I use a touch and pen enabled PC Laptop for illustrating Free Drove. In fact, I bought the HP Spectre x360 – 15T laptop for this express purpose. I have been pleased with this computer so far and I will probably do a more detailed review some time in the future. But today I want to talk about the stylus that came with the computer.
The stylus is the “pen” that you use directly on the screen and allows you to do anything a mouse cursor can do, but with the added control of a pen grip. This is very convenient, as most people are probably more skilled at using a pen than using a mouse to write or draw, myself included.
The HP Spectre came with its own standard stylus, about the size of a normal pen, probably a bit shorter. It is comfortable enough to use and is perfectly sensitive so that your gestures are digitized onto your software accurately. But something unexpected arose as I started using this pen.
The Stylus buttons
One convenient feature on the HP stylus pen is a pair of buttons. Both these buttons are close to the tip and can be activated by one of your gripping fingers or thumb(I use my thumb). These buttons can activate functions and are configurable via the Pen & Windows Ink settings, standard with Windows 10.
By default, the button further from the tip acts as a right-click if you hold it down and tap the pen to the screen. The button that is closer to the tip is the most important to me, because it activates the eraser while depressed. This is extremely convenient because you can erase a line you’ve just drawn without having to switch to the eraser tool on the toolbar or keyboard.
I use the eraser a lot because:
- My first lines are rarely right
- I use Adobe Animate’s pencil tool. The pencil tool (a software function, not an actual pencil) creates parametric lines called vectors. The advantage with vector lines is that they can be modified, warped or stretched with ease after drawing. The disadvantage is that they are tricky to draw. After you are done with your stroke, the software must re-render your stroke as a vector. If you’re not doing it right, this can result in a very different line than your original stroke, making erasing common.
So, having the eraser at my fingertips is super helpful.
So Why’s the Bamboo Better than the HP pen?
Here’s where the standard HP stylus is less-than-optimal: The buttons are flush with the surface of the pen, so it is very hard to tell if my thumb is over the buttons. This caused me to constantly stop drawing, look and my pen, and rotate it so that my thumb was back in the right place. I can only imagine how silly this must look to an outside observer – the last time people cared about the rotational orientation of their pens, they were using those old metal nibs!
I wrote several months ago that I lost my stylus. While it was lost, I looked up a replacement pen and saw that some other pens had buttons that were slightly elevated – allowing the user to feel where the buttons are without looking. Even though I later found my HP stylus, the notion of getting a better stylus was no in my head and I eventually went out to Best Buy and got a Wacom Bamboo pen (this was before Coronavirus, I only go out shopping if absolutely necessary now!). The Wacom Bamboo was $50 and is compatible with any Windows 10 pen enabled PC. I am sure the Bamboo has lots of pressure and directional features that would be important for certain types of art, but the truth is, I only got it for the raised buttons. I am not a very brand loyal person, so even though I have had two Wacom tablets before, I wasn’t actually out to get a Wacom pen – that’s just what they had in stock. But I am so happy with it! Not having to look for the buttons has saved me so much time, that it is well worth the investment to me.
One tiny con: There is this weird behavior that I get with the Bamboo… Every now and then the contact with the screen “skips” resulting in an uneven dashed line instead of solid store. But it is infrequent (once every few days maybe?) and all I have to do is move the pen away from the screen for a second and it goes back to normal. I did not see this issue with the HP pen.