How do professional photographers and editors edit their photos?
If you’re thinking “Adobe Photoshop,” you’re not wrong — and Adobe Lightroom, Skylum Luminar Neo, Affinity Photo, and Boris FX Optics would also be good answers if you’re thinking about software. But how about hardware? No professional photo editor, and no amateur who takes photo editing seriously, uses a mouse. It’s just not precise enough.
Professional photographers and editors use graphics input tablets — also called drawing tablets or creative pen displays — to edit, because the digital pen input provides much more precision. If you’re looking to get serious about photo editing, or have a photographer friend or loved one you’re shopping for, a tablet is what you need. But which there are tons of options out there. Which is best?
“Drawing” tablets vs. iPad-style tablets
Some amateur photographers will swear by the versatility and affordability of a portable computer tablet like an iPad or Surface, and others swear by “drawing” tablets, also called graphics input tablets or pen tablets, like a Wacom Intuos.
Portable tablets are acceptable for amateurs who plan to do the majority of their editing on the go. But if you want to get serious, you need the full power of your desktop computer, especially if you’re editing large digital images. And you’ll also want the full-featured version of whatever software you’re using, especially if it’s Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. The mobile versions of the software just don’t compare. That’s why we recommend beginners, amateurs, and professionals alike edit on a drawing tablet or display.
The best tablet for photographers and photo editors: Wacom Intuos and Wacom Intuos Pro
If you’re interested in the top-of-the-line graphics input tablet, sometimes called a drawing tablet, the Wacom Intuos has been the industry leader for years — for good reason. The Wacom Intuos is the best pen tablet for photographers.
Why choose a pen tablet over a display? Because color is so important, many photographers prefer to spend extra for an extremely capable monitor, and want to edit on their PC instead of on a small display. With Wacom Intuos, you harness the power of your PC, the software you already have installed, and your monitor — and the tablet provides you expert-level input precision. That also means Wacom Intuos is compatible with Adobe Lightroom and every other piece of software your computer can run.
One of the reasons Wacom tablets are the best on the market is the pressure-sensitive, battery-free, cordless pens. The Wacom Intuos comes with the Wacom Pen 4K, which has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, and Wacom Intuos Pro comes with the Pro Pen 2, which has 8,192. Both pens feature Wacom’s patented EMR technology, meaning you never have to charge the pen. There’s virtually no lag, they have best in class tilt response, and they’re lightweight and ergonomic for long editing sessions.
Wacom Intuos tablets are lightweight and they’re incredibly sturdy. The option for wireless connectivity means fewer cords clogging up your desk, and the textured surface provides a realistic pen-on-paper feel. They come in a variety of sizes and are incredibly easy to set up and use with the software you’re already familiar with, including Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom — but if you’re a beginner, Wacom Intuos comes bundled with one year of Boris FX Optics and three months of Skylum Luminar Neo to get you started.
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The best display tablet for beginning photographers and photo editors: Wacom One
While some some photographers and editors prefer the feel and ergonomics of using a pen tablet like the Intuos, others want to edit directly on the screen. The Wacom One is the perfect choice for the photographer who wants to try out a pen display but isn’t ready to commit to a larger, more powerful device. Considered the “entry level” Wacom pen display, Wacom One is reliable and adaptable but is a much more affordable choice. That’s why Wacom One is the best display tablet choice for beginning photographers and photo editors.
Available in small and medium sizes, and compatible with virtually all your favorite creative software programs, Wacom One is a beginner’s best friend. The pressure sensitive, battery-free pen is easy to control and makes the transition of moving from drawing on paper to a pen display smooth and comfortable. And at under $400, its price simply cannot be beat.
Wacom One is similar in form factor to an iPad or Surface tablet, but because it’s a display input for your PC, it’s less portable. It makes up for this, however, because you can use the full-featured versions of Adobe Photoshop or whichever editing program yo use, and you have the full power of your PC for intensive editing.
Its durable construction, 1920 x 1080 screen resolution, and textured screen feel make it perfect for beginners. And as you hone your photo editing skills, you can work your way up to purchasing a fancier and more expensive device — like a Wacom Cintiq.
The best display tablet for professional photographers and photo editors: Wacom Cintiq and Cintiq Pro
The Wacom Cintiq is the best pen display for photographers, and the Wacom Cintiq Pro is perfect if you need the highest-end, most powerful device — especially because Wacom just released the brand-new Cintiq Pro 27. If you’re a pro or are ready to get started on your professional path, these devices were built for you.
Wacom Cintiq and Cintiq Pro are the best display tablets for photo editing and are used by professional photographers and editors around the world. That’s because both the Wacom Cintiq and Cintiq Pro have bright, beautiful displays with multi-touch capabilities, unparalleled color accuracy that rivals a professional desktop monitor, and incredible input precision — especially with the Pro Pen 3, which comes with the new Cintiq Pro 27.
The Pro Pen 3 is the most precise, ergonomic, and customizable digital pen Wacom has ever made — and Wacom essentially invented the EMR technology that makes our pens light, battery-free, and incredibly precise.
The color accuracy and brilliant screen really make the new Cintiq Pro 27 the best display tablet ever made for professional photographers. Its Ultra HD resolution, 10-bit display is capable of showing more than 1 billion shades of color, it covers 99% Adobe RGB and 98% DCI-P3 spectra, and it’s Pantone™ and Pantone™ SkinTone™ Validated, meaning its true-to-life, authentic colors are backed by the color experts at Pantone™.
If you need a brilliant display with excellent color accuracy, and a lightweight, battery-free, ergonomic, incredibly precise pen for long hours of editing, then the Cintiq Pro 27 was purpose built for you.
The best tablets for photographers:
Wacom Intuos and Intuos Pro pen tablets
Wacom Intuos is designed to for creativity. With the Bluetooth connectivity option, you’re free to take them wherever. ExpressKeys can be easily programmed for keyboard shortcuts. And the build quality is unparalleled.
Wacom One pen display
The perfect entry point for beginning photographers interested in a pen display, the Wacom One has all the features you need in an affordable, durable device.
Wacom Cintiq and Cintiq Pro Pen Displays
These professional-level pen displays are the world-class high-quality devices Wacom is known for. With unparalleled precision and color accuracy, get a Wacom Cintiq or Cintiq Pro to use what the pros use.
About the author
Abeni Jones is a former graphic designer, illustrator, and educator, and current writer, who bought her first Wacom tablet in 1999. She’s passionate about video games, design, and the great outdoors.