Are you thinking of switching up the way you use your computer? Whether you’re a graphic designer, digital illustrator or amatuer artist, changing from a mouse to a Wacom tablet can help you draw and create without the need for pen and paper. And if you find your arms and wrists are prone to RSI from using a mouse all day, every day, a creative tablet can help ease the pressure on those overused muscles and tendons. But it can take awhile to get the hang of a new technology, so we asked two veteran Wacom users – illustrator and motion designer Luke Tribe and digital producer Hana Jo – to share their foolproof top five tips on how to get used to a Wacom tablet.

Why Make the Switch?

Once you get up to speed with using it, a world of creative possibilities opens up to you – particularly if you’re keen to explore the world of digital creativity. The Wacom is ideal for beginners to develop their drawings and sketches from scratch, without having to use reams of paper, and with the added bonus of being able to easily undo a creative choice you don’t like. It can also be used for digital watercolouring, precise retouching in programs such as Adobe Photoshop, and to edit and easily annotate photos and videos – basically, whatever your skill level, there’s a way it can make getting arty easier.

Be Patient: This Is a New Skill

The trick for how to get used to a Wacom tablet is to have patience; it takes time.

If you’ve relied on an external mouse or laptop trackpad for decades, it will take time to get the hang of using the Wacom tablet – so don’t lose faith. Just be patient with yourself and appreciate the wonder of learning a new skill. Luke, who has used a Wacom for 10 years, says it was harder than he thought it would be to get the hang of it – but only for a few days. “It’s a coordination thing. Once you stop thinking about it too much, it’s a breeze,” he says. “[Now] I find it easy to sketch on the Wacom. My lines are smoother and more organic, and can be really detailed. There’s also something really therapeutic about colouring in with the pen [in Adobe Photoshop], too.”

Practice Really Does Make Perfect

Practice – and persistence – makes perfect when learning how to use a Wacom tablet.

When you’re getting used to a Wacom tablet, it really is all about using it as much as possible. While some say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, you needn’t spend that long perfecting your hand movements unless you plan to take up competitive digital drawing – author Josh Kaufman suggests you need around 20 hours to get the hang of something, making it easily achievable in a working week. “Depending on which model Wacom you have, chances are you'll be drawing on the tablet which is on your table, but having to look at what you're doing on the screen,” explains Luke. “That used to take me a while to get used to. But stick with it. Do little bits at a time.”

Research from John Hopkins University also suggests you can learn a new skill faster if you make slight changes to what you do during each practice session – so varying the tasks you do with your Wacom each day, or gripping the pen slightly less firmly – while taking regular, short breaks can also help your brain consolidate the new information it’s just learnt.

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Set Up Personalised Shortcuts

Luke and Hana agree that setting up custom shortcut buttons on the tablet itself will save you plenty of time. “I was also surprised at how convenient it was to replace all of my keyboard shortcuts,” says Hana. “Anything using Ctrl, Alt, Option or Shift.” Some Wacom models, such as the Intuos Pro, have ExpressKeys on the tablet that allow you to store key commands. Once you have the hang of your device and know which keyboard shortcuts you use regularly to perform your essential tasks, all you need to do is choose a button and assign it a particular task that might otherwise take a combination of keys to perform.

Find Your Preferred Mode

Wacom tablets offer two different settings: Pen and Mouse. The Pen mode “maps” the tablet to your screen so that they correspond – when you tap on the top right of the tablet, for example, your cursor will appear at the top right of your screen. In Mouse mode, the pen takes the place of the mouse, allowing you to use the tablet like a trackpad. Experiment with both for a few days each to find the one you’re more comfortable with. “I found the Mouse setting much easier to use when I started with my tablet,” says Hana. “In that mode, your pen acts just like a mouse so the cursor stays where it was when you last touched the tablet.”

Don’t Fall Back on Your Mouse

When learning how to use a Wacom tablet, try both the pen mode and the mouse mode.

It’s tempting to keep your faithful mouse charged up and plugged in to just get the job done when you’re having difficulty handling the Wacom tablet and you’re on a time crunch, but Hana says pushing herself to only use the tablet was the key to getting comfortable. “I forced myself to ditch my mouse and didn't let myself revert back to it, so it was slow going at first but it really only took a day or two to get it,” she says. “It's less confusing and cluttered to just stick with one accessory and the tablet can do everything the mouse can, so it isn't an issue.”

Although Luke sometimes uses a mouse for web scrolling, he says that there are few things the Wacom can’t do. “It just feels much quicker than a mouse; more responsive, and you never have to worry about where the cursor is as the tablet surface is the same dimensions as your screen.”

What to Try

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