donderdag 8 augustus 2013

All you need to know on tablets!

Hello all!

I have read and had countless discussions on digital painting tablets, and I finally decided to write a thought out blog post about it. I have had the fortune to try a wide variety of different Wacom tablets and the following are my personal experiences and opinion on them.

I'll be discussing Wacom only, since it is a bit of a monopoly. I have not yet tried any other brands because of this very reason, so I won't speak on them either.

What you should look out for

First off, the pen is more important than the tablet surface. This is simply because the surface will not have a lot of different variables. Surface size and levels of pressure sensitivity are the only ones (and wether or not it's a monitor or not). The buttons on the side of the tablets are gimmicky. I can honestly say it is a very rare sight to see a professional use them - most of us have our offhand resting on the keyboard, which has more keys however you put it. (the exception would be sometimes when you work with a Cintiq, the buttons can be usefull then) For this reason I basically disregard the buttons entirely, as I heavily recommend using a keyboard instead. (small wireless one on your lap works wonders)

For a pen, you're looking at more important variables such as weight and balance, and rate of tip decay. The weight and balance will directly influence your wrist and can cause serious issues if you're a freelancer like me, and you paint a bunch of hours every day. The size of the tablet surface can affect your wrist too, but not so much.

Size matters

It matters, except, well, bigger isn't better. I've tried huge tablets and tiny ones. Both have obvious issues. Big ones have you swinging your elbow all over the place, small ones tire your wrist. Both are unreasonable for long, repeated work days. I'm assuming you want to freelance full time (or even half time) and will have a stationary setup.
For this, a medium (around A4 surface) works best. The intuos A4, or intuos 4/5 medium. Perfect balance.

Lets have a look at the different types and systematically list the pro's and cons:

Intuos 3

+Pen is weighted and sized superiorly vs the intuos 4 and 5
+Pen tips last a LONG time (for some reason)
+Older generation, therefore cheaper.

-Older generation, therefore harder to find.
- A4 is just a tad too large to put in your average backpack, which makes it movement unfriendly
- USB wire is attached to the tablet permanently. It will eventually break open at the attachment of your tablet if you aren't careful, which might need replacing by someone tech savy.


Intuos 4

+ The wire can be unplugged on the tablet end.
+ Looks kinda nice. Black. But who cares, honestly?
+ Medium size is slightly smaller than the intuos3 A4, so it's more portable-friendly.

- Pen is weighted and sized horribly. They are short and light, feels awful in my opinion. For this reason I do not recommend a intuos4 at all.
- Pen tips decay insanely fast for some reason. I have to assume foul play from Wacom here, they must have thought made the previous tips too good or something.
- Might have been a driver issue, but when I tried it the sensitivity of the surface was unbearable. The lightest tap gave me a pretty thick stroke, even at firmer settings - it was harder to get a light stroke than a intuos3.


Intuos 5

+ Wireless! Very useful when you like to sit back in the couch with a large screen or similar.
+ Medium size is slightly smaller than the intuos3 A4, so it's more portable-friendly.
+ Pens are a step towards intuos3. They even look like intuos3 + intuos4, which proves my point about the intuos4 pens. They took a step to the past and the right direction; although I still argue intuos3 is a better pen.
+You can use it as a touchpad, so you can zoom, rotate with gestures with your fingers on your pen-hand. Not life saving, but pretty cool little feature if you decide to start working that way.

-Recent generation, so more expensive.
-Can't replace the surfaces, which unfortunately makes it pretty bad for long term use.



+ Cintiqs are good for a specific type of work. It is definitely FAR superior to do linework. Long, detailing and rendering is also great on a cintiq.

-Bad for your eyes. Don't underestimate this. When you are spending hours and hours in front of a screen, these are things you have to consider. When I switched to a cintiq for a couple of days, putting in the same amount of hours as usual, I had to stop because my eyes were hurting.
- Similarly, your back can take a punishment when working with a cintiq for a long time, as you are hunched over the tilted screen most likely. Not good form.
- A lot more expensive for a relatively unimportant feature.
- There is a lag between input and response on tablets, and on screen-tablets like the cintiq this becomes noticable.
- Your hand is in the way, which, believe it or not, is a huge problem when you are used to a regular tablet. That said, offsetting the cursor of the pen by 10x10 pixels or so, so you are painting higher and more to the left than your pen tip position, tends to fix this issue and the mental change is quickly done.


Bamboo tablets

They are inferior but a LOT cheaper. Not much to say about it other than that.

Final Verdict!


My personal setup is the intuos3 A4. I love this tablet (and primarily its pen) so much I have purchased a backup tablet (the exact same one) before they become too hard to find. They are a little bulkier as mentioned before, but this is perfect for my permanent desktop setup anyway. They are robust enough you can put a hot plate on it and eat, if you sometimes eat at your desk, for example. It can take quite a punch. The tablet surfaces are replaceable too, if you manage to find a seller.

I would recommend staying away from Intuos4.

If you are willing to invest a little bit more, get the intuos5 medium. It seems like the benefits of the intuos4 and 3 put together. If my intuos3's break, I will upgrade straight to 5 (or other generations if they are out by then). Together with a wireless keyboard it seems like a powerful setup.

If you find yourself doing a lot of line-art, then you should definitely get a smaller cintiq. The larger ones have obvious issues - they nuke your eyes; and they are simply bulky and expensive. If you get a large cintiq, get a mechanical arm to go with it. It costs a whole chunk extra, but at that price, you are investing anyway. I still recommend a smaller cintiq for lineart and a regular tablet for any other work.

If you are new to painting, and want to try it out, get a bamboo. There is no reason you need anything else. Once you decide to take it more seriously and paint a lot, you'll come to a point where you know you need an upgrade, and then you upgrade - simple as that! Do not waste money on hardware before you need it; as it will not change your skills. ( same with brushes ;) )

The ultimate setup in my eyes is a smaller cintiq to your side for certain types of client work, and either the Intuos3 A4 or the Intuos5 Medium for your day-to-day work. 3 if it's a permanent setup; 5 if you like to travel or sit back in the couch with a projector or such.

In the end, always try it before you buy it. My review is subjective, and your experiences may vary. Test as many tablets as you can possibly get your hands on.