Chromebooks have evolved a lot over the past few years and along with them, users have too. Having once simply used Google’s laptops for data entry and web browsing, many people are now getting comfortable with them and want to explore new ways that they can fit into their technological lifestyle. For some, that includes expressing their creativity. Today, we’ll be showing you how to get the most out of your Chromebook as a sketch artist or painter.
What are graphics tablets?
When I worked customer service, I’d often have someone ask me if a Wacom graphics tablet would work with their newly purchased Chromebook. For those unaware, Wacom graphics tablets aren’t what you may think. When you hear the word ‘tablet’, it may invoke the image of an Android tablet you’d use for reading or playing games. Instead, these tablets (that come in at an affordable price) don’t have a screen, are traditionally plugged into a Windows or Mac computer, and come with a digital pen or stylus, too. Once your computer can recognize the tablet, you open your favorite art software – most use Photoshop – and begin dragging the tip of the stylus across the tablet and watch as your exact movements appear on the computer screen. It’s essentially just like drawing on paper, except you’re drawing with the tablet on the table or on your lap while looking up at the computer monitor to see the results. Industry professionals use graphics tablets of varying sizes with wildy-different functionalities to create the art you see everywhere you look, from advertisement to video games, cartoons and more.
Do graphics tablets work with Chromebooks?
While they may one day work with Chromebooks, the answer for now is no. At least, not in any capacity that would make them worth using. You can plug them into a Chromebook and use its pen to navigate across the screen (since Chrome OS does detect the x and y coordinates of the pen tip), but you’re better off just touching the screen directly or using a mouse. Graphics tablets have what’s called “pressure sensitivity” which lets you apply varying levels of pressure to the tablet using the pen like you would with a real pencil. Doing so helps you achieve lighter or darker lines which can be thin or thick – just like real pencil markings. This allows you to emulate a physical drawing medium like pencil and paper and achieve similar results. Chromebooks can’t detect pressure sensitivity from Wacom graphics tablets because this feature requires software drivers to be installed and those drivers are only built for Windows and Mac. Tablet manufacturers simply don’t make drivers for Chrome OS.
You may be able to use the Linux container on your Chromebook to install the Linux Wacom Project and pass the software drivers for pressure sensitivity to a Linux software like Gimp or Krita, but we haven’t tested this (we will) and it’s certainly not for non-technical users who just want to buy a Chromebook for themselves or their kids to express themselves creatively and quickly.
So what can I use?
Not to worry! While some may be disappointed that graphics tablets can’t be used with Chromebooks (they are popular, after all), there is still a great solution for artists and it’s a more-native one. Normally, only high end graphics tablets allow you to draw right on the screen and see the results immediately as opposed to drawing on the tablet and looking up at your computer monitor to see what you drew, but any Chromebook with a stylus lets you do the same thing at a more affordable price. I think most artists will agree with me when I say that drawing right on the screen feels like less of a disconnect from your artwork than the aforementioned method. This has actually become one of my favorite features of Chromebooks in the past few years.
Which drawing app should I use?
There are many apps on the Google Play Store for sketching, drawing, painting and more, but they aren’t created equally. Everyone will have their preference and each provides a slightly different set of tools. My recommendations here will be based on my personal favorite apps, but I’ll be sure to mention the most popular ones and what they’re commonly used for as well.
My favorite sketching app is Artflow. For me, this mimics most of the features I used to use on my Windows PC with Photoshop for sketching and painting. It has layers, layer adjustments, a color wheel, a slick size and thickness slider for your pencil or brush and the entire layout feels very familiar, yet simple. Artflow (and Infinite Painter, to name a few) can also open and edit Photoshop Document files (PSD!) Having used Photoshop for many years, this felt like a natural fit.
Sketchbook Pro is another app with similar functionality and is provided by Autodesk. If you’re looking to hand painted or acrylic art, smart shapes or just a well-rounded piece of software, you may want to check out Infinite Painter. Google has also gone through great lengths to partner with this app’s developer for promotional advertisement with Chromebooks. Though these are among the best, there are thousands of apps available on the Google Play Store. We won’t be talking much about Krita or Linux art software today as those deserve their very own discussion.
One incredible, new app which uses smart shapes and has a great set of brushes, not to mention a really cool color wheel animation, is Concepts. If you’re a parent, a lot of children like to use MediBang to create anime or cartoon style pieces, though the app is not exclusively used by that age group. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here that Photoshop Sketch was also available, but for some reason, I haven’t really cared much for it compared to the others I’ve mentioned. Like I said, everyone has their preferences!
Many of these apps, especially Artflow, allow you to cloud save your drawings with Google Drive for safekeeping. This makes them easier to retrieve when and if you get a new Chromebook. For those wondering about palm rejection, this is a feature that is mostly reliant upon Chrome OS and not so much the pen, but many of these apps do provide a ‘pen only mode’ so that you can draw without the screen picking up your hand as a tool and making extra markings where you don’t want them.
Which Chromebooks are good for artists?
With an overwhelming amount of Chromebooks to choose from now that they’ve exploded in popularity, it may be difficult to know which one is best for drawing. After all, there are several with a stylus or the ability to add one. If you’re okay with a smaller screen but want something lightweight that can be taken anywhere in your backpack as an on-the-go sketchbook, I recommend the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, hands down. You can pair the Duet with the Lenovo USI pen or any other USI pen, too. For those of you who want a slightly-larger screen and more power, Google’s very own Pixel Slate is a win here, too. Be warned: it’s heavy on your wrist for longer drawing sessions. The Pixelbook Pen – which will need to be purchased separately – is made with Wacom AES technology and has fantastic responsiveness.
You may find that some of your friends and family who are familiar with art software and use it frequently for professional projects may dissuade you from using a Chromebook for drawing. I believe that for the average user who simply wants to express themselves with the convenience of infinite space and fluidity, a nice, lightweight Chromebook with a stylus is a perfect fit. I use my Pixelbook and Pixelbook Pen for creating art that I can use for game development and I think many of you can find the same creative possibilities in a Chromebook, too.