We’re living in a golden age, my friends. I vividly remember earlier in my career when I wanted nothing more than an affordable way to draw digitally while on the go. Drawing tablets that don’t need a computer were simply not a thing when I was an up-and-coming designer, and I am thrilled to death to realize that the future has finally arrived. These are my top five recommendations for anyone looking to draw digitally when it’s not possible to be tethered to a computer:
- iPad Pro
- iPad (base model)
- Wacom MobileStudioPro 13″
- Simbans PicassoTab 10″
- Wacom 16″ Drawing Tablet
Table of Contents
Fact: the best drawing tablet that doesn’t need a computer is the iPad Pro
I know this because I live this. I’ve been rocking an iPad as my main portable computing device since 2012, and it served my needs quite well right from the beginning. I eventually stepped up to the Pro version in 2017, and I plan on buying another when this one becomes due for an upgrade.
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Note that the iPad Pro doesn’t come with a stylus, so you’re going to need to purchase an Apple Pencil separately:
I was already fully integrated in to the Apple ecosystem when I bought my first iPad, so it wasn’t all that big of a leap for me in the beginning. And just so you know: no – the early generation iPads weren’t all that great for drawing. Although I did try. Anyway, I felt as if Apple answered every single one of my artistic prayers with the combination of the iPad and Apple Pencil.
Personally, I do feel that Wacom (a brand I’ll mention in a moment) makes the best drawing tablets. However, they don’t have quite the same “bang for the buck” that the iPads do. The iPad can do so many things very well, whereas a Wacom tablet is basically a very good drawing tablet and nothing more.
What makes the iPad Pro so great for drawing?
- Battery life is phenomenal. On my 10.1 inch iPad Pro, I’ve been getting screen-on battery life of approximately eight hours. That alone makes this one of the best solutions for drawing digitally without a computer. Battery life is everything!
- The iPad Pro is extremely lightweight for it’s size.
- Software support is very good. Sketchbook Pro, Procreate, and a multitude of other really great drawing apps make drawing on the iPad a breeze.
- The Apple Pencil (a separate purchase required to draw on the iPad) is 100% worth the cost. It’s a brilliant piece of hardware, and is so much more sensitive and capable than a regular stylus. It supports pressure sensitivity, tilt angle, and has a very nice overall weight to it.
- Performance is just incredible. These are incredibly fast devices, rivaling desktop computers that cost thousands more. Long story short, you will not have to worry about laggy / stuttery drawing performance when using an iPad Pro. Everything happens in real time no matter how complex your illustration is.
- Just like all Apple products, it just works. The Apple Pencil always connects, the software hardly ever crashes, and it’s an extremely dependable and durable device.
Important things you need to know about the iPad Pro
- It’s expensive. However, if your primary goal is to use it as a drawing tablet that doesn’t need a computer, it’s worth the cost. Especially since the iPad can do so much more. It’s capable of being a lot more than a canvas for your digital art.
- Integration with your other devices might be difficult if you’re not already ingrained into the Apple ecosystem. If that’s the case, I recommend using a cloud hosting service like Sync to sync your files with your other devices. It integrates into the file system iOS seamlessly.
Best runner up: iPad
I realize that I’m coming off as someone of an Apple fan boy by giving Apple both the number one and number two spots in this list of recommendations for drawing tablets that don’t require a computer. However, there are very good reasons for these top two picks.
If the iPad Pro is a bit too pricey for you, I cannot recommend the regular iPad highly enough. iPad hardware has come a long way since 2012, and even the base model / entry level versions are more powerful than most would ever need.
I know this because my wife has a base model iPad and she’s just now getting into digital art. She’s been a traditional artist her entire life working in acrylics and pastels, so it’s not like she was starting from scratch. She knows what she’s doing, and the good news is that her little iPad is keeping up magnificently.
FYI, she’s using the 10.2 inch model, with 64 GB of internal memory. The software she’s using is Procreate, Affinity Designer, and SketchBook Pro. All of these Apps are fast and snappy on her device.
What makes the base model iPad a good drawing tablet?
- Again, I just like the iPad Pro, the fact that you don’t need a computer at all to create digital art is huge.
- If you’re willing to be patient, it’s possible to find pretty good deals on base model iPad’s.
- Performance is excellent, and it works brilliantly with the Apple Pencil.
Important things you need to know about the iPad
- If I’m being honest, it’s screen size mostly. If you just can’t fathom the idea of creating your digital art on a small 10.2 inch screen, this might not be the drawing tablet for you. The best way to test this is to take a piece of paper that exact size and see how well you do drying within those dimensions.
Best for (somewhat) unlimited budgets: Wacom MobileStudioPro 13″
For a drawing tablet that doesn’t require a computer, it simply doesn’t get any better than the Wacom MobileStudioPro 13”. Yeah, it’s expensive. And it’s also a little bit more bulky than an iPad. However, as a Wacom tablet user myself (for my desktop computer) I know for a fact that this one would be on my shortlist if I was shopping for new drawing tablet today.
What makes the Wacom MobileStudioPro so great?
- The biggest advantage, for me, is the texture of the screen and how the stylus interacts with it. It actually feels like drawing on paper! Unlike the iPad, the screen has a bit of grit to it and there is noticeable friction when dragging the stylus across the screen. It’s a good kind of friction, and it feels completely natural and extremely satisfying.
- The integrated shortcut keys on the left-hand side or extremely helpful. They are 100% configurable, and you can set them up to trigger any type of action you want. Not only that, it’s app independent. That means that you could set the top button to be the paint bucket in the Photoshop app, but when you switch over to Procreate, it could be the zoom out button. These shortcuts are extremely helpful, and will speed up your drawing process.
- The stylus features configurable buttons as well. On the Wacom pen for my Intuos Pro, I set the top button as undo and the bottom button as redo. I’m not saying that I make a lot of mistakes or anything, but for some reason or another I always seem to be to draw faster and more efficiently with my Wacom tablet.
Important things you need to know about the MobileStudioPro
- Obviously, the cost. It may not be that big of a deal if you’re a professional artist and you’re making money with your art, but it’s definitely cost-prohibitive for hobbyists and beginners.
- It’s bulky. Coming in at 9.8 pounds, it’s easily the heaviest drawing tablet in this list. Also, note that the bezels are thick as well.
Best budget option: Simbans PicassoTab 10″
Are you sweating yet? So far, all of the recommendations in this list have been skewing towards the pricey side of the spectrum. I understand why you may be feeling a twinge of stress! Thankfully, there are a handful of standalone drawing tablets on the market that don’t cost a fortune. The Simbans PicassoTab (10″ version) is one of them.
What makes the PicassoTab a good drawing tablet?
- It’s price! This is the drawing tablet I would choose if price was of the upmost importance. Although it’s not the cheapest drawing tablet that doesn’t require a computer, it is the best one I could find under $300. The rest are just total crap IMHO.
- Because it’s essentially just an Android-based tablet, you can do so much more with it than just using it as a standalone drawing device. You’ll have full access to the Google Play Store, and if you’re already well-established into the Android ecosystem, this will be a natural fit for you.
Important things you need to know about the PicassoTab drawing tablet
- As I’ve already mentioned, it’s basically just an android-based tablet. In other words, it wasn’t built for drawing and it’s likely to feel that way when you’re dragging your stylus across the screen. There might be some lag. The screen might not be as bright as you would like. Stuff like that.
- Remember: just like with all things in life, you get what you pay for. Although I believe 100% that this is the perfect standalone drawing tablet for anyone just getting started with digital art (or just starving artists), you have to know that it’s not going to be as durable as the other tablets in this list. You’re likely going to need to replace this tablet before you would an iPad or a Wacom drawing tablet, so that’s just something to keep in mind.
Best alternative: the drawing tablet you can connect to a smartphone
Although the entire goal of this article is to let you know what the best drawing tablets are that don’t require a computer, I’m going to go rogue on my final recommendation: the Wacom 16″ Drawing Tablet.
Yes, I fully understand the need to have a drawing tablet that doesn’t require a computer. The freedom of being able to draw anywhere at any time is liberating, and as an artist, that’s especially important because sometimes the ideas flow at the weirdest times (and places) and we just gotta let it out.
However, Wacom has an interesting proposition for those looking for mobile independence: A drawing tablet that isn’t fully standalone, but it will run just fine connected to your smartphone. No computer required.
All the reasons why the 16″ Wacom is a great mobile drawing tablet
- First of all, it’s a Wacom. As far as I’m concerned, they are the leader in digital drawing devices, and it’s the brand that I would choose over any other for drawing digitally if cost was no object. Even though this model isn’t 100% standalone in the sense that you need to connect to something, it’s a decent compromise since everyone carries a smart phone anyway.
- It’s basically just a cheaper version of the Wacom I talked about earlier. You get the same great textured drawing surface, the incredibly sensitive and configurable stylus, and a big and bright display.
- Speaking of the display, it’s a whopping 16″. If you’re serious about your digital art, that should be a huge plus for you since it’s essentially the largest portable digital drawing tablet on the market.
Important things you need to know about the 16″ Wacom
- Note that there are no shortcut keys on the side of the display like there are on the other one. Although the stylus is still highly configurable, it’s not as feature-rich as the 100% standalone version. But remember: you’re getting this one for a far lower price.
- With the larger screen, it’s a bit bulkier then any of the other drawing tablets in this list.
Portable drawing tablet FAQs
I’ve been using a wide variety of standalone drawing tablets since 2010, and I’d like to think that I know a thing or two about what makes these devices so great (and not so great as well). here are some answers to a handful of the most common questions that other designers and artists have been asking me:
How can you justify spending so much money on a drawing tablet that doesn’t need a computer?
Good question, but easy answer. If you’re really strapped for cash and you want a nice standalone drawing tablet, just know that it will pay for itself with just a few decent freelance gigs.
As a matter fact, that’s how I justify most of my expensive electronics purchases these days. If I can somehow make money with it, I’ll just go ahead and buy it and recoup my costs as quickly as possible. After that, it’s mine to keep without worrying that I spent too much on a frivolous toy.
What are the best brands for digital drawing tablets?
If it wasn’t obvious by now, I am a huge Wacom fan. If money was no object, all of the digital drawing tablets in my house would be made by Wacom. After all, they design their tablets from the ground up to be digital drawing devices, and every take every consideration to make them the best for that sort of application.
Apple is doing extremely good job with their entire iPad line right now. The combination of the iPad and Apple Pencil is nearly as good – which is nice, because being an Apple nerd is far cheaper than being a Wacom nerd.
I’m also hearing really good things about the XP-PEN Artist 12 Pro. I haven’t used any XP-PEN devices yet, but I’m seeing more and more people talking about them every day.
Wouldn’t it be better to buy a good laptop with a stylus instead?
If your goal is to create digital artwork, that is certainly a viable option. To be honest though, the best laptop for artists isn’t all that much better than a really great tablet these days. The only real advantage to having a “real” computer is being able to run full desktop versions of your favorite software.
Can you actually make money selling digital art?
Yes! It’s a matter fact, I’ve started selling digital art since 2006 and it’s been one of my main sources of income ever since.
As a matter fact, I recently wrote an entire article explaining (in full detail) how to make money selling your digital art. I highly recommend using that as a primer to learn how to get started.