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Tablet PCs for Landscape Architecture  January 17, 2008

Are you challenged when it comes to drawing by hand? Are you non-tech savvy? Having trouble transitioning between hand and computer graphics? Would you like to use both skills to improve both skills? One of the best tools currently available for doing this is the tablet PC.

Over the past 13 years of teaching graphics and conducting numerous workshops, there still seems to be a division in the way people define themselves graphically. People often define themselves as tech savvy but not gifted at drawing; others may be graphically gifted or artistic, but feel constrained when working with computers. Whether a natural gift or a learned skill, it is rare to find someone who is great in both domains.

The tablet PC or tablet and stylus allow for traditional graphic skills to be used in a technologically advanced way. Tablet PCs use the same programs as a laptop or desktop but have the unique ability to receive information via a touch sensitive screen using a stylus. The stylus, like a pencil, sends a signal to the monitor to indicate the location on the screen or task initiated.

Imagine … scanning in a plat, going to the site, opening the image, making sketches and notes with a pen right in the computer on the scanned plat, bringing it into a drafting program and draft out the sketch from the original scan. Not to misguide the reader, you still need to know the computer programs to draw in the computer programs, but the tablet and stylus provide the mobility and freedom of a pencil and paper capable of emulating the granular nature of lead for strokes, textures, shading and even handwriting recognition.

The Laptop Tablet PC

The laptop version of a tablet PC has a swivel monitor and lays flat like a notebook for drawing, sketching or taking notes in the field. The Lenovo Thinkpad 12-inch monitor and a starting weight of a mere 3.8 pounds. The stylus is retractable from within the base. It can be formatted to be pressure sensitive when drawing and to use the eraser like an eraser of a pencil. Input can be through the stylus on the touch sensitive screen of the monitor and from a set of small subtle buttons along the side, which work like the right and left buttons of a mouse. The tablet sleeve provides portability and some protection while on site.

The Slate Tablet PC

The slate model tablet PC is a lightweight single piece unit for easy use in the field. Options include a detachable or onscreen keyboard. They can also be docked for desk use and are known to work well with graphic programs. At one-inch thick and with a range of monitor sizes starting around 10 inches, the slate tablet PC can weigh as little as 3.5 pounds.

"You still need to know the computer programs to draw in the computer programs, but the tablet and stylus provide the mobility and freedom of a pencil and paper."

The Otterbox slate tablet PC cover offers different levels of “bounce” protection—light, full or ultra rugged models have rubber bumpers on the outside for those who are tough on portable equipment and offer different levels of water resistance for onsite protection.

The Tablet and Stylus

If you aren’t in the position to invest in a laptop tablet PC, you might consider purchasing just the tablet and stylus, which you can plug into your desktop or laptop computer’s USB port. Every point on the tablet is digitally matched to a point on the screen. As with the tablet PC, the pad is touch sensitive and the stylus works in much the same way as stated above. The main difference with this setup is you are drawing away from where you are looking. Because the tablet sits to the side or below the monitor, your drawing surface is away from your view. But, with a little practice you won’t even notice it after awhile.

Writing, sketching, drafting, rendering and document preparation using a tablet and stylus or tablet PC offer a more seamless blending of design process graphics by providing the flexibility of hand drawn creativity and the ease of corrections or changes that popularized technology.

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