Wacom Graphire4 and Bluetooth Wireless Tablets

Graphire 4

If You’re New To Tablets
A mouse is great for computer users wanting to get around on their Mac or PC, and the really experienced users learn as many shortcut keys as possible so they can make their computers perform even more quickly. But when it comes to certain kinds of work, like photo editing in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, or sketching and painting with ‘natural media’ software like Corel Painter, nothing beats a Wacom graphics tablet.

New Tablet Details
Wacom has just announced the introduction of their new line of Graphire4 consumer-targeted graphics tablets. Available in silver, white, and metallic blue, the Graphire4 line incorporates two ExpressKeys, which can be programmed as additional shortcut keys, and they also have a scroll wheel for quickly navigating web pages (and other scrolling related duties).

Graphire4 tablets come with a 3-button wheel mouse and an electronic, 2-button pen (with an electronic eraser). Both the mouse and the pen are battery-free and you can easily switch between them whenever you like. The tablets have an especially long USB cord to allow you to sit back and work on your computer from a short distance. The two CDs in the package contain the software necessary to run the tablet and optional image-related software such as a lite version of Corel Painter, Color Efex Pro 2 GE, and the full version of Photoshop Elements 3 as well as a couple of other programs.

Graphire Models Available
Wacom’s Graphire4 line of tablets is available in 4″ x 5″ or 6″ x 8″ at $99 and $199 respectively. (If you’re new to the idea of a graphics tablet, the size refers to the ‘live’ working area of a tablet yet the overall size will be larger, so you won’t find yourself working out to the very edge of the tablet itself.)

Though it has been on the market slightly longer, another new Graphire tablet option is the Wacom’s Graphire Bluetooth 6″ x 8″ tablet, which sells for $249. It also comes with a very similar cordless mouse and pen but once the tablet battery is charged, the tablet itself communicates with your Mac or PC via Bluetooth. The whole tablet is cordless! The companion software is similar, though the copy of Photoshop Elements bundled with the cordless tablet is version 2.

Installation and Setup
Tablet driver software installation is a breeze and if you follow the brief instructions in the booklet, you’ll be able to set up your wireless tablet in minutes (though you’ll need to wait a few hours for the battery to fill up before you can be truly cordless). By the way, setting up the Graphire4 tablets is even easier because you don’t need to install and charge a battery or initialize a Bluetooth wireless connection.

Tablet Usability
After working with the Graphire Bluetooth tablet for a while, I’ll never go back to using just a plain old mouse again. Any time you need the functionality of a 3-button wheel mouse, it’s instantly available and the Wacom driver software allows the mouse to be every bit as functional as any similarly equipped, cordless mouse. If you’ve used a mouse of any kind, there’s zero learning curve.

The real strength of the tablet is apparent when you’re working in graphics software, such as Photoshop Elements, and you want to have the kind of control you get with a pen or pencil. For most people it only takes a little while to get used to hovering the pen slightly over the surface of the tablet to move the cursor on screen. Then a simple tap of the pen is the same as clicking the mouse button. But because the cordless pen recognizes 512 levels of pressure sensitivity, software like Photoshop Elements can be programmed to use pressure to make painted or drawn strokes appear bolder for heavy pressure and light when you press lightly with the pen. (It’s far easier to do than it is to explain).

The thing that takes some people a bit longer to get used to is that the mouse moves the cursor like a regular mouse does. The pen, however, moves the cursor relative to where the pen is on the working area. In other words, if you hover the pen above the top left of the tablet’s working area, the cursor will be in the top left of your screen. If you hover the pen above the bottom right of the tablet’s live area, the cursor will appear at the bottom right of your screen. As a result, a larger tablet allows you to be more precise with your pen movements.

The Graphire line of tablets is amazingly helpful to practically everyone wanting to work more comfortably and intuitively in almost any graphics program. The price is right for beginners and the payoff in programs like Photoshop Elements is apparent almost immediately. The controls are more than adequate for most casual users. Artists and designers requiring greater control over their tablet tools, or anyone who wants a working area larger than 6″ x 8″, should look at Wacom’s Intuos line of tablets.