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When I introduced Wacom Bamboo Pen tablets to my middle school art students, they were quick to point out the inherent weaknesses of the tool; in that special kind of way that only a middle schooler can muster. “I can’t draw with this, it feels like I’m sliding a snot covered chopstick along the table!”, was my personal favorite quote that expresses the initial feeling that many of us had when we first picked up the Bamboo pen. Of course, those of us who stuck with it and worked through the learning curve began to appreciate, if not flat out love the Bamboo. But many of us, myself included, always yearned for the tactile feel of a pencil on paper as we worked our digital canvas.
I’d almost forgotten that longing when my Bamboo Pen and Touch tablet made it’s final voyage into the digital playground in the sky. Until, that is, I replaced it with a Wacom Intuos Medium. Something magical happened when I first touched the pen to the tablet. I was reminded of the early days of the Bamboo, silently lamenting the slickness of the pen on the tablet, and that lingering thought of “I’d really rather be drawing on paper right now…” If you want to take the easy (but moderately spendy) route and upgrade from your Bamboo to an Intuos, it’s an upgrade well worth the investment! But, if you’re one of the frugal ones (like me) who are looking for some life hacks to make the Bamboo feel a bit more like paper and pencil rather than pony up the $300+ for an Intuos5 Medium ($200 for the Small version), you’re in luck, just read on my friend!
The first “hack” I learned for the Bamboo tablet is to cover the active surface of the tablet with a toothy drawing paper. One of my middle schoolers actually taught me this one. It was one of those mind-blown moments that made me wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?!?!?” The paper won’t interfere with the interface, and provides a tactile experience much closer to drawing on paper, even when using the standard hard plastic nib in the Bamboo pen. There’s even enough surrounding area on the Bamboo tablets that you can tape along the edge of the paper to keep it in place without the tape getting in the way of anything. Different papers will change the feel of the pen, test out a few and find your favorite!
An inexpensive mod is to replace the hard plastic nib in your Bamboo input pen with one of the options that come standard with the Intuos line. I’ve tested all the standard nibs with a Bamboo Pen tablet I still have laying around, and none of them failed to work at least as well as the hard plastic nibs standard in the Bamboo pens. On the Bamboo tablet, I preferred the grey felt nib. This nib creates a bit more friction with the smooth tablet surface and puts you closer to the drawing on paper experience than the others. On my Intuos, I prefer the spring loaded nib, especially for digital inking. Without adding a toothy paper to the Bamboo’s tablet surface this nib was just too slick for my tastes though. Lastly, all of the plastic nibs from the Intuos feel pretty much the same on the Bamboo, providing the same slick and disconnected feeling as the standard Bamboo nib.
Lastly, if you are one of those who haven’t adjusted the settings on your Bamboo, take a few minutes and go play with those! Drawing and painting are skills we all approach in a slightly different way, and using a standard setting is the greatest disservice you can do yourself. The adjustments available through the Wacom software included with all the Wacom tablets will help you customize the feel of your personal device, and make your digital creative experience that much better. Oh yeah, they should also make your digital art work better in the process!
Axton Kahler is a middle school art teacher in Nebraska, and creator of http://zombieoakscomic.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ZombieOaks.