If you’re looking for a graphics tablet for 3D modeling, you should definitely pay closer attention to devices with a set of specific characteristics such as: active drawing area larger than 15 inches (ideally 19 and upwards), express keys (for changing tools faster) and ideally a secret weapon that a few 3D artists have, a camera capable of scanning objects and turning them into 3D models.
In today’s article I will go through all the reasons why these characteristics are so important, but if you’re in a hurry and would like to know straight away which graphics tablet I recommend, it’s the Microsoft Surface Pro 6.
Among all of the graphics tablets in the market, this is the only one that has two particularly important characteristics: a 3D camera and an affordable price. You won’t find this combo anywhere else.
Why do you need a graphics tablet with a large active drawing area for 3D modeling?
Using a larger drawing area makes the whole creative process more comfortable and it considerably speeds up workflow.
Most artists, designers and modelers that work with smaller tablets tend to finish their tasks much later than necessary simply because they have to spend so much time using the zoom hundreds of times to reach different parts of the screen. Smaller tablets are much cheaper, but you end up paying for it in time. This is a trade-off that I’m simply not willing to accept.
As long as you’re working with a 15 inch (diagonal measure) screen, you can get some serious work done. The larger the drawing area, the better for you.
If I could pick an optimal size, I would say that 19 inches upwards would be great. But you should be aware that once a tablet surpasses the 15-inch mark, the prices start to increase substantially.
Regardless of that, my work tools are a priority and yours should be to. If you’re serious about producing quality models and doing it fast, try to invest a little bit more and get a decent graphics tablet from the get go.
Another particularly important detail that I’ve already mentioned before in this website is that, when you pick a graphic tablet size, make sure that the specs of the product describe the “active drawing area” and not supply the “surface area”.
What’s the difference between “active drawing area” and “surface area”? (You might be asking yourself)
Well, the “active drawing area” is where you can actually draw with your digital pen (stylus). It’s the “useful” part of the graphics tablet. It’s the only area that really matters.
While the “surface area” means the area as a whole, including the parts of the tablet that are only plastic and that don’t do anything useful. In fact, since the express keys are also located on the top of the drawing board, the place where they are located is also considered “surface area”.
I like to mention this because some manufacturers will advertise their graphics tablets as having a huge “surface area” when, in reality” the “active drawing area” is pretty small.
Take a look at the image below to understand precisely what I’m saying:
Are express keys really necessary for 3D modeling?
Express keys are another feature that help speed the creation process. I don’t know about you, but I’m always hoping between tools. I do it hundreds, maybe even over a thousand times, when working on a sizable project.
Although most of my work is done in 2D, I still need to change tools when dealing with 3D software, particularly with ZBrush, which kind of blends the skills between 2D and 3D artists.
Using express keys is a great way to hop from tool to tool and from brush to brush with a single click.
Even though the pens that come with graphics tablets already offer this tool-changing feature at the touch of a button, pens tend to have only one button, sometimes two, and that is definitely not enough to cover all the variety of tools you will need when working on a 3D model from scratch.
Express keys are also programmable; you can assign actions to them thus creating a graphics tablet capable of turning you into a 3D modeling machine.
These days, the industry is extremely competitive and it’s no longer enough to be good at what you do, you also need to be as fast as possible. In my opinion, these keys express keys are fantastic ways to achieve this result. They’re not necessary, but they sure help.
What other features are desirable in a graphics tablet for 3D modeling?
Purchasing a graphics tablet that has its own screen is another highly desirable trait. It’s not strictly necessary, but it makes the whole creation process so much more enjoyable than drawing on a full plastic surface.
There are only two acceptable reasons for not getting a drawing tablet with a screen:
You need a cheap device to carry around
You don’t have enough money to buy a graphics tablet that has a screen
I don’t particularly like cars, but I like to use them to make analogies. So, here we go again: Let’s suppose it’s summer and…it’s extremely hot outside. Now imagine you have to get inside your car at midday, when the sun is at its peak. Would you rather have a car with air conditioner or not?
Of course you can get by with a car without air conditioner, just open the windows and accept the fact that you will be uncomfortable during the ride.
But…. wouldn’t you rather just have the air conditioner and don’t have to worry about the temperature?
Graphics tablets with screens are not necessary, but they make a huge difference when you want to get work done. And as an artist, more than wanting to, you actually need to get work done. Don’t be cheap, get a decent tablet with a nice shining screen and you’re all set.
Is a 3D camera worth the added cost?
At the beginning of this post I mentioned that the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 has a camera that scans objects and turn them into 3D models right?
Although that’s not the best camera in the world, as you may have guessed, it still beats not having a 3D camera at all.
I was incredibly surprised to know that Microsoft went out of their way to embed a camera with this kind property into their tablet. I think that this feature alone puts the Surface Pro 6 at a completely different level from most other graphics tablets.
Not only is this feature pretty unique when it comes to graphics tablets, it’s also worth noting that this device is not substantially more expensive than the others. In fact, if you analyze feature by feature, I would even dare to say that this tablet is quite cheap.
I’ve always had a great time working with Microsoft products, I must confess that I’m a fan, and I’m convinced that they will become a major player in the graphics tablet industry in the near future.
Are there any other good graphics tablet for 3D modeling besides the Microsoft Surface Pro 6?
In my opinion, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 dwarfs all the others, but it’s important to mention that if you look into other options you will be able to find devices that are better than Surface Pro in two very specific areas:
Drawing area size
With all its computer power, cameras and overall user-experience, Microsoft’s tablet still loses the battle when it comes to size. You can’t have everything, right?
For roughly the same amount of money you would spend on the Surface Pro, you can get a much larger graphics tablet form Huion, which has also been producing incredible reliable devices.
Here at Drawing Tablet World I have recommended the Huion KAMVAS GT-191 multiple times simply because this device has nearly everything you could as for, but it’s also much cheaper than one would expect.
However, the KAMVAS GT-191 is not the only decent alternative, most of Huion’s drawing tablets from the KAMVAS series are exceptionally good. Here are some of my favorite picks.
Huion KAMVAS GT-191
Huion KAMVAS PRO 20 GT-192
Huion KAMVAS GT-221 Pro HD
There’s one observation, though. None of these graphics tablets come with the 3D scanning feature of the Microsoft Surface Pro 6. Keep that in mind!
Do I really need a graphics tablet for 3D modeling?
If you’re not going to work directly with ZBrush or any similar 3D sculpting software, it’s perfectly possible to do your job without a graphics tablet.
In the past, most modeling work was done with a simple mouse, a keyboard and an old copy of Maya or 3D Studio. As technology evolves, 3D modeling has taken a different shape and modelers are asked to be more resourceful than their counterparts were back in the day.
Since you want to be prepared for the future, not the past, I think that it’s important to have the correct tools to face the current industry.
The world changes too fast and the industry evolves so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. If you’re serious modeler or plans on becoming one, I would highly suggest that you start using a graphics tablet as soon as possible and that you learn how to work fast.
Remember, a modeler that creates twice as fast is as good as two modelers.
You want to set yourself apart from the others, you want to be at the top of the “food chain”.
Buying the right graphics tablets can seem overwhelming at times, but if you read this post carefully and if you’re willing to make an investment in your career, you will know which option to pick.
As long as you choose a device that has all the features that you need as an artist and as long as you don’t stop practicing, everything is going to be fine.
If you have any questions or suggestions, make sure to leave a message. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.
Have a great week and let’s keep on creating!