Drawing Tablet Tutorial

I’m professional digital artist, Aaron Rutten and in this drawing tablet tutorial, I’ll teach you the basics of working with a graphics tablet. For you beginners, I’ll cover some of the basics of how a tablet works, and for the more experienced artists, I’ll share some tips that will help you make the most of your tablet.

I’ll discuss drawing on 3 different kinds of tablets: A basic drawing tablet without a screen such as the Wacom Intuos, a large tablet with a built-in screen that you can draw on such as the Wacom Cintiq 27 QHD and finally an all-in-one drawing tablet with a built-in computer such as the Wacom MobileStudio Pro. I’m aware that not everyone has a Wacom tablet, but many of these tips will be useful regardless of which tablet you are using.

wacom intuos, cintiq 27 qhd, and mobilestudio pro 16
Intuos (Top), Cintiq 27 QHD (Left), MobileStudio Pro 16 (Right)

I’ll assume that you have already installed your tablet drivers before plugging the tablet into your computer. If you need help installing the drivers or if your tablet is not recognizing your pen, then you may need to watch my Troubleshooting Your Drawing Tablet tutorial. If you still need help, contact the manufacturer of your tablet for tech support.

I’ll also assume that you have installed a free or paid art application that can recognize a drawing tablet and pen pressure.

Using a Basic Tablet

I’ll start by discussing how to use a basic tablet that plugs in through USB to your desktop or laptop computer, such as the Wacom Intuos. This type of tablet does not have a built in screen, so you have to look up at your computer monitor to see what you are drawing. A lot of people think that sounds difficult, but you don’t look down at your hand while using a mouse and you do just fine, right? It will take a few weeks or months of practice, but most people are able to adjust to drawing on a tablet while looking up at a screen.

The pen moves your mouse cursor, but it does not push the cursor around like your mouse would. Instead, you are pointing to the location on your tablet where you want your cursor to point to on your screen. Your cursor is the tip of your pen and tablet surface is your screen. So if I want my cursor in the top-left corner of my screen, I move the tip of my pen to the top-left of my tablet. If your tablet is smaller or narrower than your computer monitor, which it very likely is, that’s OK. With practice, you’ll quickly adjust to the difference in scale or aspect ratio.

Navigating with a non-display tablet like the Wacom Intuos.
  • Hover pen slightly above surface until cursor moves.
  • Tap pen to perform a mouse click.
  • Tap and hold to drag windows (sustained mouse click).
  • If you are using multiple monitors and your tablet is moving the cursor on the wrong screen, see Mapping in your tablet properties control panel.


Now comes the part of this drawing tablet tutorial where we do some test drawing in an art application with a brush. I’m using Corel Painter.

Try to find a brush that can sense pen pressure to control the brush size. Ink pens usually do the trick.

Drawing with Pen Pressure in an art application that supports pressure.

Press very lightly and then use firmer pressure until you see a change. You may need to calibrate your pen to respond to the amount of pressure you use in the Wacom Tablet Properties. To find this, look in your control panel or search your computer for Wacom Tablet Properties or Wacom Control Center. If you’re using a non-wacom tablet, you should have a tablet control panel too with very similar options. I press hard with my pen while drawing, so I set mine a notch toward firm. You can test the pressure in this control panel or jump back to your art app and try some more test strokes.

You may also be able to control the sensitivity of the pen in your art application as well. The setting in Wacom Tablet Properties is global and affects all applications, whereas calibrating pen pressure within an application only affects that application. Personally, I find the global setting is good enough, but there are a few brushes I use in Corel Painter that require some fine tuning of the pressure. I can do this in Corel Painter by going to General > Brush Calibration and then clicking on the bottom-right icon and painting the kind of stroke pressure I want in the test area. You’ll get different results depending on whether you press firmly, lightly or use a mix of both.

It may take some back and forth, but try to find a setting that feels the most natural. It will take some time to get used to drawing with the pen, so you can always come back to this setting later and fine tune it. You might also test a soft semi-opaque brush such as an Airbrush because the pen pressure can also control the Opacity of the paint as well the Flow of paint in some art applications.


Drawing naturally on a tablet takes practice, but it also relies heavily on using proper technique. This drawing tablet tutorial only focuses on the basics, but I have a few videos you can watch that go into more detail about drawing techniques. But let me say that the size of your tablet is going to affect the kinds of gestures you can make with your pen. Many of the techniques that artists use to freehand draw straight lines and smooth circles require a large area to gesture on. If I’m using a small tablet like this, I can only move my arm so much before I run off the tablet surface. So it’s better to have a larger tablet, but you can still make great art on a small tablet as well. It just means you’ll have to learn to draw using smaller gestures.

Proper gestures make a huge difference, but you’ll need a larger drawing surface.


drawing tablet positioned correctly in front of display
For maximum-performance, keep your tablet parallel to your display and directly in front of it.

Positioning is also very important to drawing naturally on a tablet. There are artists out there who disagree with me on this, but in my opinion, it’s best to have your tablet and your body aligned horizontally with your monitor. Meaning the tablet is not rotated at an angle and neither are you. It’s also good to have the tablet right in front of your monitor rather than off to the side, but in some desk setups, that’s not possible. So let me say that it is possible to adapt to drawing on a tablet that is not at the same angle as your screen and positioned off to one side, but it takes more effort for your brain to make that adjustment. I feel it’s better to get the tablet to match the screen as closely as possible and then you won’t have to worry about the additional strain on your hand-eye coordination. I have a keyboard tray which I can use to set my tablet on. However, the Wacom Intuos tablet is rather small, so it could feel more comfortable to have it off to the side a bit. That’s going to throw off my brain a bit, but I’ve learned to adapt. You’ll have to try some different positions until you find one that works the best for you.


You can rest your hand on the tablet, only the pen tip can make a mark. Your fingers can rub against the tablet. You can draw on it just like you would on paper. Some tablets can sense touch input which can be used to zoom in to your painting or perform other types of commands. If you’re worried about the touch going off accidentally, you can toggle it on and off with either an express key, a switch on your tablet or within the Wacom Tablet Properties.


Many tablets are ambidextrous and can be used by left handed artists. You can set the handedness in the Wacom Tablet Properties. There are some other customizations you can do here if you browse around. More or less options will be shown depending on the tablets and pens you have connected. If you have more than one Wacom device connected, you’ll be able to customize each tablet and each pen.

Wacom Pro Pen 1
Wacom Pro Pen 1 with 2 programmable buttons.

Tablet with a Screen (Cintiq)

Display tablets, such as the Wacom Cintiq 27 QHD Touch, are drawing tablets with a built-in screen. While you have the advantage of not having to look at a separate screen while painting, you may find that there are some disadvantages to working on a screen, like fatigue from holding your arm up as opposed to resting it on the tablet surface; and your hand blocking your view of what you’re drawing. Aside from that, drawing on a screen should feel as natural as drawing on paper. Again, as with the tablet without a screen, you can rest your hand on the screen and if the tablet supports touch and you want to disable it, that’s easy to do. There’s actually a button on many of the Cintiqs up at the top that can turn touch on and off.

Wacom Cintiq 27 QHD Touch
Wacom Cintiq 27 QHD Touch

Before working on a display tablet, you’ll need to calibrate the position of your pen. This is different from calibrating pen pressure. This makes sure the mouse cursor aligns with the tip of your pen. Some screen tablets have parallax, so you’ll never be able to get the cursor and pen tip perfectly aligned, but you can get it close. Don’t worry because you’ll probably be looking at your brush cursor while painting more than your pen tip. Just get it as close as possible. You can set the Calibration in Wacom Tablet Properties. Make sure you are centered in front of your screen and keep your pen upright or perpendicular to the flat surface of your screen to avoid offsetting the pen.

Close-up of drawing on the Cintiq 27 QHD
Close-up of drawing on the Cintiq 27 QHD

Cintiqs are often larger as drawing tablets go, so you’ll be able to make bigger broader gestures while drawing.

I can’t speak for other brands of tablets, but a Wacom Cintiq does not need a screen protector. You can easily wipe off any fingerprints or dust. After you watch my drawing tablet tutorial, check out this video with some tips about cleaning your device. These screens are meant to be drawn on with a pen and normal use should not scratch the tablet. Don’t get me wrong, you need to be careful with your screen, but some of the reports of scratches on the screen turn out to just be oil from people’s hands or residue from the pen tip rubbing against the screen. This can be easily wiped away with a dry soft microfiber cloth. (Same goes for non-screen tablets like the Wacom Intuos models.)

A Cintiq has a nice screen with mostly accurate color, so it’s up to you if you have a reason for needing to buy and use a color calibrator.

Tablet Computer

And the last type of tablet we’ll talk about in this drawing tablet tutorial is the all-in-one tablet, such as the Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16. There’s not much to say about the drawing tablet computers, they are basically a screen tablet with a computer inside.

Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16
Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16

One of the key differences between a tablet computer and a screen tablet is that the tablet computer may be able to sense screen rotation and the screen itself can be angled to make it more comfortable to draw. This can be useful for drawing in portrait orientation or tilting your canvas to make watercolor paint drip in Rebelle 2. If you don’t like it when the screen senses rotation, you can turn it off with a switch on the tablet or within Windows.

dripping paint in rebelle 2
The accelerometer on the MobileStudio Pro 16 can be used to control dripping paint in Rebelle.

Extra Features

Now let’s talk about some extra features that you may or may not have.


If your pen has an eraser, you can flip it over and that should switch your art app to the eraser tool. This eraser can be disabled or programmed to another function.
You can also draw with the eraser end.

drawing tablet pen eraser
If you pen has eraser, it may be able to do more than erase.


If your tablet supports touch, you can use it to navigate your computer. You can use both the touch and the pen to create your artwork. There are some global gestures you can use and customize in the Wacom Tablet Properties, but many art apps can use their own gestures as well.

multi-touch input
Some tablets support multi-touch input.
  • Tap with one finger to click or drag windows and files.
  • Drag with two fingers to pan the view of your canvas.
  • Pinch to zoom and rotate the view of your canvas.


Express Keys are buttons on your tablet that can perform just about any command. They are most useful when assigned to commonly used functions such as Undo and Redo, hiding the application interface, and panning the view of your canvas, just to name a few. The more express keys you have, the more shortcuts you can program. There are also on-screen buttons you can program in the Wacom Tablet Properties to add even more commands. Every device in this drawing tablet tutorial includes at least a few Express Keys.

Express Keys on the Mobile Studio Pro
Express Keys on the Mobile Studio Pro
  • You can customize express keys for all apps or for specific apps using profiles.
  • Backup your customization to a file or to the Wacom cloud for easy recovery should you ever need it.

Looking for some examples of how to set your Express Keys? Try my Express Key Map for Corel Painter.


Now let’s talk about brush expressions. Brush expressions can be used along with your pen if it supports brush expressions to do things like tilt your pen to get different marks. You can also rotate your pen, to rotate flat brushes like palette knives, if you are using a pen that supports it, such as the Wacom Art Pen. Your digital art software also has to support the expressions as well.

demonstration of pen tile and rotation
Brush Expressions: Pen Tilt & Rotation


Many Wacom tablets have tooth or a slight feeling of paper grain. — It’s not sticky or too slippery. That can’t be said for some of the Wacom-alternative tablets out there. So why is the tablet’s surface a feature? It’s because this tooth feels more natural to draw on. It provides a bit of friction or resistance to the pen tip, the same kind of friction you expect from a pen on paper. This does cause the pen tips or nibs to wear down, but that’s just a property of nature. Everything wears down when rubbing against something else because heat is created. If the nib does not wear down, then the screen must wear down. Something has to wear down, so which would you choose? It’s a property of nature not a conspiracy to get you to buy more nibs. Fortunately, your tablet probably came with some replacement nibs. In the Wacom Intuos, they are in a compartment on the back of the tablet. And on the Cintiq, they are in the pen holder. Additional nibs can be ordered online and there are even felt tip nibs and other types of specialty nibs that give your pen a different feel.

wacom pen nib
Wacom Pen Nib

Nibs can wear down quickly, but not if you use proper technique. For example, don’t press so hard. If you’re pressing down really hard to get pen pressure, maybe you need to calibrate your pen pressure to make it easier to get the stroke you want. Another tip to make your nibs last longer is to use your pen’s eraser for repetitive tasks like blending and any strokes that don’t require the accuracy of the pen tip. In addition to the tips in my drawing tablet tutorial, this video has some advice for making your nibs last longer.


Some of the tablets without a screen can be connected wirelessly. Some tablets come with a wireless kit and some require the kit to be purchased separately. In my opinion, a USB connection is better because it is not susceptible to wireless interference or the signal getting blocked or lagging.


That should give you a good idea of how to draw on just about any drawing tablet. If you found this information helpful, take a quick second to like my drawing tablet tutorial. And if you haven’t already, I’d love to have you subscribe to my YouTube channel, I have tons of videos about digital art.

More drawing tablet tutorials on my YouTube channel

Corel Painter 2020 Review

In this Corel Painter 2020 review, I’ll give you an overview of the top features and share my thoughts on this version.

Review By Aaron Rutten – 6/25/2019
Affiliate links in this article earn revenue that allows me to continue making great digital art resources.

Pros & Cons of This Version


  • Some brushes can leverage your GPU to greatly increase performance for large brushes and large canvases.
  • Easier to locate and make sense of advanced brush and tool controls.
  • Significant improvements to color selection.


  • Not all brushes can support GPU.
  • Performance gains are hardware-dependent.
  • No new brush technology.

GPU-Gotta See it To Believe It!

When I first discovered Corel Painter, around version 9, it quickly became my art software of choice and I have been using it ever since. I’m drawn to Corel Painter because it offers one of the best and most robust digital painting experiences, but such power can be a double-edged sword. While it can be a benefit to paint with brushes that offer a more complex and organic look, the speed at which you can paint can suffer, especially while painting on large canvases. Compared to other art apps, Painter can feel a bit sluggish at times. This has become especially noticeable as more and more art applications are able to utilize a computer’s GPU (video card) to significantly improve brush performance. Today, I’m excited to say that Painter is finally able to leverage the power of your GPU to improve brush speed dramatically. That’s right, folks. Painter can finally take advantage of your video card.

I purchased an Nvidia GTX 1080 a couple of years ago, and while it has been great for improving the performance of Photoshop, Corel Painter had not a care in the world about my fancy video card. Now, with the addition of Painter 2020’s Brush Accelerator Engine, I’m not only able to utilize my GPU to speed up brushes, but Painter actually analyzes my computer hardware and optimizes itself for peak performance on my system. I can also see an overview of how Painter is making use of my hardware and I’m able to gain insight about how I might be able to upgrade components to improve performance. On my system, GPU has a huge impact on performance and I’m amazed at how much faster extra-large brushes perform, even on very large canvases.

[Brush Accelerator report on my i7 Desktop System with GTX 1080 GPU]

Naturally, the performance gains you may experience are going to heavily depend on what kind of hardware you have in your system, but if you have a good computer, it’s finally going to feel like it when you use Painter. Well, that is unless you use any of the brush technology that is not optimized to use the GPU (Which is a lot of brushes). I’m a bit disappointed to say that only the stamp-type brushes are able to utilize the GPU. However, many of the brushes have improved Multi-Core performance and some brushes can also use AVX2 to further boost performance. These performance boosts are welcome but are dwarfed in comparison to the performance gained by leveraging the GPU. I wish more of Painter’s brushes could use my GPU, but I’m happy with the progress made so far. Many of my favorite brushes can now use GPU, so overall my painting experience has noticeably improved. I feel much more comfortable painting on large canvases and blocking in large areas with a massive brush.

So for those artists out there who have been holding out, now is a good time to give Painter another chance. If you are already a Painter user and you have a good computer, it would be well worth it to upgrade for this feature alone. But let’s take a look at some of the other updates to Corel Painter 2020:

New Brushes

While there isn’t any dramatic new brush technology to play with in this version of Painter, there are two new brush categories. The Fast and Ornate & Fast and Simple categories feature 26 enhanced brushes that take advantage of Painter’s Performance optimizations. There are also several new optimized watercolor brushes found in the Watercolor Category. It’s worth mentioning that you can enable GPU for your own custom brushes that can support it, just uncheck Disable GPU in the Performance panel to give your brushes a boost.

User Interface Advancements

The new user interface improvements in Painter 2020 aim to streamline your workflow by:

  • Reducing the number of panels you need to have open on your screen
  • Reducing the number of clicks required to access priority controls
  • Making essential controls more easily accessible.

Many of the properties have also been grouped and reorganized in a more logical way to make it easier to find the controls you are looking for.

Property Labels & Tool Properties
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the number of brushes and properties available in Corel Painter? Lucky for you, the new Property Labels in the Properties Bar makes it easier to make sense of the properties and what they relate to. This can be disabled in the Preferences > Interface. Just as well, many of the tools in the toolbar now show more properties in the Properties Bar to make it easier to find what you are looking for without having to dig through menus.

[Property Bar Labels and Magic Wand Tool Properties]

Stroke Options & New Guides Panels

New panels have been added for the Mirror Painting and Perspective Guide tools to make it easier to access these controls without having to leave the brush tool. You can even add Mirror Painting Presets. You can open these panels from a new Stroke Options flyout in the properties bar, the Advanced Button on the Properties bar (when the tool is selected), or from Window > Composition Panels.

[Stroke Options Flyout with Perspective Guides and Mirror Painting Panels]

Enhanced Shape Tools

Artists who use the vector shape tools in Painter will be pleased to hear that the vector tools have been given some TLC. In Painter 2020, all shape and shape editing tools are now available in the Properties Bar along with many of the essential shape commands. The workflow for changing the fill and stroke has been improved by making it easier to edit shape properties, plus there is now a Shape Attributes flyout in the properties bar and a separate Shape Attributes panel. These improvements really make working with vector shapes a lot less frustrating. I might even go as far as to say that it actually feels close to what you’d expect from a dedicated vector application in terms of essential vector shape editing.

[Editing the stroke width of a vector shape using the Shape Properties panel]

Improved Brush Selection

Brush selection has been streamlined in Painter 2020. By default, a new Stroke Preview mode shows more information about the appearance and characteristics of each brush. In this view, you can see the brush dab, a stroke preview, and the brush name. This view can be customized to show more or less information in the Variant Display menu.

Dab previews have also been updated to better represent the brushes. In some cases, a dab preview is replaced by an icon, such as in the case of Particle Brushes which shows the particle type.

Compact Brush Selector
For those of us who are looking to save every last pixel we can for our canvases, there is a new Compact Brush Selector found in Window > Brush Selector > Panel (Compact). This panel is optimized to take up less space, but can also be expanded horizontally while flowing the brushes to fit the width of the panel. You can also access the full view Brush Selector and have both on screen if you like.

[Enhanced Stroke and Dab previews in the new Compact Brush Selector]

Last Used Brush Toggle
For those of you who bounce between a brush and a blender or a pencil and an eraser, you can now quickly toggle between two brushes using the Last Used Brush button in the properties bar. When you activate the new Last Used Brush feature, your brush toggles to the previously selected brush. You can also invoke this command with a custom keyboard shortcut, express key or custom palette command. I set mine to ~.

Convenient Color Selection

Color selection has been improved throughout Painter. Dialogs that deal with choosing a color, such as the Paint Bucket’s fill with Current Color, now show the Universal Color Wheel. The color wheels are synchronized across Painter 2020.

[Universal color picker in the Shape Tool Properties]

Previous Color Preview

You’ll notice in the Color panel, the color swatch that shows your currently selected color is now divided vertically in two. When you choose a new color, the left side of the swatch shows the current color and the right side of the swatch shows the previous color for easy color comparisons.

[Preview the current and previously selected colors]

Color Ramp Sliders
And how could you not notice that the RGB and HSV sliders now show beautiful color ramps that can be expanded horizontally? You can also customize the color panel options to show less content and be more compact. For example, you can show nothing but the color sliders.

[The New Color Ramp Sliders in Corel Painter 2020]

Temporal Color Panel Updates

The Temporal Color Panel has been updated with a new menu that allows you to customize the panel. You may have found some things were missing from this panel in Painter 2019 such as a button to toggle between your Main and Additional color. Those features are now included in the panel.

Color Harmonies

A new Color Harmonies panel is now available to show you swatches of colors that are harmonious to your currently selected color. There are 6 different modes: Analogous, Complimentary, Split Complementary, Tetradic, Monochromatic Light and Monochromatic Dark. Each mode can be shown or hidden as desired. You even have the option of locking harmonies so that they cannot be changed and you can save harmony swatches to the Color Set Libraries panel. These color suggestions can take a lot of the guesswork out of choosing colors that work well together. I find the monochromatic strings of values are particularly useful for shading.

[Corel Painter 2020 Color Harmonies panel]

Customizable Eraser Tool

You can now fully customize the Eraser Tool. Choose from a greater variety of dab profiles, size properties and opacity properties. You can even make customizations from the General Panel to create Captured Dabs and other types of Erasers.

[Customized Eraser Tool in Painter 2020 ]

Enhanced Layers Workflow

Working with layers in Corel Painter is a bit easier this time around. Contextual menus have been updated to show more relevant commands for layers. You can right-click on the layers panel to access these instead of digging through the Layers menu.

Preventing Mistakes
You can now lock the canvas layer to prevent any accidents on your background and you can no longer accidentally paint on hidden layers.

[Say goodbye to accidental marks on your hidden layers]

Another headache that is alleviated with Painter 2020 is that pasting when the canvas is selected will now place the new layer above the canvas layer, not at the top of the layers stack. And you can now collapse hidden layers and they will remain hidden. It’s little tweaks like this that really make a difference in my workflow.

Other Updates

I’ve focused this review on what I consider to be the major updates in Painter 2020, but there are quite a few more updates and bug fixes that I did not mention. You can learn about all of the new features by watching my Painter 2020 tutorials on YouTube or by joining my free Painter 2020 webinar. I also have an upcoming video training course that can teach you all about how to use Corel Painter 2020.


If you have a fast computer that can take advantage of Multi-Core, AVX2 and especially GPU, then Painter 2020 is a must-have upgrade. If you’re working on a system that is below Painter 2020’s recommended system requirements, then you may experience some minor improvements in performance, but the most significant benefits to upgrading will be the improvements to the UI, brush selection and color.

I’d recommend everyone install the free 30 day trial of Painter 2020 and run the performance test to get a feel for how Painter might perform on your system. You may find that a simple upgrade like installing a new video card could dramatically boost Painter’s performance. Or maybe you’ll get the push you need to finally get a new computer. At the end of the day, you’ll rest easy knowing that you’ve done all you can to get Painter running in tip-top shape.

Learn Corel Painter 2020 with my video training course: http://aaronrutten.link/Painter2020

Watch Corel Painter tutorials on my YouTube channel

Save $100 off the full version of Corel Painter with my coupon code