Turns out this is pretty easy to pull off, since you can just put a piece of paper on the tablet and it'll still work. (The reason why is because most tablets work with electromagnetic induction. As paper isn't magnetic, it won't interfere.) Of course, dragging the pen across paper instead of plastic will feel a bit rougher. This may or may not not be what you're looking for if your main use of the tablet is drawing/painting. However, if you're mainly using the tablet as a mouse replacement, it hardly makes any difference: You're usually just floating the pen above the tablet to move the pointer, and tapping the tablet to click, but you don't need to click-and-drag that often.
Anyway, enough introduction already, time to improve this tablet's look and feel! It's ridiculously simple and it only takes a few minutes.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- A pen tablet of course; any tablet'll do (the one I'm using here is a Wacom Bamboo)
- One or two sheets of paper; just make sure they're a bit larger than the size of your tablet
- Masking tape (or any other tape made of paper)
- Tape (that sticks to paper, as well as plastic)
- A computer and a printer
- If needed, a utility knife, some measuring tools and a pencil
Step 2: Improving the Pen's Grip
Step 3: Customizing the Tablet
Just wrapping your tablet with a blank sheet of paper is boring. So why not print something nice on it? First, go browse the net for a picture that you like. Desktop wallpapers will actually fit quite nicely. (I chose this wallpaper from Simple Desktops; looks appropriate enough for a Wacom Bamboo :) ) You can pick whatever you like of course, but I'd go for something simple/subtle, such that it doesn't distract too much.
Once you've chosen your picture, print it. A regular A4-sized sheet of paper happened to be the perfect size in my case (My tablet's drawing surface is A6-sized, so it's a pretty small tablet.) You will probably need to print on a larger sheet of paper if you have a larger tablet. (You could try taping multiple A4 / US Letter-sized sheets together, but my guess is it won't take long before you'll make some small tears while moving the pen over the sheets' edges..) As an alternative, you could also experiment with a roll of gift/book-wrapping paper instead.
Optionally, you can use an adhesive film to strengthen the paper, but then your tablet will feel like plastic again of course, so I haven't done this. (Besides, if I manage to damage the paper somehow, it doesn't take much time/effort to make a new one..)
( Update - After using my modified pen tablet for about a month or so, you can tell the paper is getting a bit dirty around the place where you usually rest the wrist of your hand. So on second thought, it's actually probably best to add some adhesive film to avoid this problem. )
If your tablet has buttons, scroll wheels or other doodads, you may need to make some cuts in the paper so you can have access to them. Just make some markings on the back of the paper with a pencil and some measuring tools, then cut them out with a utility knife or some scissors. After cutting, you'll probably want to add some tape around these cuts, on the back of the paper, to add strength to the corners. If your tablet only has buttons like mine, you can also just skip this step; I can still use the buttons just fine without any cuts. Alternatively, you can of course also choose to only wrap part of the tablet such that the area with all the controls is left uncovered.
Finally, just tape the paper to the tablet. Note that I used two sheets of paper on top of each other, such that the corners would be a little sturdier. Also, you may need to make a few small cuts to make room for the tablet's rubber feet (as shown in the picture above).
.. and that's all there is to it; enjoy your new customized pen tablet!