Lightroom Tips

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.


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.


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.


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


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 🙂



  1. David 7 July, 2023 at 08:15 Reply

    I think a course in set up and use of a Wacom would be useful especially for us less tech savvy people

  2. Teri 25 February, 2016 at 09:03 Reply

    Hey Matt, I’m just now getting into the idea of buying a tablet for editing in both lightroom and photoshop. I am looking at the Wacom Photo Intuos Photo Pen & Touch Small Tablet MFR # CTH490PK. Did you try this tablet before you went to the small pro. the cost is over 100.00 more and id like to save that 100, if this tablet seems a reasonable solution for a beginner. Whats your opinion??

  3. Sandy Gennrich 12 March, 2015 at 20:07 Reply

    I just got a Wacom tablet and I’m struggling to figure our how I want to set it up for Photoshop. Can you share how you’ve configured it for Photoshop? I’d love to hear what presets you use.

  4. Class A 20 October, 2014 at 20:54 Reply

    I find it telling that all but one tip are about keyboard shortcuts.

    I find the ShuttlePRO V2 to be a much better tool to support these and many more keyboard shortcuts. This device even includes wheels which make the selection of multiple images or some adjustments a breeze.

    I really tried hard to like my Wacom tablet and like to use it for presentations, but for retouching I find that I’m quicker and better with the ShuttlePRO V2 and a mouse.

    I use relatively low flows and just go over areas multiple times if I need a stronger effect. That way I can build up the effect exactly as I want it over time instead of trying to get it right with one stroke and varying the pressure of the pen. I find the pen resistance to be too hard and it is difficult to hit a certain absolute level of pressure.

    My main gripe about the tablet is that inevitably, you have to use the keyboard (e.g., to type in a numerical value for one of the sliders or access a rare shortcut) and when I come back I always have to pick up the pen. The mouse is always ready to go immediately without the need to pick it up and get the right grip on it again.

    Probably if I were to draw artistic paintings a lot, I’d prefer a tablet, but for the retouching strokes in Lightroom, I find my mouse works quicker and gives me better results. (And yes, I really tried hard to become friends with the tablet, assigning shortcuts to pen buttons, using it many times even though it slowed me down, etc.)

  5. Jay Gosdin 4 October, 2014 at 17:41 Reply

    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!

    • Matt K 5 October, 2014 at 07:33 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.

  6. majed 3 October, 2014 at 13:29 Reply

    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 ??

    • Class A 20 October, 2014 at 20:46 Reply

      The pressure-sensitivity may provide what you need. As you approach the end of the lashes, you just reduce the pressure on the pen.

      Having said that, pressure-sensitivity never worked that well on my Wacom. I find that the resistance is too much and that it is hard to control how much pressure you are applying.

      I find it much easier to go over an area multiple times with a reduced flow, building up the effect. This also helps with not needing to be 100% precise with the movement as the overall built-up effect counts and reflects the average of many movements.

  7. Jon Perry 25 September, 2014 at 13:12 Reply

    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!

  8. Aruna Basnayake 29 August, 2014 at 21:36 Reply

    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.

    • Matt K 31 August, 2014 at 14:33 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 🙂

      • Mike 29 October, 2014 at 10:26 Reply


        I recently purchased the Intuos Pro medium a couple of days ago. After using it for the first time last night I decided to check your blog and see what you say about them.

        I realize it ultimately comes down to personal preference, but I am undecided about the medium. It is quite large (15×10 as opposed to the 12×9 for the small). I found myself resizing the ‘active’ area on the tablet to a smaller section last night so I didn’t have to move my hand so much.

        Debating returning for the small.

          • Mike 29 October, 2014 at 12:27

            Was hoping for a different answer! Haha. You haven’t found any issues with lack of precision due to the smaller drawing area covering the screen. I normally work off of my 13″ laptop (no problem) or 25″ external monitor.

  9. Maurice 29 August, 2014 at 19:45 Reply

    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.

  10. Eugene 26 August, 2014 at 19:47 Reply

    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!

    • Matt K 27 August, 2014 at 08:06 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! 🙂

  11. Kim 25 August, 2014 at 16:06 Reply

    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!

  12. André 24 August, 2014 at 23:23 Reply

    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 🙂

  13. dave 23 August, 2014 at 14:24 Reply

    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.

  14. David 23 August, 2014 at 13:52 Reply

    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!

    • Hondo Marr 5 October, 2015 at 13:25 Reply

      We were using tablets long ago ( that cost $600 – $800 and only 12″ X 12″ or larger ) but the smaller they got the more I liked them. I use the smallest I can get now. Once you go down to the smaller size you will never go back. Smaller is WAY BETTER!

      • Joseph 20 June, 2015 at 08:36 Reply

        I had the same problem here is the solution from Wacom:

        Thank you for contacting Wacom Customer Care. Please follow the instructions listed below, once completed, please test your pen and tablet.
        Click on Start > click on All Programs > select the Wacom Tablet folder > Select and run the Wacom Tablet File Utility > Once open in the All User section click on Remove
        After you remove your preferences let’s try to customize the express keys for lightroom again

  15. dan 22 August, 2014 at 15:08 Reply

    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.

    • Matt K 21 August, 2014 at 15:47 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.”

  16. Dennis Zito 20 August, 2014 at 07:21 Reply

    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


  17. David 19 August, 2014 at 14:15 Reply

    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

  18. Les Howard 19 August, 2014 at 11:10 Reply

    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.

    • Steve Wetzel 24 August, 2014 at 09:07 Reply

      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.

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