How to Set Up Your Wacom Tablet for Painting

"I don't need a Wacom tablet.  I do everything with a mouse."

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard this, I'd be a wealthy woman!  The truth of the matter is - if you're doing all your retouching and painting with a mouse or trackpad, you are not creating to your maximum potential. 

The Wacom tablet is an integral part of being a successful Photoshop artist.  Just like your camera and lenses, it is a tool that you need to create the highest quality imagery possible.

Trying to retouch and paint with a mouse or trackpad is like trying to sign your name with a potato.  You can do it - but it would probably look a lot better and be a lot easier if you just used a pen.

Which tablet should you choose?

There are many tablets on the market and they come at every price point.  Don't make the mistake of thinking any tablet will do!

If you are on the path to becoming a photographic artist and you'd like to create either high-end portraiture or hand painted Photoshop art, you'll need a tablet that supports the correct tools.  Tablets like Huion, Wacom Bamboo, Wacom Art, etc simply do not have the proper functions to grow with your skills.

My tablet of choice is the Wacom Intuos Pro medium.  If budget is a concern, you can go with the small-sized tablet.  I discourage the large-sized tablet because it will require your motions to be excessive and the fatigue of your arm will be noticeable

Here is an Amazon link to the correct tablet (this is NOT an affiliate link.  I am simply posting because I get asked A LOT which tablet is the correct choice): https://www.amazon.com/Wacom-Digital-Graphic-Drawing-PTH660/dp/B01MQU5LW7/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=wacom+intuos+pro+medium&qid=1553599742&s=gateway&sr=8-3

How to set up your Wacom tablet...

First things first, download and install the Wacom Desktop Center (google will help you locate the download link if you don't already have it). This is the software that helps keep your driver up to date and will help you set up your tablet.  When you open the software, it looks like this...

Next, click on the "updates" link on the left and make sure your driver is up to date...

Once your driver is up to date, you can begin with the tablet setup.  Start by clicking on your tablet under "my devices" (in this instance, I'm using my Wacom Intuos Pro small - which is my travel tablet).  Then click on the orientation settings...

When you click on "Orientation Settings", it will automatically open your system preferences.  I work on a Mac, so PC users - your screen should be very similar but may look slightly different. 

I am right handed, so it is most convenient to have my express keys on the LEFT.  If they're on the right, my arm rests on the keys and causes all sorts of wonky behavior.  If you're a lefty - you'll likely want your express keys on the right for the same reason. You also have the option of putting the keys on the top or bottom, but that has never worked for me (doesn't mean it won't work for you though!) If you use your tablet with the express keys set in the wrong orientation, it will work backward.  Make sure the tablet sits on your desk in the same position as the picture on your system preferences screen.

Next is the mode option.  You'll want your tablet set in pen mode.  This will make each spot on the tablet correlate to a spot on your screen(s).  Most users find this to be the most intuitive setting.  If your tablet is set in mouse mode, you'll have to constantly reposition your hand and "drag" the cursor around as if you're using a mouse.  This is not the most efficient way to work.

You'll want the last two settings on this screen set to "full". Some users want to limit the amount of the tablet surface that they use, but for painting, this isn't ideal.  

Now go up to the top of the system preferences area and click "Touch".  Make sure the "Enable Touch Input" box is UN-checked. The touch settings being enabled essentially turns your tablet into a giant trackpad.  Since we rest our hands/wrists on the tablet surface as we retouch and paint, you can imagine the havoc this will wreak with your computer!  

Now click the functions option...

This is the area that will allow you to program the buttons on the side of your tablet to best suit your workflow.  Since this is something that varies based on individual preference, I'll just say that you can use the drop-down menu for each button to have it function how ever works best for you -- or you can choose not to use the buttons at all 🙂

Now that your Wacom Intuos Pro is fully set up, you will be well on your way to Wacom tablet -- and artistic -- success!

Happy painting!