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Weighing Which Wacom

Sometimes having too many choices is just as bad as having too few, especially when it comes to technology.  What works for one person may not work for somebody else.

While I’m primarily a PC user, one piece of Apple tech that I really enjoy is my iPad, a first-gen device I bought in the summer of 2010 that I’m still using today.  With each new iOS, it gets a little twitchier and temperamental, but I have definitely got my money’s worth from it.

I’ve also been using Wacom devices for well over a decade now, from the early first generation Intuos and Graphire tablets to the Cintiq 24HD display that I use today, and I wouldn’t be able to do the work I do without one.

One of those fortunate souls who works at home every day, I have a dedicated office and spend the majority of my time at my desk, drawing and painting on my Cintiq 24HD, a display I’m very happy with.  Everything I need to be productive on a daily basis is in my office.  In the evenings, however, I like to sketch the next day’s cartoons or other images with pencil on paper while relaxing on the couch in front of the TV.  Sometimes I’ll do rough paintings and sketches on my iPad as well.

But lately, I’ve wanted to paint more detailed work or move on to the digital ink and paint stage of a cartoon without having to go upstairs to sequester myself in the office that I’ve already been in all day.


The newer Cintiq 13HD has abandoned the power brick of the previous 12wx, and while you still have to plug it in and connect it to a laptop, it has the resolution and screen space I want, and the ability to just prop it up on my knees to paint.  So I figured this would be my next portable device.

But then, Wacom recently announced the Cintiq Companion and Cintiq Companion Hybrid Devices.  The first is a stand-alone 13” Cintiq with all of the functionality and power of a laptop.  The Hybrid device works as a fully functional Cintiq 13HD when it’s plugged into a desktop or laptop, but becomes a portable Android device when it’s unplugged.

002Decisions, decisions.

First Option: Having just bought a very powerful laptop I eliminated the Windows 8 Companion quite quickly.  I like to write, which is one of the reasons I wanted the laptop, rather than a portable device with a peripheral keyboard.  The Cintiq Companion Hybrid, however, would allow me to work on the couch and also give me an untethered portable device to take with me on the go.

Second Option: Provided Apple doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel with the pending iPad 5, I could pair that with the standard Cintiq 13HD.  This would give me the portability I want for painting outside my office while still tethered to a laptop, plus allow me to keep using the iPad, which has many apps I rely on.  Wacom’s new Intuos Creative Stylus for the iPad (not first-gen) allows pressure sensitivity and palm rejection in some of the apps I already use for iPad painting, which means you can rest your hand on the screen and it won’t be confused with a pen stroke.  Currently, I have to wear a fingerless glove when I paint on the iPad to prevent that problem.

003Break it down, now.

Portability: The Companion and Companion Hybrid are being marketed that you can take them anywhere.  While I do enjoy working in a coffee shop once in a while and have to travel on rare occasions, most of my portable sketching is done with a pencil and sketchbook, especially since I’m usually out in the woods or in a creek canyon somewhere while I’m doing it.  The thought of taking a digital device with me to these wild places is unappealing.  Worrying about charged batteries, dirt and moisture on an expensive device, not to mention that I don’t want to be connected when I’m out in nature, is unappealing to me, which is why I even turn my phone off.  Whether it’s on a hike, camping, or out at a buddy’s cabin, I still prefer to draw in a traditional sketchbook.

When I do want a portable digital device, I already know that an iPad works very well for me and the Hybrid is too big to be a suitable replacement. With the new Creative Stylus, painting/sketching on the iPad when I’m in a coffee shop or other urban setting will do the trick nicely.

004If I lived in a city, had to commute, was constantly out and about and in need of all of the full tools I enjoy on my desktop, an argument could be made for the Cintiq Companion or Hybrid, and I’m sure it will appeal to folks who find themselves in that daily environment.  Living in the mountains, working at home, and wanting to be away from electronics when I’m out in the woods, however, I wouldn’t use this device to its full potential.

Cost: A lot of people are complaining about the cost of these new Wacom devices, but when you own the market, are leading the way in the technology and have put the R&D into creating the tech that every digital creative wants, to give it away is just bad business.  Supply and demand is as old as the hills.

That being said, budget is a factor.  Living in Canada, I have to buy from a reseller since only U.S. residents can buy from the Wacom site.  Despite the U.S. and Canadian dollars being at or near equal the last few years, Canadian prices are significantly higher than in the U.S., an angry reality that Canadians live with on clothing, books, technology, cars, and many other products.

The best price I can find on a Companion Hybrid in Canada is $1749.  That’s more than I just paid for my laptop.  The price on the Cintiq 13HD is $1089.00.

005All weighed and measured, I think I’m going to go with the Cintiq 13HD and a new iPad with the Intuos Creative Stylus.  The cost of all three of those, estimating for the iPad 5 of course, would work out to around $1900.00 and would give me the all-around best solution to fit all of my creative portable needs for a few years to come.

It’s important to understand that the reason I’m explaining all of this is not to tell you what you should buy.  It’s to illustrate the point that we all have individual needs and wants when it comes to technology.  Rather than buy every new phone, TV, tablet, computer or other piece of tech that comes out simply because it’s new, take a step back and ask yourself if what you want is really what you need.  Make a list of what you want to be able to do and buy the devices that fit you best.  Take the time to tailor your tech to your needs and you’ll be a lot happier in your work.

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My Wacom Cintiq 24HD Settings

For this second blog entry on the Wacom Cintiq 24HD (read the first one here), I wanted to show all of the different settings I’ve chosen for the Express Keys, Touch Ring and Radial Menu.  I’m very comfortable using these hardware features on the Intuos tablets, but had to change everything up for the Cintiq for two reasons.  The first is that there are more settings to choose from.  The second is that working directly on the screen changed how I do things.

These Photoshop settings are in no way being shared in order to tell you what you should do.  Feel free to borrow anything you see here, of course, but I would encourage you to experiment with the settings and find ones that work best for you.  There are so many possible configurations that you can almost program each of the Express Keys, Touch Rings, and Radial Menu for anything you want Photoshop to do.  The feature I like best is that you can even program different settings for every piece of software you have.

My buddy Jeff Foster is an Author, Producer and VFX Artist at Sound Visions Media.  My setting for brush size on the pen, which I’ll explain later, was his suggestion and it works very well.  Since I’m no longer using the Touch Ring for brush size, he also suggested that the Touch Ring can be used for any keystroke operation at all, so it’s important to think differently and creatively.  I still haven’t finished experimenting with my Touch Ring settings, so some of the ones I show here will likely change.

Because there are so many settings to explain, I’ll just get right to it.  Here are some photos that show you what the buttons I’ll be talking about look like on the actual hardware.  I got these images directly from the Wacom site, so if you want to know even more about the Cintiq 24HD than what I’ve shown here, just click on any of the images and you’ll be instantly transported to their website.  It’s like magic, don’t you know?

As you can see from the image at the beginning of this post and the ones above and below, there are five Express Keys and a Touch Ring, with three settings each, on either side of the display.  Additionally, there are three buttons above the display for features I’ll explain later.  On the top edge of the display, which you can’t see here, there are a series of buttons like you would find on any monitor, to adjust your display color, brightness and contrast settings.  Incidentally, I like to work with my monitor brightness a lot lower than most people.  I have my Contrast set to 50, my Brightness to 13, and my Backlight to 0 (Zero).  You might think that a little odd, but it works very well for me.  My monitors have always been set to low brightness and my eyes don’t get strained as easily from long hours in front of a display.

Let’s talk about those three little buttons at the top right above the display.  From left to right, there is one that has a lower case letter i, one that looks like a keyboard, and one that looks like a wrench.  The i is for information, and when you press that, you get the image that you see below.  It fills the display, regardless of the software you’re using, BUT the settings you see displayed will be the ones you have set for that particular piece of software, or the default settings.  What you see here are my settings for Photoshop.  This is a great feature because you might forget what you have a button set for and this will show you in real time.  We’ll zoom in on all of these in a minute.

The second button will bring up the on-screen keyboard, which is pretty self-explanatory.  Sometimes you just want to type in a layer name, or press a number, and you don’t want to have to go fishing for your actual keyboard, especially since it might be under your Cintiq.

Finally, there is the button with the wrench on it, which will bring up your Wacom Tablet Properties.  I just think this is very clever to include this as a hardware button because sometimes you just want to make a quick change to your settings, and you don’t want to leave your software or go searching for it in your menus.  Press the button, it will bring up the panel you see here, make your change, close it and go right back to work.

Now let’s take a closer look at how I have my Express Keys, Touch Rings and Radial Menu set up.  I won’t show you how to make these changes, because that will require a whole new post.  If you want some help, I recorded a couple of videos for the Intuos5 and those will show you how to change your settings, even on the Cintiq.  Here are a couple of links, one for the Express Keys and Touch Ring and another for the Radial Menu.

Let’s take a look at the Express Keys and Touch Ring Properties.  As you can see below, the three buttons for the Touch Ring are currently set to Zoom, Brush Size, and None.  Rather than use the default Zoom, however, I have mine set to Ctrl- and Ctrl+ (Cmd- and + on the Mac) shortcut for Zoom.  The reason is that will zoom in and out in increments that keeps my painting sharp and crisp.  Some of the other increments in between can make images a little blurred and I don’t like that.  So my zoom isn’t a smooth transition, it goes in steps.

Brush Size is self-explanatory, although I now have that on my pen, so I’ll be finding another use for this spot, I think.  The third one is normally set for Rotate, as in rotating the canvas, but I have it set to None simply because I was recently recording a video and didn’t want to accidentally zoom in while recording if my finger touched the ring, so I set this to none and left it there while I recorded.  Again, I’ll be finding another use for this one, too.

For the Express Keys on the left of the display, I have them set as follows:

1) Undo – Ctrl-Alt-Z. (Cmd-Option-Z on the Mac).  When I’m painting, I pretty much keep a finger on this most of the time and it allows multiple undos.

2) Color Picker – This is not a normal keyboard shortcut, so I had to create one, which is fairly easy to do in Photoshop.

3) Shift – a Modifier Key that will give many tools more options.

4) Ctrl – (Cmd) another modifier key.

5) Pan/Scroll – In Photoshop, this is the Hand Tool and it will allow you to move around the canvas.

On the right side of the display, the Touch Ring again is still set for the default settings.  I know I’ll find a use for it, I just have to get creative and even more efficient.

For the Express Keys, they’re set as follows:

1) Gamut Check – Ctrl-Y (Cmd Y).  I draw and paint in sRGB, but I’m always aware that my editorial cartoons are printed in CMYK and some of my paintings and illustrations may be printed that way as well.  My color picker is set so I can only choose colors that are ‘in gamut’, which means when converted to CMYK, they won’t shift.  But sometimes when I make a Levels or other Color adjustment, it will shift colors too far, so I’m always checking Gamut to make sure everything looks as it should.  Newspapers do not have universal color settings.  Some publications have downright hideous printing, so I try to find a happy medium to please everybody.  Yeah, I know…good luck with that.

2) Hide – Ctrl-H (Cmd-H) When I’m working with selections, this hides the little ‘marching ants’ that define a selection, because I hate looking at the moving dotted lines when I’m painting.

3) Radial Menu – This is Wacom’s way of giving you even more choices.  It’s an onscreen heads-up display that gives you an opportunity to program your own menus and submenus.  I’ll show you my Radial Menu settings in a minute.

4) Fit Screen – Ctrl-0 (Cmd-0) Zooming in and out of a painting or drawing, often I just want the image to reset to fit screen.

5) Display Toggle – I have multiple displays, my other one is above the Cintiq.  When I want to access the other display, I press this button and my pen can move the cursor to my other screen, which makes the top half of the Cintiq display work just like a traditional Wacom tablet.  It’s a great feature.

My Pen Settings are as follows:

Erase – This button is a waste for me and I can’t even think of a reason to use it for something else, either.  I’m sure other people do use it, but I never have.

The button on the pen is actually two buttons.  Originally, it’s set for a Left Mouse and Right Mouse configuration, but as mentioned previously, my friend Jeff gave me a reason to consider other options.  For the left Mouse Button, the one furthest from the tip, I have it set to the keystroke configuration you see in the image.  What this allows me to do, when I have the Brush selected in Photoshop, is change brush size very fluidly.  I press the button, move the pen left or right and I can see the brush size change on the screen.  This was one of those, “I wish I’d known this sooner!” moments, because I would have had my Intuos tablet set to this as well.

The Right Mouse button, the one closest to the tip, is set to Alt (Option on the Mac).  When I have the brush selected in Photoshop, this toggles the Eyedropper Tool for easy selection of color in a painting.  I use this constantly for better blending and color transitions in my work.  So now I can change brush size and select color quickly and easily right from the pen.  It’s a very enjoyable way to paint.

And finally, here are my Radial Menu settings.

When you press the Radial Menu button, you get the circle on the right, which is fully customizable.  If you wanted to, you could make every one of those pie pieces into a submenu.  I currently only have three.  When you click on each of those submenus, you get  the images on the left.  Each submenu can not only have a full selection of pie pieces, but those can be submenus as well.  I’m no math wizard, but that gives you a LOT of choices for custom configuration.

Obviously I don’t need to explain every one of them, but I’ll give you some thoughts on what some of the more unique ones do.

Blend Modes Submenu – I use four Photoshop Actions for Blend Modes all the time in my drawing and painting.  OK, that one that reads ‘Cartoon Websize’ is an Action for something else, but I had nowhere else to put it and I use it every day.  But the rest are for Blend Modes, I assure you.  If you don’t know about Blend Modes in Photoshop, my buddy Scott Valentine just wrote a great new book that explains them very well.  I’ll have a review of the book very soon, but if you want to check it out, here’s the link.  The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop.

Flip Canvas – Often when I’m painting, I want to shift my perspective, so I’ll flip the image I’m working on horizontally.  You’d be surprised how helpful this can be, especially when it comes to likeness in portraits.  Sometimes I’ll just know that something doesn’t look right but I can’t put my finger on it.  By flipping the canvas, the problem will almost always become immediately apparent.  Your brain gets lazy and this will often give your perception a bit of a slap.

So there you have it.  These are my settings on the Cintiq 24HD…for now.  I fully expect to make little changes and tweaks as I get more used to the display, but these settings are working very well for me at present.  There really is no excuse for not being able to customize this display to work exactly the way you want it to.  Yes, it will take some time to get it perfect, but it’s worth it.  Wacom has not only provided hardware that will allow you to create the best drawing and painting experience possible, but the software takes it even further.

Don’t be afraid of making changes.  There is a default button in the Wacom Tablet Properties.  If you mess it up too much, you can always start again.  When you do get the settings you want, however, back them up!  I can’t stress this enough.  Computers aren’t perfect, software can conflict with other software, and stuff happens.  There is a Wacom Tablet Preferences Utility included with the software.  It will allow you to save and restore your preferences should the unthinkable happen.  Just as you should back up your images and files, you should also back up your preferences.

If you have any issues, Wacom’s technical support is very helpful.  And finally, if you just have any questions, I’m happy to help, too.  Thanks for stopping by and hopefully this helped you see some possibilities you might not have considered, whether you’re using Wacom’s Intuos tablets or their Cintiq displays.





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What I like best about the Wacom Cintiq 24HD

A couple of weeks ago, I finally got the new Wacom Cintiq 24HD Display.  There are two versions of this device, and people keep asking me if I got ‘the Touch,’ meaning the one that has touch features along with pen input.  The answer is ‘No,’ and the reason is because even though I like touch features on my iPad and phone, I don’t feel the need for it on my main display.  I know a lot of people want that, so it’s great that this display is available with and without the option.  Keep in mind, there is also a significant cost difference between the two.

I’ve had my eye on the new Cintiq since it was launched earlier this year.  Many of the new features that Wacom included finally pushed me over the edge to get one.  Rarely do I develop an infatuation for new and shiny tech.  I waited two months before I got my first-gen iPad, just to be sure it was going to be useful and not just a toy.  Having used it every day since, I wasn’t disappointed.  That being said, it’s two years old and I’ll only replace it for a newer version when it stops working well.  I’ve never owned an iPhone and can’t think of any piece of technology I would line up for.

Now you might be thinking, why am I talking about Apple stuff, I thought this was about Wacom.  The reason is that I want to be clear up front that I’m not a gadget person who gets something just because it’s new and trendy.  If it’s not useful, I’m not interested.  So with years under my belt with the Intuos line of tablets and being very pleased with those, why did I suddenly feel the need to get the high performance sports car of Wacom tablets?

I’ve never had a problem doing all of my detailed painted work on the Intuos tablets.  They’re solid, they work well, they last forever and they get the job done.  The size wasn’t an issue, working off the screen wasn’t an issue, resolution and pressure sensitivity worked well.  The simple answer is that it was time.  This is the top of the line professional tablet and I want my work to be the best it can be.  From all I’ve heard from colleagues and other reviewers, their endorsement of what this display does for their workflow and better use of their time was enough for me to feel I needed to make the jump.

I’ve had the Cintiq 24HD for almost two weeks now.  Normally I’d write a review for something new a lot sooner than this, but I’ve been swamped with work, which as a freelancer is not a bad thing at all.  The upside of waiting this long for the review is that I’ve used it a lot.  There is nothing that I do in my scope of work that I now haven’t done on the Cintiq.  Daily editorial cartoons, illustrations, writing, and a brand new Totem painting from start to finish, I’ve really put it through its paces, and I am incredibly impressed.

There is just too much to talk about to do this in one post, so I’ll be spreading it out over two or three.  For this one, I just wanted to talk about the features that impressed me most.  I’ve never been one to do those ‘let’s unpack it’ reviews.  There are plenty of those out there.  As for the technical specs, you can see all of that as well as videos and other images on Wacom’s website.  I just want to tell you how this will impact my own work and why I like the display so much.  I made note of things that made me raise my eyebrows over the last couple of weeks.  A few of these things even made me say, “oh cool!” out loud.  They are in no particular order of importance.

1)  With a dual monitor system, I used to have my Photoshop palettes on a separate monitor.  The Cintiq is so big and has so many Express Keys along with the Radial Menu, that I don’t need that anymore.  I can do everything on this big screen.  But I still like my second monitor, so I have it positioned above the Cintiq, and I can keep all of my other windows, browser, music player open on that display.  By pressing one of the Express keys to ‘Toggle Display’, I can temporarily jump to the other monitor, and the Cintiq becomes just like a traditional Wacom tablet.

LOVE the new monitor configuration for reference photos!  Just feels so natural to look up from my ‘drafting table’ to see the pics.

2) They put a USB port right on the display itself.  Might seem like a small thing, but I frequently take images with me or grab them from a USB key.  This is just convenient.

3)  Wacom put a Tablet Properties button on the device itself.  This is great because it gives you quick options to open the properties, make changes, then get back to work.  It’s important to experiment with the Tablet Properties and more than a few times, I found myself thinking, “I should be able to program an Express Key to (insert operation, tool selection, or toggle here.)  They made it easier to do that.  I’ll detail all of my new settings in another post.

4) Pulling the device down over the edge of your desk, means forcing yourself to avoid using your keyboard.  This is a good thing!

5)  More buttons!  I really like the fact that with Express Keys on both sides of the screen, plus two (count ‘em, TWO) touch rings, you get plenty of options on how to customize your Cintiq so it works perfectly for the way you work.  A word of caution, however.  Computers aren’t perfect and sometimes program conflicts or an accidental pressing of the Default button in the Wacom Tablet Properties can erase all of your settings, so be sure to backup your settings with the Wacom Tablet Preference Utility.  I learned that lesson the hard way last week.

6) The display was so easy to set up.  OK, I did have to wait for my wife to get home from work so she could help me bring it up two flights of stairs from the garage to my office.  It’s 63lbs out of the box, quite large, and awkward to carry.  I wasn’t about to risk any damage by trying to do it myself.  Once I got it on my desk (oh, it’s staying there, now), the instructions were simple and straightforward.  It was very much like setting up any new display.  I use the Eye-One Color Calibrator and it was just as simple to calibrate the Cintiq as it is for any other type of monitor.

7)  The Cintiq is just a joy to work on.  The base is so well designed that I can’t think of any way to improve upon it.  As shown in the images here, it locks in place when it’s fully upright, so it can be used like a standard display (a BIG standard display) or it can be used flat in the upright position.  As someone who sits all day long while I work, I have contemplated getting one of those very expensive adjustable desks that allows a person to work standing up once in awhile.  I no longer have to think about that, because the Cintiq lets me do that when I need a break from the chair.  I did that a number of times in the past couple of weeks and loved having the option.

8)  Word of caution.  This thing is BIG.  I have a great coffee cup that I got at Costco (three of them, actually) made by Contigo.  You can see it to the left of the display in the photos.  It seals completely and to take a drink, you have to press a button on the back to open it.  It’s great because it not only keeps coffee hot for well over an hour, but it if you drop the cup or knock it over, it doesn’t spill.  Because I start work very early in the morning and work in low light as often as possible, my office is usually near dark.  In the first week of using the Cintiq, I knocked over my coffee cup three times when I went to adjust the display with the handles on the sides.  It’s just so big!

And finally, it’s solid!  There is nothing about this display that feels cheaply made.  The enjoyment I’m having drawing and painting on the screen is difficult to explain.  Working on little hairs with the pen at the same point of contact as my brush strokes just feels so much more natural.I’ve often dealt with back pain off and on over the years, usually stress related from working hunched over too much.  As I said, I was so busy with deadlines that I’ve spent a LOT of time on this device.  One thing I noticed, a great surprise, is that I had no significant neck or back pain as a result.  Sure, tight shoulders and strain just from sitting so long and working, you’ll get that in any job when you’re working long hours, but nothing that didn’t go away with rest and nothing that I had to take an Advil for.

So, yes, I’m enjoying the Cintiq 24HD a great deal, and I’m sure I’ll continue to discover things that make me say, “Oh, cool,” and I’ll be sure to share them.  Next time, I’ll talk about having to change all of Express Key, Touch Ring and Radial Menu settings.  When you’re working directly on the screen, it’s a whole new ballgame.