Our designers wouldn’t give the loan unit back!
Cintiq 21UX LCD tablet from Wacom
Tablet input devices have been around for ages, but have been superseded for menu command input by sophisticated mouse operated graphical user interfaces and have always been less than ideal for direct graphical input due to the ergonomic disconnect between the input surface and the monitor display.
When you sketch on a paper layout pad the effect appears directly beneath your pen.
And that’s exactly what happens with Wacom’s Cintiq.
It’s a monitor you draw on.
And twiddle around as you work, and undo when you experiment with graphic effects.
Of course new tools provide new workflow opportunities and Sketchbook Pro developed by Alias and now acquired by Autodesk provides a range of tools ideal for direct tablet input.
The Cintiq 21UX is a 21.3″ LCD with UXGA resolution of 1600×1200 providing a good layout pad experience.
A clever support mechanism allows remarkably easy and flexible positioning; rotation about the centre which is ideal for sketching arcs and tilt, typically flatter for sketching and fine detail with more support for the arm and wrist and more upright for airbrushing as it is easier to see colours building up by sitting back from screen.
On e minor disadvantage of the screen rotation is that however well the pen input has been calibrated, the inevitable parallax between the pen point on the surface and the LCD layer below also varies which can take a little getting used to.
The tablet surface is completely flat edge-to-edge presenting no discontinuity to the input pen and allows the use of drawing tools such as French curves, protractors, rulers, and templates if required.
The surface has an anti-glare coating that is moderately effective in dealing with an issue not encountered with a sketch pad plus a second textured coating to simulate the feel of paper.
Surface hardening should withstand heavy usage and the structure avoids distortion under pen pressure.
Express keys and Touch strips along the edges provide access to keyboard shortcuts, scrolling, zooming or brush size adjustment but are frequently disabled to avoid hand strokes inadvertently scrolling the display.
The pen is very comfortable, of good weight and size being battery free and easily manoeuvrable, although in a busy studio it can be far too easily put down and mislaid.
Variable tip pressure is regarded as the single best feature, indeed when turned off by accident working was a completely different experience.
It allows sketches to be built up using either pencil or airbrush rather than having to get the line right first time, effectively reproducing traditional soft pencil, or fineliner technique.
Given this similarity to a traditional illustration feel, the other killer function is having an undo command.
Once tried its difficult to imagine working without it; it encourages greater experimentation with technique than can be risked with an almost complete artwork or rendering.
Tablet functionality comprises a very high resolution 5,080 lpi and 1,024 levels of tip and eraser pressure sensitivity for control.
The Cintiq uses USB for pen input and either DVI or VGA for video.
It can be used in conjunction with an existing mouse or traditional Wacom Intuos3 tablet if required and can be installed as part of a multi-monitor combination or as a single monitor as the stand allows a near vertical position although the coatings tend to make the display very slightly less sharp than a dedicated LCD display.
It is supplied with Corel Painter Essentials 2 although Sketchbook Pro is an ideal companion for sketching.
This is one of the rare products that users love immediately.
It feels like a product that has been created by designers for designers, or at least by someone who really understands what it is like to use a traditional sketch pad.
Of course there are a few minor criticisms like slow, though not extensively tested, technical support and being heavy to carry around.
A handle for removing from the stand and a dedicated carry case would be useful, but overall it feels robust and likely to survive heavy use although time will have to tell on the scratch resistance of the screen.
It provides an intuitive facsimile of pen and paper hand-eye coordination combined with the benefits of a fully digital workflow.
Final word of caution? Don’t try the Cintiq unless you can find the budget (RRP£1,899 or £2.26 per day leased from Wacom) – our designers rated it as 9.5 out of 10 and simply would not give the loan unit back – we had to buy two.