Graphics tablet

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Wacom Bamboo Capture tablet and pen-like stylus Wacom Bamboo Capture tablet and pen.jpg
Wacom Bamboo Capture tablet and pen-like stylus

A graphics tablet (also known as a digitizer, drawing tablet, drawing pad, digital drawing tablet, pen tablet, or digital art board) is a computer input device that enables a user to hand-draw images, animations and graphics, with a special pen-like stylus, similar to the way a person draws images with a pencil and paper. These tablets may also be used to capture data or handwritten signatures. It can also be used to trace an image from a piece of paper which is taped or otherwise secured to the tablet surface. Capturing data in this way, by tracing or entering the corners of linear poly-lines or shapes, is called digitizing. [1]


The device consists of a flat surface upon which the user may "draw" or trace an image using the attached stylus, a pen-like drawing apparatus. The image is displayed on the computer monitor, though some graphic tablets now also incorporate an LCD screen for a more realistic or natural experience and usability.

Some tablets are intended as a replacement for the computer mouse as the primary pointing and navigation device for desktop computers.


The first electronic handwriting device was the Telautograph, patented by Elisha Gray in 1888. [2]

The first graphic tablet resembling contemporary tablets and used for handwriting recognition by a computer was the Stylator in 1957. [3] Better known (and often misstated as the first digitizer tablet) is the RAND Tablet [4] also known as the Grafacon [5] (for Graphic Converter), introduced in 1964. The RAND Tablet employed a grid of wires under the surface of the pad that encoded horizontal and vertical coordinates in a small magnetic signal. The stylus would receive the magnetic signal, which could then be decoded back as coordinate information.

The acoustic tablet, or spark tablet, used a stylus that generated clicks with a spark plug. The clicks were then triangulated by a series of microphones to locate the pen in space. [6] The system was fairly complex and expensive, and the sensors were susceptible to interference by external noise.

Digitizers were popularized in the mid-1970s and early 1980s by the commercial success of the ID (Intelligent Digitizer) and BitPad manufactured by the Summagraphics Corp.[ citation needed ] The Summagraphics digitizers were sold under the company's name but were also private labeled for HP, Textronix, Evans and Sutherland and several other graphic system manufacturers. The ID model was the first graphics tablet to make use of what was at the time, the new Intel microprocessor technology. This embedded processing power allowed the ID models to have twice the accuracy of previous models while still making use of the same foundation technology. Key to this accuracy improvement were two US Patents issued to Stephen Domyan, Robert Davis, and Edward Snyder. The Bit Pad model was the first attempt at a low cost graphics tablet with an initial selling price of $555 when other graphics tablets were selling in the $2,000 to $3,000 price range. This lower cost opened up the opportunities for would be entrepreneurs to be able to write graphics software for a multitude of new applications. These digitizers were used as the input device for many high-end CAD (Computer Aided Design) systems as well as bundled with PCs and PC-based CAD software like AutoCAD.

Summagraphics also made an OEM version of its BitPad which was sold by Apple Computer as the Apple Graphic Tablet accessory to their Apple II. These tablets used a magnetostriction technology which used wires made of a special alloy stretched over a solid substrate to accurately locate the tip of a stylus or the center of a digitizer cursor on the surface of the tablet. This technology also allowed Proximity or "Z" axis measurement. [7]

The first home computer graphic tablet was the KoalaPad. Though originally designed for the Apple II, the Koala eventually broadened its applicability to practically all home computers with graphic support, examples of which include the TRS-80 Color Computer, Commodore 64, and Atari 8-bit family. Competing tablets were eventually produced; the tablets produced by Atari were generally considered to be of high quality. [8]

In 1981, musician Todd Rundgren created the first color graphic tablet software for personal computers, which was licensed to Apple as the Utopia Graphic Tablet System. [9]

In the 1980s, several vendors of graphic tablets began to include additional functions, such as handwriting recognition and on-tablet menus. [10] [11]


Typically tablets are characterized by size of the device, drawing area, its resolution size («active area», which is measured in lpi), pressure sensitivity (level of varying the size of strokes with pressure), [12] number of buttons and types and number of interfaces: Bluetooth, USB; etc. [13] The actual drawing accuracy is restricted to pen's nib size. [14]


There have been many attempts to categorize the technologies that have been used for graphic tablets:

Passive tablets
Passive tablets make use of electromagnetic induction technology, where the horizontal and vertical wires of the tablet operate as both transmitting and receiving coils (as opposed to the wires of the RAND Tablet which only transmit). The tablet generates an electromagnetic signal, which is received by the LC circuit in the stylus. The wires in the tablet then change to a receiving mode and read the signal generated by the stylus. Modern arrangements also provide pressure sensitivity and one or more buttons, with the electronics for this information present in the stylus. On older tablets, changing the pressure on the stylus nib or pressing a button changed the properties of the LC circuit, affecting the signal generated by the pen, which modern ones often encode into the signal as a digital data stream. By using electromagnetic signals, the tablet is able to sense the stylus position without the stylus having to even touch the surface, and powering the pen with this signal means that devices used with the tablet never need batteries. Activslate 50, the model used with Promethean white boards, also uses a hybrid of this technology. [15]
Active tablets
Active tablets differ in that the stylus used contains self-powered electronics that generate and transmit a signal to the tablet. These styluses rely on an internal battery rather than the tablet for their power, resulting in a bulkier stylus. Eliminating the need to power the pen means that such tablets may listen for pen signals constantly, as they do not have to alternate between transmit and receive modes, which can result in less jitter.
Optical tablets
Optical tablets operate by a very small digital camera in the stylus and then doing pattern matching on the image of the paper. The most successful[ citation needed ] example is the technology developed by Anoto.
Acoustic tablets
Early models were described as spark tablets—a small sound generator was mounted in the stylus, and the acoustic signal picked up by two microphones placed near the writing surface. Some modern designs are able to read positions in three dimensions. [16] [17]
Capacitive tablets
These tablets have also been designed to use an electrostatic or capacitive signal. Scriptel's designs are one example of a high-performance tablet detecting an electrostatic signal. Unlike the type of capacitive design used for touchscreens, the Scriptel design is able to detect the position of the pen while it is in proximity to or hovering above the tablet. Many multi-touch tablets use capacitive sensing. [18] [19]

For all these technologies, the tablet can use the received signal to also determine the distance of the stylus from the surface of the tablet, the tilt (angle from vertical) of the stylus, and other information in addition to the horizontal and vertical positions, such as clicking buttons of the stylus or the rotation of the stylus.

Compared to touchscreens, a graphic tablet generally offers much higher precision, the ability to track an object which is not touching the tablet, and can gather much more information about the stylus, but is typically more expensive, and can only be used with the special stylus or other accessories.

Some tablets, especially inexpensive ones aimed at young children, come with a corded stylus, using technology similar to older RAND tablets.


A large-format graphic tablet by manufacturer Summagraphics (OEM'd to Gerber): The puck's external copper coil can be clearly seen. Tablet gerber.jpg
A large-format graphic tablet by manufacturer Summagraphics (OEM'd to Gerber): The puck's external copper coil can be clearly seen.

After styluses, pucks are the most commonly used tablet accessory. A puck is a mouse-like device that can detect its absolute position and rotation. This is opposed to a mouse, which can only sense its relative velocity on a surface (most tablet drivers are capable of allowing a puck to emulate a mouse in operation, and many pucks are marketed as a "mouse"). Pucks range in size and shape; some are externally indistinguishable from a mouse, while others are a fairly large device with dozens of buttons and controls. Professional pucks often have a reticle or loupe which allows the user to see the exact point on the tablet's surface targeted by the puck, for detailed tracing and computer aided design (CAD) work.

Embedded LCD tablets

Digital graphic tablet or drawing board with integrated LCD screen Cintiq 21-Front 0.jpg
Digital graphic tablet or drawing board with integrated LCD screen

Some graphics tablets incorporate an LCD into the tablet itself, allowing the user to draw directly on the display surface.

Graphic tablet/screen hybrids offer advantages over both standard PC touchscreens and ordinary graphic tablets. Unlike touchscreens, they offer pressure sensitivity, and their input resolution is generally higher.[ citation needed ] While their pressure sensitivity and resolution are typically no better than those of ordinary tablets, they offer the additional advantage of directly seeing the location of the physical pen device relatively to the image on the screen. This often allows for increased accuracy and a more tactile, "real" feeling to the use of the device.

The graphic tablet manufacturer Wacom holds many patents on key technologies for graphic tablets, [20] which forces competitors to use other technologies or license Wacom's patents. The displays are often sold for thousands of dollars. For instance, the Wacom Cintiq series ranges from just below US$1,000 to over US$2,000.

Some commercially available graphic tablet-screen hybrids include:

There have also been do-it-yourself projects where conventional used LCD monitors and graphics tablets have been converted to a graphics tablet-screen hybrid. [21] [22]


Graphic tablets, because of their stylus-based interface and ability to detect some or all of pressure, tilt, and other attributes of the stylus and its interaction with the tablet, are widely considered to offer a very natural way to create computer graphics, especially two-dimensional computer graphics. Indeed, many graphic packages can make use of the pressure (and, sometimes, stylus tilt or rotation) information generated by a tablet, by modifying the brush size, shape, opacity, color, or other attributes based on data received from the graphic tablet.

In East Asia, graphic tablets, known as "pen tablets", are widely used in conjunction with input-method editor software (IMEs) to write Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters (CJK). The technology is popular and inexpensive and offers a method for interacting with the computer in a more natural way than typing on the keyboard, with the pen tablet supplanting the role of the computer mouse. Uptake of handwriting recognition among users who use alphabetic scripts has been slower.

Graphic tablets are commonly used in the artistic world. Using a pen-like stylus on a graphic tablet combined with a graphics-editing program, such as Illustrator or Photoshop by Adobe Systems, or CorelDraw, gives artists a lot of precision when creating digital drawings or artwork. Photographers can also find working with a graphic tablet during their post processing can really speed up tasks like creating a detailed layer mask or dodging and burning.

Educators make use of tablets in classrooms to project handwritten notes or lessons and to allow students to do the same, as well as providing feedback on student work submitted electronically. Online teachers may also use a tablet for marking student work, or for live tutorials or lessons, especially where complex visual information or mathematical equations are required. Students are also increasingly using them as note-taking devices, especially during university lectures while following along with the lecturer.

Tablets are also popular for technical drawings and CAD, as one can typically put a piece of paper on them without interfering with their function.

Finally, tablets are gaining popularity as a replacement for the computer mouse as a pointing device.[ when? ] They can feel more intuitive to some users than a mouse, as the position of a pen on a tablet typically corresponds to the location of the pointer on the GUI shown on the computer screen. Those artists using a pen for graphic work will as a matter of convenience use a tablet and pen for standard computer operations rather than put down the pen and find a mouse. A popular game osu! allows utilizing a tablet as a way of playing. [23]

Graphic tablets are available in various sizes and price ranges; A6-sized tablets being relatively inexpensive and A3-sized tablets far more expensive. Modern tablets usually connect to the computer via a USB or HDMI interface.

Similar devices

Interactive whiteboards offer high-resolution wall size graphic tablets up to 95" along with options for pressure and multiple input. These are becoming commonplace in schools and meeting rooms around the world. [24]

Touch screens like those found on some tablet computers, iPads, and the Nintendo DS are operated in similar ways, but they usually use either optical grids or a pressure-sensitive film instead, and therefore they do not need a special pointing device.

A graphic tablet is also used for Audio-Haptic products where blind or visually impaired people touch swelled graphics on a graphic tablet and get audio feedback from that. [25] The product that is using this technology is called Tactile Talking Tablet or T3.

See also

Related Research Articles

Pointing device input device

A pointing device is an input interface that allows a user to input spatial data to a computer. CAD systems and graphical user interfaces (GUI) allow the user to control and provide data to the computer using physical gestures by moving a hand-held mouse or similar device across the surface of the physical desktop and activating switches on the mouse. Movements of the pointing device are echoed on the screen by movements of the pointer and other visual changes. Common gestures are point and click and drag and drop.

Handwriting recognition ability of a computer to receive and interpret intelligible handwritten input

Handwriting recognition (HWR), also known as Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR), is the ability of a computer to receive and interpret intelligible handwritten input from sources such as paper documents, photographs, touch-screens and other devices. The image of the written text may be sensed "off line" from a piece of paper by optical scanning or intelligent word recognition. Alternatively, the movements of the pen tip may be sensed "on line", for example by a pen-based computer screen surface, a generally easier task as there are more clues available. A handwriting recognition system handles formatting, performs correct segmentation into characters, and finds the most plausible words.

Touchpad pointing device

A touchpad or trackpad is a pointing device featuring a tactile sensor, a specialized surface that can translate the motion and position of a user's fingers to a relative position on the operating system that is made output to the screen. Touchpads are a common feature of laptop computers as opposed to using a mouse on a desktop, and are also used as a substitute for a mouse where desk space is scarce. Because they vary in size, they can also be found on personal digital assistants (PDAs) and some portable media players. Wireless touchpads are also available as detached accessories.

Touchscreen input/output device usually layered on the top of an electronic visual display

A touchscreen, or touch screen, is a both input and output device and normally layered on the top of an electronic visual display of an information processing system. A user can give input or control the information processing system through simple or multi-touch gestures by touching the screen with a special stylus or one or more fingers. Some touchscreens use ordinary or specially coated gloves to work while others may only work using a special stylus or pen. The user can use the touchscreen to react to what is displayed and, if the software allows, to control how it is displayed; for example, zooming to increase the text size.

Digital painting is an emerging art form in which traditional painting techniques such as watercolor, oils, impasto, etc. are applied using digital tools by means of a computer, a graphics tablet and stylus, and software. Traditional painting is painting with a physical medium as opposed to a more modern style like digital. Digital painting differs from other forms of digital art, particularly computer-generated art, in that it does not involve the computer rendering from a model. The artist uses painting techniques to create the digital painting directly on the computer. All digital painting programs try to mimic the use of physical media through various brushes and paint effects. Included in many programs are brushes that are digitally styled to represent the traditional style like oils, acrylics, pastels, charcoal, pen and even media such as airbrushing. There are also certain effects unique to each type of digital paint which portray the realistic effects of say watercolor on a digital 'watercolor' painting. In most digital painting programs, the users can create their own brush style using a combination of texture and shape. This ability is very important in bridging the gap between traditional and digital painting.

ArtRage graphics software

ArtRage is a bitmap graphics editor for digital painting created by Ambient Design Ltd. It is currently in version 5.0.5, and supports Windows, macOS and mobile Apple and Android devices and is available in multiple languages. It caters to all ages and skill levels, from children to professional artists. ArtRage 5 was announced for January 2017 and finally released in February 2017.

Wacom Japanese company specializing in graphics tablets and related products

Wacom Co., Ltd. is a Japanese company headquartered in Kazo, Saitama, Japan, that specializes in graphics tablets and related products.

Digital pen input device

A digital pen or smart pen is an input device which captures the handwriting or brush strokes of a user and converts handwritten analog information created using "pen and paper" into digital data, enabling the data to be utilized in various applications. This type of pen is usually used in conjunction with a digital notebook, although the data can also be used for different applications or simply as a graphic.

An acoustic tablet, also known as a spark tablet, is a form of graphics tablet that uses sound to locate the position of the stylus within the drawing area.

Tablet computer Mobile computer with display, circuitry and battery

A tablet computer, commonly shortened to tablet, is a mobile device, typically with a mobile operating system and touchscreen display processing circuitry, and a rechargeable battery in a single, thin and flat package. Tablets, being computers, do what other personal computers do, but lack some input/output (I/O) abilities that others have. Modern tablets largely resemble modern smartphones, the only differences being that tablets are relatively larger than smartphones, with screens 7 inches (18 cm) or larger, measured diagonally, and may not support access to a cellular network.

Multi-touch technology

In computing, multi-touch is technology that enables a surface to recognize the presence of more than one point of contact with the surface at the same time. The origins of multitouch began at CERN, MIT, University of Toronto, Carnegie Mellon University and Bell Labs in the 1970s. CERN started using multi-touch screens as early as 1976 for the controls og the Super Proton Synchrotron. Apple popularized the term "multi-touch" in 2007. Plural-point awareness may be used to implement additional functionality, such as pinch to zoom or to activate certain subroutines attached to predefined gestures.

Pen computing any computer user-interface using a pen or stylus and tablet

Pen computing refers to any computer user-interface using a pen or stylus and tablet, over input devices such as a keyboard or a mouse.

A text entry interface or text entry device is an interface that is used to enter text information an electronic device. A commonly used device is a mechanical computer keyboard. Most laptop computers have an integrated mechanical keyboard, and desktop computers are usually operated primarily using a keyboard and mouse. Devices such as smartphones and tablets mean that interfaces such as virtual keyboards and voice recognition are becoming more popular as text entry systems.

Input device peripheral to provide data and signals to an information processing system

In computing, an input device is a piece of computer hardware equipment used to provide data and control signals to an information processing system such as a computer or information appliance. Examples of input devices include keyboards, mouse, scanners, digital cameras, joysticks, and microphones.

Handwriting movement analysis is the study and analysis of the movements involved in handwriting and drawing. It forms an important part of graphonomics, which became established after the "International Workshop on Handwriting Movement Analysis" in 1982 in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. It would become the first of a continuing series of International Graphonomics Conferences. The first graphonomics milestone was Thomassen, Keuss, Van Galen, Grootveld (1983).

Stylus (computing) pen used for computers

In computing, a stylus is a small pen-shaped instrument whose tip position on a touchscreen can be detected by the screen. It is used to draw, or make selections by tapping, on devices with touchscreens such as computers, mobile devices, game consoles, and graphics tablets. While touchscreens can usually be operated with a fingertip, a stylus provides more accurate and controllable input. The stylus has the same function as a mouse or trackpad as a pointing device; its use is commonly called pen computing.

The history of tablet computers and the associated special operating software is an example of pen computing technology, and thus the development of tablets has deep historical roots. The first patent for a system that recognized handwritten characters by analyzing the handwriting motion was granted in 1914. The first publicly demonstrated system using a tablet and handwriting recognition instead of a keyboard for working with a modern digital computer dates to 1956.

Microsoft Tablet PC term coined by Microsoft for tablet computers conforming to a set of specifications announced in 2001 by Microsoft

Microsoft Tablet PC is a term coined by Microsoft for tablet computers conforming to a set of specifications announced in 2001 by Microsoft, for a pen-enabled personal computer, conforming to hardware specifications devised by Microsoft and running a licensed copy of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system or a derivative thereof.

The RAND Tablet is a graphical computer input device developed by The RAND Corporation. The RAND Tablet is claimed to be the first digital graphic device marketed as being a low cost device. The creation of the tablet was performed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency. The RAND Tablet was one of the first devices to utilize a stylus as a highly practical instrument.

Active pen input device

An active pen is an input device that includes electronic components and allows users to write directly onto the display of a computing device such as a smartphone, tablet computer or Ultrabook. The active pen marketplace has long been dominated by N-trig and Wacom, but newer firms Atmel and Synaptics also offer active pen designs.


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