5 things you can only do in Photoshop with a tablet - Image 2 870x350

5 things you can only do in Photoshop with a tablet

If you use Photoshop, you’re likely visiting PhotoshopCAFE anytime you need a tutorial or want to keep up on Photoshop news. We had a question about Photoshop so we hit up the brains behind the site, Colin Smith, for the answer. Our question? What are five things you can only do in Photoshop if you have a pen tablet? Check out @KiwiColin’s answers below. Learn more about the Intuos tablet here.

Photoshop is the industry standard tool that is used in almost every corner of the creative arts industry. Photographers use it for retouching photographs (no one “airbrushes” models into perfection anymore. Comic book artists and illustrators, craft their lifelike illustrations by using Photoshop’s powerful brush engine.  Graphic designers lean on Photoshop to produce the ads that hypnotize and transform the masses into loyal brand customers. Visual effects in movies, elements for video, motion graphics, sketches, paintings and more. Photoshop has taken the world by storm and I have been fortunate to be riding the wave since the early days of Photoshop. I began using Photoshop to help me make a living, now it’s at the very center of what I do.

One tool that has been my trusted companion on this journey is my Wacom tablet. I often tell people that it’s the one piece of hardware that’s essential if you want to get the most from Photoshop. I can’t imagine working without a tablet. Why do I make such a bold claim? What’s so special about a tablet? Let me suggest 5 things that you can only do in Photoshop with a tablet.

1. Painting on Adjustments.

The first thing is Pen Pressure. There are several tools in Photoshop that can be controlled by pen pressure. Most of the brushes in Photoshop work with this action. Press harder and your line become thicker, or thinner if you ease up on the pressure. Opacity is another, and the one that I use the most. When retouching, I can vary the pressure and paint on adjustments to Photographs, precisely where I want the adjustments and exactly how much I want. You are literally painting on your adjustments. It’s impossible to get this much control without Pen pressure. This can be colorizing, dodging and burning, or whatever you need, by using the masks that are build into the adjustment layers,


2. Digital Painting

When you open the brush panel, you’ll see a lot of options that can be changed using pen pressure, pen tilt and rotation. By leveraging these very natural actions, you can have immense control over how Photoshop’s brushes work. Digital painting can have a very natural and lifelike feel, varying the mix of colors, the thickness of the brush and so much more. Holding a pen in your hand is much more comfortable and natural than holding a mouse.

3. Programmable Express keys

So many functions can be controlled by using the express keys on a tablet. These can be as simple as selecting the brush panel and can be programmed to do complex tasks such as create a new inverted layer mask. If you can do it with keyboard shortcuts, it can be programmed as an express key action. Not only that, but you can have a whole set of express keys for each program that you run on your computer. The tablet knows which program you are using and changes the express keys accordingly.

4. Touch rings

Similar to express keys, the touch rings (or strips if you are using a Cintiq 22 or 24) are also programmable. Where they differ is how you use them. Rather than press a button, you rotate your finger, like a dial, or slide like a dimmer switch. This kind of movement is a natural fit for changing the brush size dynamically, or rotating the canvas, or zooming in our out of an image. This really speeds up productivity and becomes second nature very quickly.

5. Multitouch

Many of the Wacom tablets are multi touch enabled. This means that doing things like moving around a large image, rotating the canvas and zooming in and out are as natural as pushing a piece of paper around. Just tune into the available multi touch gestures. If you have a laptop with a multi touch track pad you will know what I mean. The great thing with the tablet, is that you get all of these gestures on any computer. As a bonus, you can customize the gestures to do different things and work the way you want.

In a nutshell it comes down to a more natural way of working than with a mouse on a computer. You can control the pen and your canvas just like you would tactile objects in the real-world, it’s that natural.  The pressure sensitivity lets you work with a level of precision that just isn’t possible any other way. These are some of the reasons, I can’t use Photoshop without my tablet.

© All images by Colin Smith | PhotoshopCAFE.com

Colin Smith is founder of PhotoshopCAFE, which has received over 30 million visitors. Colin has Authored 19 books. He has won numerous awards including 3 Guru awards. He's been nominated for the Photoshop Hall of Fame twice. Colin is a regular columnist for Photoshop User Magazine. He's been featured in almost every major imaging magazine, and is in high demand as a speaker at major industry events including WPPI, Photoshop World, Siggraph, PMA and Flash Forward. He consults such companies as ABC Disney, Apple and Adobe. He can be found online and at most social networks as Kiwicolin.