The 2008 GUI Championships is coming to a close with the voting for the Best Overall events happening right now, and the final winners to be announced this Friday (12/19)
The top prize in this year's contest is the ultimate tool for the digital artist; the Wacom Cintiq 12WX. Wacom was extremely generous in donating one of these tablets as the top prize. As with the Radeon HD 4850, I'm going to take some time to show off the tablet, as well as share some impressions from members of the Stardock Entertainment Art Team that use these tablets on a daily basis as they work on games such as Galactic Civilizations II, The Political Machine 2008 and the upcoming Elemental: War of Magic.
To start with, lets talk a little bit about the Cintiq, what it comes with and what it's designed to do.
The Wacom Cintiq 12WX belongs to the high-end line of digital graphics tablets from Wacom. The major and most noticeable difference is of course that instead of drawing on the tablet with the digital pen and watching your monitor to see what's going on, the tablet itself is the monitor so the experience is closer to drawing on paper or painting on canvas. The metaphor is more natural and easy to understand.
The 12WX is the "entry level" Cintiq, priced at nearly $1,000 USD and measures roughly 12" on the diagonal. This is comparable to working on a small laptop, or drawing on piece of letter-sized paper (ok, it's a little bit smaller than that measuring 10.3" 6.4").
Here are the hardware specs:
- Dimensions: 16” x 10.5” x .67” (WxHxD)
- Weight: 3.6 pounds display only, 4.4 pounds with video controller
- Screen: 12.1” WXGA (1280x800)
- Display/Tablet Area: 10.3” x 6.4” (WxH)
- Display Input: VGA, DVI-D
- Number of Colors: 16.7 million
- Color Management: ICC profile, 6500K white point
- Tablet Pressure Sensitivity:1024 levels
- Data Rate: 200 pps
- Resolution: 5080 lpi
- Function Keys: 10, user assignable
- Touch Pads: 2, user assignable
Now that we've covered what the tablet is at a basic level, lets start poking around at it to see how it feels in practice and what the new user experience is like.
Setup of the tablet is relatively straight forward, though there are a lot of cables to plug in, and settings to configure.
For the purposes of demoing the product, I hooked it up to my Dell Inspiron 6400 laptop running Windows Vista Business Edition (32bit). This presented its own challenges in that Vista's management of tablet peripherals leaves something to be desired.
The Cintiq comes with everything you need to hook it up to your Mac or PC, including both DVI and VGA cables depending on your graphics card's output (the laptop is VGA, my desktop would have used the DVI).
Getting the tablet hooked up was pretty easy. Connect control box to tablet, usb from box to laptop, video from box to laptop. Done! The only thing that tripped me up at all was the power switch. It's hidden on the back edge at the top left of the tablet, and it blends in very well with the casing.
The setup on the PC was pretty straight forward too. Follow the directions included with the software CD and you'll be fine. Oh, and don't skip the tablet calibration step, even if you think you don't need it. Without calibration, the tablet can not properly determine the position of your pen relative to the edge of the screen and will instead just move the cursor relative to its position, not the pen. This means you'd have to find the cursor on the screen, put your pen there and then move it, otherwise things get wacky. Calibration takes less than 30 seconds and transforms the experience from that of confusion and frustration to what it's supposed to be. Trust me, I spent 15min struggling with this before I understood what I had messed up.
My first suggestion is that you run the tablet as a mirrored display (in Windows Vista, this is done from the Mobility Center control panel, not display properties), this will avoid problems of losing your cursor to the primary display, where you can't control it from the tablet. While I was demoing the Cintiq, I used it as the primary display, shut my laptop completely and set the tablet up on top of it. Either in that orientation, or holding it in my lap as I doodled were the most natural methods for me.
Once you have the tablet configured to your liking, you'll want to try out some drawing tools to see what it feels like in use. Probably the single best-suited graphics tool for the Cintiq is Corel's PainterX. This is a graphics app that's designed with a tablet in mind and it really shows. There was no additional configuration required to make PainterX properly use the Cintiq, it even properly handled pressure sensitivity on the pen and the use of the eraser tip when flipping the pen over.
Even though I'm far from anything you'd consider an artist, I was able to quickly reproduce the same general quality of sketching I can do with a regular pen or pencil on paper. There was virtually no delay in drawing, and the accuracy was terrific. If I had any artistic talent, I can already see that this would be a natural and highly effective method to draw on the PC. I now see why web cartoonists such as Scott Kurtz of PVP, and Gabe of Penny Arcade love these tablets so much. They won't make you a better artist, but they will make the process of getting your drawings onto the PC infinitely easier and faster.
One non-graphics application that I found very useful with the Cintiq was Microsoft's OneNote tool. A great combination if you're trying to quickly jot down notes for yourself when using the tablet.
So it's awesome for use with graphics tools, which is what it's designed for, but if you're going to use the tablet like I did as a stand-in for the primary display and close down the laptop, you'll want to keep an external mouse/keyboard hooked up for any non-drawing tasks. Personally, I kept the laptop connected to my main desktop via Multiplicity so I just continued to use my main keyboard and mouse to control the laptop. Despite the natural feel of drawing on the display, using the pen to hunt-and-peck on an on-screen keyboard or navigate menus just felt slow and uncomfortable. But like I said, that's not what this is designed for, so it's an understandable and forgivable drawback.
Like I said, I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. I'm a gadget geek who loves new toys and can appreciate great tech when I see it, but with something like the Cintiq, I just can't fully explore the potential on my own. So I walked over to our art team to ask them what they think about the Cintiqs they have. Several of them have the 12WX model and use it for much of their 2D work.
The art team here at Stardock has worked on several critically acclaimed PC Strategy games including: Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords (+Dark Avatar & Twilight of the Arnor expansion packs), The Political Machine (2004 & 2008) as well as the upcoming fantasy turn-based strategy game Elemental: War of Magic (2010).
All in all, I love my 12” Wacom Cintiq tablet. It’s got great sensitivity, accuracy, and it also has tools that allows you to adjust for the parallax between the screen surface and the cursor. It has 10 programmable buttons and 2 touch strips, all of which can be customized to each of your favorite software packages. As a game artist, I use Maya and Photoshop primarily. So I can set up the left set of buttons for proper navigation in Maya, and reset those same buttons for navigation in Photoshop.
Of course the best thing about the Cintiq is the ability to draw directly on the screen. I’ve used a normal Wacom tablet for the past few years, and for me there has always been a coordination issue of trying to draw to my right but having to look up and to the left. With a Cintiq, I’ll never have to worry about that issue again. It’s like having a never ending supply of sketchbooks and canvases. I can either draw on paper then scan the image in and then color it using the Cintiq with Photoshop, or simply sketch directly on the Cintiq and go from sketch to finished painting. I use it for concept art and texture painting, and it has increased my productivity by about 50 percent. My only critique would be that I wish it was a bit brighter and a lot bigger! Overall it’s an amazing piece of equipment for any digital artist.
Art & Animation: Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords (2006), Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar (2007), Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor (2008), Elemental: War of Magic (2010)
Another of our artists who uses the Cintiq heavily for day to day work is Leo Li, one of the newest members of the Stardock Art team…
I believe the Wacom Cintiq offers an incredible degree of control and precision for any graphic or illustrative artist. The ability to draw directly on-screen makes my productivity and efficiency at least three or four times faster when it comes to doing any sort of illustrative work in programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. Aside from some slight color distortions when compared to the monitor, the Wacom Cintiq is virtually flawless in other departments such as features, usability, and control. I personally find it to be an invaluable tool for my daily activities as a digital illustrator.
Art: Elemental: War of Magic (2010)
For its price tag and size, the Cintiq 12WX is a great entry point for digital artists looking to make the jump from their older tablets to something better. It's easy to use, highly accurate, works well with pretty much all of the major graphics tools on the market and won't swallow up all of your free desk space.
The only downside reported from our art team? Our Art Director, Paul Boyer, lamented the fact that Wacom hasn't made the jump to building a tablet PC for digital artists. He'd love to see the power and accuracy of the Cintiqs glued straight onto a laptop so he could really use it just like a sketchbook, wherever he went. The power of the Cintiq with the mobility of a laptop would be amazing indeed.