Wacom pen tablet setup tutorial and tips

It pays to invest some time learning how to use each of the tablet’s functions and customizing its behavior to your applications. Check out this guide for step-by-step instructions on how to setup your Wacom pen tablet and get the most of it.

Published by Fábio Pili on April 12th, 2013. Last updated on September 25th, 2013.

Check out our other articles about Wacom pen tablets: How to choose the best Wacom tablet for your needs and Intuos5 touch review.

It pays to invest some time learning how to use each of the tablet’s functions and customizing its behavior to your applications. Before first plugging in your tablet, be sure to install the latest drivers for your operating system from Wacom’s website. Those drivers are constantly updated, and I’ve experienced bugs with previous versions, especially with touch support.

The Wacom tablet control panel is divided into two key areas: Tool and Application. The first controls the behavior of each of the tablet’s inputs: function buttons, touch and pen input. The latter tells the driver where that configuration should be applied: to all programs or to a specific application.

This article is illustrated with the settings for the Intuos Pro and Intuos5 line of tablets, but all options are similar for the regular Intuos, Bamboo and previous models. The control panel layout is basically the same on both Windows and Mac.

This means it is possible to tailor each tablet behavior to any specific program. For example, the same gesture can mean a different shortcut or command for each program. A system-wide gesture can be used to cycle through open apps. A button can be mapped to save the current file or to assign the tablet to a secondary display in multi-monitor setups. The possibilities are endless, and there’s no such thing as a correct configuration. Explore and configure it to streamline your workflow and most used operations.

The ideal keyboard

The Intuos Pro Touch medium tablet is too large to be used comfortably on the side of a full-sized keyboard. With this arrangement, I found myself leaning too much to the side, giving me back pain in the lumbar region. This is not a problem if you prefer to use the tablet less frequently and can place it in front of the keyboard or on your lap.

The solution is to use a smaller keyboard without the numeric keypad. On the Apple platform, the best choice is the Apple Wireless Keyboard, which costs around $70. On the Windows side and for the same price, the Logitech K810 keyboard is highly regarded.

My desk with a Wacom Intuos5 medium pen tablet, Apple wireless keyboard and 30 inches Dell display

My desk with a Wacom Intuos5 medium pen tablet, Apple wireless keyboard, Mac Mini and 30" Dell display. Full sized keyboards with the numeric keypad are too big to be used comfortably with a pen tablet on the side.

Begin by setting up the tablet orientation — left- or right-handed, brightness and pen button mode on the Options button, near the bottom of the interface. For the Pen Button Mode setting, I find it more intuitive to use the default Hover Click behavior, where you hold the pen tip close to the tablet and press the side switch to do a right click or any other click function, without touching the pen tip on the tablet’s surface.

Set up the general behavior for each Tool tab. For this, select All on the Application field and adjust each of the Tool options: Functions, Touch and Pen.

The Functions panel controls ExpressKeys, Touch Ring and the Radial Menu behavior. Each button can be mapped to a plethora of options, such as system-wide commands, like back and forward, modifiers, like shift and option, keystrokes, tablet settings, on-screen keyboard and others. Explore each option and set it up according to your most used commands. Remember, these settings will be applied to all apps, unless there’s a specific configuration for that app on Wacom’s control panel.

Wacom control panel: functions

Wacom control panel: functions. This is my ExpressKeys setup for Adobe Lightroom.

Split the functions into three tiers:

  • ExpressKeys are the fastest. Use them to assign your most used commands, for example open, close and save file.
  • The Touch Ring is useful for commands that can be gradually or continually adjusted, such as brush size, color intensity and scroll. It can have up to four commands attached, and clicking the middle button cycles through them. Examples are scroll, zoom, brush size and rotate.
  • The Radial Menu is an on-screen shortcut bar. It’s the slowest of the three, but the most descriptive one. Use it for commands that are needed less frequently, but could benefit from a shortcut, for example screen capture.

On the Touch panel, adjust overall touch dynamics, standard gestures, and also the customized My Gestures tab. For the system-wide settings, I keep it all closer to the default, changing mostly the scroll direction (I hate natural scrolling on Mac OS), three-finger swipe to navigate previous and next, and also disable tap to click for both one and two fingers. Remember that four- and five-finger gestures are difficult to execute with the pen in your hand, so leave them for less used actions.

Wacom control panel: touch

Wacom control panel: touch.

The Pen panel can be used to customize the tip feel, tilt sensitivity, button behavior and double click distance for the pen stylus. The most important setting here is the tip feel. Click the Current Pressure field and adjust the tip feel so you can reach the maximum with a comfortable pressure of the pen. I prefer to keep mine on the softer side. Not only does it feel more natural, but it also saves nibs and wear on the tablet surface. Make the same adjustment for the eraser.

Wacom control panel: pen

Wacom control panel: pen.

On the Mappings tab, begin by selecting the ExpressKeys orientation, depending on whether you position the tablet on the keyboard left or right side. It makes sense to keep the buttons close to the keyboard, so right-handed users will have them on the left side and left-handed users will have them on the right side.

Pay attention to the Screen Area and Tablet Area mapping. Always keep the proportions between both, even if this means you won’t use all the tablet surface, as with multiple displays, for example. It is harder to adjust eye-to-hand coordination if the proportions between tablet surface and display are different. The default setting of Full for both is fine. Keep Force Proportions unchecked.

If you have a large model, you may want to reduce the tablet area mapped in some circumstances. For example, it makes sense to use the whole area for drawing, but only a smaller area for general computer usage. You can accomplish that by configuring the Mapping tab differently for all applications and for a specific program.

Multi-monitor setup

Multi-monitor users can choose to map the tablet to both displays or to program a button to switch between them. Both approaches have their pros and cons.

Two displays side by side have a proportion much more horizontal than the tablet’s active area, so some of this area won’t be used. Having less area and more screen real estate mapped to it leads to a faster and less precise cursor. Less hand movement corresponds to a lot of movement of the cursor on the screen. A larger tablet mitigates this problem.

Alternatively, it is possible to program a key to toggle the tablet input between displays. This way the tablet will always be mapped to a single monitor and will use its full active area. The drawback is adapting to always pressing this key when moving from apps in one display to the other. The other limitation is that it’s no longer possible to drag elements from one screen to another.

Sample application configuration for Adobe Lightroom

To better illustrate what is possible regarding tablet customization, here are some of my application-specific configurations for Adobe Lightroom, on Mac OS.

Adobe Lightroom

Tool / Functions


Library — Keystroke: Option Command 1
Develop — Keystroke: Option Command 2
Grid view — Keystroke: g
Blue label — Keystroke: 9
Copy metadata — Keystroke: Option Shift Command C
Paste metadata — Keystroke: Option Shift Command V
Copy settings — Keystroke: Shift Command C
Paste settings — Keystroke: Shift Command V

Touch ring
Brush size

My Gestures

Flag photo as a pick — Four fingers swipe up, Keystroke: P
Flag photo as a reject — Four fingers swipe down, Keystroke: X

Wacom HUD heads up display

This is the heads up display that appears when I have Adobe Lightroom open and rest a finger for more than a second on any of the tablet's buttons.

How to back up and restore Wacom tablet preferences

After investing so much time configuring your tablet, it would be a shame to lose it all on a system crash or OS reinstall. Be sure to back up your settings and store them in a safe place. This can be accomplished with the Wacom Tablet Utility program, installed along with the tablet driver.

On the Mac, you can find it in Applications > Wacom Tablet. For Windows, go to Start > All Programs > Wacom Tablet and launch the Wacom Tablet Preferences File Utility.


Apr 27th, 2014 - 11h22

Very helpful. Thanks for providing the specific suggestions for use with Lightroom.

Kingsley George
Jun 24th, 2014 - 06h58

I had a taiwanese tablet before. This one is completely different.

Thank you for the Sample application configuration for Adobe Lightroom ,but I rarely use Lightroom. Could you draw up one for Photoshop 6.

I am learning Photoshop retouching and maipulation.

Regards from Sunny Seychelles

Aug 14th, 2014 - 07h35

thanks for this I have been searching for something like this and you provided it. Very nice.

Sep 27th, 2014 - 01h06

Thanks very much for taking the time to spell this out so plainly. I truly appreciate good explanations and I like your style. Now all I have to do is to learn how to use it. Your tips will help tremendously.

Dec 10th, 2014 - 00h06

Hi there, I was wondering if you could help me with the problem I'm having with my intous 5.

The option for left hand is not working in my settings. Is this an instillation problem or have I got a faulty wacom tablet?

Dec 17th, 2014 - 17h04

Very informative article, thank you. I did want to point out one thing concerning multi-monitor setup: "The other limitation is that it’s no longer possible to drag elements from one screen to another."

This isn't so and actually is one of the great advantages of using toggle display. Grab a hold of the item you want to drag and start to drag it toward the target monitor. As you're dragging, press the toggle display. The cursor will jump to the other monitor with what you're dragging in tow; no need to cover all that screen real estate to get it to where you want. It's like a marvelous "Star Trek" like transporter.

Daniel Moran
Apr 3rd, 2015 - 17h56

While the comments and the Utube video have been very helpful I've still got an problem with printing or writing with the pen. I recently bought an Intuos model CTH-480/SO-AX and perfecting settings still is an issue.

Any suggestions and settings would be helpful or a video that addresses my problem.


Jesse Holloway
Jul 23rd, 2016 - 05h09

Maybe you can help me...

When using my Intuos Pro (small) with Lightroom's Adjustment brush, I can get it to make a dot with the pen, but it doesn't drag/make a brushstroke. I use the Mac's 3-finger click-drag, and it works fine.

Otherwise, the click and drag with the pen will move windows around, and work just find elsewhere.

Any suggestions?


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