Free Yourself From the Keyboard with Wacom ExpressKeys
Using keyboard shortcuts provides most artists with a quicker way of working instead of spending precious time navigating to specific tools in an application. However, if you're using a Wacom tablet and not taking advantage of any available ExpressKeys, then you might be missing out on a more efficient means of working. If you're using a Wacom Cinitiq, Intuos, or any of the other tablets in their product line, then you should be taking advantage of any available ExpressKeys that they come equipped with and customizing them to act in place of some of your more frequently used keyboard shortcuts.
So lets say you're working on a digital painting in Photoshop. You might find yourself wanting to sample colors pretty frequently. If you have your Brush Tool selected you could press ALT on your keyboard to temporarily switch to the Eye Dropper Tool sample a color of your choosing. If this is keyboard shortcut that you're using frequently, then you might consider using one of the ExpressKeys on your tablet as a substitute for pressing ALT. If you add up all the split seconds that involve glancing over to your keyboard combined with the time you take to reach over to it you'd probably be amazed how much this act drags on your workflow.
Pretty much every Wacom device that contains ExpressKeys already has default settings for ALT, CTRL, SHIFT, and Space. Many of the recent Intuous and Cintiq models have ExpressKeys on each side. So if you're painting with your right hand you can easily keep your left hand on the left side and tap any of the available ExpressKeys in an instant. If you're particular Wacom model has more than four ExpressKeys then you also have the freedom to apply other shortcuts that you might use often.
If you're wondering how to customize your ExpressKeys with specific shortcuts you simply need to access the Wacom Tablet Properties dialogue. If you're on Windows then you can find it under the Control Panel. If you're on a Mac you can find it under System Properties.
Once in the dialogue, you can click on "Functions" in the Tool section toward the top of the interface where you'll then have access to customize ExpressKeys, the touch strip, display toggle, and the radial menu. You can also have your customized ExpressKeys be application specific that way individual ExpressKeys can be customized according to the needs of the application your using. To do this simply click the small plus sign to the far right of the Application section toward the top the Wacom Tablet Properties dialogue. You can then add an application of your choice. Before you begin customizing your ExpressKeys make sure you have the application of choice selected.
To customize an ExpressKey to a specific keyboard shortcut, click on the box that's associated with that ExpressKey in the Tablet Properties dialogue. Choose the option "Keystroke". You'll then be given another dialogue allowing you to define the keystroke. At this point you simply type the keyboard shortcut like you normally would. You also have the option to name the shortcut.
In addition to ExpressKeys, you can also customize your Wacom stylus buttons. To do this simply choose the option "Grip Pen" in the Tool section toward the top of the dialogue. Again, I recommend adding and selecting the software your pens button customization will be associated with.
By default the button that is closest to the stylus tip is set to act as Right Click. The button opposite of this is set to double click. We found it beneficial to set this button to Step Back in Photoshop. That way if you mess up and quickly want to take a few steps back, you can tap that button with ball of your thumb. If you want to quickly access the Brush Preset Picker, simply use the tip of your thumb to tap the button closest to the tip of the stylus which acts as Right Click. Of course this all depends on your personal preference as to how you choose to hold the stylus.
Again, how you customize these ExpressKeys depends on the software you're using. For example when orbiting in Google Sketchup, use the same button on the stylus that's used for taking a step back in Photoshop. In this case you have set the button to function as a middle mouse click. If you choose to pan instead of orbit, you can continue to hold that button down while simply dragging my stylus across the tablet surface or screen surface if you're using a Cintiq.
Finally, it's important to mention that the keyboard is still a critical component to your workflow whether you're a digital painter, 3D modeler, animator or texture artist. The tablet is meant to help you maximize your workflow so that you work more efficiently and comfortably.