Learning how to use a Wacom tablet to design products for my Etsy store

December 29, 2022
For the past year, I’ve been running Etsy shops selling print-on-demand items like mugs, tote bags, stickers, and shirts with my designs. I’m disabled, and I liked the idea of having both a creative outlet and a supplemental income because my medical bills are high.

I’ve always loved drawing, coloring, and playing around with graphic design software, especially because designing was something I could do on my laptop with relatively little energy even when I was too sick to do much else. But I knew I would never have the dexterity or energy to physically print my designs on products. When I found out that print-on-demand was an option, I launched a store by throwing every product idea I had up and seeing what stuck. One of my best sellers was corgi Christmas wrapping paper!

rodas illustrations
Still, to date my designs have been fairly limited. I mostly make text-based t-shirts or simple custom designs, often using free vector files to create something new and original. This is partially because I typically worked with a mouse to meticulously edit and draw. I often impressed my coworkers with how precise I could be with a mouse, and they were even more shocked when they found out that I am left-handed and was working with a right-handed mouse! When I developed a chronic illness, however, everything changed.

I have Lupus, which means my immune systems fights my joints as if my own cells were infectious invaders. I often experience hand pain and stiffness, and I can’t be as precise with a mouse anymore.

rodas illustrations
I manage the best I can, and I still enjoy making bold statements with text, or, for example, customizing some basic vector files of dogs into a festive Christmas design of puppies tangled in lights and ribbon. Still, sometimes I want that feeling of taking the idea in my head and fully bringing it to life from scratch — and that’s hard to do when your hands have a hard time precisely controlling a mouse. Or, at least, that’s what I thought!

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I first encountered a Wacom tablet in college. My roommate, who was studying design, would work on projects with a pen that seemed to magically control a cursor on screen. I wondered if using a Wacom tablet could allow me to create without causing the same hand fatigue as a mouse, so I decided to give it a try. The Wacom Intuos medium wireless pen tablet was perfect for me, because it’s portable and has a pretty affordable price for beginners like me who are nervous to try something new.

It was really easy to connect the tablet to my laptop via Bluetooth, but I admit that I did have some difficulties getting the software running. Wacom’s online chat help system was really helpful, however, and they were able to walk me through various steps to check my laptop and the tablet’s settings, and we identified and resolved the issue. I registered the tablet, downloaded the free trials of included software, and got started!

My first reaction to trying out the Wacom Intuos was that I loved how the pen was pressure responsive, and using it felt really natural. I had tried a pen on an iPad before, and I didn’t have the same experience. That felt more like using a stylus on a screen with very little friction on the glass, making it harder to control and add smaller details. The Intuos tablet felt more like I was writing on a piece of paper set on a desk, like when I used to doodle in notebooks.

I am left-handed and am used to using a right-handed mouse because the computer labs I had access to in school as a child only had right-handed options. So I did have a bit of a learning curve coordinating my hand with what I was seeing on the screen. My right hand already seemed to understand that if I move a mouse it will respond on the screen, but trying this with my left hand and the Intuos pen was completely new.

I started out by opening a blank file in Adobe Photoshop, which was immediately compatible with the Wacom Intuos, and just spent time drawing silly doodles and writing out words until I started to get the hang of it.

Once it clicked, it really felt like second nature, as if I was just drawing on paper! The fact that I was holding a pen instead of a mouse meant I didn’t need to use individual fingers to scroll or click. This made the entire experience so much more comfortable for me, given my disability. It was time to test out the tablet by drawing something that I would never be able to do with a mouse : my dog!

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rodas illustrations
I’m a major dog lover, and a large number of the products in my Etsy store include dogs – but my dog is a spotted poodle mix that never fits the molds for any one breed. The Wacom Intuos tablet let me create all of the unique and intricate shading in her fur. I used different brushes and levels of pressure to create the texture of poodle hair. I absolutely love the results, and it would be a really cute design to add a Santa hat or some text to, and turn it into an ornament or mug for the holidays!

Though this was my very first real piece of digital art created with the Wacom Intuos, I am excited to keep trying new programs and new ideas.

For example, I recently started learning about and experimenting with creating seamless patterns to use for dresses, scarves, and even gift wrap in my shop, and this opens up a lot of new possible design options. I’m excited to try more of the included software as well, and watch more of Wacom’s How-To video library to keep learning and exploring more options.

But this project was a pretty adorable start that I never could have created with a mouse!

doug rodas headshot

About the author:

Katie Reilly is a freelance writer. Check her out on social media below:

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