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Wacom for Video Post-Production: The Hidden Manual Part 2

by Aaron Williams

I’ve already written about my experience switching to a Wacom tablet and what setup and configuration worked best for me after a lot of experimentation, but I also wanted to relate my experiences actually using a Wacom tablet in my day-to-day work as a video editor, motion graphics artist, and colorist. So in part two of my “Hidden Manual,” here are a couple things I noticed of when using a Wacom tablet in my typical applications, plus some details on my experience and changing workflows since I moved to a tablet.


Premiere Pro

In my daily use, I’ve become even more keyboard focused in my editing. That’s not to say that the Wacom gets in the way. On the contrary, making adjustments with the pen is far more fluid and natural than with a mouse, and I really enjoy it when it comes time to do something cursor heavy. What I’ve found is that the bigger effort required to switch from the tablet to heavy keyboard and back has made me rely on the keyboard more, since I tend to be a keyboard-based editor anyway. I would assume that mouse-based editors would gravitate more towards the tablet. Both are great, the tablet just seems to make me lean more towards one rather than the other.

On a practical side, “Pan/Scroll” in Premiere Pro works, but can get a little funky/glitchy in the timeline panel sometimes. Also, adjusting audio levels using the keyframes/rubber-bands in the timeline tracks isn’t great. It seems like a limitation of Premiere that it only jumps in larger increments. With a mouse, you can hold various modifier keys to increase or decrease the volume change as you drag; for some reason, these modifiers don’t work with a tablet. You’ll find yourself using precision mode a lot.



Also, if you use any Red Giant Color Suite plugins, they’re very finicky with a tablet. Colorista II (and the free version as well) is very touchy/buggy. I’d highly recommend using the separate hue and saturation control instead of dragging in the offset wheel. If you do drag in the wheel, use small strokes, or just tap exactly where you want it to go.

After Effects

Using a Wacom in After Effects is a pleasure, no joke. If you’re doing a lot of rotoscoping or matte painting, you might even find it life-changing. After taking into consideration the “Pan/Scroll” to “space” button assignment I mentioned above, just about every aspect of After Effects is made better with a tablet, with one exception: Selecting layers in the timeline. As you start out, you will accidentally slip or slide layers in time. Often you won’t even notice, because it’ll only be by a few frames. I highly recommend you select layers by clicking the name on the left to avoid this.




Photoshop & Illustrator

Wacom tablets were made for Illustrator and Photoshop, so it should come as no surprise that they work amazingly well together. The only thing to be aware of is that the Wacom driver automatically comes with special presets for these two apps, so don’t be freaked out when your regular button assignments don’t work. Adapt or modify them as needed, then enjoy!

DaVinci Resolve

It’s no replacement for a real set of color grading panels, but a Wacom tablet actually works amazingly well in Resolve. It makes adjusting the hue-offset wheels much more intuitive, makes masking and rotoscoping more fluid, makes linking nodes better, etc. Precision mode in particular comes in handy on the hue-offsets. My only recommendation would be to turn off “Allow Mouse to Zoom” in the viewer, or you’ll be accidentally zooming in and out like crazy all the time.




Much like Colorista II, I’d recommend using small strokes instead of dragging in SpeedGrade, or just type in numbers where you can. It’s definitely possible to use a Wacom with SpeedGrade, but you might want to save yourself some hassle by turning on multi-touch and working with it trackpad-style.

The Finder

There’s not much for the Finder, except be aware of not letting your pen come up off the tablet when dragging files around; you might accidentally drop them somewhere you didn’t mean to drop them. It’s easy to avoid, just pay attention when dragging.

In Daily Use

To start wrapping things up, here are some general observations I’ve had from the process of transitioning to exclusively using one as my mouse:

What Works Well

I work faster; much faster, actually. I feel way more efficient (especially in After Effects and Premiere). I don’t really know how to objectively explain it, but trust me: I work faster with my Wacom than I ever did with a mouse. I don’t miss my mouse. At all.

Using a Wacom has almost completely eliminated fatigue and strain in my hand. My fingers used to get crampy and achey after gripping the mouse all day, but not so with the pen, and my wrist feels amazing. There was a little hand fatigue when I first switched, but it pretty much went away after a week or so of solid use. The only strain that remained longer was the typing strain mentioned above, until I decided to just put the pen down completely when doing extended typing.

What Will Be Frustrating At First

Scrolling. OS X makes the scroll bars crazy small, plus they vanish (yes, I know you can turn that off; they’re still annoying)! It drove me nuts until I dug into the settings and found the Pan/Scroll option. After that, the problem was pretty much solved.

Tap/click precision was a hassle at first. I found myself lifting up for a bigger tap, which meant that when I put the pen down on the tablet, it was further to the left (I’m right handed) from my initial position/target. The solution? Keep the pen closer to the tablet when moving around, and don’t lift up much when tapping/clicking. It doesn’t take long to adjust to this issue.

A lot of applications have tiny clickable areas on their UI elements (value fields in After Effects being a good example). I tried being super precise at first, but eventually figured out that I was better off trusting my hand to do what felt/looked right instead of hovering and being overly precise with my clicks. Don’t stress too much about this. Try to work at a fluid pace/movement, and you’ll be surprised how rarely you miss your target.

Navigating in a 1:1 space was weird at first, having come from a mouse. I honestly think that’s what freaks my coworkers out the most when they use my computer. Give it time, and your muscle memory will build up. I know right where to put my pen to get to the dock or the menu bar or wherever else I want to go. It takes time to get the computer screen mapped into your brain-to-hand control.

Wacom Challenges

Typing is still challenging. I’ve settled on a solution that doesn’t hurt my hand, but I’m still not happy with putting the pen down and having to pick it back up. I’ve tried the tricks, gadgets, and grips recommended, but none of them felt right. Ergonomic geniuses, go make this better!

This may just be me, but I always walk off with Wacom pen and leave it at someone else’s desk. I’m trying to make myself put it in my pocket when I walk off with it, but I find myself always looking for my pen after I step away from my desk. Your mileage may vary.

Specifically with the Intuos Pro Large, desk space is hard to come by. I don’t regret buying the large, but I’m not going to say it doesn’t get in the way sometimes. And the fact that it won’t fit into my laptop bag is a pain. I have to buy a completely separate case just for it.

I’ve told my experiences with the switch from mouse to Wacom. For those considering doing the same, I’d pose a challenge:

The Wacom Challenge!

For one month, put your mouse away and only use the Wacom tablet. Don’t turn on multi-touch or use it as a trackpad for at least two weeks.

One note: when I say “put your mouse away,” I don’t mean put your mouse off to the side; I mean away, as in placed in a drawer and turned off.

This challenge will make you give the tablet a fair chance before deciding whether or not to go back to a mouse for most of your work. I made myself go through this, and I never went back to my mouse.

For those of you in the process of switching (or thinking of doing so), I hope this has helped you overcome some of the little frustrations and challenges that you’ve encountered, and I hope you enjoy using your tablet as much as I do (a lot)!