I’ve been editing my photos with a computer mouse for more than half a decade. So far, I've gone through only two PC mice: one a generic Deluxe 800 dpi mouse (which didn't last for more than 6 months), and the other a Verbatim Rapier V1 3200 dpi laser mouse, which is still kicking after 6 years of regular abuse. The Verbatim does a great job. I can’t really complain. I can easily change the sensitivity, I have macro keys at my disposal, and I can even change the weight.
But it is still just a mouse. Even if a mouse had one million DPI, you would still be facing the problem that the accuracy depends on your arm, and not your palm (which is more dexterous and accurate). That is why I decided to buy a pen tablet even though I was skeptical at first. I had my doubts about the effectiveness of pen tablets, but because mouse-accuracy is so limited, I decided to buy the Intuos S Wacom Tablet, which has a working area of 10×15 cm and was the cheapest on the market.
Was it a good decision? Indeed it was. Speaking from my personal experience, I can say that if you are switching from mouse to pen tablet for the first time, there are some things that you need to consider.
Getting Used To It
Using a pen tablet could be a totally new concept for you, and at first it will feel weird due to the absolute positioning of the tablet – the surface area of the tablet corresponds exactly to the screen. So the top right corner on the pen tablet will always be the top right corner of the screen. If you are used to trackpads (which are relative position trackers) it will feel really unusual, but just give it some time, and you will get used to it. Once you do, you’ll find that the mouse is actually rather redundant. I’ve caught myself using the pen tablet to browse the web by habit. I've even played a few games with it.
I have to be honest with you: conflicts concerning drivers will be a problem you will have to deal with, on occasion. I had this issue with Windows interfering with the Wacom driver which made precise work a pain. Luckily, the new drivers made it work, but I had to edit some files by hand. You can find all sorts of tutorials and videos online that address all the different headache-inducing issues, but for the most part, they are easy to fix.
Once you have your Wacom tablet all set up and working and you open Photoshop (for this you’ll basically have had to set it up all over again), you can finally make use of pen pressure. Actually, you can control almost all aspects in any brush via pen pressure. I usually control size and opacity on the brushes with pen pressure (except for healing brush, when I just control the size) simply because it makes masking and cloning much easier and natural. Free hand gestures are more precise, feel natural to work with, and make your masking and cloning (and healing, dodging, burning, and everything else involving a brush) look much better and more realistic.
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Once you are used to the tablet – when you've gotten to know the surface area by muscle memory – the editing speed starts to increase. You may worry that the many executed-in-a-tenth-of-a-second actions will cause your PC to get blocked. You can't make quite as many brush strokes with a mouse (since you need more time and hand-eye coordination to do so), but again, it is a totally different world using the stylus. If your PC is hardy enough, your advanced edits can become faster by a 50% increase in very little time, which makes all the difference when you have to edit several photos.
I can't justly say that having a pen tablet (regardless of whether it is a Wacom or that of another company) is an extreme necessity, but if you are into heavy editing, especially if your workflow happens in Photoshop most of the time, it is very nice to have one. The pros of the pen tablet outweigh the cons, and once you've owned one for a period of time, it will grow on you and you soon won’t be able to imagine handling your workflow without it.
Additionally, I would advise you to get yourself an additional batch of pen tips at the outset since they wear out quickly, if you work a lot. My original tip is almost worn to the end, and from what I've heard, the replacement ones don't last as long. Luckily, they are cheap.
Are you using a pen tablet for your edits? If so, what kind of tablet do you use, and are you satisfied with the results? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.