I like to dabble in the visual design arts, and one of the input devices for my computer is a Wacom tablet. Specifically, a Bamboo Pen & Touch, allowing both an Apple-Trackpad-like experience, including all the gestures as well as the typical Pen-Mode input method. The touch interface works satisfactory, but not great or even well. The cursor movement is not smooth as it is with both the Apple Trackpad and with the same Wacom tablet while using the supplied pen. This may be a driver/software issue or it could be hardware. However, for most who buy any of the Wacom tablet line, using the device as a touch device is most likely a secondary concern to the input of the pen, where Wacom and their tablets do it the best.

It is surprising that with the volume of Wacom or other tablet based input devices sold each year there is not more discussion about using a Wacom Tablet in Mouse Mode “to move the screen cursor with a ‘pick up and slide’ motion similar to using a traditional mouse” (Wacom), which I consider the better day-to-day use for the tablet and pen rather than the much more widely adopted Pen-Mode “to set the cursor so that its movement corresponds with the position of your Bamboo pen on the tablet – wherever you place your pen on the tablet, the cursor will jump to a corresponding point on the screen. This is known as absolute positioning, and is the default setting for the Bamboo pen.” (Wacom)

Most of the users of Wacom tablets seem to be the digital-fine-artist-types, as opposed to visual designers, graphic designers and 3D artists. Traditional artists, and art students—people who like to create works of drawing and painting through the digital medium of hardware such as the Wacom Tablet acting as a natural pen or brush, and the great software that caters to them, like Corel Painter, Adobe Photoshop, or Pixelmator—these are the main users of Wacom Tablets.

I use the Wacom tablet in pen mode possibly a few days out of the year, I rarely draw or paint, and if I want to crank out a rough idea very quickly I choose the iPad or black pen and pad of paper (which gets scanned/photographed if I want to convert from analog to digital). However I do use the Wacom Tablet in Mouse Mode virtually every day.

Mouse mode with a Wacom tablet is a wonderful alternative for heavy computer users who are not seasoned keyboard jockeys, or who prefer input devices with a more visual-based, right-brained approach to the input, i.e. mouse, pen, trackball, touch—saving the keyboard for words.

With all the hours I spend involved in a computing interface each day, I have found it most helpful to spread that interaction across 4 separate input devices requiring 4 different ways of moving my human body around and avoiding the dreaded non-specific-arm-pain, or any other hand or wrist pain. I have never personally had issues with any sort of RSI injury, or even close to it, but I have witnessed it in the workplace, with the telltale wrist splints or wraps.

A great wireless mouse is my preferred input method, and has been for many years. Prolonged repetitive movement for hours on end can lead to mild discomfort or for some, RSI type injuries. Being my favorite mode of input, I usually ‘save’ the mouse use for extended visual design sessions, or for most other computing sessions that will be less than 3 hours in length.

If I get tired of holding the mouse, or just want to change it up, I switch it up to the Tablet and pen. There is something quite nice about using the tablet and pen in mouse mode—the familiarity of how a mouse behaves with the old-school muscle memory of holding a pen or pencil.

I discovered back in my mountain biking days that to avoid wrist and hand strain from gripping the handlebars for hours on end, change up the position/location of your hands and the amount of force used to grip the bar whenever possible. Can you employ some bar-ends, or grips wider than the length of your hand? Move the hands around, change up your grip. Basically a way to avoid repetitive motions or “sustained or awkward positions.” This is basic ‘ergonomics, 101.’

For similar reasons, when interfacing with my other rig I “change it up” with the 4 non-keyboard input methods I use on a daily basis: First love being a great mouse, second being the Wacom (or Wacom-like) tablet & pen in Mouse Mode, third, Trackpad/touchpad—either the touch aspect of the Wacom tablet on my dominant hand (which is left) or, more likely, the Trackpad attached to the Macbook Pro near my right hand when setup in its primary configuration as a desktop replacement with and attached S-IPS display, and fourth, the touch interface of the iPad or iPhone, which is not my least favorite. I simply have it in the final position on my list because it is so completely different than the others. This input method is not considered a method of input with a traditional desktop/laptop environment, but it is. Signs of this are in specific apps for the iPad like Adobe Nav and Splashtop Remote, and many others. The touch interface of iOS might be the best way to interact and input, especially with voice recognition just about there.

However, I also choose these various methods of input because each has its distinct advantages over the others for various tasks—mouse is most precise, pen is most familiar, trackpad is user-friendly and great for scrolling, and the touch interface is an entire new world, and is also very responsive on the high end devices like the latest iPad.

In conclusion, the Wacom Tablet’s Mouse-Mode is an under-employed gem of an input method for many different reasons, you should give it a try.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on TumblrShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Reddit

This article has 5 comments

  1. Mac Reply

    I completely disagree. The mouse mode is ridiculous and i imagine for those who simply cant be bothered to learn the pen mode. if you want accuracy and precision you have the precision button on the side, the mouse mode wastes monumental time considering you need to move far more often than in regular pen mode to achieve the same movement. I never suffer from RSI and i’ve been using my wacom for 10 years in pen mode. I work more than five times faster than my colleague who works in mouse mode. Its a time waster.

  2. Hy there! Reply

    I agree…
    I use the mouse mode for regular work (windows stuff), and pen mode for image editing.
    But the mouse mode has lost many of the accuracy in the later times (driver issue?)… making it almost imposible to work with…
    Is it posible to increase its precision?

  3. Hy there! Reply

    ey! I just found a solution! (at least works for me).
    go to control panel, and set the mouse properties (not the wacom properties, but mouse ones)…
    Be sure to turn on the “Enhance Pointer Precision”.
    Play with the mouse velocity also, with the wacom properties if you need to…
    and thats it

  4. Brendan Potash Reply

    Thank you for writing this. I couldn’t figure out where they buried the option for Mouse Mode. I’ve used the tablets since the late 80’s and long hours of work make it very worthwhile as a mouse.

    By the way: The point of the system is to accommodate the professional – rather than have the professional “get used to” a bad fit. Oh well. Clones will be clones.

  5. Carlos Reply

    I think that pen mode makes more sense with cintiq and the likes, where the absolute mapping is intuitive since tablet=screen (literally). Otherwise, there are a number of reasons why I think pen mode is a waste of tablet space and precision unless you have a medium or big sized tablet.
    Throw in 2 monitors into the equation, and things get even more complicated for pen mode (this was the main reason I finally stopped using my tablets in pen mode some years ago).
    For me, mouse mode provides almost the same performance as the pen mode with much more flexibility, but at the end of the day, it’s a personal choice, so I think everyone must try and decide.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *