And digital artists should be excited. Historically artists who wanted to work digitally had three options; peripheral tablet devices, direct input devices, and all-in-ones.
But the barriers to professional-quality tools for digital artists are crumbling. If you've been following Frenden's reviews of some of the new equipment this is apparent, but there is more. What follows is a categorization of the current state of things.
The peripheral tablet sits on your desk, mimics the functionality of the mouse, and adds pressure-sensitivity to your stroke. It is common to find 512 levels of pressure sensitivity in these devices, but that has grown now to the 2048 levels that seems to be the standard for "pro" equipment. In Wacom's lineage the Graphire/Bamboo tablets and the Intuos tablets have come out of this vein. Other brands like Huion and Monoprice have added some quality products to this market recently, but more on that later. The disadvantage of these devices is the disconnect between your hand and what you are actually drawing. This is not to say that you can't do amazing work on these devices, but the learning curve is a bit steep, and working this way is unnatural to the artist starting out. I have colored a 132-page graphic novel and a shorter book on these devices, but have never liked working with them. "Loathe" might be a better word. Too easy to grip the pen too tight, or miss on accuracy, even with the larger tablets.
The most well-known direct input device is the Cintiq. It's a second monitor that allows the artist to draw right on the screen. It is a much more intuitive way for an artist to work, though going from drawing on paper to drawing on slick glass can be a bit of an adjustment. Cost has been the major prohibitive factor with the Cintiq, but the display size of up to 24 inches and 2048 levels of pressure-sensitivity have made it the gold-standard of direct input. Just make sure you have enough gold. This is a part of the market that is being disrupted by other manufacturers in a major way lately. Huion, Yiynova, and Monoprice are all names to watch here in the future.
Another flavor of direct input is the all-in-one. Wacom's Penabled tech is usually found in slate-style portables with lower pressure sensitivity than the Cintiq. Sony uses N-Trig for pen input, but it is limited to 256 levels of pressure sensitivity. And generally-speaking, the screen size of these devices does not exceed 13 inches, usually smaller. It's fine for roughs and sketching, but software menus are almost unusably small at this size.
For artists who want to work digitally, these have been the tools that have been available. But like I said, things are changing. We're going to look next at what is becoming available.