For many years I have been a Wacom user with their Intuos 4 tablet and I was seeing not much reason to upgrade to their Intuos 5 tablets. Until they announced their new line…
Graphic tablets, though they require to get used to them, are very convenient tool to work on images. They allow more freedom and control than a mouse or a trackpad and they bring a new dimension: pressure sensitivity. With a tablet it is possible to draw as you’d do with a pen or a brush and, unlike using a mouse with which it is either clicked or not, you can apply different force on your pen for different stroke, exactly the same as you would have using a pen or a brush. Additionally certain pro tablets can determine how slanted the pen is.
Beyond the world of designers, tablets are very useful tools for photographers, they allow very natural control with photo editing software and allow you to “paint” image corrections with a lot of precision. There is however a learning curve: it takes some time until you get used to the fact that the pen you are holding in your hand, flat on the control surface of the tablet, controls the arrows on your screen like a mouse would do. But once you are familiar with it, it is very difficult to revert to using a mouse or trackpad to edit your images.
The new Wacom Intuos Pro line
Early September, Wacom announced that it rebrands its consumer tablet (Bamboo) as Intuos and its pro tablet line (Intuos 5) as Intuos Pro. The former is offered in two sizes, small and medium, and the latter is offered in three sizes: small, medium and large as well as a medium special edition.
The major differences between the consumer and pro lines are a higher precision and pressure sensitivity and the fact that the pro version can detect the slant of the pen over the tablet. Both lines are pen & touch, which means that you can both use the tablet using the pen as well as using finger gestures (drag, swipe, zoom, rotate, etc).
Between the former version and the brand new, and beyond the name change, the tablets are now provided with the WiFi module which was available as an option in the previous range.
For those using older tablets, like Intuos 4, the major differences are touch & gesture recognition and the added WiFi capabilities. These are the reason why I upgraded though my former tablet was in perfect condition.
Using and setting up the tablet
The Intuos Pro tablet comes with 8 buttons and one wheel. The pen has two button, a pen function on one end and an eraser function on the other end, similar to a traditional pencil. The pen is very well designed and feel great in the hand, the buttons fell right under the index finger and are natural to use. The tablet itself can be used with the button on the left, for right-handed users, or turned 180° for left-handed users.
The tablet requires that you install an additional driver on your computer, I’m using the tablet with a Mac but I understand that setting with Windows is as easy. On the Mac you setup the tablet using the System Preferences where the tablet has a complete set of menu. The tablet is not just about the hardware, it is also about the software and how well you can integrate the device with your existing software. There Wacom has done an extremely good job to integrate its tablet with your existing software and make it easy to set up.
With the setup tool, it is possible to customise the standard behaviour of the tablet across all applications but also to customise it differently for a specific application. Thus it is possible to have different setup across various application either because you wish to use the tablet differently with different application or because the same function is selected differently between application but you wish that the tablet behaves the same.
It is very powerful, it can be done very quickly and changed as easily if you realise that your initial intend was not ideal and you need to change it.
Additionally the touch feature is simply fantastic. With the older Intuos 4, I used to have either my mouse or my magic trackpad on my desk, just below the tablet, the tablet for editing, and on top of the tablet my keyboard. Now with the touch I am able to get rid of the trackpad while working on my image but I still have the convenience of using my fingers for gestures. It is much more efficient and natural to use.
With this setup I am able to freely work with the pen, my fingers and the keyboard, a very versatile combination which render my workflow both more precise and more efficient (with the new tablet bringing particularly the latter).
I have not explored what was the functional difference between the regular Intuos Pro Medium and the Intuos Pro Special Edition (it does not look like there is any functional difference) but the Special Edition features the two silver bands while the standard pro edition is all black. The shop did not have in stock the standard edition so I opted for the special edition, a small premium, and I must admit that it looks good too
A tablet is a very useful tool for anyone spending regularly time editing images, even for an amateur and even if the amount of time generally spent on editing is moderate, a consumer tablet will give a much more comfortable and finer control over the workflow than the mouse or a trackpad can dream of giving. The question as to opting for a consumer or a professional version is a matter of personal choice. If you are using a lot of brush functions such as burn, dodge, or working on layers and masks I feel that the pro version will give you more precision and will feel more natural. If you mostly make small retouches and don’t require a very high precision you will be fine with a consumer version.
The tablet is a very natural and satisfying way to work with your image and I would definitely recommend anyone to use one.