Many moons ago when I was a teenager with a comic book obsession, I was given a copy of the classic “How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way” by Stan Lee and John Buscema. Opening the pages of the book, felt like being bathed in golden light. Here was the knowledge I so fervently sought—the secrets of how to draw like my artistic heroes!
I slurped thirstily from this fount of knowledge. The first page of chapter 1 displayed an illustration of one of these mighty heroes, sat at a drafting table, tilted at a 45° angle with a t-square hanging off the side, crafting away at the pages of a future comic masterpiece. That idealised image has always stuck with me. I can almost smell the ink and paper, feel the grain and edges of the old, wooden drafting table…
If you too have your own fantasy art studio set-up, then there’s a good chance that a drafting table forms a core element (if not the centrepiece) of it. And if you’re thinking of taking the plunge and splurging out for one, then check out our comparison review of drafting tables below. Whether you are an animator, illustrator, designer or artist, you’ll surely be able to find a drafting table for your practice…
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Safco Split-Level Drafting Table
Pros: Higher level shelf, which could be useful for a monitor or tablet to display reference material. Additional side shelf. All shelves, raise or lower to the same height to become a unified flat working area.
Cons: Small tilting worktop for the cost, no additional storage aside from side table and higher shelf.
The Safco Split-Level Drafting Table is an interesting design with a convenient higher-level shelf that’s ideal for a monitor, tablet or traditional reference material to be placed at eyeline view. It also comes with an additional side table at the same height as the tilting worktop (which tilts up to 50°).
The downside of this configuration is that it limits the available size of the tilting top. This makes it the smallest tilting work surface in this review coming in at 31½” x 19¾”. However, this is still large enough to comfortably accommodate an A2 sheet of paper. The shelves can be raised or lowered to create a unified larger, flat working surface. this would be a fantastic table if your room space is limited, and you want somewhere to easily view reference material.
Artograph Futura Light Table by Studio Designs
Pros: Large light box, easy to clean glass surface, lots of storage.
Cons: The equivalent model of drafting table without a light box is a lot cheaper. It’s non-height adjustable and under table drawers can get in the way.
If you’re happy to spend a bit and want a decent size drafting table with a lot of functionality and a full size light box, then this is the one you want.
It has a 38″ x 24″ tempered glass work surface which makes it easy to wipe clean. It also has a variety of storage options, including three plastic slide out drawers and side trays. There is also a convenient slide out pencil tray that sets just underneath the work surface.
The main feature of this table, however is the large Artograph LightPad light box that fits the full size of the glass working area. If a light box is a significant part of your workflow then this could well be the deciding factor in your decision.
Overall, this is a contemporary and full featured drafting table. However, there are a couple of negative points. The first being that the table, unlike some of the others in this review, is not height adjustable. The tilt angle of the table is a relatively limited 35°. This is good enough for most tasks but not the 60-90° that some of the other tables tilt to. The drawers which can be mounted to sides or underneath the table may get in the way of your legs. Plus, I find that the style of trays that sit on the sides of the tilting top tend to be relatively shallow. So many of the items you put in these trays could fall out on the floor.
Bieffe AF15 Drafting Table
Pros: Large workspace, height adjustable, large tilt range
Cons: The side tray is on the small side and made from plastic
A minimal Italian design, the Bieffe AF15 Drafting Table is height adjustable from 29-39.75″. It has a large 30″ x 42″ worksurface and can tilt in between 0 to 90°. This makes it the largest tilting range in this review. What the AF15 does it does well; a large, working area, height adjustable, and an incredibly large tilt range, all at a very reasonable price, however, storage options appear to be something of an afterthought. There’s a cross support where you can stuff a couple of magazines, some sheets of paper or possibly a sketchbook.
Mayline Ranger Steel Four-Post Drawing Table
Pros: Sheer size and strength
Cons: Price and lead time
Price: $3154.96 (for the largest one)
If you’re not too concerned about budget and you just want a drafting table with a sheer size advantage, then the Mayline Ranger Steel Four-Post Drawing Table is an absolute beast. Although it’s available in smaller variants, the main reason for buying one of these will very likely be for the enormous work size area. The largest of these weighs in at 43″ x 84″! The worksurface is a scratch-resistant, thermally fused, low-pressure laminate with a birch wood grain finish. The top tilts to 50° and has a relatively high working height of 37″.
Mayline claims that these steel frame tables are possibly the strongest available on the market. In the event of an apocalypse, I’d probably be happy to hide underneath this table (preppers, take note)! The tables are available in one or two drawer variants. One drawer being a tool drawer and the other a plan drawer.
The downsides are that a table of this size comes with a hefty price tag! Also, as these behemoths are made to order, the lead time on them is approximately 4-6 weeks.
Studio Designs Triflex Sit-to-Stand Drawing Table
Pros: Good value for a glass top drafting table, which has the advantage of being able to attach a small light box underneath. Height adjustable and has extra storage trays.
Cons: Adding the light box won’t cover the glass working area.
Price: from $140.70
The Triflex Sit-to-Stand Drawing Table has a contemporary look with a powder, coated steel frame and a glass 35¼” × 23½” work top. It has a distinctive height-adjusting mechanism with a sitting height of 31″ and a standing height of 39½”. The top tilts to 68° at the sitting height and up to 22° at its standing height. Storage options are relatively limited, although it does have four plastic side trays. A unique addition is the option to fit a (relatively) small Artograph LightPad light box under the glass worktop, although this adds significantly to the overall cost.
With the additional lightbox added, it won’t cover the working area. If this is important to you, you may be better off going for the Artograph Futura Light Table (for a similar all-in price you get the much bigger light box, however, you do lose the advantage of it being height adjustable).
Safco Precision 72″ Wide Drafting Table
Pros: The second largest drafting table in this review, industrial strength, sturdiness and good value for its size.
Cons: Honestly, I can’t really think of any! Personally, I’m not a fan of the industrial look but this would be a very practical table in a professional work setting.
The Safco Precision 72″ Wide Drafting Table is a similar industrial style proposition to the Mayline Ranger, however the largest version of this table is 72″ x 37.5″. It has a similar four post-steel base and an adjustable tilt angle to 50°. It comes with a locking tool drawer and a reference drawer with a working height of 36.5″.
Studio Designs Fusion Center
Pros: Lots of functionality at a bargain price
Cons: A bit clunky looking
The Studio Designs Fusion Center drafting table is incredibly full-featured considering its budget price. It has a decent size 35½” × 23½” worktop that tilts up to 60°. It has an additional slide out shelf and an abundance of storage options, including a lower storage shelf and two wire basket drawers, that fit under the work surface. The drafting table also includes a plastic side tray that has a rotating wire basket cup that prevents drawing tools from falling out when you tilt the table and comes with a handy stool. It does have a somewhat clunky look but what you lose in aesthetics you more than gain in functionality, especially at this price.
Gagne Porta-Trace LED Light Table
Pros: A very large light box and large working area
The Gagne Porta-Trace LED Light Table has one purpose—to be a massive tilting light box. The light box area on its own covers a 36″ x 48″ area while the entire tilting top covers 39″ x 54“ which could quite happily accommodate an A0 size sheet of paper. It has an industrial style, robust steel frame with a flat storage shelf running along the bottom. The table has little other functionality but if your overriding need is for a huge light box and budget isn’t an issue then this will be your top option.
Studio Designs Vintage Drafting Table
Price: $239.33 (large 30″ x 42″ worktop)
These vintage drafting tables are tactile and evoke nostalgia, like owning a treasured vinyl record. It gives that sensory old school feel to get your creative juices flowing
Comes in distressed black, slate grey and rustic oak finishes. It tilts to five fixed angles up to 90° and has a fixed height of 34″.
Top picks in each price range
Top budget option: Studio Designs Fusion Center
No competition here. The cheapest one in this review and lots of functionality.
Top mid-range option: Studio Designs Triflex Sit-to-Stand Drawing Table
This one’s a toss-up as I’d be sorely tempted by the larger version of the Studio Designs Vintage Drafting Table. I’m going to give this one to the TriFlex based on its functionality as it’s the sensible choice. However, my heart really wants to give it to the old school vintage style drafting table—this one was a really tough choice!
Top premium option: Artograph Futura Light Table by Studio Designs
Another toss up between the Artograph Futura Light Table and the Safco Precision 72″ Wide Drafting Table. The Safco Precision 72″ is a mammoth table for the price however, the Artograph Futura just edges it for functionality and downright coolness.
Top super-premium option: Gagne Porta-Trace LED Light Table
A super-sized light box. If this is what you need then it’s more than adequate for the job!
What features to look for in a drafting table
What are our primary considerations when thinking of buying a drafting table? Firstly, we’ll want to think about the size of the table; what paper sizes are you going to be working at and how much room space do you have for it? Are you always going to be sitting at it or will you want to work at it standing up? If so, you’ll want a height adjustable option. What tilt angle do you want to be able to work at? Would you prefer the traditional wooden aesthetic (pretty partial to this one myself to be honest!) or do you want to go for a sleeker, more contemporary metal frame with a glass desktop (which have the advantage of being easy to clean and some have the option of being able to add a light box under the glass surface.
There’s also the question of budget. The deciding factor here is more about size than anything else, however, it’s worth considering that all the tables on the list except for the Safco Split-Level Drafting Table will accommodate an A1 sheet of paper so if this is your biggest concern, you’re still able to get a decent size working area at a budget price.
Another significant additional cost is a drafting table with the addition of a light box. If you need to use a light box on a regular basis, then it may well be worth investing in a drafting table with a light box built-in, however, consider whether this is an infrequent requirement or not, as you may be better off purchasing a separate, standalone light box.
Hopefully this review has given you some pointers on what to look for if you’re thinking of buying a drafting table. It’s well worth taking your time thinking about the type of drafting table you want, if only because they can take up a significant amount of space in whatever room you put it in. Many of the drafting tables in this review represent extraordinarily good value for money. Especially considering how many years of pleasure you’ll get working at it. It’s like buying a mattress, you want to find one you’re comfortable with—not that I suggest curling up and sleeping on your purchase but hey, if you eat, drink and in this case, literally sleep art then why not!
If you’re interested in looking at some of our other reviews, on the best easels for painting, or the best drawing pencils, check them out! If you’re just getting started with drawing as a medium and you want some tips on how to get started, check out our drawing for beginners, drawing techniques and drawing ideas guides.