Photoshop tutorial: How to set up a Wacom tablet for Photoshop

15 ways to make your Wacom tablet work better and more easily with Photoshop’s tools

Wacom’s Intuos Pro, Intuos 5, Intuos4, Intuos3 and Cintiq tablets are incredibly popular throughout the creative industries – giving designers, illustrators and photographers more fluidity of movement and far more precision throughout their digital processing.

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However, ensuring that Photoshop and your tablet work together perfectly requires a bit of tweaking to suit how you like to work. Here photographer and illustrator Tigz Rice explains how to get the most of out of your Wacom tablet when used with Photoshop.

There are also plenty of features in Photoshop — including some you wouldn’t expect — that use the pressure and tilt functionalities of the Wacom IntuosPro, Intuos 5, Intuos4, Intuos3 and Cintiq families, as well as the touch control found in the Intuos Pro and Cintiq tablets. Tigz also talks you through some of her favourites – giving examples of how some of the brush types work and how you can access them and modify the settings to suit your own digital workflow.

Before you start, head over to the website to make sure you’ve downloaded and installed the latest drivers. Follow the download and install instructions, which should only take a minute or two.

Software needed

Photoshop CS6 or later


Lets start with with some of the touch features built into the Wacom Intuos and Cintiq range. If you’ve used a smartphone or a tablet before, some of the gestures are very similar to those you already know, such as zooming and scrolling. You can also twist your thumb and index finger in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction to rotate the canvas.

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There are 13 ‘Standard Gestures’ built into the Wacom Intuos Pro and Cintiq ranges that work with Photoshop. A list of them – along with some helpful gesture demonstration animations – can be found in the Wacom Tablet preferences in System Preferences (Mac) or Control Panel (Windows).


On top of the 13 Standard Gestures, there are 5 fully customisable Gestures for you to programme your own Photoshop shortcuts that use three, four and five finger touch.

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These can be programmed to any keystroke you wish, including a selection of handy Photoshop Shortcuts such as Stamp Visible.

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For those of you on the Cintiq Companion and Photoshop CC 2014, you take your touch abilities one step further. To activate, go to Photoshop > Preferences > Experimental Features (Mac) or Photoshop > Preferences > Experimental Features (Windows) and select Use Touch Gestures.

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You’ll need to restart Photoshop before you can start using the touch features.


If you’re constantly changing the size of your brush, click on the Always use Pressure for Size button in the Options bar. This allows pen pressure to override how big your mark is on the document.

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A soft touch will result in a small mark, whilst a firm touch will fill the entire brush mark area. This feature works with a wide range of tools including the Brush, Eraser, Clone, Heal, Dodge and Burn Tools. Simply set your maximum brush size in the Brushes panel and your brush will never take over your work.


Similarly, if you always change the opacity of your brush, click on the ‘Always use Pressure for Opacity’ button to have the same effect on the Opacity of your Tool.

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In fact, why not try the two Pressure buttons together. These two icons are great tools for digital artists trying to replicate hand-drawn markings, which vary in width and pressure.

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On the subject of hand-drawn markings, from Photoshop CS5 onwards Adobe introduced Bristle Tips. When combined with a Wacom Intuos Pro or Cintiq, these simulate the movement of a real-life brush.

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With a mouse, these don’t appear to do anything special, but the Wacom tablet senses the direction that your pen is approaching the tablet and tilts the brush accordingly to replicate the angle.

You can choose from a range of brush types including pointed, blunt, angular and fan brushes. Here’s a few examples of what you can achieve with a pen, compared to using the same settings with a mouse.

Tip: If you have invested in a Wacom Art pen, it can also pick up on pen rotation. This allows you to twist the ‘brush’ a full 360 degrees on top of the tilt functionality.


From CS6 onwards, Adobe also introduced Erodious Brushes. These work in exactly the same way as Bristle brushes, but with the exception that they wear down like a pencil or chalk when used — changing the size, texture and shape of the markings as the medium is blunted.

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You can choose from a range of tip shapes, as well as setting the softness of the tip to control how fast it wears down. Here are some examples of Erodible Tip brush markings.

These brushes can be ‘reset by pressing the ‘Sharpen Tip’ button in the Brush Panel.


If that wasn’t enough brushes for you, there are also a range of Wacom-controlled airbrushes available, where you can control everything from the angle of the airbrush to the size and amount of paint splatters.

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These brushes are particularly good for starry skies. Here are a couple of examples of brush techniques you can achieve with your Wacom.

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On the other hand, if you’re using a Wacom tablet but want to fix the angle your brush is working at for a particular project, you can set overrides for X Tilt, Y Tilt, Rotation and Pressure in the Brush Pose section of the Brush panel.

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Another of my favourite brush effects is Colour Dynamics, which allows you to transition between your foreground and background colours while drawing.

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Simply choose your two colours and then in the Colour Dynamics submenu of the Brush Panel, choose between Pen Pressure or Pen Tilt. Finally, tick the Apply Per Tip checkbox and you’re ready to draw. This effect is great for shading surfaces.


Having played around with brush dynamics and got a feel or how your tablet works, you may want to customise the pressure sensitivity of your tablet to require more or less pressure from the pen (dependent on your working style).

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Head back over to the Wacom Tablet preferences panel and click on the pen icon. Here you can change the Tip Feel from soft to firm.

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You can also customise the pressure curve if you want to be really precise.

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In this Wacom Tablet preferences panel we can also set preferences for left and right handers. First, click on Options at the bottom and choose your ‘Handedness’.

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Then, head over to the Mapping submenu and choose the orientation of your ExpressKeys. Left handed people will usually have their ExpressKeys on the right, so they can access them with their non-drawing hand.

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For the shortcut lovers, all Wacom tablets come with a number of ExpressKeys down one edge, which allow you to programme in more of your favourite shortcuts. These can be set per application package too, so you can have one set for Photoshop and separate ones for (for example) Illustrator or Lightroom.

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What the ExpressKeys do can be set in your Wacom Preferences panel by going to the Functions menu and either choosing from the drop down menus or typing in your own keystrokes.


If you’re a serious shortcut lover and run out of ExpressKeys, all the Wacom Intuos Pro and Cintiq models offer the option to build your own radial menu, where you can add a wealth of shortcuts and submenus under one ExpressKey.

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This feature is particularly handy for anyone working on the Cintiq Companion whilst on the go, or in a confined working space where they might not have access to a keyboard.


Finally, if you’ve forgotten what you set all your ExpressKeys to, the Intuos Pro has a handy Heads Up Display feature. Simply hover over the ExpressKeys and this translucent box will appear on your screen letting you know what each key is set to.

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