Wacom Cintiq 15x

by Joe Gillespie — Jun 1, 2002
Wacom Cintiq 15x

It's not very often that hardware products are reviewed on WPDFD and this one is not strictly related to Web design but it is very relevant to graphic design.

Most people have tried, or at least know the purpose of a graphics tablet. It is a pointing device that does much the same job as a mouse but takes the form of a lightweight pen or stylus. The stylus is moved over a special tablet and its position transferred to the cursor on your screen. The tip of the stylus acts like the mouse button except that, instead of just being on or off, it has a range of 512 states in-between. This 'pressure-sensitivity' can be translated in different ways by the graphics software but the whole point of the exercise is that it mimics real-world drawing and painting tools. As you press harder on the stylus, the resulting line becomes thicker or darker.

The greatest problem with these devices is relating the movements of your hand on the tablet to what you are actually drawing on the screen. Getting the hand/eye co-ordination just right can take a while and doing fiddly things like selecting menu items or small interface elements can be quite tricky.

With the Cintiq, Wacom have integrated the graphics tablet idea into an LCD monitor so that hand/eye co-ordination problems are completely eliminated. It is a virtual electronic canvas that you can draw or paint straight onto.

The tablet/monitor is in a stylish dark grey casing that can be adjusted to lie almost flat on the desk or tilted upright into a normal monitor position. It can replace your main monitor completely being the equivalent size to a regular, high quality 15" 1024 x 786 LCD monitor. There is also a larger 18" model giving a resolution of 1280 x 1024.

By adding a second video card to your machine, a Cintiq can be used as a second monitor. When it's not being used for pressure-sensitive drawing, it is very useful for all those palettes that clutter up the screen in just about every program these days. The only small problem I've found with such a set-up is where I accidentally try to draw on the main screen as well as on the Cintiq.

In addition to the DVI and VGA video connectors, the Cintiq has USB (and serial) connections for the positional control signals. A control panel gives various options for setting up the behaviours of the stylus, its tip sensitivity and button functions. More importantly, it allows you to calibrate the cursor on the screen to the position of the stylus tip by clicking on opposite diagonal corners of the screen.

Bundled with the Cintiq, is a copy of Corel/Procreate Painter Classic. This is a basic version of the well-known painting software but demonstrates the capabilities of the tablet very well. Drawing with a chalk or crayon or painting with a watercolour brush is uncanny. Apart from an almost imperceptible delay, it is as near to the real thing as you can possibly imagine. The more you work with it, the less noticeable the delay, unless you try to paint too fast with a large brush, but even then, you soon get used to it and compensate.

Use the Cintiq with Photoshop's airbrush tool or new version 7 brushes and you'll never want to use a mouse again. In fact, if you've ever used a real airbrush and had to constantly strip it down to clean the needle assembly, you'll never want to use one of those again either. If paint seeping under a frisket mask has ever made you want to tear your hair out, there is just no contest.

Another program that benefits greatly from using a Cintiq is Adobe Illustrator. Illustrations done in Illustrator can look stiff and mechanical but the brush tool is pressure-sensitive and takes on a calligraphic quality when used with the Cintiq stylus. A quick flick of the wrist gives a line that tapers from thin to thick (depending on the stroke thickness settings) and makes an excellent oriental bamboo brush.

At $1899 for the 15" version (and $3499 for the 18"), the Cintiq is quite a major investment, roughly equivalent in cost to the price of a good 15" digital LCD monitor and a regular tablet of the same size. The increase in usability and productivity is the real bonus, it is very much a case of one and one adding up to three.

If you make your living from graphic design or illustration and you've never really been comfortable drawing with a bar of soap, this is the one product that could change your whole outlook.

Wacom Cintiq 15x
Features Features bar 90%
Ease of Use Ease of use bar 95%
Value for Money value for money bar 80%
'Must Have' factor "Must have" factor bar 85%
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