A Portrait of The Wacom Cintiq 21

UXI love the tag line to PCMag.com columnist Lance Ulanoff’s recent column, “Design Software: The Artist’s Best Friend”, which reads ‘Forget what the professors say. The PC will save your artistic life.” I’m not sure if I’m in total agreement with that first statement, but because I’m an artist and an art teacher, I found the column provocative. It also reminded me to do a little informal testing on Wacom’s Cintiq 21UX, an expensive but exceptional interactive pen LCD. Quite simply, I wanted to take the Cintiq for a test run and see if it fell short, met or exceeded my artistic expectations. Introduced in the winter of 2005, the Cintiq 21UX takes the concept of the pen tablet, which Wacom also makes, and combines it with the LCD screen. Letting you work directly on the screen. The 21.3 inch LCD has a 170-degree viewing able, has a screen resolution of 1600 x 1200, and on each side of the screen, the Cintiq 21UX has touch strips and express keys that can be programmed for a variety of tasks. Most importantly, I loved the pressure-sensitive, cordless pen that ups the levels of pressure sensitivity to 1024 levels (up from 512 levels). This allows you to mimic the expressive lines you might see on in an Old Master drawing, with the same line growing thicker, then thinner, darker then lighter as it moves around an object or figure. It’s what separates a cartoon from a Corregio. In my preliminary testing (mainly, creating various types of doodles and test swatches), I got pretty close to how I might draw on paper, but found I either overshot or fell shy of the mark, never quite getting the exact line I like to use (although it may just be a matter of spending more time with the display).

A Portrait of The Wacom Cintiq 21

When I’m able to sketch the way I can with a number 2 pencil on a tiny sketch pad , then I’ll be completely satisfied. The Cintiq 21UX also gives you the ability to tilt the pen, which adds yet another dimension to the drawing experience. For example, if you’re using an airbrush type of tool, and you tilt the pen as you’re using it, you can simulate the effect of scattering the spray of the airbrush. Or if you’re using a pencil tool in your graphics program, you can simulate the effect of using the side of the pencil, instead of the pencil point. Of course, this type of display doesn’t come cheap: it goes for about $2400. But at this time, I haven’t come across a more intuitive interactive screen. Setting up the screen took very little time (about a half hour to install the drivers, connect the display to my laptop and to make sure everything was working). Then, I fired up Corel’s Painter IX.5 on my laptop,  a marvelous program to use with this display. (The display also works with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and other graphics programs.) Since so many of the program’s tool mimicked real-world media, I felt right at home layering with pastels, scumbling with oil paint or sketching with charcoal. Another nice feature to both the Wacom screen and the Painter IX.5 is that their preference sections were quite easy to use and intuitive.

The Wacom screen gives you options for how much pressure you generally apply to the pen. You can also assign different commands to the strips, or you can quickly change the type of tool you’re using by clicking on the pen’s control switch, which is like right-clicking your mouse. Overall, I felt I could simply immerse myself in the creative experience, whether I was working realistically, expressionistically and abstractly. It’s true it takes some time to get used to the feel of the tools, but once you do, the Cintiq seems to inspire you to get down your ideas. And, print them out, too Of course, I loved testing this screen. But I also let my seven-year-old daughter try it out during her recent visit to the labs and to see how intuitive the screen was. Sure enough, my little gadget girl took to the screen like a fish to water….or an artist to watercolor. For more pictures of my hands-on testing, click here.

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