This page was last updated on 08/05/2023.
This guide is meant to help Windows users get the most out of their drawing tablets. You don't need to be a Lazy Nezumi user to benefit from it (but if you're not, you should really check it out).
I'll be updating it as I discover new tips, obscure settings, and bug workarounds. I hope this will help to clear up some of the confusion and misinformation I see online a lot. If you have a friend who just got a tablet, please do them a favor and have them read this page.
If you're using Photoshop, be sure to check out my guide for it as well!
My tablet pen works, but I don't get any pressure.
This is a common sign that your tablet doesn't have a proper driver installed. What likely happened is that Windows installed a generic USB input device driver, instead of the required driver supplied by the tablet manufacturer.
This causes your art application to see your pen as a simple mouse. The app has no way to properly communicate with the tablet, so all it receives is low-resolution screen coordinates, which can lead to jagged/shaky lines. It also doesn't get any pressure or tilt data, which means that you can't control the width or shape of your lines. Sadly, some people stay in this situation a long time, not realizing that they're not getting the real drawing tablet experience.
People are used to plugging devices such as keyboards and mice in and having them work automatically without having to install any software, but this is unfortunately very much not the case for pen tablets.
So if you don't remember installing the driver yourself, then this is the first thing you should do:
It's generally good to stay up to date with drivers, but be aware that new drivers are sometimes released with bugs. For that reason, once you find a driver that works for you, keep a backup copy around.
Windows 7 is a pretty good OS, but they have some pretty bad (possibly the worst) default settings if you use a pen tablet to draw.
First, go to your control panel's Pen and Touch settings, and disable the Press and hold - right click option. You should also disable flicks. This will prevent lag at the start of your lines.
The next thing you should do is take care of the Tablet PC Input Panel and those annoying/useless ripple ring effects. These things are a little harder to disable.
To get rid of these, you have to stop the Tablet PC Input Service and prevent it from starting again. Go to your control panel's Administrative Tools, then Services. Find it in the list, right click it, select properties, click the Stop button, and set the Startup Type to "Disabled".
Next, download and run this registry file to disable the pen feedback rings. You'll also want to kill the wisptis.exe program (which generates these rings) by finding it in the list of processes in the Windows Task Manager (ctrl+shift+esc), selecting it, and clicking the "End Process" button. If you've followed these steps correctly, it should not come back after you restart your system. If the rings do come back, your PC is cursed, and can only be cleansed by fire.
For Windows 10, Microsoft has also made some extremely questionable decisions regarding pen/app interaction conventions, infuriating artists everywhere when their April 2018 update caused pen input to scroll and pan windows instead of drawing. We were all dumbfounded to discover that this was indeed not a bug, but a "feature". After more outrage, Microsoft offered a registry key fix to change things back to the old behavior, and then eventually added an option in the Pen & Windows Ink settings (unfortunately this doesn't work for all apps).
If you own a tablet, you might see these terms mentioned a lot. This section briefly explains what they are, and some history.
These terms differentiate the application programming interfaces (APIs) used by art programs to "talk" to your tablet, in order to receive and use all the special data such as pen pressure, tilt, and high-precision pen coordinates.
The Wintab API was developed in the early 90s by a group of digitizer manufacturers (including Wacom) so that Windows 3 programs could interface with their devices. Drivers that support this API install a "wintab32.dll" DLL file that applications can then dynamically load at runtime. The application can then use a set of functions from this DLL to interface with the tablet. For a long time this was the only tablet API, and all tablet manufacturers and pen-capable applications had to support it.
For Windows 8, Microsoft decided to develop their own native tablet API, named Windows Ink (you'll also sometimes see WM_POINTER used).
The problem with having two different APIs is that tablet manufacturers now have to support both if they want both modern and legacy applications to work with their devices. Some manufacturers don't even bother to ship with a Wintab driver anymore (see the tablet section below), which means people can't use apps that haven't been updated to use Windows Ink. Please also note that there is no Windows Ink support for Windows 7.
If you're wondering which API you should use (if your art app lets you choose), there's no definite answer unfortunately, as both have their issues.
This section will show you artist recommended settings for Wacom tablets (you'll find similar settings for other tablet brands).
You should check the force proportions option, otherwise the input area's aspect ratio might not match your screen, which means that you'll get ellipses when you draw circles.
Set the double click distance to OFF, otherwise you might get a slight delay at the start of your lines.
Some older art programs assumed that the tablets would always only have 1024 pressure levels. If you use them with newer tablets that have more pressure levels, they won't be using the full pressure range, resulting in very thin lines. You should only have the 1024 compatibility option enabled (via the Options button) if you're using one of these programs, otherwise you're basically reducing the sensitivity of your pen.
Finally, if you're using your tablet with apps that require the Windows Ink API (see the app section below), make sure that this option is checked, otherwise these apps will not work correctly.
The Surface Pro 1 and 2 used Wacom digitizers, so naturally they came with Wintab drivers installed.
For the Surface Pro 3 released in 2014, Microsoft ditched Wacom and instead used a (vastly inferior) digitizer from N-Trig. Surprisingly (or not, depending on your views of Microsoft's interest in making tablets that illustrators can actually draw with), they did not bother to ship this tablet with any Wintab drivers pre-installed. This led to lots of confused artists wondering why their pen had no pressure, as most art software was not using Windows Ink yet.
They still don't ship the newer Surface Pro and Surface Book machines with Wintab drivers, so if you want to use an older art application with these devices, you'll have to install these manually. You can download the 32bit and 64bit installers here and here. Please note that these drivers are very buggy, and have never been updated (despite my bug reports to Microsoft). With these tablets, it is recommended to instead use Windows Ink if your art app supports it.
These tablet computers (and probably many others) also don't bother to ship with Wintab drivers. However, you should be able to install the same ones that work for the Surface Pro.