"The best drawing tablets for photo editing" might look like a weird typo. But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. A pen and drawing tablet feel much more natural than using a mouse. And so as well as letting you make art, they can also make editing more tactile and enjoyable.
Graphics tablets are, as a rule, highly sensitive, registering anything up to 8,192 distinct levels of pressure. And so you can be precise with your editing; very precise indeed. That's why professional retouchers tend to do their photo editing on drawing tablets. And so whether you're using Photoshop, Lightroom, or Affinity Photo, you'll probably find it surprisingly intuitive.
Choosing the best drawing tablet for photo editing, though, isn't easy, because there are so many of them about. In this article, then, we'll narrow your choices down to the absolute best buys.
At the moment, Wacom is the industry favorite, but XP-Pen also offers some nice, affordable products. iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs, meanwhile, are not only some of the best tablets generally, but increasingly good as drawing tablets too.
Whether you're looking for a drawing tablet with a large drawing area, or one that's smaller and lighter; an expensive tablet or one that's most affordable, you're sure to find the best fit in our list below.
• See also: Best Wacom tablets
The best drawing tablets for photo editing in 2022
The Wacom One was launched right at the start of 2020, and is the best all-round entry-level graphics tablet that Wacom has ever produced. With a 13-inch surface area, it is a long way for being the biggest graphics tablet you can get – but that does mean this is an peripheral you can take along with your laptop when away from home (and you can even link it up with some Android devices).
The supplied pen if battery-free, and it has a surface that's said to feel more like paper than glass – making it great for those who want to use this for digital art, as well as an alternative to their mouse. Built-in feet allow you to place the surface at a slight angle, if you don't want it flat on your desk.
There are more advanced tablets and cheaper tablets available, but we reckon if you want great value for money from a tablet for photographers then you should look at the Wacom Intuos Pro Large. Its rough, tactile surface and highly sensitive stylus make it an enjoyable experience to use the Intuous for editing, and the combination of Bluetooth and USB connectivity make it easy to boot the device up and start editing your images, whether you’re a Windows or Mac user.
The tablet supports multi-touch gestures (pinching, swiping, etc), and its shortcut keys are fully customisable, allowing you to assign them the functions of your choosing. Also useful is the Touch Ring, which gives you quick access to your favored commands and tools. There are smaller Intuos Pro models (Medium and Small), but the Large near-A3 sized-version is perfect if you have the space.
Many photographers might assume that an editing tablet simply isn’t worth the cost, but when the Huion H430p can be picked up for less than £30/$40 you’d be foolish not to at least consider it.
Though it can’t compare to the professional-geared models made by Wacom and others in terms of functionality, the H430p is a well-made little unit that does everything a tablet-editing beginner would need it to. It has a small but well-functioning drawing area, an impressively sensitive stylus for the price, and four customisable shortcut keys to streamline your workflow.
Removing its standard “Pro” designation, Wacom introduced the Cintiq 16 as a more entry-level tablet designed to tempt photo editors who may not have taken the plunge on a tablet before.
Though the price is still arguably a little steep, being many orders of magnitude more expensive than something like the Huion H430p, the Wacom Cintiq 16 is still a great entry-level buy and is perfect for a Lightroom workflow. Its Full HD LCD display is a pleasure to work on, allow you to directly work on the area of the image you are looking it – and this synergizes well with the included Pro Pen 2 stylus.
Bear in mind that the 72% color gamut is lower than that of higher-end models, and while this shouldn’t be a problem for most straightforward photo edits, you may notice a very slight difference in how the image looks from tablet to computer screen if you’re using a high-end monitor.
This is one of the most affordable pro-spec tablets Wacom has ever introduced. The baby brother to the Intuos Pro Large, the Intuos Pro Small makes it easier than ever to take your editing on the go.
Packaged with the Wacom Creative Pen for highly-sensitive editing, the Intuos Pro Small provides a working area of 157.48 x 98.43mm (6.3x3.9 inches), which is smaller than most of the others in this guide, but still more than enough to make adjustments to your images. It's also equipped with the useful customizable ExpressKeys and Touch Ring, allowing you to make the editing experience your own and get the tablet working exactly how you want it to.
A very good “cover-all-bases” tablet, the XP-Pen Artist 15.6 pen display gives you all you really need to start editing your images, at a great price to boot. While it doesn’t quite have that tactile Wacom feel when you’re drawing on it, for photo adjustments and edits it does the job admirably.
The ultra-sensitive stylus has 8,192 levels of sensitivity, and the eminently portable design of the tablet itself means it’s easy to pack up and take anywhere with you for editing on the go. For a terrific balance between pricing and features, XP-Pen’s tablet is tough to beat.
With the Windows 10 operating system actually built into it, the Wacom MobileStudio Pro 13 is a seriously powerful piece of kit. Its ultra-high-resolution 2560x1440 WQHD LED-display boasts 16.7 million colours and a colour gamut of 96% Adobe RGB, allowing you to view and edit your images in crisp, lifelike detail.
You can use the included Pro Pen 2 to make your edits with pleasingly tactile precision, and if you want, you can even hook the MobileStudio Pro up to your desktop PC or Mac and use it as a pen display for an even more powerful setup. It’s easy to configure the ExpressKeys and Touch Ring to your preferred workflow setup, and you can also control it via the touchscreen. All this does have an effect on battery life, which could be better, but this is a seriously powerful tool regardless – with a price to match.
For artists and designers, this is one of the most desirable tablets on the market right now, and it’s a fantastic choice for photographers too. The large 22-inch screen can display more than 16.7million colours, providing fantastic depth and richness of detail (even if the 1920 x 1080 resolution isn’t as high as we’d like), and it’s a terrific experience to draw on it with the Pro Pen 2.
Like many other Wacom tablets on this list, the Cintiq 22HD features customisable ExpressKeys that you can assign preferred functions to, allowing you to streamline your workflow just the way you want it. It’s not cheap, but it’s an astounding piece of tech that’s great for pro-level editing.
One of the best things about the Microsoft Surface Book 2 is that it’s not only a tablet but a laptop too, meaning you can tablet-editing to your skillset without necessarily having to up the number of devices you lug around. Its powerful Intel Core processors provide smooth and fast operation, while drawing on the large, high-resolution display with the Surface Pen is an intuitive and enjoyable experience (though be aware that this’ll cost you extra).
If you can afford the steep initial asking price, you’ll find the 13.5in Surface Book 2 a fantastic device for editing, processing and everything else besides (and it is more affordable than the more recent Surface Book 3).
• See also Best tablet for photo editing
If you’re already into the Apple ecosystem, it makes sense to consider Apple’s iPad Pro as your drawing tablet of choice. If you’re willing to pick up the Apple Pencil 2 as well, it works magnificently as a graphics tablet for photo editing, no matter which program you prefer to use, and the pencil can be magnetically docked when not in use.
This 12.9-inch version (there’s also an 10.2-inch one) is magnificent for working on. Its large Liquid Retina display provides class-leading color accuracy, and powering operations is the A12X Bionic processor, which makes the iPad Pro faster than most laptops, let alone tablets.
See also: Best iPads for photo editing
Great for viewing and editing your images, the 2020 Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 is a fantastic tablet for Android users, and the fact that it comes with a stylus in the box means you have everything you need to get started right away.
It’s a fairly pricey tablet, but having access to the range of editing apps for Android is an excellent advantage, and the crystal-clear, 11-inch screen displays your images in crisp, perfect detail. Samsung also promises up to 15 hours of battery life with the Tab S7, meaning you can keep on editing on the go for longer. And it has a range of wireless and wired connectivity options.
The latest Wacom drawing tablet came out this October, replacing the Cintiq Pro 16. That high-end tablet boasted a beautiful 4K display, 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity, and support for the Pro Pen 2. In terms of internals, in fact, there wasn't really much room for improvement. So the main area the new design boosts is ergonomics.
Specifically, there's a new VESA mount that can be combined with its adjustable stand (or any VESA-compatible arm or stand) to give you extra flexibility in positioning your tablet. There's a physical switch to turn multitouch on and off. There are eight new ExpressKeys for integrating and customizing keyboard shortcuts and modifiers into your workflow. And the USB and HDMI connectors are now at the top.
What all this means is that the Cintiq Pro 16 2021 is the best premium 4K Wacom tablet there is right now. And while that may or may not be overkill for your photo editing needs, it is a very, very nice tablet.