Even art class has gone digital. That doesn’t mean that paint, chalk, charcoal, and colored pencils will go the way of the hieroglyph. It just means that devices
such as graphics tablets are giving students new ways to
express their creativity.
Graphics tablets—sometimes called digitized or drawing tablets—have been around a long time but only recently have become affordable enough for nonprofessional
doodlers to use. For less than the cost of a marching band
uniform, you can get the whole setup, which usually consists of a flat surface to draw on; drivers; graphics software;
and a stylus, pen, or puck that works with the tablet.
These tablets are not exclusively for drawing or painting. You can also use them to sign a digital document; edit
photos or other images; and circle, underline, or point out
something in a PowerPoint presentation. Some people
even use them as an ergonomic replacement for a mouse.
Graphics tablets allow users to draw or trace images onto
a pad just as they would with a pencil and paper. The image does not appear on the pad, but rather on the computer
screen or interactive whiteboard.
When considering graphics tablets for students, size
is probably the most important factor. Bigger is not necessarily better, as students need something that fits into
a backpack. Smaller versions are also more ergonomic
because they require less arm movement. The most common tablet sizes are 4 inches by 5 inches and 6 inches by
8 inches, but those dimensions apply to the drawing area
and not to the size of the entire device. This is important
to keep in mind because you don’t want to end up with a
tablet that’s too big for the workspace.
One of the specs to pay attention to is the level of pressure
sensitivity, which controls thickness, transparency, and
color. The higher the number, the more sensitive the pen.
Another thing to consider is bundled software. Most
graphics tablets support the more popular graphics programs, such as PhotoShop Elements and Corel Painter
Essentials, but not all come with this software. A costlier
tablet can be a better deal when packaged with sophisticated programs.
Graphics tablets will never replace canvas or drawing
pads. They aren’t great for painting the sunset at the beach.
But they do provide a great way to practice various art
methods and allow for widespread sharing of student work.
Company Graphics Tablets
—Diana Fingal is L&L’s senior editor.
40 Learning & Leading with Technology | November 2009