing without being able to see as they go so the standalone pens which require you to look at your hand and then the screen were out.

Don’t regret my purchase at all.
posted by MadMadam at 7:55 AM on March 6, 2020

Jumping on to agree with folks who recommended upgrading the iPad, getting an Apple Pencil, and buying the $10 Procreate app. You can do DO MUCH with this setup! And there are tons of Procreate tutorials on YouTube if she wants to learn all the fun tricks.
posted by sucre at 7:58 AM on March 6, 2020

Best answer: I do digital art and have a Wacom tablet as well as an iPad Pro with Pencil 2 and Procreate. My teenage daughter is serious about art and I got her a Wacom tablet some years back to use with her Windows laptop, then got her an iPad Air with Pencil 1 and Procreate last year. I find the iPad/Pencil combination to be far superior as an experience for creating art than the Wacom tablet, and my daughter has mostly switched over as well. (She still uses the Wacom tablet for animation using the apps she has on the laptop.)
posted by yhlee at 8:08 AM on March 6, 2020

Response by poster: The Hivemind has spoken! I marked as "best answer" those who recommended the ApplePencil / iPad setup specifically for kids but you all together have definitely shown me the way to proceed. As I review, I admit I'm not sad about not having a whole different device/software package to reckon with. Plus now I'll get her "old" iPad. :) Thank you!
posted by nkknkk at 8:24 AM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

I hate recommending Amazon...but I do. I picked up a refurbished iPad pro and saved like $500. Brand new, as far as I can tell...and their protection plan is better (and cheaper) than covers screen replacement without a surcharge. Buying refurb is a great way to go up a model or two and stay in the same budget.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:18 AM on March 6, 2020

Your question looks like it's been answered, but I'm putting some graphics tablet advice here for anyone else looking for something similar. For tablets of the sort that you plug into a computer and use, Wacom tablets are the industry standard, and are priced accordingly. (Wacom also has some of the world's worst customer service in my experience.) You can get other tablets by Huion and Monoprice that are significantly cheaper, and I've used a number of them but:

1) Non-Wacom tablets and tablet drivers are irritatingly finicky and I would not suggest that someone who is not used to troubleshooting technical stuff use them because in my experience, every other time you use them you're in for a few minutes of turning on and off, unplugging and replugging cables or, in extreme circumstances, reinstalling the tablet driver every time you reboot.

2) Wacom tablet drivers are not as bad, but they're still not great. If you have any problems, start by reinstalling or upgrading the tablet driver. Graphics tablets are as finicky as printers, and I've never experienced a 100% trouble-free one.

3) I have never had a Wacom tablet die on me. I've replaced them because they didn't suit my needs any longer, but not because they died. My Huion and Monoprice tablets eventually died. I got my money's worth from them, though, so I don't have a problem with that (except for the annoyance factor of realizing your tablet is dead and you have a deadline).
posted by telophase at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you've got your answer. However, for the sake of additional anecdata:

We were in pretty much exactly this situation last year (teen kid, avid digital artist w/Procreate, iPad version had just missed the boat re: Pencil) Our household has an HP desktop, though. We ended up getting a Huion tablet hooked up to the desktop and my daughter has used it avidly, probably daily, since June. Just last week something started going wonky with the connectivity--I've got a slight hope that a new cable will help, but we'll probably need to figure out a replacement. Guess that's in line with telophase's observation about lack of durability of the Huion products?
posted by Sublimity at 4:09 AM on March 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

To mirror what sexyrobot said, I found an old Wacom Intuos GD-0608-U tablet in a thrift store with its original stylus that even had an eraser. I've had it for 15 years and only had to reinstall the drivers (which are still at Wacom) once. I plug into my PC and pull up Adobe or even the installed Windows Paint or 3D. I'm not professional, but I've created some pretty simple but effective graphics with it and I've never had a problem with it.
posted by CollectiveMind at 11:50 AM on March 7, 2020

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