Wacom Pen Tablet settings

Settings and preferences for older Intuos drawing tablets.

Older Wacom Drawing Tablets

Hardware Setup Tutorials

Monitor Calibration | Wacom Intuos Setup | Workspace Ergonomics | Color Management | Airbrush Equipment

All Tutorial Text & Images - Copyright © 2011 KHI, Inc.

Wacom Drawing Tablet Tutorial for Older Tablets

Wacom Graphire BT (Bluetooth), Cintiq and Intuos drawing tablets offer the closest "digital" experience to drawing with a pencil and paper although there are some significant differences. One major difference is that you are not looking at your hand while you are drawing, you are looking at the screen display. This takes some getting use to, but after several hours of retraining your eye-hand coordination, the Wacom Tablet experience is very similar to actual drawing.

Wacom's Intuos Pen tool gives you the "natural" feel due to their cordless and battery-free pen technology. The Wacom Intuos2 Pen gives you the option of pressure-sensitive control but I find this to be one of the significant weaknesses of their drawing tablet. Using the pressure sensitivity settings you can dynamically control things like brush size and opacity but I prefer to control these settings manually through he Photoshop "opacity" settings.

At the top of the Wacom Intuos2 tablet there are convenient Touch Strip buttons that can be customized for common keyboard shortcuts. For later Intuos versions see: Intuos4 Tablet Setup

During this tutorial we will go through the step-by-step setup procedure using Wacom's "Preferences" control panel. You will learn how to set the tablet-to-screen ratio, tip pressure, pen angle, and macro pen button settings.

Wacom Pen Attributes - Tool Buttons

The Wacom pen tool's buttons can be set to control several different functions. The pen tool button is a two-way actuated button. By pressing the top of the button or bottom of this button you can control two different functions.

While in Photoshop, I use the top button to hide selections by assigning the keystroke command of "Command>H." Hiding the selection's distracting "marching ants" makes it much easier to see what you are painting and how that area relates to the surrounding "unselected" areas.

I use the bottom button as a "Modifier" setting. While in Photoshop I have this "Modifier" set to emulate the "Shift" key. This will constrain any pen movements to horizontal, vertical, or 45ยบ diagonal lines. While in Adobe Illustrator, I have this button set to zoom out. When I am in the "Desktop" mode I have it set to double click. The whole idea of using different Wacom tablet settings for different programs is to save time by having these highly accessible buttons set to do your most repetitive tasks. Your choice of settings will undoubtedly be different than mine which is why Wacom has made the button settings customizable for each users needs.

Wacom Pen Tablet Settings - Pen Tool Buttons

Drawing Tablet Click Settings & Attributes

The "Double Click" tab controls the Pen Tool's sensitivity to double-click inputs, adjusting and calibrating the speed that you are accustomed to double clicking, and the accuracy with which you can aim the pen when clicking on an icon or link. A 3 pixel diameter is a good starting point for setting the "Click Distance." The default setting for "Double-Click Speed" is the midway point between slow and fast.

 Click Settings and Attributes

Wacom Pen Tilt Settings

Setting the Pen Tool's "Tilt" angle will adjust the pen's cutoff point to prevent accidental inputs that can be made by inadvertent hand gestures, and extreme pen angle inputs will be ignored by the tablet. This is an ergonomic setting that is tailored to your individual pen-holding style.

Wacom Pen Tablet Tilt Settings

Wacom Pen Tip Feel

By setting the pen tool's "Tip Feel" you can adjust the pressure sensitivity cutoff point, thereby preventing accidental inputs that are mistakenly created by lightly touching the pen to the tablet's surface while moving your hand. If you tend to lightly rest the pen tip on the tablet's surface while you are moving your hand to a new location, you will need to set the on/off sensitivity to a higher level.

Wacom Pen Tablet Pen Tip Feel

Wacom Pen Tip Pressure Feel Options

Setting the "Pen Tip Pressure Feel" is a very important step if you are using Wacom's pressure sensitivity feature. Personally, I don't like to use the "pressure sensitivity" feature to control brush size or opacity because I prefer to have more exacting control through Photoshop's brush attribute settings. Wacom's pressure sensitivity feature takes some getting use to, but it can be advantageous when painting large areas, or using the burn and dodge tools when photo-retouching.

Wacom Tablet Pen Tip Feel Options

Drawing Tablet Mapping/Speed Settings

Wacom's drawing tablet Mapping/Speed settings control the relationship between the "live" area of the tablet surface to the active area within your monitor. This relationship is critical, and the aspect-ratio (4:3, widescreen, etc.) must be consistent from screen to tablet. Additionally, you will need to find the correct setting and not tinker with them after that. This is critical to learning and maintaining your eye-hand coordination while looking at the monitor, and each time these settings are altered you will need to re-learn your eye-hand coordination.

Wacom Pen Tablet Mapping and Speed Settings

Another important point is to position the tablet and monitor so that they are aligned to each-other along the same plane, and not change their placement after they are correctly positioned. Use double-face tape to securely mount the tablet and monitor to your table top thus preventing any movement. By keeping this relationship permanent you can master your eye-hand coordination, and not have an awkward readjustment period each time they are moved. See "Workspace Ergonomics" to learn more about correct tablet/monitor positioning.

Advanced Drawing Tablet Mapping - Scaling Tablet to Display

Wacom's "Advanced Mapping" and "Portion of Tablet" windows provide the ability to make exacting settings to "scale" the active tablet surface to the monitor's aspect-ratio. As stated in the previous paragraph, this relationship is crucial to learning and maintaining proper eye-hand coordination. If you are using dual monitors you will need to make the active area cover both monitors (below, right) with a correct overall ratio. See "Helpful Hint" section below.

The width-to-height ratio of the monitor screen (its aspect-ratio) must be exactly the same as the "defined" tablet area's width-to-height ratio. This can be accomplished two ways: by manually setting the numeric values, or by using the "Defining Tablet Area" window shown below.

Scaling Tablet to Display

Technical Note: Setting a small active area within the tablet can help in reducing repetitive motion injuries to your wrist and elbow (See: Workspace Ergonomics).

Advanced Drawing Tablet Mapping - Defining Tablet Area

By using Wacom's "Click to Define Tablet Area" tab to set the tablet's active area, you will actually click the pen tool in each of the four corners that will correspond to the monitor screen's outer-most corners. This will permanently assign the active area of the tablet, and establish the eye-hand relationship between tablet and monitor.

Wacom Pen Tablet Settings - Defining Tablet Area

Helpful Hint: By making a scaled drawing of the monitor(s) on thin vellum, then placing it under the tablet's protective cover, you will have a visual clue as to where pen is in relation to the monitor's cursor. This will also assist in defining the tablet's active area when using the "Click to Define Tablet Area" tab.

Clicking to Define Tablet Area

Wacom Drawing Tablet Mode & Applications List

Although it is very useful to have application-specific settings for the pen buttons and macro buttons, you will want the Mapping settings to be exactly the same from one application to another. The reason for this is quite simple as you do not want to be re-learning your eye-hand coordination each time you switch applications.

Wacom Pen Tablet Mode


This is a basic lesson in the use of Wacom's Intuos3 professional tablet and pen tool preferences and settings. Using the settings discussed in this tutorial will help you maximize the functionality and comfort level of Wacom's pen tablets.

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