Although the vast majority of tablet computers are advertised with pictures of artists drawing pictures, practically none of those tablets were designed with the actual needs of artists in mind. They tend to all have some feature or combination of features that render them unusable to the modern professional artist.
The single shining exception to this is the Wacom Corporation, who have been consistently cranking out a quality artistic products for more than a decade. Unfortunately, they also have some features that make them less than ideal, not the least of which is their price.
The Wacom Cintiq, which is clearly the gold standard in computerized artistic implements, has been for sale for nearly fifteen years with no apparent drop in price. Although it has taken a long time, competitors to their undisputed title have finally arisen. This is an incredibly positive development for artists.
Tablets With Displays
The ReMarkable E Ink Paper Tablet
The tablet forces the operator to use the bundled drawing software, which only supports three gradations of tone and contains basically no advanced functions. The ReMarkable certainly has specialty applications. It could be perfect for people with sensitive eyes, people who work in wet or difficult environments, artists such a cartoonists or storyboardists who work entirely in black and white, and hobbyists. It could be a remarkable tool for someone who likes to doodle or sketch rough thumbnails. But it will never be suitable replacement for a basic tablet computer.
It is difficult to imagine any serious artist using the ReMarkable as their primary artistic tool.
XP-Pen Artist13.3 IPS 13.3-Inch Drawing Monitor Pen Display Graphics Drawing Monitor with HDMI to Mac cable and Anti-fouling Glove (Black)
The XP aims to be a competitor to the Wacom Cintiq. They get closer than most. Their $300 price point will be more than enough to make up the difference for many customers. The 13″ display is generous, if not overly so, and the stylus does not require a battery to function.
Stylus functionality and pressure sensitivity are comparable to the industry standard, and the color calibration of the monitor is also the equal of Wacom. The stand is particularly well designed, but it is not included with all models. Be certain to get one at the same time, as these sorts of monitors can be unwieldy and occasionally fragile.
For those who seek a less expensive alternative to Wacom, the XP-Pen is probably their best bet. In fact, it is positively amazing that modern artists even have a choice. People have been praying for a competitor to Wacom for over a decade.
The Wacom is the gold standard for tablets. There is no company that does better. Their prices reflect this. The Cintiq is the artistic tool of choice for everyone who can afford it. They are, however, very expensive. This Cintiq costs a thousand new, and it is the absolute smallest one they make. Larger models become truly exorbitant in price. It is worth noting that Wacom products are not supported for Microsoft Surface products. They are not perfectly reliable machines, and they may require occasional repair. However, there is simply no substitute for the professional artist.
Tablets Without Displays
Tablets without displays are not serious artistic implements. Although they are a massive improvement on drawing with a mouse, and infinitely more affordable than a tablet with a screen, they have inherent flaws that are nearly impossible to overcome.
For example, even the most talented illustrator will have a problem drawing two lines that connect or intersect where they want them to when they are drawing on a tablet without a display. Being able to backstep and undo errors makes it possible for the artist to train their hand and hone in on the proper angles and arcs, but this means spending enormous amounts of drawing time in a fight with the materials.
Tablets without displays are suitable for early beginners, hobbyists, and those on the most restrictive budgets. All other users should graduate to color display tablets as quickly as they possibly can.
Take, for example, the Huion Inspiroy HP640. This tablet is in every way the equal of a Wacom Bamboo or Intuos, for a sticker price that is a third less. The tablet is wireless, so the artist can move it around at their convenience. The stylus does not use a battery, which allows it to avoid one of the most serious failings of all Wacom competitors. The system is well furnished with buttons and customizable gadgets, and the included software is simple and easy to use. The pen station even has a number of spare nibs in an integral holder. Configuration is intuitive. The pen is incredibly pressure sensitive. The Huion Inspiroy has practically everything that any digital artist would need, with the sole exception of a display screen. Unfortunately, that display screen cannot be done without.
XP-Pen Star05 Wireless 2.4G Graphics Drawing Tablet Digital tablet Painting Board with Touch Hot Keys and Battery-free Passive Stylus
The XP-Pen Star05 attempts to do the same thing as the Huion Inspiroy, but it is not quite as successful. The price point falls squarely between the Wacom and the Huion, but this is a compromise that satisfies no one.
If an artist wants a display-free Wacom, then they can spend the extra $10. If they are trying to save every dime, then the Huion is fine. There are advantages to this system. The Star05 has a nice finish. The wireless system is convenient, and the internal battery has a long life. The stylus requires no battery and supports entirely the same options that a comparable Wacom would.
However, without the display, it is nothing but a toy.
The Wacom Intuos works perfectly well. They have been the workhorses of art students and hobbyists for a decade. They interface effortlessly with practically every computer system in existence, they are incredibly well supported, and they are practically indestructible.
There are Wacom tablets from twenty years ago that are still in daily use. Whether it is worth the extra $20 to have something with the Wacom name is up to the individual customer. As far as tablets without displays go, this is the standard.
But a tablet without a display simply cannot be used to make the same sorts of art that a tablet with a monitor can.