Using a Bamboo Tablet with Ubuntu 10.04



Are you a budding artist? Or are you already a professional graphic artist looking to expand the hardware you have to use? And are you hoping to shed the last remnants of either the Windows or Mac operating system? If any of these are true you might be looking at one of the many drawing tablets that can be connected, via USB, to your laptop or PC. These tablets make for a far superior graphic experience, giving the artist much more control over the cursor than with a standard mouse. Unfortunately tablets can quickly become a hurdle for Linux users. In some cases the installation is a snap; just plug in the tablet, install a simple application, and go. In other cases, the process can be a real nightmare.

I experienced such a nightmare recently with a Wacom Bamboo CTL 640 tablet. My youngest daughter is showing some amazing skill with pencil and paper, and is looking at a career in graphic arts. It only seemed natural that she use a tablet with her Ubuntu 10.04 laptop. Little did I know this tablet would be so difficult to get working. Eventually I did get the tablet working and the daughter is now creating some amazing pieces of work. In this article, I will show you how I managed to get that tablet from out of the box and into her hands.

A little preface

I want to preface this article by saying the very same tablet was very well known for working out of the box with earlier iterations of Ubuntu (and other Linux distributions). Unfortunately the recent updates to various sub-systems (X Windows, the kernel, and the USB sub-system in particular) caused issues that broke the software used for the tablets.

I will also say this tablet is a Wacom tablet and Wacom has an outstanding reputation for supporting Linux. There is a Wacom Linux Project Page on Sourceforge for more information.

What you will need

This is simple. You will need a PC or Laptop running the latest version of Ubuntu 10.04 (make sure all updates are installed), the Wacom drivers for the tablet, the tablet, and some patience.  Although this process isn’t terribly difficult, if the tablet does not work right away you will find yourself having to do a lot of troubleshooting. Unfortunately there is no longer a Wacom-tools package in the repositories, so the necessary drivers will have to be installed from source.

Please note: It’s very important that you download the latest drivers for the wacom tablet. You will find a download link on the Linux Wacom Project home page. Make sure you download the PRODUCTION driver. As of this writing the date on that driver is July 27, 2010 and the version is 0.8.8-8. You may be tempted to download the 0.10.8 version if you have an X server >= 1.7. I tried this, but it did not work. Stick with the production driver, it will work.

Detecting the tablet

Once you have the driver downloaded (I will assume it is saved in ~/Downloads) you are ready to begin. Before you actually plug in your tablet, open up a terminal. Once you have that terminal open plug in your tablet and issue the command:


You should see your tablet detected by a line similar to:

Bus 003 Device 004: ID 056a:00d4 Wacom Co., Ltd

That indicates your system recognizes the hardware. Now the fun really begins. Unplug your tablet at this point.


You are going to first have to install some dependencies. To do this issue these commands:

sudo apt-get install build-essential

sudo apt-get install libx11-dev libxi-dev x11proto-input-dev xserver-xorg-dev tk8.4-dev tcl8.4-dev libncurses5-dev

You may already have some of those packages installed…that depends upon what you have done before and the state of your system. After those packages have installed, it’s time to build and install the drivers.

Installing the drivers

In your terminal, change to the ~/Downloads directory with the command cd ~/Downloads. Once in there unpack the driver archive with the command:

tar xvfj linuxwacom-XXX.tar.bz2

Where XXX is the release number.

The above command will create a new directory ~/Downloads/linuxwacom-XXX (where XXX is the release number). Change into that directory with the command cd ~/Downloads/linuxwacom-XXX (Again, where XXX is the release number). It’s time to build the drivers.

The steps for building and installing the Wacom drivers are as follows:

  1. Issue the command ./configure --enable-wacom (NOTE the “–” before “enable” is a double dash).
  2. Change into the source directory with the command cd src/2.6.30.
  3. Issue the command make to build the drivers for your system.
  4. Copy the newly build driver with the command sudo cp wacom.ko /lib/modules/`uname -r`/kernel/drivers/input/tablet.
  5. Now probe all of your current running kernel moduels with the command sudo depmod -a
  6. Remove any old Wacom kernel drivers with the command sudo rmmod wacom.
  7. Add the new Wacom driver to the kernel with the command sudo modprobe wacom.

Now, plug in your tablet. It SHOULD be recognized and immediately function as a mouse. Congratulations! You now have a functioning tablet on your PC! But now, what tool is best used to begin creating your masterpieces? 


The MyPaint tool was actually created for pieces of hardware like the Bamboo Tablet. Although you may be partial to The GIMP (as am I), you will find this tool to be perfectly suited for drawing with your tablet. It supports pressure sensitivity, brush creation, includes quite a few pre-made brushes, has an unlimited canvas, and includes basic layer support.

You can install My Paint from the Ubuntu Software Center by following these instructions:

  1. Open up the Ubuntu Software Center
  2. Search for “paint” (no quotes).
  3. Mark MyPaint for isntallation.

That’s it. Once installed MyPaint will immediately recognize your tablet and allow you to begin working.

Final thoughts

You are now ready to begin the long journey of being a master graphic artist. I will give you one piece of advice at this point. Every time you update your kernel you will most likely see that your tablet doesn’t work again. For this very reason, keep the software you have downloaded nicely tucked away in your ~/Downloads directory. When an update does break your Wacom support, simply walk through these instructions again and it will work. Eventually Wacom support will once again work out of the box. Until then, bookmark this page so you can quickly get your tablet back up and running.