Using a tablet for retouching in Photoshop

Other photographers often ask me during my workshops if a pen tablet is necessary for postproduction retouching. The answer I always give starts with, “well, it depends”. It really depends on you, your style and the complexity that goes into your postproduction work. Out of a typical workshop my guess is that thirty percent of the room uses a tablet for retouching, I find that to be a very low percentage. I’ve had numerous photographers tell ne that they just can’t get use to it. It feels very weird, the mouse feels better, I boxed it up and returned it after a couple of days. These are common complaints with tablets and the fact is that they DO feel weird at first. But guess what, if you stick to it, it will begin to feel natural in your hand and you will come to a point where you wouldn’t dare touch your mouse while retouching. I’ve been there trust me on this.

If you’re considering doing any amount of quality retouching for fashion and/or beauty then it’s imperative that you own a tablet. You just can’t get the level of control with a mouse that you can get using a tablet. There are plenty of articles that discuss the advantages of a tablet over a mouse so I won’t get into all that here. Just know that YOU NEED A TABLET if you want to do some serious retouching. Could you imagine drawing in eyelashes with a mouse? That just sounds painful.

As far as which tablet to get, that depends on your budget and taste. There are plenty to choose from but I would recommend sticking with the industry standard Wacom tablets found here www.wacom.com

Wacom carries many different types of tablets. Ranging from the consumer end Bamboos to the pro end Intous line. Surely it would be nice to go for the top and get the latest and greatest Intous 4 but it may not be necessary. The Bamboo line is perfectly capable for meeting your retouching needs.

I’ll move on now to what I use and how I have mines configured to work for me. I’m currently using the 4×6 Intous 3. I never use the mouse that comes with these tablets, I leave it in the box. I choose a small 4×6 tablet because I simply don’t need all that area to retouch. Maybe if you’re a digital painter in Corel then I can see you might want wider and bigger strokes when your painting but not for retouching. If I’m working on detail, I just zoom in. The size will also depend on the amount of workspace you have on your desk. Some of the larger tablets take up a lot of real estate on your desk.

Ok, here’s how I set up my tablet:

On the tablet itself, I have my control buttons on the left. If you retouch with your left hand then you just flip the tablet around to have the buttons on your right.

Button 1 : I have this button set up as a MODIFIER. When pressed, it acts as the ALT/OPTION key. This button is used most of the time and really get’s its use when cloning and healing.

Button 2: ZOOM IN. Clicking this button zooms in.

Button 3 : ZOOM OUT. Clicking this button zooms out.

Button 4 : Hand Tool. When I hold this button down, it allows me to move around the picture when I’m zoomed in. It also works handy when I shaking my image around to see imperfections. (I teach this in my workshops)

Button 5 : This is actually a slider and not a button. I have this one set to increase and decrease my brush sizes.

And now, on to the pen.

The pen has a simple rocker button on the side. The front rocker button I have set to a keystroke of CTRL+SPACE. This allows me to selectively zoom into an area I’m working on simply by holding down the button on the pen and dragging the zooming area I want. The rear button on the pen is set to a keystroke of CTRL+ALT+Z or CTRL+OPT+Z for a Mac. This undo’s your last action in Photoshop.

As you can see, configuring a tablet to work for your needs is the way to go. It saves a lot of time in having to deal with the keyboard. Something a mouse simply can’t do.

I hope you enjoyed my first tutorial. Now get up, put on your shoes and run out to your local retailer and pick up your tablet!

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