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Hardware/software upgrades for vector art

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While I am a software engineer by training I'm enjoying the more artistic side of my game development hobby more and more. Since I'm spending more time on computer art I'm thinking of upgrading my tools. However I'm unsure as to exactly what is best for me to get. Since I haven't had much hands-on experience with a wide variety of art tools I'd like to ask your opinion of what you think I most need to get. The three things I think might need to replace or bolster are:
  1. Wacom Tablet (Graphire3 A6 4"x5")
  2. Monitor (old 17" CRT)
  3. Software (Inkscape)
Currently I almost exclusively work with 2D vector art, which I'm still pretty happy with; it's a fine medium which suits the style of games I like to make rather well. I'm also thinking of moving into webcomics, to which increased vector art skills would also be a boon. I'm not really that interested in learning 3D, but I think it might be a boon to learn more fine 2D art skills (if it weren't so difficult to start). As for budget, it's a bit flexible although I'd prefer to pay only for what I'd need. If there's something that would make my time drawing art much less painful then I'm happy to get it, but since I'm a grad student doing this a hobby I've got my financial limits.
I'll include a brief description of my thoughts at the moment, so it's easier to understand where I'm coming from and what I think I need: Tablet I've got a small Wacom Graphire3 A6 (4"x5") tablet that I bought a while ago to trial out; it's great to use but it's a bit on the cramped side. I've been thinking of upgrading to a new tablet for a long while (see my post last year), but I got paralysed by the choices available at the time, and ended up saving for a MacBook Pro. Now I've been using my Graphire more often I think it's time to get a bigger tablet. At the moment I mainly use the tablet for rough draft sketches and limited amounts of fine detail; I use my mouse for manipulating shapes and curves in my vector art. However I'm not sure if my limited use of the tablet is partly due to it's small size. I'm also unsure as to whether I need a Wacom Intuos over a Graphire, especially since I work mainly with vector art. Tilt control is nice and the extra buttons would be handy, but I'm uncertain as to whether I'd need them. But I haven't had enough hands-on experience with an Intuos to know if that's the case; I'm only used to my Graphire. If I were to get a bigger tablet, I'm considering the 6"x8" (Graphire or Intuos) or possibly the 6"x11" widescreen model (which would go well with the laptop). While only a little bit more expensive than the 6"x11" the 9"x12" is a little bit too big for my cramped desk and might be overkill for my untrained pencilling skills anyway. Monitor My current monitor is a seven year old 17" CRT Panasonic PanaSync SL70i. It's held up well over the years, but it's starting to show it's age. The colour isn't as stable as it used to be, and the screen seems more flickery to me. I'm also sure it's fairly faded too, although it's hard to see in comparison. I've already made a general post about getting a new monitor, but I want to make sure I get one that's reasonable for art work as well as programming. I'm unfamiliar as to exactly what properties are most desirable in a monitor for an artist. I'm a bit worried about the limited resolutions and colour depth in most LCD displays out there. But I'm not wanting to spend a mint of a top-of-the-line monitor, as I'm still an amateur at art. Software At the moment, I use Inkscape for the majority of my art work. As a beginner it had the big advantage of being free, so it was a great choice to experiment with. I'm actually rather happy with Inkscape as my software of choice, as it does most of what I need it to do. I can pencil in draft sketches with the brush tool, then add in shapes and curves for the final. Since it also saves in SVG it's a very open file format that I can use in my programs. However since I haven't used any other art software as extensively I don't know what functionality I'm missing. I know that Adobe's software is considered the best in the industry, and I've stared longingly at the specs of the new versions of Illustrator and Flash on their site. However they're extremely expensive, running into four figure prices in Australian dollars. I've also been a bit hesitant to try out their time limited demos, as with my schedule it's hard to know whether I'd have enough time in the 30 day period to really get to grips with an Adobe product and fully judge its worth. To be honest I'm pretty happy with Inkscape as my vector art tool, but I'd be foolish not to ask if there's other tools out there that could save me development time.
Since the world of digital art isn't my forte I'm happy for any and all advice on tools, no matter how basic. Thanks for reading!

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As far as Wacom tablets are concerned, I use an Intuos2 6x8 and absolutely love it. I don't feel it is cramped at all, and it doesn't require overly long strokes to get across the screen. I use it with a widescreen monitor and it works fine.

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Hmm, vector art is a beast all it's own and doesn't usually get covered when recommending tablets. The main thing an Intuos has going for it over the Graphire is increased pressure sensitivity, but that may be a non-issue if you are not using pressure sensitive functions in your art. On the other hand, even so you would be limiting your ability to move into other types of art later on.

100% for sure go with Wacom, though. But you likely know that already. The only thing better than an Intuos is a Cintiq, and that's still wacom ;)

Size matters, but it may matter differently depending on your personal tastes. How you feel with the tablet is more important than someone saying "bigger is better!" just because they like wide, sweeping strokes. I have an extremely small stroke, for example, so I almost find 6x8 annoying. On the other hand most professional artists I know find 6x8 stifling, so take my opinion with a hefty grain of salt.

The bigger you get the more of a pain it is to move around through menus. If you are a very "technical" artist who uses a lot of the built in functions of whatever program you are using, as opposed to someone who just uses a brush/pen 99% of the time, menu navigation speed can be worth considering. Also consider realistically how much room you have for not only the tablet, but for your arm to move around it.

A good CRT is still king in terms of colour. On the other hand, everyone is moving to LCD's so having a less vibrant display may actually give you a better sense of what people are really going to see. LCD's are constantly improving, so this isn't a big an issue as it used to be.

Going widescreen and getting a widescreen tablet may be a good idea.

Can't help you too much here, I have limited vector experience in Photoshop/Illustrator. I do vector work in Flash but I tend to forgo the tablet and just mouse-draw because it has functions which make that a viable option (amazing how much a "smooth" button helps), I've been doing that for years, and I need to jump between drawing and programming a lot. All in all it's not set up to be the most effective art tool so it's not wholey recommended (especially for the price).

But if you're a grad student, you may be able to get a student discount on almost all Adobe software which can save you many hundreds of dollars and still allows you to work commercially with it. That may make photoshop/illustrator more appealing for you.

I love Photoshop, but my experience with it is making more classic style textures for games/animations. I know the vector tools are fairly well fleshed out, though.

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Thanks for the replies!

I'm leaning towards getting something 6" x 8" myself as I'm not sure I need the extra space. When sketching drafts on paper I tend to only use half an A4 page. But that's probably because I'm still using my wrist too much when drawing; I should start practising using my whole arm.

Currently I mainly use the tablet for approximating pencil draft work, but that's also partly because I haven't fully finalised a proper art routine. I should start trying it out for inking, which is something I can't do decently on paper; I'm a left hander with a terrible fist-like grip that makes it too easy to smudge ink. That's why digital art is so liberating; I can go beyond light pencil.

Everyone recommends LCDs these days; I feel a bit old-fashioned still having my CRT. From what I've had suggested though I'm leaning towards hunting down a good but reasonably well priced 19" LCD screen; they seem about the right size, won't break the bank and aren't expensive enough that I'll feel gipped if I need another monitor in a year or two.

The educational pricing for the Adobe products seem much more reasonable; paying something like A$600 for the Adobe CS3 Web Premium pack isn't bad for Flash, Illustrator and Photoshop. I'd have to check though if I actually qualify for the educational pricing; from their list of acceptable individuals I'm not sure if research grad students count.

I've also noticed that they seem to have separate Mac and Windows versions, which is annoying; I'd have to choose whether I want to work on my laptop or desktop.

Re: Flash; I'm mainly interested in learning it because given I'm into vector art and making simple games it's the perfect platform.

However I'm also hesitant to move away from Inkscape. While I'll admit it isn't perfect, it's probably the finest piece of open source application software I've worked with, and I think it's great for beginners who can't afford a commercial package. I'd really like to learn some more advanced tricks so I can continue my tutorial series.

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