It is no mystery that there are a LOT of drawing tablet brands out there. With endless advice swirling around the internet, it's hard to know where to put your money when it comes to investing in a brand new tablet. Whether you're a beginner artist or a long-time professional looking to make an upgrade, I'm going to introduce you to a tablet that will surprise you. It certainly surprised me!
Big thanks to the folks behind the Deco 02; XP-Pen sent me their best performing tablet so that I could share my experiences here with you today. Grab a cup of coffee and come join me as I unveil some fresh technology!
It’s a harsh truth that cost can often be a barrier to entry for aspiring digital artists. The XP-Pen Deco 02 is an attractive buy at $67.99, and it’s packed full of features: six configurable buttons, a metal dial, and a 10 x 5.63” drawing surface. For comparison, the cheapest Wacom Intuos tablet available on Amazon is $79 and has but four buttons, with a drawing surface that is only 6.0” x 3.7”. Cramming so much functionality into a such an inexpensive package is an impressive feat, but it begs the question - how does the quality compare?
Pretty good, actually. Overall the tablet feels sturdy and well-built while still being lightweight. The spinning metal ring is used for a number of functions which you can set to suit your needs (my favorite is adjusting my brush size) and I think this little tool really sets the tablet apart from the competition. It’s smooth as butter, practically friction-less and comes with a circular rubber insert for extra grip. I'm embarrassed to admit this but I spent a good few minutes just toying with the dial before actually giving the tablet a go. Procrastination at its finest!
I had to lift the pen from the canvas before adjusting the brush size (my current tablet lets me do it mid brush stroke, so this was a small adjustment) but once I did it was a snap. The round plastic buttons, on the other hand, were merely adequate - I didn’t get the impression that they were going to break, but there was nothing satisfying about pressing them.
The pen’s hexagonal design felt good in my hand, smaller than I'm used to but more akin to that of a pencil, and the battery-free operation is a welcome advantage over pricier competitors. The device touts 8192 levels of pen pressure (four times that of my Cintiq 22HD Touch!), but with the default settings I had to press very hard for the tablet to register my stokes. It only took a little bit of fiddling with the pen pressure settings for the Deco 02 to feel very responsive, so don't be discouraged by the initial stiffness. Ordinarily I might not fuss with these settings too much but I was really concerned about the tablet's surface enduring that sort of pressure.
If you're the type who likes to press harder when drawing, you have the option to adjust the pressure curve to your liking within the tablet settings. Although I'm right handed, it seems the tablet can also work for those left-handed creatives as well!
Among all the goodies, I was thrilled that the drawing tablet even came with a drawing glove and a screen protector. The glove was perfect and is a must have for all artists - seriously, if you don't already own one go out and buy one. But the screen protector? After trying it I decided to set it aside. The surface is even more textured than that of the tablet itself. With the protector on, it felt dull and sluggish to respond to my strokes and I didn’t like the rough texture. I expect that whether you opt to use the protector or go naked, the grabby surface has the potential to chew through pen nibs at an alarming rate with how hard I had to press - luckily, the Deco 02 comes pre-stocked with eight spare nibs and are very affordable to replace.
( EDIT: I've since been informed that the tablet I was reviewing was last year's model - since then, XP-Pen has updated its design to incorporate a scratch-resistant surface on the tablet. No need for an awkward screen protector with the new version! )
Did I mention setup is simple? This might seem like a minor bonus but honestly we've all been there; our brand new tablet arrives in the mail and we're beyond stoked to get it up and running. After tearing it out of the box, you quickly realize that the instructions are as thin as your patience. An hour later you're on the phone with the manufacturer and far too deep in a help forum.
Thankfully, I didn't have any of that. While a representative from XP-Pen was very available in case I ran into any problems (thanks Yilia!) there wasn't a single hiccup in the process. There was only one cable that plugged into a USB port and in ten minutes I downloaded the required drivers and set up my keybindings.
The Deco 02 drivers support Windows 7 and later, as well as MacOS 10.10 and higher. Software compatibility shouldn’t be an issue either, with the promotional material calling out support for Photoshop, SAI, Painter, Illustrator, and Clip Studio. I was only able to test the Deco 02 with Photoshop CC 2019 and Krita, however. Both were a success!
Overall, I enjoyed my time with the Deco 02. With its slim and light-weight profile, simple setup and hassle-free operation it might just be the perfect tool for a traveling artist (hey, that's me!). The low price point and surprisingly solid construction only increase its attractiveness in that application. Even as part of a permanent work space, I think beginners and professionals alike can find value in its simple, effective design and easy operation.
My only major complaint was the heavily textured work surface, but that may simply come down to a matter of opinion. I was still able to follow through with my usual workflow to create one of my well-known black and white portraits!
Have you guys used the Deco 02? I would love to hear what you think of it!
If you haven't, I encourage you to check out what XP-Pen has to offer with the Deco 02. The drawing tablet is available right now on Amazon - in both Standard and Holiday editions! Use code GG4CEEY9 to receive a 10% discount on either model. I think you'll find yourself as impressed as I was. If you want to explore some of their other products, you can find more on their website.
Thanks for reading. Stay creative, team!