“Can you draw on a Chromebook? … Two years ago I would’ve said no, but things are changing!” — Brad Colbow
About the Chromebook
Just in case anyone needs an introduction, a Chromebook is a simplified laptop that runs Google’s Chrome OS. Their main app is, you guessed it, Chrome, and they’re intended as just vehicles for browsing the internet and using web services. But recent versions have introduced the ability to run Android apps via the Play Store, a subtle but game-changing feature for users of specialized programs like artists. Despite what you might have heard about them in past years, they’ve come a long way lately, with manufacturers increasingly rolling out midrange and even high-end ones with specs comparable to Windows laptops—and far faster actual performance since the OS consumes next-to-no system resources.
If you have a Chromebook, simply add a Chromebook-compatible Wacom product (a Wacom One creative display, or a Wacom Intuos or a One By Wacom pen tablet) and the right creative software, and your Chromebook can become a drawing tool that allows you to express your creativity and your unique style.
What specs will I need?
There are a limited range of art programs you can run on the Chromebook, all lighter than desktop image editors, but you want to go at least midrange so you don’t suffer from cursor lag when drawing. Generally, anything with at least an Intel Celeron and 4 GB of RAM should be enough to run any of the programs listed below.
What tablets can I use?
Not most, unfortunately. While any USB device will work with a Chromebook, their drivers won’t, meaning you won’t get any pressure sensitivity. …Except the latest generations of the One by Wacom, the Intuos, and the Wacom One, which work with plug-and-play with any version of Chrome OS after 90.
The One By Wacom
The flat tablet distilled to its essence. While it lacks the shortcut keys and eraser of higher-end flat tablets, its textured surface and excellent responsiveness make it feel as good to draw on as ones I’ve used that cost four times as much. Available in Small and Medium.
The Wacom Intuos
The gold standard for pen tablets since the 90’s. The Intuos Small is currently the only one to feature ChromeOS support, but its form factor is perfectly suited to the Chromebook’s 13-inch screen size, and it’s the most budget-friendly option anyway.
The Wacom One
Our entry-level drawing monitor, counterpart to the One by Wacom, offering the same peerless drawing experience as the Cintiq in a smaller, more budget-friendly package. Both the monitor and its pen are lightweight, making the screen excellent for travel or just limited-space setups, and the pen breezy to sketch and paint with. It has the side benefit of bringing the image closer, so you don’t have to view your painting on your laptop’s small screen from the distance past your keyboard.
And what programs?
The ability to run Android apps gives you far more choices than you’d have in-browser alone: too many to fit a real guide to them into this article. And for even more, they can also run Linux programs with some prep work.
Here are what I consider the top options, followed by a bunch more that might be just as good, but that I just haven’t tried.
Clip Studio Paint: The mobile version is somewhat limited compared to the desktop, but CSP in any form is still, in my personal opinion, the GOAT art program. (Just don’t tell Adobe.) Many Chromebooks come with several free months of CSP—but in case yours doesn’t, the Wacom One does too!
Autodesk Sketchbook: Simple, lightweight, app famous for its drawing tools.
Krita: Differentiates itself from the others in that it’s not a phone app, but a whole “desktop-class” art program that’s merely installed through Play Store.
GIMP: Also a full-featured program, but for Linux. Capable, if awkward: can do anything Photoshop can, just not as fast.
Magma Studio: The pro version of wildly popular browser-based painting app Aggie.io, upgrading it with far more brushes and robust team-management features allowing up to thirty people to work side-by-side.
Three artists collaborate in Magma Studio.
That’s 25 in total. So if there’s anything stopping you from drawing on your Chromebook, it won’t be a lack of options.
For those of you who are interested in trying a different tablet—perhaps one you already own—you can check out the Linux Wacom Project, an open-source initiative dedicated to making Wacom drivers run on Linux, and by extension, Chrome OS. It’ll take some technical knowledge to set up, but if you still dream of someday using that 32-inch Cintiq with your old Chromebook, maybe you can work it out.
And whichever tablet, or method of using it, you decide to try, you can start by visiting the Wacom eStore.