Hey there Webcomic Alliance folk! Today we’re going to get under the hood of your WACOM Tablet to boost its performance and increase your production! By making adjustments through the calibration options that come with your tablet, you can easily make it conform to your drawing preferences. For those of you just starting out with digital drawing, you’ll be able to replicate or modify your existing method and make the transition from paper to digital much quicker. Once you have your WACOM tablet set up just the way you like it, you’ll be drawing webcomics in no time!
Depending on the model of your tablet, some of these screens and options may vary. You’ll note that most of the core options are listed in this tutorial.
These screens are from the Wacom Tablet preferences in Mac OS 10.5. For the PC, under your Control Panel you will find the Wacom Tablet settings, and the dialog boxes and drop-down menus should be similar.
Please note under the PEN settings, that the stylus switch has drop down menus for each function, as does the stylus tip. There are additional functions applied to the tip feel, and double click distance.
Take a look at the top part of the settings dialog. There are three sections: Tablet, Tool and Application. Under Tablet, your WACOM model should appear. If you have more than one tablet, you can specify specific preferences for each one. Under Tool, you have the option of settings for the stylus and the mouse, as well as advanced functions such as gestures and pressures. Lastly, under Application, you can have specific settings for specified programs. In the next step, I will show you how to create a separate set of settings for Adobe Photoshop – generally the main program used for digital comics creation. Since the settings are fairly general, you could apply them to any of the programs you may use (Manga Studio, PaintShop Pro, Sketchbook Pro, Painter, Illustrator, etc)
Click on the small plus sign at the end of the Applications bar to open this new dialog box. The settings manager will ask you if you want to create specific settings for a program that is currently open, or to browse for a particular app. In this example, since I already have Photoshop open I’ll select it from the list. If your app doesn’t appear, select Browse and navigate to the application launcher/exe and select it from your Applications (Mac) or Program Files (PC) folders.
You should now see an Icon for your specific program in the Application list. To modify settings for that particular program, simply click on the icon, and any changes you make will be directly applied to your WACOM tablet for that program only. Let’s start by changing a few settings under the Pen portion of the settings.
The dialog boxes attached to the switch on the stylus have a number of options. Select any one of these to designate a specific function for the switch. These little tweaks will make your Tablet use more efficient, so set it up for simple shortcuts to save more time in the long run. There is a top and a bottom button on the switch, so you can designate two different functions to speed your drawing process even more.
Click on the Details button under Tip Feel, and a new dialog box will appear with some additional functions. This is where you can set the pressure sensitivity of your stylus as you make marks onscreen. There is an option to set the threshold for double-clicking as well. To the right of the sliders is a scratchpad where you can test the sensitivity and tapping of the stylus tip. Go ahead and make some marks while you try different settings.
I prefer a harder pressure setting, since it feels more like actual pencil drag. For those of you trying to make the transition from paper to digital, here’s a simple tip: you can replicate the pencil drag feeling by placing a thin sheet of paper on your tablet and drawing on top of that. But do not use this as a permanent solution, as it wears down your stylus tips VERY fast. Once you get the hang of drawing digitally, remove the paper and adjust your pressure settings. This is the next best thing to drawing on paper. You can see the hatching I did on the scratch pad, where more pressure is necessary to create darker, thicker lines. You may have a lighter touch than I do, so adjust your settings accordingly.
In comparison, you can see that the soft setting requires an extremely light touch otherwise you run the risk of your linework blotting and bleeding on you.
Now, let’s select the Options… button at the bottom of the screen. You’ll see this dialog box appear. These are general functions which apply to all of your tools and applications. You can choose a hover click option or tap click option for your right-click method. You can also alter the orientation of the buttons for the tablet mouse for lefties or righties. By default, it is set to right.
We now move on to the settings for the Eraser portion of the stylus. Similar to the Pen, the Eraser has a drop down menu for the eraser tip button, as well as the dynamics for the eraser itself under Details…
My personal preference is to select my eraser size in Photoshop according to the actual size of area I want the brush to cover. In this case, when I touch the tablet, I want everything within that cursor size to be erased. I don’t like having to press harder to cover more area. You may want to alter yours for eraser effects (light or hard touches) so change the sensitivity any way you like.
At the other end of the sensitivity, you really have to press hard to erase. Unless you like a good work out or really enjoy the feel of erasing, there’s no need to set the option that high. The point is to make less work and physical effort to do more. You can also change your double clicking options for the eraser as well. Most of us are conditioned to the typical double-click pattern speed that is used by default in all programs, but if you prefer to speed it up or slow it down, go right ahead and work with whatever is most comfortable.
The next section in the settings manager is the Mapping portion. This allows you to establish the area where your WACOM tablet borders map to onscreen. By default, everything on your tablet is relative to how you see it on screen. You may prefer to simply keep your working area smaller, or rotate your tablet or work in reverse. Let’s go through some of the options available and you can determine which method works best for you.
When you select the Orientation drop-down menu, you’ll notice a number of options. Landscape is the traditional format. Portrait requires you to rotate your tablet 90 degrees (it shows you a preview in the left portion of the dialog box,) Landscape flipped mirrors the directions on your screen on a vertical axis (left becomes right, and right becomes left, but up is still up and down still down) and finally, Portrait flipped is essentially the reverse of Portrait directions.
Under the Screen Area drop down, there are options for adjusting your screen area to fill the viewing area (over 1 or 2 monitors if necessary) a portion of the screen designated by you, or a specific monitor.
If you select Portion, you will open a new dialog with more options. You will see your current screen on the small monitor diagram, with a rectangular box with handles that you can drag and place on your screen. You can also set your area by selecting the second option, and clicking and dragging your area physically on your screen. You can be even more precise by selecting your working area through co-ordinates (in pixels) on your screen.
Finally, you can select options for your Tablet Area as well – either a portion of the tablet or the full touch area.
Similar to the Portion dialog box in the Screen Area section, the Portion section under Tablet Area also has 3 options to set the boundaries of your drawing area. You can set them via the handles in the first option, using the tool in the second option and by entering coordinates.
Once you’ve adjusted your WACOM tablet the way you like, you’re now ready to make full use of your tuned-up tool. For first-timers, it may take a bit of hand-eye coordination to get used to the process of drawing digitally. If you do this bit of tweaking ahead of time, you’ll adapt much quicker. For those of you with a bit more experience, these tweaks should help make your drawing process a bit more efficient.
Now get cracking and start drawing!
Andrés ‘ Drezz ‘ Rodriguez is the author of the modern noir Online Graphic Novel entitled El Cuervo. You can catch the latest updates three times a week. He is also the editor of idrawdigital, an information site with tutorials and tips for comic artists using digital tools, with links to a ton of other great resources.
You can follow him on Twitter at @ElCuervoComic