The Top 5 Ways I Use My Wacom Tablet with Lightroom

I always try to sit down and think up things that have become totally vital to my Lightroom workflow. Sometimes those things are right inside Lightroom, but I have to say if there’s one non-Lightroom thing that I can’t live without for my photos, it’s my Wacom tablet. No joke. I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but Wacom doesn’t pay me a penny to write about them. And honestly, if you don’t own a tablet then this post isn’t even for you because it’s probably hard for you to envision where you’d use the tips/settings I’m about to give. This is for people that are as addicted as I am. I’ve just come to rely on my tablet so much, that I literally feel lost when I have to edit without it. I’ve even changed my preferences on which tablet I use because I travel a lot, and just got used to the Small Intuos Pro tablet because it fits right in to my laptop bag. Anyway, on to my point here.

Before the 5 Tips, Let Me First Explain Where They Came From
First off, let me acknowledge that everyone works different (obviously). And the tablets have a TON of ways for you to customize them. You could literally come up with a hundred shortcuts for your tablet for Lightroom, Photoshop and anything else you want. Me, I can’t remember that many things so I try to keep it simple. My preferences aren’t fancy and I don’t think they touch a fraction of the things they could. I’m okay with that though, because they work for me.

My Tablet/Lightroom Workflow
For me, I usually don’t feel I need a tablet when I’m going through my photos and finding favorites. I actually don’t mind just putting my hand on the keyboard, hitting the right arrow key, and pressing P (for Pick), or X to reject. I (again, personally) find the keyboard faster for this. The tablet just doesn’t feel right for it.

But once I have my picks and go in to Edit mode, I like to sit back with my tablet on my lap in front of the computer, and start working. The keyboard is usually in front of me, out of immediate easy reach. At that point, any time I have to go to the keyboard for something, it takes extra time. For me, that’s where the tablet comes in to play. To do things that I can’t do quickly otherwise or would slow down my workflow.

Okay… On to the 5 Tips/Ways I Use My Wacom Tablet in Lightroom

1. Adjustment Brush – This one is a gimmee. The Adjustment Brush has pressure sensitive settings with it. So as I paint on an effect with my pen/tablet, I can control how much of the effect I add by changing how hard I press on the tablet. If you look at the screen shot below, you can see what I mean. Just as an example, I dramatically changed the Exposure setting to show it off. On the left is the result of when I press very lightly with the pen on to the tablet. On the right is when I press hard. Now think of how this could help you if you were retouching portraits or dodging and burning on a photo.

soft-hard-brush

2. Touch Ring for Brush size (Adj. Brush and Spot Removal tool) – The touch ring is this touch-sensitive circular ring that lets you put your finger on and move it clockwise or counter-clockwise around it. I use this, again, with the Adjustment Brush to control the size of the brush. I also use it with the Spot Removal brush to control the size of the brush as I clone or heal.

adjbrush

3. Before/After View – This is one of those things I do all of the time when I’m editing. I want to see the Before/After view. The keyboard shortcut for it is the backslash key (\). Since I don’t want to interrupt my work, I set up one of the ExpressKeys to a custom keystroke of (you guessed it), the backslash key. Then I just press that ExpressKey when I want to toggle to the Before and After.

beforeafter

4. Express Key for Previous Button – One of my favorite buttons in Lightroom is the Previous button in the lower right corner of the Develop module. Basically, it applies the settings from the previous photo to your current photo. While they may not work exactly perfect on the photo, they’re usually a good starting point. While the Previous button doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut, if you go to the Settings menu you’ll find what’s just as good. It’s under Settings > Paste Setting from Previous. So it pastes the settings from the previously edited photo on to my currently selected photo. Pretty much the same thing as the Previous button. Again, I set that up as an ExpressKey

paste

5. Full Screen View – Finally, I’m always pressing F on the keyboard to see my photo full screen, without the interface around it. I know it’s a simple one, but I use it all the time so I just set up another ExpressKey with a custom keystroke of the F key.

I’d love to hear any essentials you have for working with your tablet. I know mine are simple and I hope you didn’t come here thinking I’d give you some crazy secret long Wacom shortcut list. Honestly, I feel really safe in saying that, while I don’t use a fraction of the features that they offer, the ones I do use are absolutely essential to me. So if you’re a tablet user, I hope they help you out. Thanks :)

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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26 Comments

  1. I recently got an Intuos 5 tablet and was trying to set it up to use it in LR. This was really timely. Thanks. I’d like to hear how other people have used it as well.

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    • Great chips Matt, thanks for posting. I will be setting up the previous express key today, that’s a wonderful idea. Something I would like to do in light room (but I don’t think it’s possible) is automate things. One, example, I do a daily photo blog and I use Lightroom to manage all my images. I put a title in the EXIF data so that when I export the image The file is named with that title. I could assign the title by automating with Keyboard Maestro but I don’t think it is possible to select a field via hotkey within Lightroom. This is just one example of things I wish I could do with automating, I just don’t know if it’s possible to do. Do you have any tips for how to automate processes in Lightroom.

      Post a Reply
    • Fantastic post. Why didn’t I think of this.

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  2. Nice tips & tricks, thanks you !
    I be waiting since long time your advices & your workflow about the Intuos with LR.

    From my part, i have an Intuos 4 Medium size & i use it with a 30′ screen, i can confess i feel a litle bit not realy confortable, the reason why & for that type of case ( 30′ screen ) is to MAP the Wacom Intuos as well on the pref’s of the tablet..

    It will be nice if we can have your advices about, screen/Intuos, Configuration / Pref’s etc…some tips about be welcomed…

    Thank you in advance

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  3. Hi Matt,

    Great Tips! I really need to use the Previous Button tip! I do that a lot. I use the express keys for Edit in Photoshop with LR settings, and for undo. I quite haven’t gotten the feel for pressure sensitive. I need to practice on that. Great tip as always1

    Dennis

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  4. So… you set up your drawing and painting tablet to use the shortcut keys? Why not just use the keyboard?

    Post a Reply
    • Not sure if you saw this part in the post :-)

      “But once I have my picks and go in to Edit mode, I like to sit back with my tablet on my lap in front of the computer, and start working. The keyboard is usually in front of me, out of immediate easy reach. At that point, any time I have to go to the keyboard for something, it takes extra time. For me, that’s where the tablet comes in to play. To do things that I can’t do quickly otherwise or would slow down my workflow.”

      Post a Reply
  5. What tablet would you most recommend to use to upload photos and edit, as well as carry around to show off and such? Currently use a laptop, but get tired of having something so big to lug around and all the heat in my lap.

    Post a Reply
    • I’m guessing you don’t mean a Wacom tablet then? I personally use an iPad and it works fine for showing off photos.

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  6. Do you use wacom application specific settings?
    I tried to setup lightroom settings on my intuos and wacom always uses the global settings…

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  7. The best tip I got from you was from another time you wrote about the Wacom. You mentioned as you do in this post how you eventually started using just the small size for editing. People often have trouble deciding. Your comments convinced me to get a small and it’s certainly more than large enough. Any larger and it would have been too big. Thanks!

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  8. Matt,
    Thank you for the tips for using the Wacom Tablet with LR. I’ve had an Intuos 2 tablet for many years and really never got use to using it. These tips have inspired me to start using it and become skilled with it. Can you recommend any training videos or web sites that will get me up to speed on using a tablet? Pen angle and pressure always stumps me and I guess I need to buckle down and use it more. Thanks again for supporting the community of photographers on the learning curve.

    Post a Reply
  9. Great article and helpful as always. Is it possible that you share your settings Matt?mik using a Wacom Intuos and would like to know how you have or would set it up to get the most out of it.

    Thanks a lot and please keep the tips coming (yes I’m also reading the lightroom magazine on my iPad :)

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  10. Hi there- I have the small tablet as well and love it! I tend to outline a lot of images – think product photography. Having the hand tool loaded as a preset is a lifesaver, no reaching for the keyboard to move around the image!

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  11. You have successfully convinced me to move into the Wacom workflow, Matt! However, I do have one question regarding the 4th tip of “Express Key for Previous Button” in your article. I have tried this in my LR5, and it worked, but the annoying thing was all the local adjustment like brush or spot removal setting also got copied over from the previous picture. Is there a option where you can choose what settings to copy from the previous picture? Thanks!

    Post a Reply
    • Hey Eugene – No you can’t pick and choose. That’s the point of the Previous button. It’s a quick way to copy all previous settings. Your alternative would be to go to the Settings > Copy Settings menu and copy/paste from there. Good luck! :)

      Post a Reply
  12. I cannot live without my Wacom medium tablet. Thanks to your landscape class at PSW 14 Atlanta, I use RPG keys for most of my shortcuts. I can’t believe I forgot about the touch ring’s utility from tip #2. Thanks Matt. This is a great tip.

    Post a Reply
  13. Thanks, Matt. Your post inspired me to go out and buy a Wacom tablet. I bought the small. It took about two days to get used to using at the tablet but, now, I am really enjoying using it and may not go back to my touchpad.

    Post a Reply
    • Awesome! That’s how it works. It takes a few days but then you can never go back :-)
      I actually left my house to the airport to Photoshop World, got 10 minutes away and had to turn back to get my tablet because I forgot it :)

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  14. Matt you sold me the wacom with this article. I’ll be getting one as soon as possible! Great article

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  15. My frustration with a Wacom tablet workflow is that Lightroom is set up for right handers. As a lefty, crossing completely over the tablet to make develop adjustments is just not viable. I’m hoping for a reversed UI option in LR6!

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  16. Hi Matt thx for sharing and i want to ask you if the tablet support the fade out effect like the photoshop when we work for example on eyelash or any kind of this work where you want the brush to fade out but looks like lightroom not support this yet ??

    Post a Reply
    • Nope. I’m not sure the brushes in LR are that complex yet. That’s definitely more of a Photoshop thing :)

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  17. All these shortcuts are fine and dandy, but the small Wacom doesn’t have too many buttons to do this with. You have to sacrifice other import default settings!

    Post a Reply
    • I use the Small version too Jay. These features are the only things I set my buttons to, as I don’t personally find the default settings helpful.

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