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Whether you are a digital artist or work with traditional media, a true standalone drawing tablet might be one of the very best investments you have ever made.
Yes, even more traditional artists, used to working with pen and ink, pastels, pencils or paint, find that a good quality true standalone drawing tablet can offer such a natural and intuitive work process that it becomes their go-to tool – or at least a perfectly satisfying alternative to paper or canvas, one they use without feeling they are missing anything at all.
This may be surprising to hear, and it certainly surprises many artists who have been highly resistant to the idea of making art on a screen, but that is just how good these amazing little gadgets can be.
Believe me – I have seen that look in an artist’s eye more than once: a friend or colleague, venturing into a computer shop with me, idly picks up a sensitive high-tech stylus, starts dabbing at a remarkably bright and accurate hi-res screen, and is instantly converted.
Within minutes they are making beautiful images which are amazingly close to the artist’s own style – even if the person has never before ventured into computers much more deeply than checking email or putting a red seven on a black eight.
You’ll notice that I keep saying “true standalone drawing tablet,” and there is a very good reason for this.
In this article, which lists and reviews the 5 best true standalone drawing tablets available in 2021, I am going to concentrate on drawing tablets which do not need to be connected to a computer in order to work.
Lots of really fine drawing tablets out there – some with display screen and some without – are not standalone devices.
They do not come with, and cannot run, art software.
They are like a keyboard or a mouse – meaning they plug into the computer.
The computer runs the drawing, painting or other art software, you draw directly on the tablet, with a special stylus, and if the tablet has a screen it nicely mimics the process of painting on canvas or drawing on paper.
These are amazing and useful tools, but they are not portable drawing tablets, and really keep you tethered to your computer.
Lots and lots of people have purchased such a drawing tablet and been surprised and disappointed that they can’t sit on the bus or train, or on a park bench, and just paint.
Standalone drawing tablets are different.
They themselves are computers, and so they run drawing and painting programs, drafting and CAD software, 3-d modelling, anything you need to create an image.
They have bright, attractive screens, and the way the stylus, or pen, works on the screen tends to be very sensitive and subtle, so that your own style can easily come through.
There are two general types of drawing tablets, App-based and Full-software:
App-based drawing tablets include Apple iPad models and Android tablets.
What makes these slightly less desirable, to some people at least, is that they do not run such a wide range of software, and the software they can run tends to be less powerful.
Apple iPad cannot run the same range of software as Apple desktop or laptop computers.
While many of the same programs are available, they are simplified and less powerful versions.
Androids have less powerful processors than computers, and also have less powerful, applications.
So why are they so popular still among serious professional artists, amateurs and beginners alike?
Full-software drawing tablets are essentially full-fledged, full-power computers.
These are Windows 10 based graphics tablets, which can run the entire range of Windows software – including the very best art programs from the likes of Corel, Adobe and more.
Although many artists work with and love Apple products, there are many reasons why more and more artists are turning to Windows based machines.
Improve your art skills and learn how to make money as an artist. Check out my courses about Making Money as an Artist, Color & Light, Color Palettes, Perspective & Composition, Instagram and more!
I’m not going to try to resolve the endless Apple-Windows debate – I myself am an iPad and MacBook gal, but I can see both sides.
I also know artists who are using Android drawing tablets, and their pretty rudimentary software, with amazing results.
Instead, I am going to look, as impartially as possible, at six different categories:
I will call upon my own experience, feedback from other artists and from my friends and colleagues, and the reviews and reports from the industry and from customers, in order to find the very best choice in each category.
But mostly I will choose based on what happened, and how I felt, when I made art on that particular graphics tablet.
If you know you want an iPad, or if you’ve already settled on a Windows graphics tablet, you can be confident that the featured product on this buyer’s guide will be a perfect choice.
Each of our selections will work wonderfully for you as an artist, and will offer the best value, quality and reliability.
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BEST APPLE STANDALONE DRAWING TABLET FOR ARTISTS
BEST WINDOWS STANDALONE DRAWING TABLET FOR ARTISTS
BEST ANDROID STANDALONE DRAWING TABLET FOR ARTISTS
BEST 13" STANDALONE DRAWING TABLET FOR ARTISTS
BEST 16" STANDALONE DRAWING TABLET FOR ARTISTS
CHEAPEST STANDALONE DRAWING TABLET FOR ARTISTS
We will begin this survey of best standalone drawing tablets for artists with an obvious choice – the iPad Pro – perhaps the most popular, widely used and most recommended standalone drawing tablet among artists.
It is also the drawing tablet I use, and I am constantly amazed at how well it works for me and my process.
The Liquid Retina display has superb color representation, detail, resolution and depth, and such subtle gradation between shades and values.
But it’s something more than just this – the images are so beautiful, so alive and so attractive. They pop from the screen with such vivid color and such depth that I constantly feel inspired by what I’m seeing.
The detail, fidelity and clarity lets me know exactly what I have so far and exactly what I need to do, and I don’t miss small mistakes, unfinished details or problems with color, shading or balance.
Everything is visible, for better or for worse, and so the Apple iPad Pro helps me make my work better and better.
The Apple Pencil 2 (must be purchased separately – available here) feels totally natural in my hand – smooth, light and solid – and is so fast, accurate, fluid and responsive that I completely stop thinking about it and just draw.
It attaches to the iPad with a cool magnetic click for charging and portability (and so I don’t lose it!), and it pairs with the tablet automatically, so again I don’t really have to think about anything.
Another super-slick accessory is the Magic Keyboard – not necessary for artwork, but it protects the iPad, acts as a perfect stand and a really nice keyboard.
If you are using your Apple iPad Pro for other things as well as art, it’s almost a must-have.
The Apple iPad Pro 12.9 inch standalone drawing tablet is thin and light, allowing me to hand-hold it as long as I need to.
It is very well made, and feels super solid and durable.
I can throw it in my bag or backpack and forget it’s even there.
If there is one issue – and for me it’s not so important – it’s that I don’t always finish my work on the iPad.
The art software works wonderfully, but it is not as complete and full-featured as the same program as run on my MacBook Pro, so sometimes I need to bring an image to the computer for some final adjustments or effects.
On the other hand, the abbreviated versions I run on the iPad are simpler and easier, and let me think less and work more.
With the possible exception of the Wacom MobileStudio Pro below, I have no doubt the Apple iPad Pro has the best screen I’ve ever used – both as a display and a touch interface for my hand or my pencil.
I love the intuitive interface of Apple operating system and the iOS Art programs I use.
The Apple Pencil is incredibly expressive and natural.
The physical tablet itself is solid, light and unobtrusive, and feels like it will never break.
But finally all of that disappears – the tablet, pen, software and operating system, worries about configuration, operation or reliability, these things all vanish, and all that is left is me making art and the art itself, alive in front of me.
My choice for the best Apple standalone drawing tablet for artists is the wonderful Apple iPad Pro with the 12.9 inch Liquid Retina screen.
For Windows users there are two basic choices – a super high quality tablet designed specifically for artwork, like the Wacom MobileStudio Pro below, or a standard Windows tablet which still offers the kind of display and creative control, sensitivity and accuracy an artist needs.
The next choice in our survey of 5 best stand-alone artist’s tablets comes from the second category, although I think few people would call the Microsoft Surface “standard.”
As an Apple person, I might at best have a grudging admiration for a lot of Windows based systems, but this one, I must admit, is drop-dead gorgeous, It is solid and substantial yet quite light for its size and performance, it works well and flawlessly, it feels good in my hands and it has a very high cool factor.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 has an absolutely beautiful screen, with such great resolution, color fidelity, brightness and depth that it – like the iPad – really helps an artist completely and honestly see and assess a work in progress.
The Microsoft Surface Pen (must be purchased separately – available here) feels as good in my hand as any I’ve used. It only offers half of the extraordinarily high level of sensitivity of the Wacom MobileStudio Pro below, but the subtlety of darker and lighter shades, thicker and thinner lines I get with more or less pressure is so amazing that I can’t imagine noticing much of a difference, and the tilt sensitivity also feels quite similar.
There are other optional accessories you can get, but the one which adds most to the cool factor of the Microsoft Surface Pro is the Type Cover, a magnetic keyboard which works beautifully, has back lit keys and a big track pad, and protects the Microsoft Surface’s surface.
Technically the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is pretty much as good as it gets. With incredibly fast processing and a full 8 GB of RAM, the creative process will never lag or be interrupted.
There is a 256 GB internal SSD (solid state drive) with plenty of space for even the highest quality images, and super-fast wifi for your many cloud storage options.
I’m intentionally staying away from descriptions or assessments of any of these tablets as computers or phones, preferring to focus on their artistic talent, but I will say that the Microsoft Surface Pro is absolutely one of the very best PC laptop computers available at any price.
At the same time, it is important to remember that because this is a full computer it runs full versions of all PC art programs – Adobe, Corel and others – not abbreviated versions like on the iPad or Android tablets. As such, it allows you to work anywhere and any time, and take your work to a fully realized and fully professional final version.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 really is an absolutely superb creative tool, and an easy choice for the best Windows based standalone tablet for artists.
When trying to select the best tablets for artists, it’s easy to dismiss the Android operating system and Android tablets.
Certainly, nice programs like Adobe Illustrator Draw notwithstanding, there just aren’t the same professional, full-featured art applications available in the Android environment.
And still, I know a lot of artists who use tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab as their go-to portable drawing tablet and painting tool.
Maybe it’s because they are affordable, maybe because people are already used to Android because of their smartphones, maybe because there is just so much free software available, but in fact Android tablets remain popular choices and enjoy a fairly large percentage of the art market.
But their popularity and market share are not reason enough to include them on our list of best standalone tablets for artists, or to recommend one particular model.
What is reason enough, however, is how our choice for best Android tablet works, looks and feels.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 really supports and even improves the creative process – and ultimately that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
The time I spent with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 was really surprising.
I guess I did have some established prejudices against Android, but the sensitivity of the pen, the brilliant and beautiful AMOLED display and the solid feel, light weight and ergonomics of the Samsung tablet made drawing and painting a joy.
Ultimately I would need more power and capabilities from my various painting, drawing and imaging programs, but for lots of different work, from simple sketches to relatively complex drawings, full color painting with a wide palette, accurate colors and subtle gradation, even basic 3-D renderings, the Samsung does a really nice job.
And it feels really nice to use. It has a very simple interface – both the OS and the various art programs – and feels good in my hands.
I like the feel of the pen as well, and the way it interacts with the screen seems quick, sensitive and predictable.
This is also, it should be remembered, a fairly high-end Android machine, which means that even the most powerful and advanced graphic, video and animation programs will run on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 with no problem, as will any other Android app. And with the optional Bookcover Keyboard it becomes an even more powerful all-around tool.
So please don’t disregard the Android operating system when choosing your art tablet.
Windows offers more powerful software, the iPads are more intuitive for artists and also offer superior software, but the Android has its own charms – it’s affordable, easy to use, surprisingly sensitive and precise and has a wide, wide range of often totally free software.
If you are settled already in the Android camp, and are looking for a great art tablet for casual to even fairly serious work, there is no doubt in my mind that the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is the way to go, and it is my choice for Best Standalone Android Tablet in 2021.
Arguably the finest art tablet in the world, and inarguably the most expensive tablet on our list of best standalone tablets for artists, the Mobile Studio Pro comes from Wacom, the industry leader and the number one choice of professionals.
This pricey behemoth is a full Windows 10 computer, like the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 above, but is even more sensitive, with a better and more precise display, a higher quality, more accurate and natural pen and lots of features designed specifically for professional artists and illustrators, fine artists, animators and designers.
And Wacom really does know artists and their needs, and has done for more than thirty-five years.
One feature that makes a really big difference is the way this MobileStudio Pro has the glass as close to the surface as possible, meaning that there is much less gap between where I draw and where the image actually appears.
A fast, ultra-high resolution display that is the most uniform I have ever seen – completely consistent color depth, illumination and geometry from edge to edge – actually made the work I was doing on the Wacom better.
Not only did it show me my work immediately and perfectly, it let me know of things I myself did not consider, about color balance, composition and detail, flow and feeling and a lot more.
The pen is incredible.
Not only does the image appear right where I want it, it appears immediately, with absolutely no delay whatsoever.
And the sensitivity and tilt and pressure control are truly on a new level. Plus, it feels good and natural in the hand.
There’s all kinds of technical stuff I could mention, about graphics processors, processing speed, upgrade options, Adobe RGB coverage and the like, but in evaluating the best art tablets it always, for me, comes back to how they work and feel.
And in the time I had with the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro 13 I kept forgetting about it. That’s kind of the best compliment I could give it.
In a very short time, I fell completely into the work, and the tablet simply disappeared.
The best build quality, the finest display, pen and interfaces, incredibly fidelity on many different levels, and an artist-centered intuitive look and feel – all of this allows you to reach the very highest levels possible.
I can fully understand why this is the real choice for so many professional artists and studios around the world. Really, nothing I have ever seen or used compares.
The Wacom Mobile Studio Pro is the best tablet for artists.
I know, I should be careful or my iPad will hear me!
It’s ok, though – I will not give up my Apple for this Wacom – remarkable tool that it is – because the iPad is also an extremely high quality and high precision tool that works even more intuitively with me and my own process.
But I have no doubt that the Wacom is the best choice for any professional who needs to work on the very highest levels, any artist who wants to see and feel more when creating digital art, any independently wealthy beginner who wants to grow as an artist without the chance that their tablet may eventually hold them back.
And so the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro 13” Drawing Tablet is my choice for Best Standalone Tablet Designed for Artists in 2021.
And, if it isn’t expensive enough, you can also check out the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro 16” Drawing Tablet – maybe not ideal portable drawing tablet, but with a wonderfully big (and, believe it or not, even higher resolution) canvas.
As Theodore Geisel said, oh the places you’ll go!
The choice for best budget tablet for artists is really quite simple: the Apple iPad Air.
The iPad Air has a smaller screen than the iPad pro, that doesn’t reach all the way to the edges or have quite the same “pop” factor, but it is still brilliant, accurate and attractive.
The Air also has a slightly smaller storage capability, which means you can store less work on the tablet itself – but I think most people will still be using some form of Apple laptop and big Hard Drives, SSD or Could Storage, so this may not be a big deal.
The processor it not as powerful or fast, and working on very large or complex graphics there can definitely be a difference.
In fact, if you work with video, the iPad Pro might be necessary.
But for its smaller screen and slightly lower specs, the iPad Air is still a wonderful tool for any artist.
It is responsive and sensitive, using the same fantastic Apple Pencil (must be purchased separately – available here).
It allows for full creativity and productivity, using the same wonderful art software through iPadOS.
And, it has the same high quality look and feel – thin, light, solid and durable – a portable drawing tablet and art tool that you don’t mind carrying around with you.
There are other choices for a really great budget portable drawing tablet, including the affordable Microsoft Surface Go 2 (which I can attest is a great budget choice for Windows 10 users) or the super-cheap Chuwi UBook Pro Tablet (which I’ve not actually seen or used).
But if you want an inexpensive stand-alone tablet which has a beautiful display, great software, a simple and intuitive interface and an incredibly sensitive pen, the iPad Air is my choice for best budget standalone tablet for artists.
Just like the iPad Pro, the Air will become a friend and constant companion, a handy and heavily used productivity tool, and it will never get between you and your art.
Improve your art skills and learn how to make money as an artist. Check out my courses about Making Money as an Artist, Color & Light, Color Palettes, Perspective & Composition, Instagram and more!
I was a little worried about putting together a buyer’s guide for art tablets, since I am just not that fussed about specifications, technical innovations and performance numbers.
Looking over so many other review sites, it seems like that’s all I saw – technical jargon and numbers.
Then I realized that’s exactly why I should put together this list of best standalone tablets for artists in 2021 – and should make more buyers guides in the future.
I mean, you can get tech specs anywhere – other guides, reviews, magazines, Amazon, manufacturers’ websites.
But in my mind those numbers are only important in how they serve me as an artist.
Knowing a screen’s resolution is interesting, but knowing how my work in progress looks on that screen is important.
Knowing processing speed may be valuable, but knowing if the tablet is ever going to interrupt me when I’m in the zone is crucial.
That’s why I have ultimately based my five choices on how these tablets felt in my hands, how they registered my actions and showed me the results.
Did they support and enhance my creative process, or interrupt me and bring me back into my head?
Did they at any point disappear, leaving just me and my work?
As an artist, I know that any one of these choices would be great for other artists.
If money is really no object, if you are an Apple or Windows person, if you prefer Android, if you are just starting out or have a limited budget, any one of my choices will become a trusted and beloved tool that will support you, and maybe even bring you to new levels of inspiration, creativity and craft.