Sunday, August 21, 2011

Wacom Intuos 4 Pen & Tablet - First Impressions

I picked up a Wacom Intuos 4 pen and tablet not too long ago and thought that I would provide some of my first impressions. I'm typically not one to do in-depth reviews of products that I use as there are others that can, and do, a much better job at that. But hey, it's always good to try something new, right? I'll talk mainly about what I like and how I use the Intuos 4... so here goes.

The first thing I noticed about the Intuos 4 is it's sleek thin design and minimal footprint. I have the medium size and it's less than the length of a standard keyboard and about 1.5 x the depth. So it doesn't take up much room at all within typical computer set-up. The Grip Pen is also a really slick design and feels extremely comfortable in my hand. The action across the tablet is very smooth and the input response in my opinion is better than a mouse. The Grip Pen comes with a neat stand to store the pen when you're not using it, and the stand also doubles as hidden storage unit for the 10 replacement nibs/tips. The only challenge for me was getting used to using the pen. I'm left handed and have been using a mouse in my right hand for over 20 years. So making the adjustment to using the pen in my left hand, for things I have done so long with the right, does take some getting used to.

One of the best features of Intuos 4 is that it's ambidextrous, you can change its orientation for a left handed or right handed user, and have all of the control and LEDs facing the right way. This can be configured in the driver as with all other set-up controls. The Grip Pen also has configurable buttons so you can really personalize the entire set-up.

Another feature that I really love is that you can configure all of the buttons and controls to be application specific. I use Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 and there are some common commands that I use for each program.  For example, in CS5 I use the duplicate layer function (Ctrl-+J / Cmd+J) a lot so I set this to a one button command on the Intuos. This is great feature to take those multi-key commands down to one button, similar to creating an Action in PS. I'm sure I'll add and change these up as needed, but right now these are the basics that I use.

Here's a current view of some of my Lightroom settings:

Here's a view of some of my current PS CS5 settings:

The surface area in relation to the screen size is also configurable, which is great if you don't like making sweeping movements across the tablet. I like to keep things in a tighter area where a smaller movement of the pen covers a greater area of the screen.

I'm getting more used to using the pen and tablet and finding that my workflow is much faster than compared to using a mouse, especially for all of the fine detail work that retouching typically demands. This is where the tablet really shines.

The main feature of the Intuos 4 in the pressure sensitivity between pen and tablet, which makes it responsive to your input. For example, pressing harder will create a harder, thicker line, and pressing lighter will create a thin, soft and lighter line. The same thing with the opacity setting, harder will give you more opacity, and lighter will  give you less. Pressure sensitivity can be turned on/off in PS as well as configured for different tools. Now, this is a feature that I am still slowly working my way into. If you come from a traditional artist's background where you are used to using different pressure, brushes and strokes to create, then you won't have a problem. I don't have that background so it's still a challenge for me. You need to get used to how much you have to press to get a certain effect. This will come with time through trial and error, and a lot of the Undo command.

Overall, I'm really enjoying working with the Intuos 4.  It has sped up my workflow and I find that I'm tackling some tasks now that I would never have attempted with a mouse. The ability to do really clean detail work is a huge advantage, plus it's forcing me to take greater care in how I edit my photos because I have much better control now.

The Intuos 4 is not entirely cheap, but if you search around you can find some really competitive pricing. I purchased mine through B&H Photo in New York as they had the best price. I initially blamed Scott Kelby on Twitter for "making me buy one" after his Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It, Live Tour in Toronto, and he promised that I would thank him... well, he was right!



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