I`ve been working as a digital artist for over twenty years now and in that time I have always had access to a graphics tablet of one kind or another.
At the beginning of my career these were your more affordable brands which lacked sensitivity and used power hungry pens, which went through batteries like ice on a hot day. This was fine though as for the most part they were sat next to my keyboard, or under my mouse mat, and only used occasionally.
As graphics became more detailed my tablet was used more and more, so I eventually switched to Wacom devices, well, the company I was working for at the time brought in the devices for the artists to use.
A Cintiq back then was a highly expensive piece of hardware, and something no junior graphic artist could hope to wield in the battle against pixels. So the thought of owning one, well, you just didn’t even consider it. Those were reserved for more senior members of staff, or the wealthy.
Fast forward to the present day and the Cintiq range has expanded, is much more affordable, and is now available in many different flavours, including a new, standalone, mobile version called the Cintiq Companion which I will also be reviewing shortly.
My own career has also shifted and for the past seven years I have worked for myself, meaning I am also in full control of what equipment I can own, (rather than seeking approval from company directors), but more importantly this also means I have to find the money for anything new myself.
Last year I reached a stage where I felt I needed to improve my own painting and sculpting skills, so maybe, just maybe, it was time to finally invest in a Cintiq of my very own?
It took me a long time to build up the courage to order the Cintiq 24HD. Not only was money an issue but making the leap from keyboard and mouse to using a pen most of the time was daunting. I knew that it was something I had to do, if I were to improve my skills as an artist I needed to embrace the pen once more.
Still, £2,000 was slot of money to pay out, and £3,000, which was the price of the 24HD Touch, was out of the question, but with credit card in hand I took the gamble and placed my order.
Using Photoshop or ZBrush with a mouse or a smaller tablet was no longer an option.
I’d read online that the 24HD was heavy, with most of the weight being in the base, but I didn`t appreciate just how heavy it was. Weighting in at a massive 28kg it’s suggested that two people handle it when unboxing. When the beast arrived however, I was on my own.
After heaving it onto my newly strengthened desk, and having a well-earned rest, I investigated the paddles on either side. Pressing these allow you to tilt the screen back and forth, plus an extra clip at the rear, when released, allows you to raise and lower the tablet. Moving it up to use more as a monitor and then down again to draw or sculpt upon like a canvas, giving you the best of both worlds.
Once connected I turned on the PC and waited.
As the huge 24.1 inch screen flickered into life my heart sank. Compared to my second monitor this had a faint grainy appearance. I felt I`d just spent a huge chunk of money, maxing out my credit card in the process, on something whose screen wasn`t even as crisp and clear as a much cheaper monitor.
Yes it was full, glorious HD, running at 1920×1200, and the colours were bright and full, but this had the potential to be one of those things which bugged me each time I turned it on. A bit like a dead pixel right in the middle of the screen.
I can honestly say that within an hour of using the Cintiq I no longer noticed the grain. I can only assume it’s present because of the digitizer, or some other important performance related reason, so in some ways you can forgive it being there.
Working With The Cintiq
I’ve had the Cintiq for about a year now, and chose to hold off on a review until I had worked with it for a while. I don’t think you can truly test a piece of hardware unless you bring it into your own pipeline and actually spend time producing work with it, and configuring it to suit your own personal needs.
If you know you only have access to something for a few weeks you don`t properly invest in it.
Initially I felt my productivity drop, but this was mainly because I was coming from a pure keyboard and mouse environment. So this was more a period of adjustment, than a hardware issue. The same could be said if you were learning to use any new application or tool.
After a while, and a period of configuring and reconfiguring, I felt I was finally getting into my own rhythm. When I was writing, or needed to use the mouse, the 24HD was raised in front of me like a monitor, with the keyboard below. When I needed to get in and draw or sculpt I simply lowered it, using the Express Keys and Touch Ring to replace important hotkeys or commands.
The stylus is comfortable to hold, although after a long period of use I do find my thumb starts to ache due to being pressed against it. It has a decent weight, although it could be slightly heavier, and when moved across the screen there is a nice, subtle degree of feedback.
The 2048 degrees of pressure mean you can apply both light and hard strokes, which can dictate brush size or opacity depending on the application, plus the Cintiq detects when the pen is tilted, which is ideal for use with virtual paint brushes or pencils.
There is a slight lag on the pen as you move it, but it’s so small that when you are in full working mode you don`t notice it.
I now use the 24HD every day. This is mainly for drawing in Photoshop or Krita, texture painting in 3DCoat and sculpting in ZBrush, but I am also attempting to use it for more 3D work in Maya via the Marking Menus, especially since the 2015 update, which helps to streamline this process.
I think the key with anything like this is spending the time needed to set it up to suit your own personal needs. This may seem like a pain, but it’s worth it, and Wacom make configuring the device nice and simple by having the settings tools accessible from a series of buttons on the front of the Cintiq.
There is even a button to remind you of what each button is set to do.
Should You Invest?
This is a tough question, but if you already use a smaller Wacom tablet, like and Intuos, and are used to the workflow, but want more control and a far more productive way of working then yes.
If you’re like me, someone who used an Intuos occasionally but relied heavily on a keyboard and mouse, then it may seem a little more daunting to sacrifice your desk to something so huge and heavy while also losing a chunk of your savings.
For me though, I can honestly say that I would be lost without my 24HD now. Should I have held off for the more mobile 22HD? Maybe, maybe not, but having the 24HD in some ways forces me to pick up a pen and draw as I can`t just move it aside and forget about it. A move which I feel is making me a better artist.