My kingdom for a (drawing) tablet.

I’ve been wanting to get a new digital drawing tablet for some time now; however, I was pretty scarred/upset by my experience with the Wacom Graphite tablet 5 years ago. I was so frustrated with the drop in my productivity that I just forced myself to readjust to the mouse. Unless, I was using the ineffectual thing to get signatures, I preferred to draw it by hand and then use a scanner + mouse. Now I can’t even go to the library without seeing a dozen designers using their shiny new tablets and I’m ready to get back on that horse.

For me to ink, scan, clean-up and colour an illustration requires at least half a day (to two days depending on the complexity of the illustration). Using my mouse (aka: the artist’s brick) has become second nature to me and the hours whip pasts me as I get pulled into the process. However, my body reminds me that I’ve been sitting for hours upon hours once I come out of my tracing trance, and I’m loathe to sit down for another session come the next day.

You may know that I am working on a digital book project, and I am building all the assets 100% digitally. I did thumbnails & initial sketches by hand, but all the final work is vector.



Obviously, March has come & gone. We’re back on track and aiming for September 2012; however, I’m really dragging my feet because the process is still so cumbersome with the mouse. About a month ago, I started to do some research into the world of drawing tablets and after reading a few reviews, and talking to a few illustrators, I set my sights on the Cintiq 21UX. The ability to work directly on the screen was a dream come true for many of the people I talked to and so I started to save up for the Rolls-Royce of drawing tablets. Or did I?

Fast forward to two weeks ago, and I started talking with my lead developer, Gavin/@halkeye (one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet), on the project. He encouraged me to talk with some of the designers at his office who were using the Intuos 5. I was hesitant because I had been convinced of the Cintiq’s brilliance and I still had a bad taste in my mouth from my Graphite experience, but I was happy to get the chance to actually touch a new tablet before forking over the mega cash. Most suppliers in town do not have floor model graphic tablets and so I was really going to have to buy blind.

Gavin hauled a Intuos tablet from his office to our weekly meeting so that I could try it out. My experience went something like this:

@ 1 minute: The cord is on the wrong side. Oh, duh, it’s left-handed/right-handed input. Fine!
@ 5 minutes: Hrm, this is going to take some getting used to…my shapes don’t line up or end where I want them to.
@ 10 minutes: I don’t really like that I can’t easily trace these – oh, wait, I can!
@15 minutes: It’s cool, but this is going to take some time to get used to…
@ 30 minutes: I’m not giving this back to you. MINE.

The shine wore off a bit by the time I got home as I had so hyped myself up for the Cintiq, but I knew that I needed to do some more research before buying. I asked to meet up with my friend Toren who was actually USING a Cintiq (vs. illustrators who dreamed about getting one) and set up a time to check it out. I then spent the next 2+ hours online looking at tablet reviews. Shame on me for only doing a cursory review the first time around as my second run showed me that the Cintiq 21UX (and it’s smaller brother the 12WX) had not quite lived up to the expectations/hype. Seems the older models were more or less a cheap CRT monitor with pen input, had some serious lag issues, were incredibly heavy and hot (no drawing on your lap), and had pen-to-monitor calibration issues. Those are some serious issues for a device of that costs 2Gs. To make matters worse (for Wacom), it seems that the Monoprice tablet (only $89 bucks for the 12″x9″ model) is a cheaper, lighter & friendlier model for illustrators. For a great review, check out: Ray Frenden’s “little monoprice graphics tablet that could“. In fact, even though I am leaning towards a large Wacom Intuos 5, I am thinking of picking up one of the smaller monoprice tablets to take with me when I travel since it + the Intuos is still less than half of the cost of a Cintiq 21UX.

In Wacom’s defence, the Cintiq 24HD is an illustrator’s wet dream and actual user reviews ooze saliva when they talk about using the device. It’s still a monster, but many of the syncing, glare, and heat issues are gone. However, for $2,600+ USD, it better do my grocery shopping, fold my laundry & brush my cat too. The Monoprice device is great news for graphic artists as competition will force Wacom to reevaluate their price model to “become competitive”. As they are the only game in town, they are able to gouge charge whatever they want, and they certainly do. While I wait to win the lottery (or for Wacom to readjust their pricing), I’m leaning towards the Intuos. Unless my in-person trial with the Cintiq 21UX (thx to my forthcoming session with Toren) blows my hair back in ways that the Intuos couldn’t, I think I’ve made my decision. I’ll be putting in my order, either way, next week.

Edit (Thursday):

And then this happened! Hawkster is the artist from Apple Geeks comic fame & I love watching him draw. He posted his sketch work using an iPad Wacom stylus and an iPad. Perhaps instead of the Monoprice as a 2nd device, I should be looking into an iPad to do digital sketches and then transfer it over those images when I want to do vector traces. I’ve gone from being decided to paralyzed with indecision. What to do, what to do?

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