There are a lot of drawing tablets out there, but which one is right for you? I’ve made that decision as easy as possible by creating a list of the top 9 drawing tablets to buy in 2021.
#1. Cintiq 27QHD Touch
#2. Cintiq Pro 24 & 32
#3. MobileStudio Pro 13 & 16 (2nd Gen.)
#4. Cintiq Pro 13 & 16
#5. Cintiq 16 & 22
#6. Wacom One 13
#7. Intuos Pro (Medium or Large) (2nd Gen.)
#8. Intuos (Medium)
#9. One by Wacom (Medium)
This review is not sponsored, but Wacom did send me some of these tablets unconditionally to review. All opinions in this review are my own.
OK, so I know we are not very far into 2021, but a lot of these tablets were released in 2018 and 2019, so we may not see another version of these in 2021. Let’s kick this review off with my #9 pick:
#9. One by Wacom (Medium Version) – $97.59
The One is about as basic as it gets for drawing tablets. It lacks many of the advanced features of the other tablets in this list, but it includes all of the essentials you need to make digital art. There’s a pressure sensitive pen with over 2,000 pressure levels that you can use to draw on the tablet. The tablet surface has an active drawing area of 8.5 x 5.3 inches.
There is a smaller version of the One by Wacom, but I don’t recommend purchasing a small tablet if you are going to be using it primarily for drawing or painting. A small tablet is OK for small gestures like you would use for photo editing or annotation, but it’s much more comfortable to draw on a larger surface with larger gestures if you can.
Even though the One by Wacom is one of Wacom’s most affordable tablets, it still offers the same top-notch drawing experience as the more expensive tablets that we’ll look at in a bit. The One By Wacom does not offer a display that you can draw onto. Instead, you have to draw on the tablet which connects via USB to your computer and then you look at what you’re drawing on your computer monitor.
#8. Wacom Intuos 2019 (Medium Version) – $199.93
The Intuos has an identical active drawing area to the One By Wacom, but it offers a few additional features such as 4,000 pen pressure levels, 4 handy express keys which can be programmed to perform shortcuts, and there is an option for connecting the tablet to your computer wirelessly with Bluetooth.
You can even connect the Intuos to select Android devices to draw on your phone using a portion of your drawing tablet surface. It also comes with bundled software that you can use for making art and editing photos. The Intuos is twice as expensive as the One by Wacom, so you’ll have to weigh whether the express keys and additional pressure levels are worth it. I’ll share my opinion on that near the end of this review.
#7. Wacom Intuos Pro 2nd Gen (Medium $301.99 or Large Version $499.93)
This is the Pro version of the Intuos with top-of-the-line features and specs. At 8.7 x 5.8 inches, the Medium Intuos Pro is only slightly larger than the regular Intuos Medium, but the Large Intuos Pro has a whopping active drawing area of 12.1 x 8.4 inches.
Because it’s Pro, it’s obviously more professional. It supports Wacom’s best pen, the Pro Pen 2 which has over 8,000 pressure levels and can support pen tilt which gives you more control over the shape of your brush. If you’re drawing with a pencil, you can use tilt to angle your pencil to shade with the side of it. The Intuos Pro also supports other types of pro pens like the Wacom Art Pen which can sense barrel rotation. Pen tilt and rotation make a huge difference if you’re a pro illustrator. It just feels so much more natural to draw and paint with these features. The Intuos Pro has a rougher surface compared to the smoother surface of the Intuos and One by Wacom. I personally prefer a surface with a bit of friction because it feels closer to drawing on paper, but it’s not for everyone. Fortunately, you can also change the feel of the pen and the surface with optional nibs and surface textures.
The Intuos Pro also offers 8 express keys and a touch wheel. Plus it supports touch gestures which can be used to pan and rotate your page, and zoom in and out. The Intuos Pro can be connected with USB or Bluetooth.
This is the end of the line for tablets without a display. From here on out, these tablets will all have built-in displays that you can draw directly onto.
#6. Wacom One 13 – $399
One? Wait, didn’t we already do this? OK, so Wacom likes to reuse names. This is the Wacom One, not to be confused with the One by Wacom. The Wacom One was released in 2020 and it’s a tablet with a built-in display you can draw directly onto. While there are advantages to drawing on a display, it’s not essential. To be honest, you can make the same quality art on the One By Wacom which doesn’t have a screen. So don’t feel like you need the most expensive tablet to be successful at digital art.
Now, I ranked the Wacom One a bit higher than the Intuos Pro because I believe most artists are going to feel more comfortable drawing directly on a screen. Although in many ways, the Wacom One is a downgrade from the Intuos Pro with only 4,000 pen pressure levels and a pen that more closely resembles the basic pen that comes with the non-Pro Intuos. And oddly enough, the Wacom One’s pen only has one shortcut button while the entry-level One By Wacom’s pen has two buttons. It is actually useful to have two buttons on your pen, so that might be reason enough to go with the Intuos Pro. At least the Wacom One’s pen supports pen tilt which makes it stand out from the pens included with the Intuos and One By Wacom.
The Wacom One has an active drawing area of 11.6 x 6.5 in which is considerably larger than the Intuos Pro Medium, but only a bit narrower than the Intuos Pro Large and not as tall. Because of this taller aspect ratio, the Large Intuos Pro lends itself better to large gesture drawing. Another notable difference is that because the Wacom One is a display tablet, you will need to connect it to your device with a video cable in addition to the USB cable needed to transmit data. In contrast, the Intuos Pro can be connected wirelessly with Bluetooth.
Much like the Intuos Pro, the Wacom One supports additional pens, but only specific EMR pens and unfortunately not any of Wacom’s Pro Pens. One feature that sets the Wacom One apart from the other tablets in this list is its ability to seamlessly connect to select Android devices to allow you to draw and paint with your phone instead of a desktop or laptop. Now I know I said the Intuos can connect to Android as well, but it doesn’t do it nearly as well as the Wacom One does. While the Intuos only maps a portion of the tablet to your device’s screen, the Wacom One can open your phone full-screen in desktop mode.
While you can do basic digital painting and drawing, making art on Android is not quite as robust as the experience you’d get by drawing on a Windows or Mac computer. That’s not to mention that the Wacom One does not support touch while most Android art apps are built for touch devices. But I do believe that mobile apps are soon going to adapt to accommodate display tablets. And despite those drawbacks, drawing with the Wacom One is light years away from drawing with stylus or a finger. So it might be worth it to choose the Wacom One over the Intuos Pro depending on your needs.
I think if you lean toward pro, you probably want the Intuos Pro since it offers a better pen, a larger gesture space and multi-touch. But if you’re more of a beginner or hobbyist, then get the display tablet, it’s going to feel so much more natural to draw on.
#5. Wacom Cintiq 16 ($649.95) & Cintiq 22 ($1,199.93)
These are essentially the same tablet, just in different sizes. Aside from the difference in size, the most notable distinction is that the Cintiq 22 comes with a stand, whereas the Cintiq 16 has fold-out legs with an optional stand that must be purchased separately. Both sizes of this tablet are great, but as you know I prefer a larger drawing surface, so clearly I think you should choose the 22 if you can afford it.
If you’re trying to choose between the Cintiq 16 or the Wacom One, then if you lean pro, go with the Cintiq 16 because it comes with the more comfortable Pro Pen 2 with twice as many pressure levels, two pen buttons and an eraser; it supports Wacom’s other pro pens and it has an optional adjustable stand which I definitely recommend if you want to work at a more vertical angle. As with the Wacom One, the Cintiqs require an HDMI video connection to a Mac or Windows computer.
If you’re more of a beginner or hobbyist and the pro-level features don’t matter to you, choose the Wacom One. And if portability is a concern, the Wacom One does have an advantage by being more low-profile than the Cintiqs which are much bulkier.
Now here’s where we start to transition to tablets that are more for professional use. These tablets offer features that are probably only going to matter to artists who make art for a living. — Features like screen resolution and color accuracy. Even if these models are out of your price range, I think it’s still helpful to see what they offer to get a better idea of what you should expect from a more affordable tablet. I’ll be sharing some advice on how many pressure levels you need, and you might be surprised at my number one choice so read on.
#4. Wacom Cintiq Pro 13 ($699.99) & Cintiq Pro 16 ($1,499.93)
As with the Pro and non-Pro models of the Intuos, we have a full-featured model and its stripped-down counterpart. The Cintiq Pro 13 is only a bit more expensive than the non-pro Cintiq 16. Both devices have a screen resolution of 1920 x 1080 and both support the Wacom Pro Pen 2 along with other types of pens. But the Cintiq Pro 13 supports multi-touch, and it has better color accuracy at 87% of Adobe RGB compared to the Cintiq 16 and 22 which only support about 70% of Adobe RGB.
The Pro models of the Cintiq also offer 3 USB-C ports on the side which can be used to connect the display to other devices. There’s also a headphone jack and security lock slot. And the Pro Cintiqs offer more video connections such as USB-C, Mini Display Port, or HDMI. Gone are the express keys on the exterior of the device. And instead there is an optional Express Key Remote you can purchase which gives you a touch wheel and 17 programmable keys. But you can also pop up on-screen keys with any of the tablets on this list, so you might not need express keys. Personally, I just prefer to use my keyboard, so I can live without them.
As with the Wacom One, there are legs that fold out to provide a 20 degree angle to draw on. But you have the option of purchasing the optional stand that can be adjusted to provide more angles. The stand can make a difference in terms of comfort if you are working on your tablet for long periods of time. The stand is more sturdy on the Cintiq 16 and 22 and attaches more securely, but that also makes the device less portable and more bulky. The Cintiq Pro feels more like a tablet computer while the regular Cintiq is built more like a TV.
The Cintiq Pro 16 is slightly better equipped than the Cintiq Pro 13 with even more accurate color at 94% of Adobe RGB. It also supports Ultra-HD screen resolution which means you can see more detail when you are drawing. If you do a lot of fine line work and you want to be able to see maximum detail when zooming out on your canvas, then having a high-resolution screen is nice. However, 1920×1080 is adequate for digital illustration and anything above that is more of a luxury than a necessity. So basically unless you care about color accuracy and the other Pro features, you could get by just fine with one of the non-Pro Cintiqs.
#3. Wacom MobileStudio Pro 13 ($2,599.95) & 16 ($3,400.95) 2nd Gen.
The MobileStudio Pro is essentially a Cintiq Pro that is squished down into a tablet computer. Unlike the other display tablets in my list, the MobileStudio Pro is the only model that does not require a connection to a separate device like a laptop, desktop or Android device. The MobileStudio 13 & 16 run Windows 10 and that means they can run any application that is supported by Windows. Not light versions of desktop apps, not mobile apps — we’re talking the full version of Photoshop here. The MobileStudio Pro is also battery-powered, which makes it perfect for artists who like to work outside the studio. I absolutely love it for painting outdoors or while traveling.
The MSP13 has a WQHD screen resolution which is better than the 1920×1080 supported by the Wacom One, Cintiq 16 & 22 and Cintiq Pro 13, but not as crisp as the UHD resolution supported by the Cintiq Pro 16. The MobileStudio Pro 16 does support UHD resolution, but it offers less accurate color at 85% Adobe RGB compared to the Cintiq Pro 16 which provides 94% of Adobe RGB. The MSP13 offers even less color accuracy with only 82% Adobe RGB coverage.
Just like the Pro Cintiqs, the MobileStudio Pro is equipped with USB-C ports and can also be connected as a regular Cintiq to a Windows or Mac computer. And look, the express keys are back. Similar in design to the Intuos Pro, the MobileStudio Pro has either 6 or 8 express keys and a touch wheel. One feature that sets the MobileStudio Pro apart from other tablets is that it can sense screen rotation. You can use this to change the angle of dripping paint on your canvas.
While the convenience and portability of the MobileStudio Pro is nice, its hardware will eventually become outdated. You can upgrade the RAM and SSD on the MobileStudio Pro , but that won’t delay it’s obsolescence very long. Another downside is that the MobileStudio Pro uses mobile processors which prefer power saving over performance. A powerful desktop is going to provide the snappiest performance and if that’s what you’re used to, then the MobileStudio Pro might feel a little sluggish in comparison. You’re trading performance for portability, so if you don’t need to make your studio mobile, then save some money and get the Cintiq Pro 16 and a nice computer or check out what’s coming up next…
#2. Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 ($1,999.99) & Cintiq Pro 32 ($3,299.95)
Given its ability to harness the power of your desktop, the Cintiq Pros offer the best tablet experience money can buy. The extra-large active drawing areas of the Cintiq Pro 24 and Cintiq Pro 32 give you plenty of room for your application interface while keeping your canvas large enough so that you can make very large gestures while drawing or painting. If you are a pro illustrator then this is what you want if money is no object. It feels great to be able to work on a large image on a large screen and see every detail without having to zoom in. And if you do need to zoom, pan or rotate, the Cintiq Pro 24 and 32 supports multi-touch. Both devices also support the Pro Pen 2 and UHD screen resolution. The color gamut accuracy on the Cintiq Pro 24 is 99% Adobe RGB which is very accurate color. The Cintiq Pro 32 offers 98% Adobe RGB coverage, but 1% is not a significant difference. In either case, these are the largest and most accurate display tablets that Wacom has to offer.
The Cintiq Pro 24 & 32 have the added bonus of an included Express Key Remote which magnetically attaches to the bezel. They also have folding legs like the smaller Cintiq Pros with only one angle. However, you can buy a couple of different stands. There is the official Wacom Ergo Stand and then there’s the Wacom-branded Ergo Flex Ergortron arm. I prefer the arm, but both stands are great. I’d say a stand is essential for either of these tablets because they are so large.
In terms of portability, these are some pretty beefy devices. They require a lot of desk space and they aren’t easy or convenient to lug around. Technically, these are portable in the sense that there is an optional computer module you can add to the Cintiq Pro 24 and 32 called the Cintiq Pro Engine which will allow you to turn your Cintiq Pro into a fully functional computer. But it’s not as portable as the self-powered MobileStudio Pro would be because you’d have to lug around a large Cintiq, plus find outlets to power the devices.
These tablets are overkill for a beginner or hobbyist. If you just want a big screen to draw on, you might be comfortable with a Cintiq 22 since it includes the stand and does basically the same thing as the Cintiq Pro. The Cintiq Pro 24 and 32 are the pinnacle of digital art tools. Or are they? Well we are still at #2, so I guess not…
My main gripes about the Cintiq Pro 24 and 32 are the size and the fan noise. Now, I know you’re saying: “But, Aaron, you just told me that a larger tablet was better.” I’ll come back to the size issue.
Fan noise many not be much of an issue for you, but I record audio and video of my drawings, so I don’t need any unnecessary noise ruining my magnificent voice overs. The Cintiq 24 and 32 have external fans that come on intermittently and aren’t super loud, but are loud enough to bother me. If that’s just how it had to be then I would accept the fan noise, but because I’ve used other devices that aren’t as noisy, I know that’s not the case.
Now to be fair, Wacom did put out a firmware patch that allows you to lower the fan speed, but it’s not recommended. And, according to Wacom, it can create “a temperature increase on the surface of the tablet” I don’t know whether or not this warning is meant to prevent sweaty palms, or if it’s to stop users from unnecessarily decreasing the lifespan of their device, but I do know there’s a reason why the Cintiq Pros need to cool off and it’s probably best not to mess with that.
#1. Wacom Cintiq 27 QHD Touch
This is probably a surprise to some of you, but I actually like the Cintiq 27 QHD slightly better than the newer Cintiq Pro 24 or 32. Sure I like that the Cintiq Pro has a better screen with a higher resolution and is compatible with USB-C, but I’m frickin’ Goldilocks and I just think the 24 feels too small and the 32 is too massive. Yes, there is such a thing as too big.
27 feels right to me, and I can live with QHD resolution and only 2,000 pressure levels. I created a lot of my early work with only 1,000 pressure levels, so I know it’s not a factor that is going to hold anyone back. Some goes for screen resolution, as I mentioned earlier, 1080 HD is an adequate screen resolution and you can make great art with just that. Remember the One By Wacom that came in at #9? — That has the same pressure levels as my high-end Cintiq 27 QHD. So higher pressure levels can be an advantage in some cases, but for the most part, it’s just a number.
I do wish I had USB-C ports on my Cintiq 27 QHD, but at least it has 4 USB-A ports I can use to connect peripherals. The Cintiq 27 QHD includes the Express Key Remote which can magnetically dock to the bezel. And it requires one USB-A connection for data and a video connection through either HDMI or DisplayPort, so it’s not as elegant of a connection as the single USB-C cable you can use to connect the Cintiq Pros, but that’s OK with me.
In terms of color accuracy, the Cintiq 27 QHD supports 97% of Adobe RGB which is only a hair less than the Cintiq Pro 24 & 32. And best of all, there are no noisy fans on the Cintiq 27 QHD like you’ll find on the Cintiq 24 & 32. Just like the Cintiq Pros, an optional stand is not only available, but I’m also insisting that you need the stand in order to work comfortably. There is a similar official Wacom Ergo Stand, but without support for screen rotation. Or you can purchase an inexpensive VESA adapter and connect an Ergotron Arm which does support screen rotation.
I’d say if you can find a used Cintiq 27 QHD Touch in working condition, snatch it up. Even the non-touch version would be great if you don’t think you need touch. I’d love to see Wacom release a 27 inch Cintiq Pro, but until that happens, the Cintiq 27 QHD is my top pick for drawing tablets in 2021.
So that’s my list of the Top 9 Drawing Tablets to buy in 2021. If you’d to see in-depth reviews of these tablets, subscribe to my YouTube channel and check out my other reviews. And for a list of the products I mentioned in this review, visit my store at kit.co/aaronrutten