Photo: Krita beta-testing session; two monitors, four Wacom tablets (2012).
This article details my experience with all the graphic tablets I used since 2002. This article started a decade ago and receives constant updates and new paragraph along the years of practise (last update, June 2017).
Q: What tablet do you use now?
A: By 2020, I'm using a Intuos4 XL oversized, you can see a photo of it at the end of this article.
Q: What is the best tablet to start digital-painting with?
A: I think a A5 sized regular tablet (medium/A5). Avoid the A6 size (10x15cm), they are too small to draw or paint.
Q: Why do you have many tablets?
A: Ask to a professional guitarist why he has so many guitars. Same answer here :-)
Q: Why tablets are so expensive?
A: Another analogy to musicians here: tablets are not expensive compare to a piano, a saxophone or a good instrument.
Q: I'm a tablet company, would you like to test our tablets? I can send you a device for free to appear on this page.
A: Yes, but mind I rejected already four companies because I'll test your hardware only if you have an open-source driver on a GNU/Linux system. Also, I'm not promising to say only good things about it or to do a tutorial with it. I received too many request, it looks like it is a common practice and I see many artist being corrupted by it. Not me. Email me for more details.
Q: Why do you use Linux to use your tablets ?
A: That's another topic, and you can read here about it.
2000 : No tablet
Context: I started being a professional illustrator with traditional painting on canvas. At this time, I used Internet mostly as a communication tool to send scan of my artworks to publishers.
2002: Wacom Graphire 3
Context: The small graphire was my first tablet, it took me time to get used to a tablet. I made my first online portfolio of digital paintings and managed my first years as a digital painter freelance.
Specification: Medium sized A5, ultra smooth Plexiglas overlay sheet, 4/3 ratio.
Used with: a 4/3 CRT monitor 1280x1080px, Photoshop Element 2.0 (bundled with the tablet).
Pro: Good precision, got a slot on the top of the tablet to clip the stylus when traveling. The thin stylus had the same diameter than a regular pen.
Con: The mouse was a bit useless, Plexiglas overlay sheet get easily visible scratches.
2006: Intuos 3 A4
Context: After the first years of practising digital painting (it was pretty new at that time) I saw all my publisher were requiring to work only with digital artist. The time of scan and original painting sent was definitely over and the industry was changing. I decided to switch to 100% digital-painting for my daily work. As my previous tablet felt a bit too small for the first generation of LCD flat monitors, I decided to buy the professional model of Wacom of that time; the Intuos 3 A4.
Specification: A4 large active area, 4:3 ratio. Perfect overlay sheet in my opinion ( a bit fragile, I changed it 3 times until expired in Wacom shop )
Used with: 1280x1024 4/3 monitor, and discovering first Linux distro in 2007 with it.
Pro: Super robust, super standard on every Linux (plug'n'play). This is the tablet I painted the most on my life between 2006 to 2016 and I built all my personnal taste, standard and experience around this model.
Con: No con? Seriously. Maybe only one: after 10 years Wacom eshop removed the overlay sheet and extra stylus part for this model. This tablet in intensive use required a new overlay sheet around every two years; and a new stylus every 3 years maybe. Mainly because the tiny spring that manage pressure become tired with time and pressure become quickly flat.
2007: Cintiq 12WX
Context: First Cintiq, was a dream to try to "draw on screen". The fashion of "wide" ratio screen started.
Specification: 1280x720px, same stylus and technology as Intuos3.
Used with: Second monitor , 1680x1024 16/10 monitor.
Pro: Draw on the screen.
Con: Mini size, too dark to be color calibrated correctly, very pricey, big padding on the border, too hot and big cable and power unit. The tablet took a scratch 1 year after getting it because of a solid dust in the air getting stuck between the stylus nib and screen during drawing. Also, it was a paint to setup with Xorg on my first years of 100% GNU/Linux. I sold it before Sintel.
2008: Bamboo fun A5
Context: I was needing a A5 tablet to do work while traveling and do conferences and demonstrations.
Specification: A5, 16:10 ratio, 4 buttons and one circular touch ring.
Used with: Small laptop.
Pro: The design. Small size, good stylus ergonomic. Still alive.
Con: Placement of the button on top. Bad overlay sheet ; I replaced with a Intuos3 overlay. Sticky coating of the stylus after years. I had to peel it manually.
2010: Intuos 4 M
Context: Working outside of my studio started to be something more frequent with all projects at Blender Foundation in Amsterdam. I decided to upgrade my tablet.
Specification: A5, 16:10 ratio, 8 buttons with mini black and white display, and a ring touch with a central button.
Used with: 15'' laptop to 24'' professional monitor.
Pro: Design with OLED buttons, More precise than the Bamboo-fun for similar active area.
Con: Issue with overlay sheet at release of Intuos4 : too grainy. Wacom fixed it in 2012 after a petition signed by many artists, meanwhile I adapted a Intuos3 overlay sheet. Larger and heavier than the Bamboo-fun. "peach skin" coating plastic on the stylus, I had to peel this one too.
2011: Cintiq 21UX
Context: I wanted to try (again) drawing on screen.
Specification: 10Kg, 1200x1600px, Intuos3 technology for stylus and similar button layout.
Used with: mapped to the built-in screen with always an external screen aside.
Pro: Resolved a long thirsty to get one day this type of model, thanks the efficient marketing of Wacom. Good device to detail digital painting.
Con: Too heavy, dark reddish screen impossible to calibrate color properly, big pixels for a device where your eyes are in a close distance. Very hot I had to built-in a custom system of fan. Smudgy overlay and fragile back-light ; the device "died" at a point. I was able to repair it with soldering electronic component manually. The device also take all the room on the desk; I tried to fix this in any possible manner: hacking a gamepad for additional buttons, putting the Cintiq on ergotron arm and more. I used on Pepper&Carrot the stylus of the Cintiq to offer a 10th life to my compatible Intuos3 A4. The surface got scratched: I had to peel it. Also, I opened the Cintiq completely to remove small insect between the pixels and the glass. This device can have real bugs. I finally archived this device I totally used to the last stroke. I plan to give it to a local Fablab or a group of hardware hacker.
2011: Test of the Cintiq 24HD
Context: This tablet is not one I owned, but one I had the opportunity to demo on the booth of Wacom during the View Conference 2011 in Torino, Italy.
Specification: A large 24 inch large surface, 1900x1200px display, Intuos4 technology for the stylus and with an integrated adjustable-tilt stand. Pro: The large monitor was really an immersive experience, the canvas area of the artwork was in full focus while the tools and dockers were on the side of the canvas. It felt like a large desk compare to my squary 21UX. Cons: With only 1920x1200 pixels for 24'', no surprise the pixels were really visible when working at this distance of the monitor. It wasn't worst than the 21UX density and probably really similar. Also, while I enjoyed the stability of the new integrated adjustable-tilt stand, I still had to put the tiny keyboard on my lap during the demo.
2016: Cintiq 22HD
Context: During Pepper&Carrot production, Cintiq21ux died at episode 6 and my old Intuos 3 started to give sign of end-of-life. I wanted to test how Wacom fixed newer Cintiqs.
Specification: 1920x1080px ; 9 key layout on both side.
Used with: Built-in screen , and other 1080p screens aside.
Pro: 16:9 , 1080p ratio , very standard. General design. Screen colors and luminosity is good, possible to calibrate decently the device. Heat issue is acceptable. Not heavy and pretty thin compared to the 21UX ( but not flat at all ).
Con: The plastic around the active area is all made of this "Peach skin" coating. I expect epic peeling party and bad looking device after 4 years. The tablet still takes all the desktop and it's hard to switch between tasks. I sold the tablet after three weeks of production on episode 16, almost new, because my productivity was decreasing.
2017: Cintiq 13HD
Context: Intuos3 was definitely end-of-life, I was urged to buy a new tablet for episode 21 of Pepper&Carrot. I decided to try "Intuos 5 Pro Large" but the active size area was similar to a Cintiq13HD and price tag not so far.
Specification: 1920x1080pixels, Intuos5 technology, 13'' screen.
Used with: monitor cloned exactly to a 1920x1080pixels screen.
Pro: Possible to do Hybrid workflow ; half regular large tablet, half Cintiq. Good screen luminosity, color good enough to be calibrated. With 1080p in 13'' the resolution is good to the eyes on low distance. The parallax (distance of glass and pixel on screen) is much better than on 22HD or 21UX, you can almost use it without calibration. Heat issue is acceptable. Stylus is really better than Intuos4 and Intuos3 : buttons doesn't jump, plastic doesn't move. The case of the stylus delivered with the tablet is really good design. Also, I need to mention the price 750€ here, almost half price of the Cintiq12WX bought in 2007.
Con: The big fat and rigid cable going out of this model is really bad design. So bad you can't see it on any marketing picture. The Wacom team responsible for this part was really drank that day. Other point; If like me you are a hairy monkey; the plastic bevel around the active area act as a perfect device to remove the hair of your arm because they always get stuck with gesture inside. Little relief on the middle of the buttons are painful when pressed often. Also: "peach coating" over all the part where the tablet has button , like on the Cintiq 22HD. I guess I 'll have the period where it become sticky and the period where I 'll need to waste the design by peeling all this coating...
2017: Huion WH1409
Context: My house has been robbed. My Cintiq13HD has been robbed after only three little month of usage. I was needing a new tablet. My curiosity lead me to try the Huion WH1409, to find maybe a successor to my ideal ex-Intuos3 large...
Specification: Wireless, large active area, stylus with battery, 12 buttons between 16:9 and 16:10.
Used with: two monitors 1920x1080pixels, side by side. The tablet is mapped on a single monitor.
Pro: The price, 1/3 less than Wacom similar model. Good design ; this black square looks good on a desk. Almost similar coating of the active area than Intuos3 but a bit smoother. The wireless is good. Battery life is good and also all works when connected/charging so no panic in case of emergency work to do and running out of battery. The buttons are easy to press and feels better than Wacom's one. A very good regular large tablet.
Con: No official GNU/Linux driver but possible to instal (but not all the features: eg, 9 buttons working on 12 available ) I had various small issue with middle click actions. Built-in curve of pressure of the stylus: this one quickly jump to high-pressure in my opinion, it's hard to get middle-pressure strokes for my habit, but surely something you can get used to do quickly with a bit of training and adaptation. Stylus tip diameter doesn't fit perfectly the socket to insert it ; the tip dance in the cavity adding a little feeling of inaccuracy when doing precise task as inking ( note: it's a issue easy to fix manually with adding a little 2mm large adhesive rubber band to thicken by 0.1mm the diameter of the nib, don't do it too much or the nib spring will get difficulty to restore initial position if there is too much contact ). The plastic of the nib of the stylus is also glossy and then slide too quickly on the overlay sheet for my taste. You can sand paper it gently to increase the contact of the plastic with the overlay sheet. The last pack of 4 buttons on the bottom of the tablet are sensitive: if you put your arm on it to access a keyboard as I place mine in the photo under, you'll get accidental key-press done by your arm.
2017: Cintiq 13HD (the return)
Context: My previous Cintiq13HD has been robbed and it's sort of a psychological need for me to restore "my things" as they were before (or almost). I was also satisfied to paint with this model. So I bought it again, and that's what I'm using now in production. For Specification/Pro/Con please read two chapter above the Cintiq13HD , it's exactly the same device with same dumb cable, but also same lovely hybrid workflow.
I was missing too much the Linux Mint "Matrix" screensaver effect , on Cintiq13HD plus dual screen.
2018: Intuos4 XXL (with customisations)
Context: The low width of the Cintiq13HD I was using previously was constraining my movements when I was working on line-art and I was using it as a normal tablet (without display) most of the time. So I bought a second-hand very large tablet; the largest model Wacom ever produced: the Intuos4XXL to test a very large tablet.
Specification: An Intuos4, but with a 49x30cm active surface: enormous.
Customisation: I mapped with xsetwacom on Linux a 16:9 ratio on the bottom of the active surface so I can use the top part to put my keyboard on it with a tiny plank of wood. I also removed the original overlay of Wacom a bit grainy and replaced it with a smooth Huion WH1409 overlay. I'm using on it the stylus of the Cintiq13HD... Pros: Finally I found my tablet.
Cons: I still miss the ease of having a Cintiq for a set of specific tasks: long curvy lines, spontaneous sketches, crosshatching. To be continued...
And you ?
- What's your story with tablet?
- Do you have different opinion on the model I described?
- What's your favorite model?
Please share it in the comments :)