Wacom Tablets. The basics.

For Wacom, I recently attended a Photography show hosted by the AIPP in Brisbane. I had a stand displaying our Cintiq and Intuos4 products. I was quickly reminded, for people who have never used a tablet before it can be quite a challenge to learn how to use one. Simple things I’ve taken for granted, like knowing how to hold the pen or even the fact that your tablet enables you to use pressure sensitivity in your favourite graphics application are often assumed knowledge. Unfortunately, not everyone who comes to see me knows this! I’m going to outline how to do a few things for the people who are completely new to the idea of using a tablet. So, what can you look forward to learning?

  • How to hold the pen. Watch that rocker switch.
  • Flip your pen. Surprise! It’s an eraser.
  • Learning how to find the cursor (tablet mapping), this isn’t a mouse! You don’t push the cursor around the screen with a tablet.
  • Enabling pressure sensitivity in Photoshop.

The above points are the bare essentials that everyone should know who has either just purchased or are thinking about purchasing a tablet.

How to hold your pen.

I’ve seen many ways that people hold the pen. Almost always the first time someone picks up one of these pens it is incorrect. Lets have a look at how NOT to hold the pen.


Why is this wrong? Well, some people are afraid to touch the surface of the tablet. With the Intuos4  the only thing that will move the cursor around your screen is the pen. You can touch the surface all you want, it won’t break and it certainly will not interfere with the movement of the cursor on the screen. Apart from that, you get no accuracy when it comes to drawing and pressure control.


A little better, but still incorrect. A lot of traditional artists tend to default to holding the pen this way. As the nibs (the tip of the pen) controls all the pressure sensitivity if you hold the pen this way it is impossible to take advantage of this feature.

This is how you should hold your pen.

Holding the pen this way gives you the most accuracy and control. Make sure you rest your palm on the surface of the tablet and keep the thumb with in easy reach of the rocker switch. Try to keep the rocker switch in a position that you won’t accidentally activate the button. If you’re just starting out with the tablet and you continuously activate the rocker switch jump in to your tablet settings and disable it. That way you can concentrate on getting used to the tablet.

To do this go to System Preferences -> Wacom Tablet. Then disable the rocker switch functions.

Make a point of trying to get used to holding the pen the right way. It will make getting used to your tablet much easier. I should also point out that you simply need to hover the pen over the surface of the tablet. When you wish to ‘left-click’ you touch the pen to the surface of the tablet.

What’s this knob thing on the back of my pen?

One thing that always gets a reaction is the fact that the back of the pen is an eraser. Inside Photoshop you can simply turn the pen around and draw with the back of the pen. You’ll notice this will erase parts of the current layer. You don’t even have to select the eraser tool! It’s a very convenient feature when it comes to tidying up brush strokes.

To change the size of the eraser just hit the [ ] keys or use your toggle wheel set to brush size while you have the eraser hovering over the surface of the tablet. You’ll notice that this size is independent of the brush size of the pen.

This tablet is stupid! Where is the cursor going?

Let’s face it. You’ve probably been using your mouse since you first started using a computer. If you’re my age that’s probably around 15 years ago, assuming I used a computer for the first time when I was 10. This is where the problem lies, using a tablet it very different to using a mouse. People are very used to ‘pushing’ a cursor around the screen.

A tablet is mapped to your screen. To put it simply, the ‘active’ area of your tablet represents your screen. What the hell does that mean? Think about it this way, if I place my pen in the very top left of the active area of my tablet the cursor will jump to the same location on your screen. For those of you using a mac, it will be somewhere near the Apple button. Likewise, if I move the pen to the very bottom left side of the active area your cursor will jump to that same location on your screen, for those of you at home using Windows, it will be somewhere around your Start(Windows) button.

That is probably the hardest thing to get your head around when it comes to using a tablet. Almost every first time user will place the pen somewhere in the middle of the active area and try to ‘scroll’ or ‘push’ the cursor to the corners of the screen. It isn’t until I show them that the tablet is mapped to the screen and that if you want something on the desktop you need to move the pen to the corresponding location on your tablet that the frustration subsides. Even still is takes practise to get used to this and naturally they’ll default to trying to ‘push’ the cursor with the tablet every now and then.

Here you’ll notice the Pen is over the top left area of the tablet which shows the cursor in the top left of the desktop.

Here you’ll notice the Pen is over the bottom right area of the tablet which shows the cursor in the bottom right of the desktop.

Enabling Pressure Sensitivity in Photoshop CS5.

One of the major advantages of using a Wacom Tablet is that you can use pressure sensitivity in your preferred graphics application. We’re going to have a look at making sure your brush settings inside Adobe Photoshop CS5 are setup correctly to allow you to use pressure sensitivity to control settings such as brush size and opacity.

What does that mean?

Well, to put it simply. If you press harder on the surface of your tablet with your pen your brush stroke will look different depending on which settings you have enabled. If you have told Photoshop to recognise pen pressure for brush size you will notice an increase in the radius of your brush stroke if you use more pressure on the tablet.

Lets do it. Open up Photoshop. We need to choose the brush tool. Press the keyboard shortcut ‘b’. To open your brush panel, either press ‘F5’ or go to Window -> Brush.

Make sure your brush is setup with Shape Dynamics ticked and the Size Jitter control is set to off. Also, tick Transfer and make sure that the Opacity Jitter control is set to off.

Why are we disabling the Size Jitter and Opacity Jitter when I can see that there is an option for me to use Pen Pressure?

In Photoshop CS5 when using the Brush tool, the clever guys at Adobe added two handy little buttons. They actually override any options you set inside the brush panel. For this reason it’s easier for you just to set the Size Jitter and Opacity Jitter controls to off. You’ll see them at the top of the application and they look a little something like this.

Tick this icon to activate Size Jitter to be controlled by Pen Pressure.

Tick this icon to activate Opacity Jitter to be controlled by Pen Pressure.

The two can be used together to create unique brush strokes. If you have an Intuos4, you can tell Photoshop to control things with Pen Tilt. If you have a suitable brush, try telling Photoshop to control Angle Jitter with Pen Tilt. You’ll notice your brush strokes will replicate the angle of the Pen to the Tablet. Unfortunately Bamboo users cannot take advantage of this tilt sensitivity.

1. Size Jitter and Opacity Jitter buttons disabled.

2. Size Jitter button enabled, Opacity Jitter button disabled.

3. Size Jitter button disabled, Opacity Jitter button enabled.

4. Size Jitter and Opacity Jitter buttons enabled.

That’s it! Feel free to play with these settings to create a brush stroke suitable to your needs.

Hope this helps.

Joshua Jones.



Adding Adjustment Layers to your Radial Menu. (Intuos4 and Cintiq)

Last year at PMA in Melbourne some one asked me if they could create Adjustment Layers in Photoshop by either adding them to the Radial Menu or by adding them to the ExpressKeys. At the time I wasn’t sure, because I knew that by default Photoshop did not have shortcuts assigned to Adjustment Layers. So, I did a little playing around and you can definitely add your own custom shortcuts to add Adjustment Layers with in Photoshop. Here is how.

This guide is split in to two parts; Please note that this guide is designed for the Intuos4 Medium tablet, this means that the tablet preference file available for download will only work with the Intuos4 Medium tablet. If you’re using a different size Intuos4 then you’ll have to add all of the shortcuts to your Radial Menu manually. We have asked the relevant people at Wacom to have a look into this because I believe you should be able to setup your Radial Menu and then be able to use the shortcuts with all of your tablets. Also, this guide was prepared on the Mac OS, most of the screenshots look very similar in Windows. Getting to the Wacom Preferences is also a little different. Just go to the Start menu and look for “Wacom Tablet”.

1. Creating custom shortcuts in Photoshop.

2. Using the Wacom Tablet Driver to add functions to your Radial Menu.

Part 1.

We’re going to run through how to do this manually. At the end of the post I’ll provide a link where you can access a pre made Photoshop Keyboard Shortcut file.

To access your Keyboard Shortcuts dialog in Photoshop go to Edit -> Keyboard Shortcuts. Or ⌥⇧⌘K

Click to enlarge.

The Set: should say “Photoshop Defaults”, as soon as you modify one of the shortcuts it will change to “Photoshop Defaults (modified)”. Make sure the Shortcuts For: Drop down menu is on “Application Menus”. Scroll down to Layer and click the arrow, this will expand the menu. Scroll down a little further and you will see “New Adjustment Layer>” here you’ll notice all the names of your favourite Adjustment Layers. Now, to add your custom shortcuts it is as simple as clicking the name of the Adjustment Layer and then typing your keystrokes.

I assigned the shortcuts like so;

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Feel free to go ahead and assign them to what ever you like, I choose the above keystrokes because they didn’t really conflict with anything I already use. After you have punched in all your keystrokes either save them (so you can move them to another computer) or just hit ok.

To download a pre-made Photoshop Keyboard Shortcut file with the above shortcuts click here. (Mac platform only.) That file also contains the Wacom tablet Preferences file. More on that later.

To install this file, double click on it. Photoshop will open. Go into your Keyboard Shortcuts Dialog and you’ll notice that the Set: is “Photoshop Defaults (modified)”. Hit the save button (Floppy disk icon with a down arrow) and name your shortcut file what ever you want. Your shortcuts are now active.

Part 2.

Now we need to add these Keystrokes to our Radial Menu in our Wacom Driver. Go to System Preferences -> Wacom Tablet.

Choose your Tablet: Intuos4 M (or what ever tablet you’re using) your Tool: as Functions and Application: is Adobe Photoshop CS5 (will work with what ever version you have installed on your machine) and then finally make sure you choose Radial Menu.

Click to enlarge.

We’re going to add 11 keyboard shortcuts to our Radial Menu so we’re going to need to learn how to create a Submenu. Click on one of the empty ‘slices of pie’ and change the function to Submenu. Name that Submenu under Label: to Adjustment Layers.

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Now, in the box on the left hand side click the “Adjustment Layers” Submenu you just added. You’ll notice the Radial Menu will appear to be empty. You have just entered the Submenu with 8 more ‘slices’ you can customise. To do this, click on one of the ‘slices’ and change the function to Keystroke. Now punch in the first shortcut and name it. For our example it is Brightness/Contrast and the Keyboard shortcut in Photoshop is ⌥⇧⌘F1

Click to enlarge.

Continue to fill out the slices of the Radial Menu, we’ll need to leave one slice for another Submenu as there are 8 slices on this menu and we need to fit in 11 shortcuts. So, like we did before create another Submenu inside this Submenu and name it something like “More Adj Layers”

Click to enlarge.

Your “More Adj Layers” Submenu should look a little like this.

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You have now customised your Radial Menu. Close this window. Now we want to save a backup to avoid losing all of these shortcuts. This also enables us to move these shortcuts to another machine.

Go to Applications -> Wacom Tablet -> Wacom Tablet Utility

Now, click Backup… and name your new Tablet Preferences.

In the future, to move these preferences to another machine you just need to move this file to another machine and either double click on it where a dialog box will open, hit Replace.

Or, click Restore… and navigate to the file through the finder window.


Click to enlarge.

If you downloaded the zip file from part1 you would have the corresponding Wacom Tablet Preference file already. Click here (Mac platform only.) if you would like to download it. Follow the above steps to install it.

Finally, when moving the shortcuts to another machine you’ll need to install the Photoshop Keyboard Shortcut file aswell as the Tablet Preferences. They work together to enable you to add your Adjustment Layers via the Radial Menu in Photoshop.

Click to enlarge.

I should add that this will only work with the Intuos4 and Cintiq range of Wacom Tablets. The Bamboo range does not have a Radial Menu built into the driver.

Hope this helps.

Joshua Jones.

Using Apple Zoom with your Wacom Intuos4 Toggle Ring.

One of the very few frustrations I faced when unplugging my mouse from my mac and having only my Intuos4 on my desk was the fact that I didn’t have the Apple Zoom (control + scroll up and down on the mousewheel or ⌘⌥= (Zoom In) ⌘⌥- (Zoom out) function at my finger tips.

I jumped into my google machine and found nothing to help me. I couldn’t figure it out until I asked one of the knowledgable guys at Wacom if he thought it was possible. Well, yes it is.

Lets have a look at how we do it.

1. Jump into your system preferences and then choose Universal Access. Now we’ll need you to turn Zoom off for now. The reason for this is that when we try to assign the keystrokes to our toggle ring it activates the zoom function and does not register as keystrokes.

Click to enlarge.

2. Go back to the main window of the system preferences and now click on the Wacom Tablet Icon.

3. Choose your Tablet: “Intuos4” your Tool: “Functions” and your Application: will be “All Other” and finally make sure you select “Touch Ring”. I’m going at assign the Apple Zoom function to the second toggle ring option which by default is set to “Cycle Layers”.

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4. Click the drop down menu for the second toggle ring function and choose Keystroke…

5. Select each window and hit “Clear” to remove the current keystrokes. In the top window hit the keys ⌘⌥= and in the bottom window hit ⌘⌥- Now name the function “Apple Zoom” and click OK.

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6. Now go back to the Universal Access options from the system preferences and turn Zoom: back on.

That’s it! You’re done. Now when ever you’re in an application that does not have that particular function of your toggle ring assigned to something else you can use your Apple Zoom. So, touch the center of your toggle ring to get to the Apple Zoom function and scroll away!

Click to enlarge.

The above technique applies to changing any of the functions on your toggle ring to anything else you like. For example, Inside Photoshop I set the same function we just set to something different. I set it to Cycle Blending Modes as I would always zoom with Photoshop and not the Apple Zoom. If you want to do this, repeat the above steps but make sure when you choose Application you choose Adobe Photoshop (You may have to add it if it isn’t there, just hit the “+” key and add it.) Now just assign ⌥⇧= and ⌥⇧- as your keystrokes and name it “Cycle Blending Modes” . This is a great way for me to quickly preview how the layer looks with different blending modes. Now, whenever you’re in photoshop that same function of the toggle ring will cycle your blending modes instead of activating the Apple Zoom.

Click to enlarge.

Hope this helps.

Joshua Jones.