There is a first time for everything, and so every day many young artists get to use their very first Wacom tablet. It still surprises me sometimes how few actually know or understand the world of digital art. Just alone in the Reddit Wacom threads, we see a lot of messages from younger artists who think every Cintiq is a computer or that tablets only work with one program. Learning that every Cintiq is just a display you can draw on is sometimes a disappointment to to them, but they are always glad to hear that all drawing tablets can be used with anything on your computer and are not limited by software. If you can interact with something on your computer with a mouse or trackpad, you can interact with it with tablet.
So which art programs are best for a drawing tablets, and which tablets come with software? Mainly, any program is perfect with a Cintiq or tablet, but which one you choose will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish or learn. Are you transitioning from traditional painting, do you like 3D, are you editing photos, or possibly all of the above?
Many of these programs overlap in what they can do and which industries will use them. Certain disciplines like illustration, design, and photo titled software are usually much more than what their name suggests. Many “Illustrator” programs are more for design and vector work. Photoshop is for much more than photo editing, half of the program is built for digital painting! So just keep these things in mind and take advantage of the software trials to test them out.
DRAWING & PAINTING
The household name and industry standard when it comes to photo editing and manipulation. It’s also the main program most illustrators use for digital painting, like Concept Art, Fan Art, etc.
A cheaper alternative for those who don’t want to pay for a subscription model. It has many of the same features of Photoshop, and just like its competitor, despite the name, its also good for drawing and painting.
Corel Photo-Paint + Corel Painter
CorelDRAW and some of their other products seem very similar, but they say CorelDRAW is meant for design and page layout. ‘Photo-Paint’ is best for photo editing/layout (with some digital painting tools. And Corel Painter is what they built for digital painting specifically. Very confusing! This is a creative suite that might benefit you to try their products to see which is right for you.
Clip Studio Paint
Even though Photoshop is industry standard for most things, Clip Studio has a huge diehard community of artist who swear it is the best drawing software. Once ‘Manga Studio’, it’s been the leading program for anime artists, but is also used by many Concept Artists as well.
Sketchbook is one of the best drawing apps you can get for free. Its painting tools are somewhat limited, but you can go a long way with its drawing features.
Krita is a little less known, but for a free program, you’ll be very impressed with some of the digital painting work they showcase on their site.
Just like Photoshop, Illustrator is an industry standard when it comes to vector images, branding, and illustration.
CorelDRAW + PaintShop Pro
Lots of overlap with their other software packages, including some photo editing features, but these program keep Graphic Designers in mind. Vector illustration and typography layout are the core components of CorelDRAW, and Paintshop Pro is much like an alternate to Photoshop.
I appreciate that Affinity is very clear about which programs are suited best for each discipline. Even though there is some overlap between them, for some beginners it’s nice to have very clear distinction between a fewer amount of programs. Compared to Corel’s convoluted packages, or Adobe’s overwhelming list of programs.
Inkscape has been in development for a while and has gotten better lately due to its supportive community. Because its community has helped develop it so much, it has some unique features that even Illustrator doesn’t have.
Tablets aren't used so much for quick slider photo adjustments, but once you start professionally retouching photos, a tablet is essential for long hours of retouching and airbrushing.
Adobe Photoshop + Lightroom
The household name and industry standard when it comes to photo editing and retouching.
It has very diverse and powerful editing tools built in, but most of the Photography industry will switch between Photoshop and Lightroom, their designated program for CameraRAW editing.
The various Corel suites can get confusing, but they say PaintShop pro is a great alternative to Photoshop. Really research all their “photo editing” programs to find which one is right for you.
Luminar has many photo editing features that include AI tech that allows you to make adjustments easier and faster. What’s also neat is that you can use it as a stand alone app or as a plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom.
Again, very similar to Photoshop in editing features, but not as robust and doesnt have a companion app like Lightroom.
ACDSee Photo Studio
A nice choice for the intermediate retoucher that cant afford Adobe’s subscription plans. It has some pretty good layer editing and CameraRAW features.
GIMP is a well known free option for simple photo alterations. I wouldn't recommend this for any professional work as I think it’s very outdated and not user friendly. For a free program though, some people swear by it!
An online photo editor for simple adjustments and retouching. Certainly not for professionals, but maybe good for ancillary projects only need a few times a year.
3D Modeling and Sculpting
It’s common to just use a pen and mouse for CAD or Hard Surface design, but a tablet can be much more comfortable if used the right way. Although, once you get into 3D Sculpting, a Wacom tablet is a necessity! Having pen pressure when doing organic/character modeling, in a program like ZBrush, is essential for putting life into your sculpts.
Autodesk Maya + 3DS Max
Both made by Autodesk, they are professional 3D modeling tools used by the industry for big blockbusters. They both have robust modeling and rendering features, but which you choose, might depend on what studio you end up at. 3DS Max is better for modeling and rendering, while Maya has better animation and rigging toolsets.
Cinema 4D is a great package for all 3D artists who want to achieve amazing results fast and hassle-free. Its extremely easy to pick up and had a wide range of tools and features to quickly achieve stunning results. Cinema 4D is also known for being very reliable and stable!
Modo offers flexible 3D modeling, texturing, and rendering toolsets that let artists explore and develop ideas without jumping through technical hoops. In the industry it’s a pretty popular choice for production design.
ZBrush is the industry standard when it comes to digital sculpting characters and creatures. Its features enable you to use customizable brushes to shape, texture and paint virtual clay in a real-time environment that provides instant feedback.
3DCoat is a digital sculpting tool similar to ZBrush, but it handles topological constraints differently that some artists prefer. For beginners, its also a bit easier to get a handle of, with “faster” kit bashing workflows. It’s also a bit cheaper than ZBrush, depending on what package you choose.
One of Corel’s many design products, CorelCAD offers a simplified workflow for 2D and 3D drafting. It’s not really industry standard but they seem to offer many comparable features that can integrate well with more common CAD suites.
If you're new to the world of digital sculpting, Pixologic offers Sculptris for free and is the ideal ground on which to get started. If on the other hand you're experienced in CG, they recommend you jump into ZBrush.
Blender has been a powerful up-and-coming 3D platform for a while now. As a free and open source 3D program, what makes it so valuable is that it can do almost anything the other industry standards can do. It’s also heavily supported by the community, with a high number of plugins. Blender is highly recommended, even though it’s not quite commonly used by Entertainment studios…yet.
Autodesk Fusion 360 (free for personal use)
Integrating Engineering and design tools into Fusion 360, Autodesk has made a versatile development tool suitable for multiple industries. I’ve seen Fusion used in transportation design, prop design, 3D printing.
Mainly for Architecture visualization, SketchUp is one of the easiest programs to jump right into. Despite it’s limited features, it has some impressive plugins that can get you quite far for modeling environment or hard surface concepts. It’s a quick and easy jumping-off point for Concept Artists about to do a paint over.
Clara.io is a full-featured cloud-based 3D modeling, animation and rendering software tool that runs in your web browser. You can make complex 3D models, create beautiful photorealistic renderings, and share them without installing any software programs.
TVPaint has been around for a while and is still used in the industry. It’s perfect for many types of animation, and is useful for integrating traditional with digital animation. It also includes storyboarding and post-production features all packed in the same program.
Toon Boom Harmony
Toon Boom has also been around some time now, but is a bit more modern than TVPaint. They overlap in use but have some different qualities. For instance, Harmony can integrate 3D models, and export 2D animations directly to Game Engines.
However, Toon Boom has separated their Storyboarding platform into their Storyboard Pro software.
Technically you can animate in Photoshop, but it lacks any real production features like rigging or advanced timeline options. I’ve added it here just for beginners who might not realize they can make some decent animations if they are determined enough.
Compared to Photoshop, Krita is overall a worse choice for digital painting, but surprisingly It has better animation tools. As one of the few free animation programs, its highly recommended to try this out first if you're a beginner or student.
There are many more options out there, but these are quite possibly the best of them, and the most well known. Don’t worry if you cant afford some of the industry standard programs. What’s more important is that you learn the fundamentals and develop your design skills. After that, those skills are transferable to anything you use.
WACOM BUNDLED SOFTWARE
Complimentary software included with Wacom products can change frequently, so even though you shouldn't base your tablet purchase on the software you’ll receive, we recommend checking the product pages before pulling the trigger.
The included software is tied to your registered product and account, so the software is not dependent on the retailer you purchased your tablet from. These are some of the current bundles being offered at the time of posting this blog.
Adobe Creative Cloud Photography. 2 month subscription.
Adobe Creative Cloud Photography. 2 month subscription.
Adobe Fresco. 6 month subscription (for a limited time).
Please email us if you have any questions about Wacom tablets, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or message us on Facebook!
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