Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mapping, Pen Tablets, and Drawing by Hand

Recently I bought this a Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet. When browsing the various cartography and art forums I keep seeing references to using tablets and the Bamboo line is pretty affordable as these things go ($70 for this model).

The way it works is that the active area is inside the white lines. If I touch the lower left corner the cursor on the monitor jumps to the lower left corner. If I touch the center the cursor jump to the center. The pen has a nib that is pressure sensitive so it can sense how hard it is pressing on the tablet. The effect is that when I am using it draw it is like drawing on a piece of paper.

Note that you quickly learn that you don't have to stare at the tablet. Just holding the pen and looking at the monitor results in a pretty effective illusion that you are drawing on paper.

The following is a crude map drawn up using the tablet. I used a combination of colored pencils and pens.

Where it is weakest on is lettering. But everything else pretty much felt like when I did my hand drawn maps. There is probably a ton I could do to make this a better handdrawn map but I just doing a quick example.

I also used in Monday's Swords & Wizardry game with Fantasy Grounds. I had much better control over unmasking hidden areas and drawing lines. I suspect with this I could use a blank square or hex temple map and just treat like I do my dry erase plexiglass gameboard. I need to read up on Fantasy Ground drawing tools and practice a bit.

Here is the wikipedia article on Wacom which explains their line of tablet. I have the Bamboo Pen.


Flynn said...

Nice. What model is this, and where did you pick it up? I've been curious about getting one myself. How useful are you finding it, now that you've picked it up?

With Regards,

Rob Conley said...

@Flynn I added a note to the post.

Rob Conley said...

@Flynn - to answer your second question. I am finding it very useful. Even when not drawing freehand it offer superior control over the mouse and my hand is not as tired when drawing long runs of coastline. I think it because to "click" I press down on the pen rather than flex my finger to click the mouse button.

It worth going through the included tutorial. Various version come with paint software. The most expensive tables have Photoshop Elements.

Journalizer said...

Love it!
I wouldn't know what to do without my pen tablet. I am using it right now to draw scales on a dragon and next week I will be using it to help create a map!

With more intricate drawings sometimes it is hard because you don't see the pen make the marks except on the monitor and the disconnect feels like insanity. That's when an actual pen and paper and scanner are necessary.

Happy tablet drawing ;)

leadjunkie said...

Can you put in underlay files like a hex or square grid and draw over it?

Rob Conley said...

If you drawing program supports layers then you can put in a hex grid on a layer, lock it, and then draw using the tablet.

Remember unlike a pen and paper you don't look at the Tablet while drawing. It sounds odd but you quickly get the hang of it.

Timeshadows said...

Yes. :D
:: WACOM Intuos IIG user.
--Irreplaceable technology, IMO.

Verhaden said...

If you want your writing to turn out better, put a regular piece of paper over your tablet and write slower than you normally would. The paper eliminates that "slickness" you get with tablets and provides some of the usual resistance, and some of your lettering "jumps" because your computer can't handle the input--writing slower will help keep your CPU on the same page and help accurately render your lettering.

Flynn said...

Thanks, Rob, for the clarifications. :)


The Rusty Battle Axe said...

And here I was thinking it was all magic when we were playing on Monday. Thanks for pointing this out.

Norman Harman said...

I've been contemplating getting tablet recently. Love to hand draw but computer has so many advantages over paper. Last time I had one was decade ago and they cost ton! Was really wondering how good the sub $100 ones were.

Thanks for taking the plunge and sharing!

NetherWerks said...

We're looking at getting a Wacom tablet fairly soon--the old one dies a while abck and we just never replaced it. You might consider checking out artweaver ( ) and seeing how it works with your tablet--once you start using the brushes for a more painterly approach a lot more possibilities open themselves up to you. Have fun!