Wacom for retouching: Why, Which and How

Anyone who is planning to take their retouching to the next level struggles with the decision of whether they need to buy a Wacom tablet. Questions vary from why do I really need it, which one do I need and how long will it take me to get started. There is no right answer to these questions. But through this compilation of articles, from Fstoppers & Retouching academy we are going to try and help you make that decision with just this one article. 

Elia Locardi for Fstoppers 

Elia Locardi for Fstoppers 

Why Wacom?

Think how quickly and naturally you can sign your name on paper with a pen and imagine doing the same with a mouse in a paint application. Click, drag, click drag, and in the end I’d be willing to bet in most cases the result won’t be a flowing script, no matter how beautiful your handwriting may be. Now imagine doing that with a device which is designed exactly like a pen. Effortless. High chances are it will be very close to your normal signature.  

Working with a Wacom Tablet

Some of the most famous retouchers in the world like Pratik NaikJulia Kuzmenko McKimAaron Nace and have all traded in their mouse pads for a pen and tablet system. Your worry about transition from mouse to pen is probably similar to the feelings people have when picking up an instrument for the first time. Anyone who has become moderately proficient at an instrument can make simple tasks look incredibly easy. Muscle memory is an incredible achievement of the human body, and breaking decade old habits can be so extremely difficult that many people simply give up. 

How long does it take to get used to one?

Don't worry. Everyone picked it up at a different pace. There are lucky ones who picked it up immediately. They made the connection right away and it made sense to them. A larger majority takes a few days to get used to it. Initially, they saw the benefit and liked it but needed time to fine tune the experience and dial it in. Others took a week to fully get accustomed to it. Many could never get used to it in the end and actually ended up selling theirs.

If you don't pick it up right away and you want to be sure you give it a fair chance, there are some tips to make sure you do.

1. Put your mouse to the side! Like learning to ride a bike, you have to put in the effort and time and it won't be easy at first. Use just the pen and immerse yourself in using one for retouching. Keep a mouse around for surfing the web or any other tasks. Other than that, make sure you are just using the tablet.

2. Give it a full week of practice. You can't expect to be comfortable in just a couple of days. When you begin writing on paper for the first time, you have to build muscle memory to make the connection. It's the same principle, you will need time to build the muscle memory to make a relationship if you are using a tablet.

3. Pay attention to comfort. Chances are you may be gripping the pen really tightly or your posture changes when using the tablet. Be aware of your comfort level and make fine adjustments.

4. Practice creating shapes. In Photoshop, create a new blank canvas and begin drawing straight lines and various shapes. Surprisingly this helped me out quite a bit as it allowed me to make the relationship between moving my hand and drawing on screen.

Which Wacom do I buy?

1. Intuos Photo: If budget is a concern for your first graphics tablet purchase then don’t hesitate to start with the entry level Intuos Photo, as Wacom sets the bar high with even the home user end of its range. We recommend you start with this and then transition to the Pro if you are not planning to do retouching full-time.

2. Wacom Intuos Pro: If you want to be a professional photo retoucher, it will be the best choice for photo retouching. 

Which size of Wacom tablet should I choose?
Small tablets require less hand and arm movement than the larger surfaces for retouching and pen strokes are kept tight and controlled. However, many with a background in traditional art prefer a larger surface, so if you’re also an illustrator you may want to go with a Medium or Large.

How to get started? 

Aaron Nace is both an amazing retoucher and photographer. In his tutorial, Five photoshop tips from Wacom Tablet Beginners takes you through various aspects such as adjusting your pen's response to movement, changing the overall brush pressure sensitivity, programming brush size and hardness shortcuts, manipulating flow and opacity settings, and adopting the previous tips to other tools besides just the brush. 

We would like to know your experience with using a tablet:

1. Do you use one and how long did you get accustomed to it?
2. How many of you have tried and never got used to using one?
3. What do you primarily shoot?
4. Do you find the tablet was really beneficial to your workflow outside of retouching?
5. What tips do you have for people who want to get better at using it from your own experience?

Links to full articles:
1. Retouching Academy: http://retouchingacademy.com/so-do-you-really-need-a-wacom-tablet-for-retouching/
2. FStoppers: https://fstoppers.com/post-production/graphic-tablet-really-necessary-photographer-have-retouching-2602
3. https://fstoppers.com/business/5-best-tips-set-your-wacom-tablet-retouching-photoshop-80643