Paint, draw and retouch like a pro with the best budget graphics tablet and pen displays. When you’re drawing, painting or retouching photos on a computer, a mouse is only going to get you so far. Using a touchscreen might be better but only if equipped with a high-end stylus. That’s why most digital artists and creatives reach first for a graphics tablet. Not only does a graphics tablet mimic traditional ways of working but it also allows you to work with a speed and precision that you’ll struggle to match in any other way.
However, tablets can be expensive, with prices rising up to £400 or more for pro-level models. What’s more, we’re now seeing hybrid “pen display” devices that are both a tablet and a screen, and while these can be amazing, the prices rise to some intimidating levels. So, before you buy a graphics tablet, you need to have a clear idea of exactly what you need.
Top 10 Best Budget Graphics Tablet in UK 2021
1. Huion H420 – The best budget graphics tablet
There’s not a whole lot to this tablet but it’s a great entry-level device. With an active surface measuring just 102 x 57mm it’s not great for really detailed work but combine the high resolution with a pen that supports 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity and you can still create quite sophisticated work.
The pen is thick and comfortable to hold and while it uses a AAA battery this should last you for hundreds of hours of use. The feel of pen on the surface is surprisingly good for such a cheap device, with just the right amount of drag, and the accuracy is spot on. If you’re serious about your art or design work you’ll want something bigger but this compact, lightweight option is just fine for people starting out.
2. Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1
This Samsung is one of the more recent affordable tablets, which all-but guarantees you longer update support than one released a year or more ago. There’s more good news too.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 (£195) is one of the more charming and comprehensively spec’d budget tablets around. Its build is the part most notice first. Its back is mostly aluminium, not the plastic of the only slightly cheaper Amazon Fire HD 10 (below). There’s a band of plastic along the top of its back but it is otherwise not a world away from the feel and look of an iPad.
There’s more too. The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 screen is a pretty-enough Full HD LCD panel with solid colour and brightness, and the cameras are far better than the Fire HD 10’s. You get the full Google app suite too.
Processor power and RAM are the only obvious slight shortfalls. The Tab A 10.1 has a weak dual-core GPU and just 2GB RAM. If this were a plane, its engine would barely have enough power to avoid careering into the trees just beyond the runway. But, crucially, it does just fine with most of the things you’re likely buying a cheap tab for.
The Galaxy Tab A will play games like PUBG, Minecraft and Gameloft’s Asphalt racers well enough. Amazon’s Fire HD 10 is more powerful on paper, but as it only has access to a fraction of the games, we still prefer the Samsung for gaming. If your budget stretches, this Samsung won’t disappoint.
3. Wacom Intuos Pro S – The best graphics tablet for pros
The Intuos Pro range is the choice of many working illustrators and design professionals, and once you’ve used one it’s not hard to see why. The tracking of pen movement, tilt and pressure is near-perfect, removing any barriers between what you mean to draw or paint and what turns up on the screen. Wacom also seems to have perfected the feel of the pen on the surface, so it glides across with just a hint of friction.
It says a lot that our test illustrator is used to the old medium version of this tablet, but came to prefer the new small version over a couple of hours of use. If you need more space than the 6.2 x 3.9in active area, then you can upgrade to the medium (£315) or large (£409) models. Throw in six buttons and a programmable “touchring” dial, and you have the ideal tool for professional artists or anyone wanting pixel-perfect precision from a tablet and pen.
4. Huion H1060P – Graphics Drawing Tablet
OS Android 6.0 Supported – You can easily connect your phone to the tablet with the OTG connector after firmware UPDATED; ONLY mobile phone and tablet powered by Android 6.0 or above are supported, while iPhone and iPad are NOT at the moment. NOTE: The cursor will not show up in SAMSUNG Galaxy S series at present. If you are not sure whether the product is compatible with your Phone or if you meet any problems, please contact us.
Tilt Function Battery-free Stylus – Provide you ±60 levels tilt recognition for accurate cursor positioning with different angles; Outfitted with PW100 battery-free stylus of 233PPS report rate, 10mm sensitive height; Lightweight design and eco-friendly, no need to charge. Digital PW100 with 8 PCS replacement pen nibs PN04 for PW100 is included.
8192 Levels of Pressure Sensitivity – With 5080LPI screen resolution, makes every stroke more fluent; Its pressure sensitivity is four times higher than most of the homogeneous products recently in the market.
12 Customized Press Keys – With 16 Customized Soft Keys, producing a variety of different combinations of shortcuts; You can set any function for them according to your operating habit and preference.
Professional Configuratiaon – 10 x 6.25 inches working area provides the user with the most comfortable size to work and no delay; Create lines and projects as big as you can imagine. Online Teaching and Working – Meet all your needs for every subject with online tutoring softwares: Power Point, Wrod, OneNote, PDF… Let’s work more efficiently. Use Huion for for online conference purpose,Web Conferencing, Webinars and Screen Sharing.
5. XP-Pen Artist 12 – The best value pen display
When you’re getting an 11.6in pen display for under £200 you have to look past a few shortcomings. Here the main one is a slightly unruly setup involving two USB ports and one HDMI output on your laptop or PC, resulting in a mess of thick cables linking the two and a device that doesn’t really work on any desktop system without two video outputs. We’d also like it if the built-in display had a little more punch and more accurate colours – tests show it falling short of 100% SRGB – and that the pen supported tilt.
Otherwise, however, this is an effective device. Tracking is excellent, the pressure sensitivity works well and, while the pen is on the thin and light side, it’s still pretty comfortable. It also comes in a case with a selection of replacement nibs. Meanwhile, on the display you get six customisable buttons and a glowing dial. The Artist 12 isn’t as strong a pen display as the Wacom One, but then it is over £150 cheaper. It’s a credible alternative for cash-strapped artists and designers.
6. Amazon Fire HD 10 – A great no-nonsense budget tablet
Even for adults, Amazon’s Fire HD series is the best way to get a quality tablet for the very least amount of money possible. It is cheaper than the alternatives from Huawei, Samsung and Lenovo, with little sense of fun-ruining compromise if you can live with the way Amazon tablets operate. This is a big “if”.
The Amazon Fire HD 10 (£150) does run Android, but the software looks and feels completely different to that of other Android tablets. You average Android, from Google phones to those of manufacturers desperate to leave their mark on the system, has an interface that is really little more than a place for your app shortcuts to live.
Amazon’s is more like a shop front, with separate pages to promote the contents of its book, music, video and app stores. Only subscribe to Netflix and Spotify? An Amazon Fire HD 10 may seem cluttered. But we’ve used this tablet with and without a Prime subscription and, when you consider the money saved, ignoring Amazon’s heavy-handed approach isn’t too hard.
However, there is another problem. The Fire HD 10 has the Amazon Appstore, not the Google Play Store. It misses out on a lot of games and apps. There are still hundreds of thousands on there, but browse the library before buying on the Amazon website if there’s an app you, or your child, are desperate to try.
These Fire-specific issues aside, the Fire HD 10 is excellent. Its back is plastic but comes in several colours and feels better made than almost all sub-£150 tablets. The Full HD screen is great and while the processor is from untrendy MediaTek, it has more graphics power than those of almost every rival.
7. Wacom One Creative Pen Display – The best all-round pen display
Where Wacom’s Cintiq range is aimed at creative professionals, the Wacom One is designed for hobbyists and artists. There are signs of this in the lower resolution of the drawing surface and a drop in the pressure sensitivity of the pen but, frankly, this pen display is good enough for anyone to use. The 13.3in screen size hits the perfect balance between giving you enough screen to see what you’re doing and not occupying half your desk and it’s also a good match for the full HD display resolution.
What’s more, the screen is a major step up in quality from the XP-Pen Artist 12; it’s brighter and sharper with better colour accuracy. The overall feel and tracking is also better and with tilt sensitivity you can get some impressive hand-drawn linework and calligraphy effects, not to mention more realistic brush strokes if you’re simulating pastels, charcoal or paint. You still need to be running on a laptop or have a secondary HDMI output to get it up and running, but the Wacom One’s cable management minimises the clutter. And while the pen is thinner than the pen on the Cintiq, it still feels good in the hand. Unless you’re a demanding graphics pro, this is the pen display to buy.
8. XP-Pen Deco Pro Medium – Highly affordable Wacom alternative, though lacking a few features
Undercutting Wacom considerably on price, the XP-Pen Deco Pro is an alternative to the likes of the Intuos Pro, offering a smaller slate of features but for about a third of the cost. So while the software drivers are a little janky, the fundamental drawing experience is rock-solid. The pen may not have the premium feel of a Wacom, but it still offers 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity, and the overall design of the tablet has picked up a Red Dot awards. This isn’t just a cheap knock-off – it’s a premium knock-off, and if you’re an artist on a budget, it definitely merits consideration.
9. Wacom Cintiq 16 – The best professional pen display
If you want to work over a larger canvas, the Cintiq 16 is about as big as graphics tablets and pen displays get. The 15.6in panel matches the size of many performance laptops and mobile workstations and, while the full HD resolution means it isn’t as sharp as the displays on premium laptops and tablets, it’s still perfectly adequate for graphics work. Our testers found the bigger size also made it easier to select tools and work on more detailed images, so what you lose in desktop space you gain in usability.
This is very much a professional device, as reflected in higher pressure sensitivity, with up to 8192 levels and a higher 5080 LPI tablet resolution, and the tracking and precision is hard to fault. The greater size and power draw of the display also necessitates a seperate power supply, not to mention some pretty chunky cabling. Luckily, the design of the cabling, with just one connector going into the tablet itself, minimises the hassle. Throw in an excellent, ergonomic pen and sturdy legs for a comfortable tilt, and you’ve got a superb pen display for creative professionals.
10. Huion H430P – Get started with this low-cost but very usable mini drawing tablet
If you’re not sure whether a drawing tablet is something you’ll use regularly enough to justify the cost, the second Huion tablet on our list, the H430P, gives you all the basics without requiring an big investment. The drawing area is small, yes, but the pen is sensitive enough to give you a true sense of the creative benefits drawing tablets can bring. It may not take long before you outgrow this tablet, but it’s a very affordable way to get started.
How to choose the best budget graphics tablet in UK 2021
While there are some technical differences, most graphics tablets work in the same way. The drawing area of the tablet creates a magnetic field, and the pen draws on this to produce its own magnetic field, which is tracked by the sensors in the tablet. Through this, the tablet knows where the pen is, the velocity of its movement and how hard the tip is being pressed against the board. It can even detect the angle at which the pen is being held.
The key things here are the size of the tablet, its resolution and how sensitive it is to pressure. Tablets usually come in sizes where the active drawing area ranges from slightly smaller than an A5 page to slightly larger than A4. The resolution affects how sensitive it is to the pen’s position and movement within that area, and is usually talked about in terms of lines-per-inch (the higher the better).
As for pressure sensitivity, you’ll see this described in terms of levels. Don’t get too hung up on the numbers, though; while you’ll see tablets with 2048 levels and tablets with 8192 levels of sensitivity, you may or may not need the higher level – it all depends on your drawing style.
Higher-end tablets also offer tilt sensitivity, where they can track the angle of the pen and use this to vary the thickness and intensity of the line – ideal for sweeping brushwork or interesting calligraphy effects. The manufacturers will usually specify the level of tilt sensitivity; 60 levels means it can track 60 different degrees of tilt.
Are there any other features worth looking out for?
A lot of people focus on the tablet but forget the pen, which is a big mistake when you’re spending a lot of time working on your art. Lightweight pens often feel less natural and are harder to work with than a heavier, chunkier pen, and what’s fine to use for an hour or so could cause you some major discomfort over a long working day.
Most tablets also incorporate a range of hotkeys, which you can program for specific functions in your favourite software. As long as you can remember what each one does, these can make it faster and more natural to switch between different presets or different tools. Some even include a dial you can use to adjust intensity settings or line weights.
While most tablets work through a simple USB cable, there are some variants that use a Bluetooth wireless connection. That’s fine if you’re keen to avoid cable clutter or work with a laptop where ports are in short supply but you’ll either have to keep the tablet stocked with batteries or plug it in for an occasional recharge.
What about pen displays?
Pen displays are coming in at the high-end of the market and these effectively combine a graphics tablet with a secondary screen. The big plus is that you can see what you’re working on as you’re drawing on the drawing surface – a bit like when you’re drawing with pencil or ink and paper. Also, you can have reference images or toolbars open on your main screen, then keep the tablet screen clear for working. This can be brilliant, but you may find yourself limited by the size or resolution of the built-in screen so it’s not necessarily the best idea for everyone.
Hopefully, our review of the best drawing tablets currently available has given you some direction when it comes to choosing the right product for your needs.
Whilst there’s not a huge difference in the technical specification of the products we’ve looked at, it’s the subtle differences that can impact your experience, such as the pen type, shortcut capabilities and, most importantly in our book, the texture of the drawing surface.
Ultimately, though, the choice is yours, and you will find a lot of great options in best budget graphics Tablet in UK 2021 that might be suitable for your needs.