Hardware

Is the Wacom Cintiq Pro the right tool for creative artists?

Wacom has long been a solid provider of tools for creatives. Here's a look at how well the Cintiq addresses their needs.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

Creative artists take pride in not only their work, but also in the tools they use to create their work. A fine tooth brush, a smartphone, and even software are typical tools of the trade today. I was sent yet another interesting device to review a few months ago. (Yes, I said a few months ago. More on that later.)

Anyway, the folks at Wacom sent me the Cintiq Pro pen display. I was excited to open up this package. And after using the device, I began consider the hardware specs as well as the real-world use. Is this device for all creative artists? Allow me to share my experience.

First, the nerdy stuff

I was sent the Cintiq Pro 16, which is about 16.5 x 10 inches in size. The screen is a crispy 15.6-inch display that offers a UHD resolution. The colors are vibrant but not overly saturated. Brightness is a little low for my taste at 250 nits, but it's adequate.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

Connecting the device requires an A/C power supply as well as a USB-C connection to your laptop or desktop computer. If you do not have a USB-C port on your computing device, you can install the Wacom Link dongle, which allows you to convert USB-C to either USB or mini display port.

The device works with both Windows or OSX. Sorry, Linux users—there's no support for your OS. The Cintiq requires driver and configuration software as expected upon installation. The Cintiq Pro 13 has a 1080p screen and a 14-inch form factor. So it's slightly smaller and maybe a a little more portable.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

The stylus is comfortable with a soft rubber grip and includes two buttons that can be programmed for various functions. I just use the default settings of mouse-click functionality. This allows me to use the stylus as a more ergonomic mouse when I'm not creating content. Even the tips (nibs) are removable and replaceable based on size.

SEE: Getting started with drone photography (free TechRepublic PDF)

Use cases for the Cintiq Pro

The Cintiq pen display is designed to allow creative artists to use it as a traditional tablet—where your stylus movements are recognized on your computer screen—but you can also extend your computer screen to the pen display. This allows you to create and manipulate your digital art directly on the Cintiq, similar to using an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. Similar, I say.

Designers running Adobe Illustrator or InDesign may enjoy the Cintiq, as it allows you to be up close and personal with your graphics. The ergonomic tilt of the display sits in tandem with your laptop or computer screen and is closer to you physically. You can get a better view of your pixels without having to lean forward and squint at your computer monitor. Yes, I've done the squint several times myself.

Photographers using Photoshop may enjoy the Cintiq for the same reason. Being able to manipulate images with a tighter view of the project and pixels allows for more precision tuning with the stylus in hand.

My experience with the Cintiq Pro

The look and feel of the device is pretty awesome. It's not perfect, but it's still an amazing experience. I previously mentioned how much I love using my Wacom tablet for photo editing. The Cintiq offered another dynamic for my photo editing once I got it hooked up. That was my biggest challenge to start.

Between my travels and covering other projects, I didn't have enough time to fight with installing the Cintiq on my primary desktop Windows 10 computer. As previously noted, the Cintiq is designed to connect to your computer over USB-C. This is to allow you maximum performance at high resolutions. Well, my primary computer does not have a USB-C port. So I had to use the Wacom Link and connect via my computer's full size display port. Sadly, this meant having to buy a mini display port to full size display port cable, as the Wacom link utilized mini display port. Not full size.

So I used my cable, and the display was recognized by Windows, but the stylus wouldn't work. Next, I tried using the Wacom Link with a USB cable, accepting the fact that I wouldn't get full performance on the device at UHD resolution. The display fired up, but again, the stylus wouldn't work with it. Finally, after speaking with Wacom, I connected both cables to the Wacom Link. This worked. Too bad it meant I had extra cables around my desk, but it worked successfully.

SEE: How to get started using Adobe Lightroom for your photo editing (TechRepublic)

Using the device with Lightroom was the first thing to come to my mind because I'm absolutely horrible at using Adobe Illustrator. I was curious to see how Lightroom would look on a 16-inch display at UHD resolution. It looks quite crispy, but the menus are REALLY small. I expanded the panels as best I could. This was helpful but still wasn't perfect. If you're familiar with the Lightroom keyboard shortcuts, the interface wouldn't be much of an issue for you.

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Stylus eraser (Image: Ant Pruitt)

I wanted to process various types of photos on this device. Some simple still life shots, landscape shots, and some headshot portraits. All three of these photos were shot differently and in my workflow, processed differently. My primary tools include Lightroom's adjustment brush. This works great with a stylus. On the Cintiq, I didn't see editing wide landscape shots as beneficial for me. On my wide shots, I don't have to spend much time dissecting each pixel as long as I nailed the focus and exposure.

The Cintiq gained effectiveness when editing still life photos and even this skyline panoramic due to the composition. I could take advantage of the brush tool to look at the sky and items in the foreground.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

Where the Cintiq Pro shined in my workflow was with portrait photography. Work on a client's portrait with the ability to zoom in was really efficient. I could see tiny imperfections to brush away much easier. I could enhance the model's unique features, such as hair and cheekbones, faster and more beautifully—much easier than a mouse or my own Wacom Intuos tablet. I truly enjoyed using the Cintiq Pro for headshot photography.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

The Cintiq Pro shortcomings

The primary shortcoming of the Cintiq Pro is the fact that it's not a device I can recommend for every photographer or creative artist. As great as the performance was for me editing the portraits, I can't see someone who uses Adobe Illustrator being high on the Cintiq. When drawing on the screen, you have a slight bit of latency with each stroke. This isn't a big deal for me as I edit photos, but someone meticulously designing a logo would probably be frustrated. I mean, the pen tool inside of Adobe products is challenging enough to deal with; adding latency to the input device just increases the challenge.

The configuration software is straightforward and easy to use, but I found one type of setting in particular would never save after a reboot: the "touch" settings. The Cintiq Pro allows you to use it as a pen display or as a tablet device, which allows for touch-enabled functionality. If you're trying to use this as a pen display where you're drawing on the screen, you disable touch. A few times the side of my hand triggered a menu swipe or zoom while trying to paint an adjustment layer. I'd disable touch in the configuration software or on the device with its capacitive button and it would be a better experience for me. Sadly, if I rebooted my computer or the device, the configuration would be lost.

The Cintiq 16 isn't portable. It's definitely designed to be a static device for your workstation. Sure you can travel with it, but it's the size of a 16-inch laptop. And you'll have to pack your laptop to use with it. So you're essentially carrying two laptops on the road. The Cintiq Pro13 is smaller, but you're still faced with the fact of carrying two laptop-size devices.

Having a USB-C connection on your computer is by far the simplest way to work with the Cintiq product. My experience with trying to get the Wacom Link to work was rather frustrating. When I plugged the Cintiq into a laptop I don't usually use for editing—which happens to have a USB-C port—the device worked without a hitch.

The ergonomics of the device is great, but don't confuse the Cintiq Pro with a laptop. Trying to use it on your lap is not advised, as you're looking down at a harsh angle. This could be bad on your neck. Also, make sure your desk space is at an ideal height. Trying to use the Cintiq on a surface that's too tall or too low will affect the ease of use.

SEE: How Adobe proved me wrong about AI in photography (TechRepublic)

Conclusion

You can get the Cintiq Pro 13 for $999 and the Cintiq Pro 16 for $1,499. I think this is an impressive piece of hardware, but it's rather pricey. I enjoyed using it with portraits, but I don't know if I enjoyed it enough for $999 or $1,499. If all I did was portrait photography, I would invest in this device because it would offer a great ROI due to how much faster I could process portrait photographs. As any creative artist knows, the more efficient your workflow is, the more jobs you can get done. Without any doubt I can still recommend the Wacom Intuos as it has a much lower price point (under $100). No, it doesn't offer a display screen, but it still has great performance with its stylus.

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Your take

Have you gotten a Wacom device for your creative toolkit? Share your opinions on the Cintiq Pro or any of the other Wacom devices with fellow TechRepublic members. Leave a comment below or tag me on Twitter.

About Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.

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