14 November, 2008

Benefits of Using the WACOM Tablet

Many people ask me how and why I got started using the WACOM tablet as a design tool and as a creative person, I have to say that its essential and in this post, I'm going to tell you why.

First, its more intuitive than a mouse, the movement is natural, and (for me) it cured my carpal tunnel and various pains I experienced in my hands, which as a creative person, are invaluable. As of writing this post, I still don't have the numbness and pain.

Our hands are like "gold" right? Without them, how can we draw, paint or use the computer, or better yet, design to pay the bills (multiply this by the number of kids you have) and you realize how important your hands are. So, to save our hands, here's my pitch for using the WACOM tablet. It takes time to get used to, but its worth it.

When I graduated with my Graphic Design degree, I got a pretty good design job at a large corporation. We had the best machines, latest software and the best projects. It was a lot of fun and we produced a lot of cool design work. This was both good and bad.

Remember however, when we design on the computer, our hands click the mouse thousands of times a day. Imagine this happening, let's say for three years (this is what happened to me) and after three years of intense design work (and clicking the mouse), I began experiencing a numbing in my right pinky and ring finger. I didn't think anything at first, then the two fingers started to hurt.

I took a Photoshop workshop with the company and I shared with the instructor at the time my problem, and he recommended that I teach myself to use the mouse with my left hand. He said it takes about two weeks, that it was doable and most importantly, it diminishes the wear and tear that was happening to my right hand. So for next week, I literally sat on my right hand while I worked on using the mouse with my left hand. In few short days, I taught myself how to use the mouse with my left hand. This was cool because now I was able to surf the internet and brush my teeth at the same time with my right hand.

Then, (wouldn't you know it) after three years of designing and working in this way, I started experiencing the same numbness and pain in my left hand. Whoa! What the heck is going on here? This took me by surprise and grew concerned because I recognized the "pain". So, I switched back to using the mouse with my right hand.

It took about three months where my right hand began to experience the numbing sensation again. So now, both my hands were experiencing the numbing and slight pain in both pinky and ring fingers. This was bad.

At the company I worked at, they had WACOM tablets available to us for use because many artists used them to draw on the computer. I borrowed one and in only a few days learned how to use. I fell in love with it.

After using it for two days, the pain and numbness went away. The position you sit in when you use it is natural...Your simply holding a stylus which is just like a pencil or pen and instead of clicking (like you do on a mouse), you simply tap the stylus twice, and tap the keyboard to activate various hotkey functions with your other hand. Once I got this down (which took about a week), not only was I working faster, but I was able to be creative without having to worry about what was happening to my hands.

Once in a while, WACOM tablets go on sale at your nearest computer store. The one I use is this one: Wacom Bamboo. You don't need a big one, I have the 6x8 and it works fine. If you are a digital creative, you should invest in one, especially if your hands begin to experience numbing or pain. These days, the tablets have a place where you can clip your stylus so you don't lose it (finally), and also the tablets are now wireless.

I teach a digital painting class where students use the WACOM tablet for the first time. It takes a while to get used to, but once they get a handle on the hand eye coordination required to use it, they love it. The biggest thing I tell them, is that when they first learn to draw, they use a pencil and not a mouse. When you draw on the computer, using a WACOM tablet emulates this natural position, and therefore, can create better work.

I hope this helps you out, if you experienced something similar, let me know. I'd like to hear from you. One of these days, I'll have to get my hands on one of these cool Cintiqs featured below. Only a few of my students roll with them, as the price for them is still pretty steep, but it is sooooo very cool. I'll put this on my wishlist for Santa :-) - Keep drawing and have fun!