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Best graphics tablet 2021: The best tablets for design, photo-editing and illustration this Black Friday

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Paint, draw and retouch like a pro with the best graphics tablets and pen displays

When you’re drawing, painting or retouching photos on a computer, a mouse is only going to get you so far. Using a touchscreen might be better but only if equipped with a high-end stylus. That’s why most digital artists and creatives reach first for a graphics tablet. Not only does a graphics tablet mimic traditional ways of working but it also allows you to work with a speed and precision that you’ll struggle to match in any other way.

However, tablets can be expensive, with prices rising up to £400 or more for pro-level models. What’s more, we’re now seeing hybrid “pen display” devices that are both a tablet and a screen, and while these can be amazing, the prices rise to some intimidating levels. So, before you buy a graphics tablet, you need to have a clear idea of exactly what you need.

Save over £50 on the Wacom Intuos M Bluetooth this Black Friday

Our favourite wireless graphic tablet is at its joint-lowest price on Amazon for Black Friday. The Wacom Intuos M Bluetooth has a battery life of roughly 15 hours and its accuracy is streets ahead of the similarly priced wireless competition. With nearly £60 off, this is a stonking deal. Amazon Was £179 Now £120 Buy Now

The Wacom Intuos Pro S is £41 cheaper on Amazon for Black Friday

As you'll see when you scroll further down the page, the Wacom Intuos Pro S is our favourite graphics tablet for professionals because its tracking, pressure and tilt are all nearly perfect. This is an excellent 21% saving on the small model and the medium-sized version is also £71 cheaper. Amazon Was £200 Now £159 Buy Now

Save a GIGANTIC £100 on the Wacom One Creative Pen Display this Black Friday

Our favourite all-round pen display is at its lowest price ever on Amazon, plunging 28% from £360 to £260. The 13.3in screen is bright and sharp with tracking good enough for intricate linework, brush strokes and calligraphy. It's a truly impressive deal that's likely to be very popular so it's worth taking advantage of it as soon as possible. Amazon Was £360 Now £260 Buy Now


Best graphics tablet: At a glance


How to choose the best graphics tablet for you

While there are some technical differences, most graphics tablets work in the same way. The drawing area of the tablet creates a magnetic field, and the pen draws on this to produce its own magnetic field, which is tracked by the sensors in the tablet. Through this, the tablet knows where the pen is, the velocity of its movement and how hard the tip is being pressed against the board. It can even detect the angle at which the pen is being held.

The key things here are the size of the tablet, its resolution and how sensitive it is to pressure. Tablets usually come in sizes where the active drawing area ranges from slightly smaller than an A5 page to slightly larger than A4. The resolution affects how sensitive it is to the pen’s position and movement within that area, and is usually talked about in terms of lines-per-inch (the higher the better). 

As for pressure sensitivity, you’ll see this described in terms of levels. Don’t get too hung up on the numbers, though; while you’ll see tablets with 2048 levels and tablets with 8192 levels of sensitivity, you may or may not need the higher level – it all depends on your drawing style.

Higher-end tablets also offer tilt sensitivity, where they can track the angle of the pen and use this to vary the thickness and intensity of the line – ideal for sweeping brushwork or interesting calligraphy effects. The manufacturers will usually specify the level of tilt sensitivity; 60 levels means it can track 60 different degrees of tilt.

Are there any other features worth looking out for?

A lot of people focus on the tablet but forget the pen, which is a big mistake when you’re spending a lot of time working on your art. Lightweight pens often feel less natural and are harder to work with than a heavier, chunkier pen, and what’s fine to use for an hour or so could cause you some major discomfort over a long working day. 

Most tablets also incorporate a range of hotkeys, which you can program for specific functions in your favourite software. As long as you can remember what each one does, these can make it faster and more natural to switch between different presets or different tools. Some even include a dial you can use to adjust intensity settings or line weights. 

While most tablets work through a simple USB cable, there are some variants that use a Bluetooth wireless connection. That’s fine if you’re keen to avoid cable clutter or work with a laptop where ports are in short supply but you’ll either have to keep the tablet stocked with batteries or plug it in for an occasional recharge.

What about pen displays?

Pen displays are coming in at the high-end of the market and these effectively combine a graphics tablet with a secondary screen. The big plus is that you can see what you’re working on as you’re drawing on the drawing surface – a bit like when you’re drawing with pencil or ink and paper. Also, you can have reference images or toolbars open on your main screen, then keep the tablet screen clear for working. This can be brilliant, but you may find yourself limited by the size or resolution of the built-in screen so it’s not necessarily the best idea for everyone.

Read next: The best mice to buy

The best graphics tablets to buy

1. Huion H420: The best budget graphics tablet

Price: £27 | Buy now from Amazon

There’s not a whole lot to this tablet but it’s a great entry-level device. With an active surface measuring just 102 x 57mm it’s not great for really detailed work but combine the high resolution with a pen that supports 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity and you can still create quite sophisticated work. 

The pen is thick and comfortable to hold and while it uses a AAA battery this should last you for hundreds of hours of use. The feel of pen on the surface is surprisingly good for such a cheap device, with just the right amount of drag, and the accuracy is spot on. If you’re serious about your art or design work you’ll want something bigger but this compact, lightweight option is just fine for people starting out. 

Key specs – Working area: 102 x 57mm; Resolution: 4000 LPI; Pressure sensitivity: 2,048 levels; Tilt Sensitivity: N/A; Hotkeys: 3 buttons; Connection: USB; Size: 176 x 112 x 7.5mm; Weight: 132g

2. XP-Pen Deco 01 v2: The best value graphics tablet

Price: £59 | Buy now from Amazon

This cut-price rival to the Wacom Intuos line packs in a lot of technology for an incredible price. Not only do you get a tablet with a 5080 LPI resolution but the pen supports 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity and 60 levels of tilt, which, with Wacom,  you’d have to move up to the Intuos Pro line to get. There’s also a generous 259 x 159mm working area, and the feel of the pen on the surface is second only to the Intuos Pro.

Tracking is nigh-on perfect, and our artist was able to work with sophisticated brush and pen effects, giving illustrations a distinctive, hand-drawn style. What’s more, the Deco O1 v2 also fits in eight programmable buttons for switching between tools or preset styles. Think you can’t expect miracles from a £60 tablet? Think again.

Key specs – Working area: 254 x 159mm; Resolution: 5080 LPI; Pressure sensitivity: 8,192 levels; Tilt Sensitivity: 60 levels; Hotkeys: 8 buttons; Connection: USB; Size: 351 x 217 x 8mm; Weight: 590g

3. Wacom Intuos M Bluetooth: The best wireless graphics tablet

Price: £179 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’d like to minimise the cables trailing across your desktop, the Intuos M is a great option. It connects via Bluetooth rather than a USB cable, which means you only need to hook it up when the tablet needs charging; the built-in battery lasts around 15 hours. The build quality is up to Wacom’s usual high standards and the precision and accuracy of the tracking is a step ahead of most of the budget competition. Where some tablets end up with too much glide or drag across the surface, the Intuos gets the balance right.

In fact, our only complaints are that there’s no tilt sensitivity (reserved for the Intuos Pro) and that the supplied pen is thin and lightweight, which might not suit some users if they’re working all-day-long. If that doesn’t bother you or you can budget for a replacement, then buy away.

Key specs – Working area: 216 x 135mm; Resolution: 2540 LPI; Pressure sensitivity: 4,096 levels; Tilt Sensitivity: N/A; Hotkeys: 4 buttons; Connection: USB/Bluetooth 4.2; Size: 200 x 264 x 9mm; Weight: 410g

4. Wacom Intuos Pro S: The best graphics tablet for pros

Price: £197 | Buy now from Amazon

The Intuos Pro range is the choice of many working illustrators and design professionals, and once you’ve used one it’s not hard to see why. The tracking of pen movement, tilt and pressure is near-perfect, removing any barriers between what you mean to draw or paint and what turns up on the screen. Wacom also seems to have perfected the feel of the pen on the surface, so it glides across with just a hint of friction.

It says a lot that our test illustrator is used to the old medium version of this tablet, but came to prefer the new small version over a couple of hours of use. If you need more space than the 6.2 x 3.9in active area, then you can upgrade to the medium (£315) or large (£409) models. Throw in six buttons and a programmable “touchring” dial, and you have the ideal tool for professional artists or anyone wanting pixel-perfect precision from a tablet and pen.

Key specs – Working area: 160 x 100mm; Resolution: 5080 LPI; Pressure sensitivity: 8,192 levels; Tilt Sensitivity: 60 levels; Hotkeys: 6 buttons and touchring; Connection: USB; Size: 269 x 170 x 8mm; Weight: 660g

5. XP-Pen Artist 12: The best value pen display

Price: £200 | Buy now from Amazon

When you’re getting an 11.6in pen display for under £200 you have to look past a few shortcomings. Here the main one is a slightly unruly setup involving two USB ports and one HDMI output on your laptop or PC, resulting in a mess of thick cables linking the two and a device that doesn’t really work on any desktop system without two video outputs. We’d also like it if the built-in display had a little more punch and more accurate colours – tests show it falling short of 100% SRGB – and that the pen supported tilt.

Otherwise, however, this is an effective device. Tracking is excellent, the pressure sensitivity works well and, while the pen is on the thin and light side, it’s still pretty comfortable. It also comes in a case with a selection of replacement nibs. Meanwhile, on the display you get six customisable buttons and a glowing dial. The Artist 12 isn’t as strong a pen display as the Wacom One, but then it is over £150 cheaper. It’s a credible alternative for cash-strapped artists and designers.

Key specs – Working area: 256 x 144mm; Resolution: 5080 LPI; Display Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Pressure sensitivity: 8,192 levels; Tilt Sensitivity: N/A; Hotkeys: 6 buttons and 1 dial; Connection: 1 x USB, 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB power supply; Size: 364 x 218 x 9mm; Weight: 900g

6. Wacom One Creative Pen Display: The best all-round pen display

Price: £381 | Buy now from Amazon

Where Wacom’s Cintiq range is aimed at creative professionals, the Wacom One is designed for hobbyists and artists. There are signs of this in the lower resolution of the drawing surface and a drop in the pressure sensitivity of the pen but, frankly, this pen display is good enough for anyone to use. The 13.3in screen size hits the perfect balance between giving you enough screen to see what you’re doing and not occupying half your desk and it’s also a good match for the full HD display resolution.

What’s more, the screen is a major step up in quality from the XP-Pen Artist 12; it’s brighter and sharper with better colour accuracy. The overall feel and tracking is also better and with tilt sensitivity you can get some impressive hand-drawn linework and calligraphy effects, not to mention more realistic brush strokes if you’re simulating pastels, charcoal or paint. You still need to be running on a laptop or have a secondary HDMI output to get it up and running, but the Wacom One’s cable management minimises the clutter. And while the pen is thinner than the pen on the Cintiq, it still feels good in the hand. Unless you’re a demanding graphics pro, this is the pen display to buy. 

Key specs – Working area: 294 x 166mm; Resolution: 2540 LPI; Display Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Pressure sensitivity: 4,096 levels; Tilt Sensitivity: 60 levels; Hotkeys: None; Connection: 1x USB, 1 x HDMI, USB power supply; Size: 225 x 357 x 15mm; Weight: 1kg

7. Wacom Cintiq 16: The best professional pen display

Price: £513 | Buy now from Amazon

If you want to work over a larger canvas, the Cintiq 16 is about as big as graphics tablets and pen displays get. The 15.6in panel matches the size of many performance laptops and mobile workstations and, while the full HD resolution means it isn’t as sharp as the displays on premium laptops and tablets, it’s still perfectly adequate for graphics work. Our testers found the bigger size also made it easier to select tools and work on more detailed images, so what you lose in desktop space you gain in usability.

This is very much a professional device, as reflected in higher pressure sensitivity, with up to 8192 levels and a higher 5080 LPI  tablet resolution, and the tracking and precision is hard to fault. The greater size and power draw of the display also necessitates a seperate power supply, not to mention some pretty chunky cabling. Luckily, the design of the cabling, with just one connector going into the tablet itself, minimises the hassle. Throw in an excellent, ergonomic pen and sturdy legs for a comfortable tilt, and you’ve got a superb pen display for creative professionals.

Key specs – Working area: 345 x 194mm; Resolution: 5080 LPI; Display Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Pressure sensitivity: 8,192 levels; Tilt Sensitivity: 60 levels; Hotkeys: None; Connection: 1x USB, 1 x HDMI; Size: 410 x 265 x 17.5mm; Weight: 1.5kg