Two days ago I packed up my mouse and attempted to learn how to use my Wacom Bamboo tablet for what feels like the millionth time. I’ve tried and failed numerous times in the past to get used to tablets. They just didn’t seem to go well with how my brain works!
Well, this time, I’ve succeeded! In just two days I’ve figured it out and I’m now comfortably editing images in Photoshop using my tablet. Hooray!
Want to know how I finally succeed this time?! Here are my top 5 tips which helped me finally master my Wacom!
My Top 5 Tips for Learning How To Use A Tablet
Tip 1 – Corner Mapping
The four corners of your tablet should map to the four corners of your screen. The middle of the tablet should map to the centre of your screen. If this is not the case, check you’ve installed the correct drivers and support software for your tablet. If you don’t have this, check the manufacturer’s website for the latest versions.
I made this mistake the first few times I tried to learn how to use my tablet. I simply plugged it in like I would a keyboard or mouse and wondered why on earth I couldn’t access parts of the screen. I never realised the corners should map this way. If you can fix this in the beginning, your learning curve will be much smoother!
Tip 2 – Button Configuration
Depending on your tablet, there may be various buttons on the tablet itself as well as your stylus. If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself accidentally clicking the stylus buttons while you’re getting used to it. When you installed your drivers & support software for the tablet, it should have installed a configuration app. This will let you change what each of the buttons does, as well as disabling them.
I personally disabled the buttons initially, then once I was used to it, I set one to be for scrolling, and one to be for right-clicking. I still accidentally catch the right-click button on the stylus from time to time. I think it will take a little while longer to master the best way to hold the pen to minimise erroneous button clicks!
Here’s what the pen configuration window for my Wacom Bamboo stylus looks on my Mac:
Tip 3 – Hide Your Mouse
Hide it. Unplug it. Ask a loved one to confiscate it and not return it even if you want to hurl your tablet out a window and beg them to return it to you. Whatever your method, DO NOT let yourself use a mouse until you’ve nailed the basics of using your tablet. By forcing yourself into a difficult spot and having to use it for everything, you’ll master your tablet much faster.
This also counts for your laptop trackpad. Pop your laptop higher or at an angle so the trackpad is more awkward to use than your tablet (“more awkward than a tablet?! That’s impossible!” I imagine some of you saying!). Hell, even stick some masking tape over it so you can’t accidentally default to using it.
However you approach this, try to make your usual means of cursor movement unavailable for a couple of days. As horrific it seems at first, you’ll thank me later.
Tip 4 – Your Tablet is NOT a Mouse
I think this one was the biggest learning point for me. When you move the cursor with your mouse, you use a repetitive drag motion. Want to move the cursor to the top right of your screen? You drag the mouse forward and right repeatedly.
With a tablet, you don’t do this. It is not a mouse! Because the four corners of the tablet correspond to the four corners of your screen, you don’t need to drag to move the cursor. You just pop the stylus down in the area you want the cursor to be.
This took me so long to get used to. My muscle memory defaults to dragging after decades using a mouse. Stick with it though – you’ll soon get used to it, especially if you keep accidentally dragging things on your screen!
If you’re worried about accidentally clicking things – remember that in most cases you can hover the stylus just above the tablet’s surface to see where the cursor will be before you make contact and click it.
Tip 5 – Play simple games
My wonderful mentor and friend Laurie once told me this tip. A great way to practice using your tablet without accidentally retweeting things or clicking links is to install some simple games and practice on those. Anything where you have to click at various points on the screen works well. Think: Solitaire, Mahjong etc.
If you can find a game with very simple drag and drop mechanics too, that will be a bonus.
P.S – A Note for my Fellow Lefties
Ok, admission time: I’m left handed and this has always confused me as to how that relates to using a tablet. When using a keyboard and mouse, I’ll often use my left hand for keyboard shortcuts while using my mouse right-handed. Switching to a tablet means I would now use my left hand for editing instead. How am I supposed to do keyboard shortcuts left-handed now? Do I need to keep dropping the stylus? Do I have to relearn all the shortcut muscle-memory with my right hand? These concerns may sound silly and somewhat funny, but they genuinely baffled me for quite a while!
I thought being a leftie would pose a serious problem and slow my learning, but it’s actually made no difference as far as I can tell. My keyboard is still in the centre of my desk and my tablet sits just to the left of it. I also seem to have mastered a kind of “wedge the stylus horizontally between my fingers so I can still type while holding it” skill. This means I can still do all my shortcuts and typing as before.
An unexpected benefit of being somewhat ambidextrous is that I can keep my tablet on the left and also have my mouse comfortably available on the right should I need it. Hooray for being a leftie!
I started using my tablet two days ago and hid my beloved Razer Naga gaming mouse so I couldn’t use it. So far, I’m yet to plug the mouse back into my machine. Using the tips above, I’ve gone from complete novice to being really comfortable using my tablet. I even edited an image using it today with pressure sensitivity enabled in Photoshop. Hooray!
It might seem really awkward and unintuitive at first, but the benefits of using a tablet far outweigh a couple of days of learning. It is so much easier to create masks, retouch, clone things out etc using a pen. It feels so much more natural than using a mouse.
If you have any other tips for people getting started with tablets, I’d love to know! Pop them in the comments below and we can help everyone become a tablet masters in no time!