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Graphics Tablets

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Two of Wacom's recently shipped graphics tablets, the Graphire2 and Intuos2, are similar in appearance and function, and both perform very well. However, there are some marked differences between them that may influence your purchase; the Graphire2, though less expensive, doesn't have as many features as the Intuos2.

Affordable versus Professional

The $100 Graphire2 is available in only one size--with an active work area of 4 by 5 inches--and is about as precise as the Intuos2. The considerably more expensive Intuos2 comes in five different sizes, which range in price from $200, for a 4-by-5-inch tablet, to $750, for a 12-by-18-inch one. We tested the 6-by-8-inch tablet.

Although the Intuos2 is more expensive, it has many advantages over the Graphire2, starting with the accessories that come with it. The Intuos2 includes a superior pen with a comfortable rubber grip and a solid mouse, and it supports a variety of add-on pointing devices. The Graphire2 works only with the flimsier pen and cheap-feeling mouse that come with it. Wacom has increased the Intuos2's sampling frequency to give it greater accuracy, but that improvement means it won't work with pens and mice designed for older Intuos tablets; you'll have to buy new accessories.

How They Work

To help beginners get started, the Intuos2 and Graphire2 both include Corel's Painter Classic. In addition, the Graphire2 comes with Adobe's Photoshop LE, while the Intuos2 4-by-5-inch and 6-by-8-inch tablets come with Photoshop Elements, a version tailored specifically to photo editing. For beginners who don't own these programs, these are terrific bundles, especially considering the low price of the tablets. (The larger Intuos2 tablets don't include a version of Photoshop, as graphics pros likely own it already.)

Wacom's software offers myriad choices for customizing pen and mouse behavior. It also lets you customize multiple tablets on the same Mac.

The Intuos2's 2D mouse feels more substantial than the Graphire2's mouse, and it includes three programmable buttons and a scroll wheel. If you invoke Extensions Manager at start-up in Mac OS 9 while you're using your Mac's mouse, neither tablet will work.

Another nice touch included only on the Intuos2 is a row of customizable buttons in the tablet's work area. And the Intuos2 can detect the pen's angle and create correspondingly fine or broad strokes. Although this feature is not supported by most graphics applications, the full version of Painter (version 6 and later) has adopted it.

Macworld's Buying Advice

The Graphire2 is great for home users and aspiring artists alike. Because of the tablet's small work area, however, you'll probably find little value in its included mouse. The larger Intuos2 models are in another class entirely. With many tablet sizes to choose from, greater precision, and expansion possibilities, the Intuos2 is a much better option for artists, architects, and designers.

The Wacom Graphire2 (left) and Intuos2 photos by PETER BELANGER
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