Ruminations on Wacom Tablets and the Like
I thought I would document my current explorations with tablets. I appreciate this will sound like #firstworldproblems but anyway, art tools, so here we go:
Problem: upgraded to a new MBP. Of course this is not a bad thing. My previous was struggling, and the smaller HDD was causing issues in my mobile production. I finally jumped to the new model (business expense, not my out of pocket) and quickly discovered many things to reaaaallllly like about the new machine... but one created issues: the USB-C only architecture. Most people just rant bitterly anytime port standards change, specifically with Apple I noticed, but I have to say, the USB-C standard is amazing. It can daisy chain like 100 devices, it is power and data, and it's a tight, slim connector. I really like it. So yeah, I got a few adapters, right: some USB-C to USB-A, and a few Thunderbolt 3/USB-C to Thunderbolt 2 (one for each of my docks, work and home groffice)... all was well. Until I fired up the Cintiq.
I have a Wacom Cintiq 21UX. This is not a new device. I also have one remaining Wacom Intuos 3 for the road. I don't get to use the Cintiq all that often, as I'm rarely in my groffice, but when I can, I do. The use of my iPad Pro has made the Cintiq far less critical in my process, but when you have it, it's the best solution. And while my book production and character art work doesn't rely on it, larger comic sequential art really depends on it for me these days. Anyway, the screen worked on the Cintiq, but the stylus mousing was sort of off-track and not mapped. I checked the driver and it claimed the dreaded 'no device found'... meaning that the OSX Sierra firmware was resolving the mouse and display i/o, not Wacom software. Not good. So I tried the Intuos tablet, and it didn't even work at all.
I tried stepping down in drivers, I tried different ports.
I looked into it with Wacom, and it was frustrating. My devices are apparently off the development path as far as support goes. The last supported driver set for both devices was about 18 months old, and when I finally talked to someone at Wacom (guh, it IS in fact pronounced WACK-UM) they claimed they had NO driver support for OSX Sierra at all. Now, I know this not to be true, as my iMac can use the devices just fine. So, it means they can't handle something in the MBP's new chipset, or more likely, don't play nice with the USB-C adapters.
Solution: Well, it doesn't get much better. I don't have a magic bullet on this one. It means new devices. Wacom doesn't even have a large format Cintiq in the product line that would work. Only the 'Pro' line are apparently compatible via USB-C, and they stop at 16" for the Cintiq, though 23" and 30" models are forthcoming any month now, supposedly. After thinking about it, I decided I could just put that one off another year. I will be doing TRDL Sourcebook stuff for at least the next 6 months anyway, so the comic pages are in the distance. I ganged the Cintiq to the iMac in the meantime, and will probably sell it.
That left the Intuos. Particularly as I am looking at at least three or four trips to southeast asia coming up, that's a LOT of time on planes and in hotels to get stuff done. No time to waste.
So, I got a Medium Intuos Pro... and then I decided to order a Large, which I had never tried, to compare them.
First note, these are USB-C devices, technically, but they ship with USB-C to USB-A cables. So if you want to tether it to the laptop directly, you need to use a USB-C to USB-C cable, or an adapter BACK to USB-C. What a lame decision on their part. On top of that, BTW, the large models of the current Cintiq for example don't even have STANDS in the package. Everything is an accessory. I get that many users use armatures for them, but still.
Not a deal breaker, though, because the beauty of USB-C is that it is a universal cable. And the Intuos is a wireless device finally. Thus, you normally use it untethered, and if you needed to charge it up, you can steal the USB-C cable used in your POWER SUPPLY. Again, I think I mentioned, I love USB-C.
Might be hard to see in this pic unless you enlarge it, but the Medium has a floor area that is a bit larger than a 15" MBP, so I think the previous Intuos I used was somewhere between the current line's Small and Medium. Anyway, this remains the portable workhorse. The Large, however, is LARGE. Both are identical otherwise. Tic marks on the surface show you the sensor limits, and a healthy amount of buttons and a scroll wheel compliment the side of it, adjustable for left or right handed users. Again, wireless via Bluetooth. Great stuff. Massively increased resolution over the previous ones I used.
I ran some tests. First off, the tablet choice likely comes down to how comfortable you might be with the large surface. You need desk surface for it, certainly, but also, it's about how you use it. At that scale, your arm gestures are long sweeps and arcs. I am not an artist that cut his teeth on the canvas and easel. I was always smaller format. As a result, it's very unnatural to do big sweeping strokes. In fact, it's hard for me. That said, I noted that I was able to generate substantially smoother strokes with it than with the Medium, which yielded the familiar jittery line. So, as far as the QUALITY of the input, the Large was a big improvement.
Here, the top Weird Cosmonaut was doodled with the Medium, and the bottom with the Large.
Here, the flesh colored strokes were generated from the Large, while the black were the Medium.
As an experiment, I did something else I had never tried before: I stole the iMac as a display, using a Thunderbolt cable. It's super easy. I used to be wary of any hijacking. I mean I almost never even used Target Disk Mode. Anyway, this yielded a 27" display paired with the Large tablet and the result was REALLY nice.
I'm still on the fence. I know I'll keep the Medium. I can't really afford BOTH, but I may, *may* keep the Large for the studio if I play with it awhile and determine the larger screen and Large tablet together start to feel like a fluid semi-replacement for the Cintiq, at least until the new Cintiqs are released.
So, there you go. Tablets!