The best tablets for animation have democratised the field of animation like never before. Now, anyone with a decent tablet, the right software and an eye for drawing can try their hand at learning animation, and if you want to get into animating professionally, you will absolutely need to know your way around a tablet.
Of course, every individual has different needs (not to mention a different budget), so the same animation tablet won’t be right for everybody. On this list we’ve included plenty of different types of tablet. These include affordable graphics tablets that plug into a monitor or other kinds of external display, multi-function consumer tablets like iPads, and display tablets with their own high-resolution screens. If you’re new to it all, jump straight to our guide to what to look for when buying an animation tablet.
There are plenty of different tablet brands competing for your hard-earned cash, including market leaders like Wacom, Huion and XP-Pen. On this list we’ve tried to include options from as many brands as possible, for all different skill levels, to give you plenty of choice.
If you’re looking for more general drawing tablets, look at our guide to the best drawing tablets you can buy right now, and we also have a guide to the best drawing tablets for kids if you’re shopping for a young budding artist.
The Wacom Cintiq 16 is the best tablet for animation you can right now. In terms of balance between price, performance and functionality, it’s absolutely fantastic, and Wacom’s drawing tools have pretty much become the industry standard in animation. If you’re trying to make a career out of animating, then it’s a reality that getting familiar with Wacom early will make your life easier.
So let’s talk about the Cintiq 16. It’s less expensive than more advanced Wacom models – you don’t get the luxurious space of the Cintiq 32 (so-named for its 32-inch screen), not the UHD resolution of other Cintiq Pro tablets. However, for most animation, you probably don’t need it. And with the Wacom Cintiq 16 you get the 8,192-level pressure sensitivity, the ability to use the Pro Pen 3D as well as the sublime Pro Pen 2, and a gorgeous display with a wide colour gamut. Wacom is competing with its lower-end competitors on price, while still providing a compelling alternative to expensive tablets like the iPad Pro. That‘s hard to do!
The lack of built-in ExpressKeys may be a sticking point for some animators; we’d definitely recommend also picking up the Wacom Express Key remote to speed up workflow.
We would unhesitatingly recommend that new animators get hold of a Wacom Cintiq 16 if they can. The balance of features, performance and price makes it one of the best tablets on the market, and any budding animator should get years of use out of it. Discover more in our Wacom Cintiq 16 review.
Tablets with their own displays tend to be much more expensive – so if you're looking to save a chunk of change, consider something like the Huion HS610. It has no screen, so to see what you’re doing you use the USB connection to hook it up to a computer, smartphone or other device.
For the money, you get a tremendous amount of functionality here – with 8,192 levels of pen pressure sensitivity, 16 ExpressKeys that can be customised to your preferred functions, and a generous workspace that lets you draw and create freely. The tablet is a little fussy with regard to compatibility – it'll work with macOS, but NOT iPhones. Not sure? Check out our Wacom vs Huion comparison guide.
- Read more: The best Huion drawing tablets in 2021
The Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2020) is possibly the best tablet ever made, and the best digital tablet for animation. Its vivid and super-bright display is a pleasure to draw on, displaying vibrant colours and pin-sharp details, and the A12Z Bionic chip ensure it delivers best-in-class processing performance, making it hugely capable for all demanding animation work.
The price tag is not small of course, though you can save a little cash by plumping for the 128GB or 256GB versions rather than the 1TB whopper. Though do bear in mind that however much you spend on the tablet, you’ll have to fork out about $120 more for the Apple Pencil 2. Read about it more in our iPad 2020 review.
Not everyone has loads to spend on a tablet for animation, and we really rate the XP-Pen Deco 03 for those who just need a simple solution that works. Plugging easily into a computer or smart device via the USB connection, the Deco 03 provides a generous drawing surface and a battery-free stylus with 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity. You don’t get the fancier features like tilt sensitivity, but the broad compatibility means this is a drawing pad pretty much anyone will be able to use. It's lightweight and slim, with a pleasingly sleek design and customisable keys that can be mapped to your preferred function. Here's our XP-Pen Deco Pro review for more.
If you're already an Android user, it may make sense to use an Android tablet for animation. We'd recommend considering the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus, which is top of the range right now and the best drawing tablet with screen for animation. Its gorgeous display is ideal for drawing on, with punchy colours and a generous working area, while the up-to-date processing power ensures that your chosen apps should run well. Having the S-Pen included in the price is also welcome, giving you everything you need from the moment you open the box. If this version is too expensive, consider also the Galaxy Tab S7, which uses a smaller, non-OLED screen but still works really well. Find out more in our Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus review.
While Wacom makes tablets used by top industry professionals, it also has a few entry-level models for those just starting to dip their toes into drawing or animation. A good example is the Wacom One, which is a great beginner’s tablet and offers tremendous value, providing that Wacom drawing experience at a very friendly price point. Okay, it’s not as cheap as some others on this list, but you are getting a Full HD screen and a tablet that interfaces seamlessly with Mac and Windows alike. We wouldn’t have minded the screen being a bit brighter, and the stylus is a less sophisticated model than you get with the top-range Wacom models, but this is a fantastic starter tablet for animators nonetheless. Need more info? Here's our Wacom One review.
If you're looking to draw some manga, we'd really recommend the XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro as the best animation tablet for manga drawing. It's a high-quality tablet that’s obviously been specifically tailored to undercut Wacom, offering a comparable experience to the Cintiq 24 but for about a third of the price. The battery-free stylus is perfect for manga drawing, providing top-of-the-line pressure sensitivity as well as tilt response, delivering superior definition of even the finest lines. Give your manga drawings more detail and depth than ever – the XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro makes it easy. The 2K QHD display also features 90 per cent coverage of the Adobe RGB colour gamut, which is very impressive for a tablet at this price. Our XP-PEN Artist 24 Pro review explains all.
We've recommended two Wacom tablets on this list already – the Cintiq Pro 32 and the One, which are for pros and beginners respectively. The reason we'd also recommend the Intuos Pro Large for animation is that it’s a solid all-rounder that'll work for pretty much anyone! Easy to hook up to a laptop or other device, the Intuos Pro provides a dependable drawing surface, and is easy to take with you wherever you go. It's also compatible with the Wacom Pro Pen 3D, which is a great asset if you're looking to create 3D animation. Head over to our Wacom Intuos Pro review to explore more.
Best tablets for animation: what to look for
If you’re looking for a new animation tablet, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the key differences between the various models. Here, we’ve put together a quick guide to the main criteria it’s worth thinking about when choosing a tablet for animation
Display vs graphics
The two main types of tablet you’ll be looking at for animation are display tablets and graphics tablets. Display tablets are just as they sound – tablets that have their own display screens – while graphics tablets are drawing surfaces that need to be connected to an external display like a monitor.
Display tablets are the better choice for animation where possible, as having your drawing surface and your display in the same place makes for a smoother experience, and makes it easier to take advantage of the various animation software programs. However, they also tend to be more expensive than graphics tablets – and if you already have invested in a high-quality monitor, a graphics tablet may be the more cost-effective choice.
When we talk about a tablet’s size we are of course talking about two things – the overall physical size of the tablet, and the size of the screen or drawing surface. A tablet’s size matters of course because you’re going to need to keep, store and potentially transport it, but also because a larger tablet will likely have more inputs, and more space for controls (more on which shortly).
In terms of screen size, it’s worth thinking about how much drawing space you actually need. While it may seem like the obvious thing would be to get as big a tablet screen as possible, this will drive the cost of the unit way up, and it may simply be more space than you need. This will of course depend on the nature of the animation you’re doing – it’s worth looking at your art with a critical eye to determine how much space you need.
Controls and shortcut keys
This may not seem that important to an inexperienced user, but trust us, having a suite of customisable shortcut keys that you’ve mapped to your preferred functions can super-charge the speed of your workflow. Some tablets will have one or two customisable keys, some will have as many as 16, and others will have none – though many of these will be tablets like iPads, which offer other advantages.
One of the main reasons that tablets are so useful for drawing and animation is the incredible level of pen pressure sensitivity they’re capable of. With pen sensitivities routinely going as high as being able to recognise as much as 8,192 levels of pressure, you can get truly granular with line thickness and shape.
We’ve mentioned this already a few times of course, but it is simply a fact of life. Deciding which is the best animation tablet for you will of course in part be dictated by how much you’ve got to spend. This will vary for everyone of course, and while the more you spend, the more you’ll get, there are plenty of great cheap animation tablets out there – we’ve included some in the guide above!