digital art tools
The next generation of digital drawing tools…. is the theme music to star trek the next generation playing in your head, it is in mine.
This is my current digital workspace consisting of:
Chillblast PC running windows 10, Quad core i7, 18GB RAM
Wacom Intuos Pro Large
Dual QHD monitors running a single desktop
Epson WF-7515 A3 printer and scanner
It’s set up designed for my particular way of working; at a desk with a desktop set up using full 64 bit drawing applications, at the moment entirely using Clip Studio Pro (terrible name great software) and the largest amount of physical screen space I can get. I’m also Windows based… this is not an anti Apple rant in any way, I have an I pad and have drawn sketches on it, it’s great but I’ve always used windows.
I’ve been contemplating upgrading my digital drawing equipment for ages now. There’s nothing lacking in my current setup, it works really well for me, loads of screen real estate which I like to keep my work loose and fast. My PC, “The Beast”, is a real veteran now having been through three versions of windows and one RAM upgrade. It’s still utterly reliable and powerful enough for my needs (I’ve even animated, edited, sound mixed and rendered a 10 minute animated film on it). However now on its seventh year the hard disks are slow and an upgrade machine is on the cards. Also I’m still using the Wacom Intuos system, which I’ve used regularly for the past 20 years, wow how time flies. It’s a great low cost digital drawing system, which apart from getting used to the disconnect of drawing on one surface while looking at the screen, (which is easy when you get used to it) is excellent . However I’ve been keenly following the massive progress in digital drawing technology in the last few years and since I work entirely digitally, I really want to embrace a completely new digital drawing system. But which system to go for.
The choices that have attracted my interest are:
Wacom Cintiq 27 QHD
Wacom Cintiq Pro
Wacom Mobile Studio
Microsoft Surface Studio
I’ve read up every bit of news and watched every video I can find about these devices but as most of us would, I really need to physically try these devices for myself.
Then suddenly I had my chance when I attended the photography show at the NEC in Birmingham, where Wacom was demoing their full range of devices. I was hoping Microsoft would be attending so I could see the rare, elusive creature known as the Surface Studio but there was no stall shown on the list of attendees. So we went to the show and grabbed lunch before setting off to the Wacom stall, however as we passed the Adobe Arena my wife spotted something. Set up on a small desk was a chap in a Microsoft tee shirt, he had just arrived and was showing off one of the three demo surface studios in the UK. I tried drawing on it using Photoshop, just scribbling away on a blank document.
Surface Studio; The verdict (based on 10 minutes of doodling):
It’s a really nice experience to interact with the surface studio, I was able to grab the document I was drawing on and turn it with my fingers as if it was a physical piece of paper and then continue to draw. It was smooth and the palm rejection was excellent. The touchscreen interaction was also fantastic, I could click around the menus and tools within Photoshop with ease, the touch was crisp and responsive.
The pen was good, I’m used to Wacom pens so from the brief time I had they seemed to feel about the same. However to really get the best out of any drawing pen, you need to adjust the settings of the tools in the software you use to get the effect you are most happy with. To really test the surface pen system I would need to use Clip Studio Paint with my own preset brushes, with my custom pressure settings. There was one strange issue with the surface pen system, which I’ve also noticed when I tried the Surface Pro, the tool icon tends to drift a few centimetres from the tip of the pen. It gives a slightly distracting sense of parallax, I’m wondering if the tool tip icon can be adjusted or turned off altogether?
The screen quality is excellent and so is the gravity hinge, the lowest screen position 20 degrees, which is designed for drawing is just right for me. With the screen in this position touchscreen comes into its own, you are physically close to the screen and it feels natural to navigate using your fingers. Also the format of the screen, the squarer shape as opposed to the usual widescreen used by most other on screen systems is, for digital artists like me very welcome, since I do almost all my work in a portrait screen position. There is a lot of buzz around the surface studio and from my brief play with it, I can see why. Having an all in one digital desktop drawing desk/touch screen computer is exactly what digital artists have been looking for. There are downsides to the surface studio, the price is substantial and some tech reviews have been critical of the hardware choices used in its build, considering the performance demands of 3D and video editing. I only really work in 2D with still images, so I would like to try the surface studio again when it’s launched in the UK and see if it can deal with large layered art work files using the pen and touch.
It was off to the Wacom stall next.
Firstly I tried a Mobile Studio with a 13 inch screen and built in windows pc. I was really impressed with the quality of the drawing. I was using Photoshop and I picked a standard brush set to black. The line I drew felt like a brand new expensive ink pen on crisp drawing paper, the digital ink seemed to flow from the nib of the pen. The screen was clear, the system responsive and the touch was very good.
Next I tried the Cintiq pro 13, which plugs into an external computer. Again this was a really good drawing experience, the pressure sensitivity felt just like a physical pen.
However my issue with these two devices is the size of the working area. As I’ve said I work at a desk with big screens whereas these devices are designed to be portable, that said with the menu windows open, it felt like I was drawing on a post-it note unless I zoomed in. Unfortunately the 16 inch option in both machines wasn’t available so I couldn’t compare it, I would like to try them to see if the larger screen might work for me.
Next I tried the Cintiq 27 QHD touch, this was something I had considered getting before.
Sorry Wacom, I really love your products and I’m a long time user but…. I not sure about the 27 QHD touch. What had firstly put me off about it before I even tried it was the 16:9 widescreen, previously I couldn’t find a stand that would allow me to have it in portrait position. That was untill I discovered a video on Youtube by artist Lawrence Mann who has mounted the Cintiq on an Ergotron Desk Mount Arm which allows the Cintiq to be swivelled around from landscape to portrait:
It seemed it was all systems go then but when I tried the Cintiq I wasn’t massively excited. Firstly the touch is not great, it’s really unfair to compare it with the touch capabilities of the brand new surface studio but the studio beats it hands down. The drawing experience was very good but for me, not as exciting as the Mobile Studio or the Cintiq pro but again to be fair it is an older product line. The bottom line is that costing at least £2000 including the Ergotron arm I think I’d rather wait.
The other major player on the digital drawing tablet market is the Dells Canvas which is a 16:9 format screen like the Wacom Cintiq but thinner. Not having been launched yet there’s not a lot of information available but I would like to try a demo version when it is around.
So at the moment I’ll be continuing with my current, highly efficient, if not cutting edge setup and wait to see what happens next. The surface studio has no European launch date as yet and I’m also waiting to see what Wacom will bring out next; a new 21 or 27 inch 4k Cintiq … with a PC built in perhaps… whatever happens, it’s exciting times for creative technology.