As an artist, I’ve always wanted some sort of one-to-one input when working in Photoshop or zBrush. I’ve used several of the traditional input tablets, but I’ve never been fully satisfied. I still ended up drawing on paper and scanning the results. It’s just more natural.
Input tablets have been constantly improving in the decades they’ve been around. But the technology remains imperfect. The pressure-sensitive pad sits on the desk, separate from the screen, which takes away some of that natural feel you get from drawing with a pen, especially when trying to add tiny details to your work.
So I jumped at the chance to test the Cintiq, a tablet that tries to do away with that annoying physical disconnect by allowing you to draw directly on the surface of an LCD screen.
The Cintiq is made by Wacom, the big kahuna of tablet hardware, and here the company has built its most advanced pen input technology into a large screen that sits next to your primary monitor (You can use it as your primary monitor if you want, but that’s not recommend).
I tested the 21UX, the $2,000 version of the Cintiq with a 21.3-inch screen and 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. Cintiqs have been around for a few years, but this is the biggest one yet. Wacom currently also offers the smaller Cintiq 12WX, a similar setup that costs half as much, but also has half the capability: a 10.3-inch work area and 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity.
The technology Wacom is using to get the high level of pressure sensitivity on the 21UX has been around since the 1990s, according to the company’s spokesman Doug Little. But so far, it’s been used primarily in the medical and GIS world, he says. Since then, the technology has been perfected to be put to work by anybody, specifically those in the world of digital content creation. Now, graphic designers, automotive designers, animators, photographers, and visual effects artists are able to benefit, not only for more control and ease of use but also speed and proficiency.
This is not a small screen. In fact, it’s a beast. I definitely felt a little intimidated at first, but I quickly wanted to use it for everything. I found it really useful with key programs like Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro, or Manga Studio for drawing, and zBrush for 3-D sculpting.
The Cintiq’s 1600×1200 native screen resolution is gorgeous and crystal clear, and is one of the nicest displays I’ve used. The scratch-resistant glass surface allows for a smooth, natural drawing experience. When drawing in Sketchbook Pro or Manga Studio, for instance, the heightened pressure sensitivity stands out. The harder you press, the darker and thicker the line appears. The lighter the pressure, the lighter the line. As someone who draws often, this made the transition from drawing on paper to the screen relatively easy. Using the Cintiq in Manga Studio was the closest experience to drawing on paper I’ve found.
The small button arrays on the sides of the screen are customizable, allowing you to set up shortcuts for specific tools or for switching apps. But my favorite “buttons” were the two touch-sensitive strips located on the back of the screen’s frame, behind the customizable buttons. These let you zoom in and out quickly for detail work.
One of the side benefits of the Cintiq was the speed boost it gave me. With the one-to-one drawing input, I was working almost as fast as I work on paper.
The stand swivels vertically, giving you the ability to position the screen almost flat. At this angle, it feels more like a drawing table and provides a more relaxed and natural drawing experience. It doesn’t flatten all the way out, though, and its ungainly size becomes even more apparent in the prone position. You’re going to need plenty of desk space, so plan accordingly. Also, when standing all the way up, it doesn’t come to a 90-degree angle, which makes it less than ideal if you need to use it as a monitor.
The price point may seem high, but this is a professional tool, and in that regard, it’s worth it if you can afford it, especially given the level of control it provides. This type of draw-on-the-screen device is the future of computer art, and I would recommend it for those professionals who are going to use it everyday.
I went to Comic-Con last month, where I talked to Neville Page, the concept artist on Tron:Legacy, Avatar and Super 8. He uses a Cintiq, and he says if you’re a working professional, owning one is “a no brainer.”
It’s an extremely high-end piece of hardware, and it would be a waste of money if you weren’t going to use it more than just occasionally. But as a professional, you just can’t beat the direct one-to-one drawing input.
Photo by Jon Snyder/
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