One thing that has annoyed me for a while now is the fact I can’t use ZBrush on the Surface Book. Yes, it runs and works well, but interacting with the device with the pen isn’t easy.
If you use ZBrush you will know that you need access to at least three keys, Control, Alt and Shift, in order to navigate and use the various tools comfortably. You could opt to leave the keyboard out in front of the device and work that way but its just too awkward leaning over to paint on the screen. An ideal solution would be to have a series of on screen keys, this would mean you could use the Surface as a tablet and sculpt on it as if you were drawing in a sketchpad.
Thankfully this isn’t a unique idea and there have been a whole host of configurable on screen key solutions available for many years now, the problem is none of them work without limitations. I used to be a fan of Radial Menu when I used the Surface Pro 3 but that no longer works in the same way on the Surface Book. Other tools like Tablet Pro and Artdock also suffer from the same issues as do many of the others I have tried over the years.
The problems do vary. Some tools don’t allow you to hold a button down and sculpt at the same time so instead they opt for a toggle option. In my tests though when the button is toggled On the pen no longer registers. With those that do allow you to hold the buttons the same issue arises in that the Surface Book then doesn’t register the pen. There are workarounds to some of these issues but for me I want to be focused on what I am creating and be confident the buttons will do what I want. I don’t want to be pressing and then repressing the same button numerous times until I catch that rare moment I can zoom into my model, or have to spend time learning a new set of button configurations.
I had all but given up hope of using ZBrush on the Surface Book and then I remembered a video I created a while ago now.
Shortly after I received my Cintiq 27QHD I discovered that I could take Wacoms ExpressKey Remote, plug it into the Surface Pro 3 and it would work as a series of configurable keys. This meant I didn’t need the keyboard or any fiddly on screen keys covering up the UI, I could finally use the Surface as a sculpting tablet – Yay!
The question was could I also get this to work with the Surface Book?
I downloaded and installed the latest Wacom drivers, plugged the remote in and initially it worked, although I lost pen pressure, an issue I had for along time while working on the Surface Pro 3. I found a workaround that time so I tried the same thing here. That was to source and download the WinTab drivers and install them manually.
You can grab them here if you need them too and there is a demonstration video below.
After all that I was finally good to go and I have to say it was nice to finally use ZBrush on the Surface Book. What also helped the transition was the fact that I use the ExpressKey Remote on a daily basis with my main desktop setup, so when I was working on the Surface Book my fingers already knew which buttons to use making the transition between devices seamless.
So whats the conclusion to this post? I guess if your like me and have a Surface Book or another Windows based device, and are struggling to use ZBrush with the on screen keys then this may be an option for you. The ExpressKey Remote isn’t a cheap device but for what you pay it could help save you lots of time and stress down the line, plus its use isn’t restricted to ZBrush. You can also configure it to work with Maya, Substance Painter, Photoshop and any other app you want to use, keyboard free.
With that in mind it would be interesting to see how Microsofts Dial could help in this situation…