A Change of Style: Wacom Cintiq 18sx Interactive Pen Display

A Change of Style: Wacom Cintiq 18sx Interactive Pen Display
R e v i e w s
A change of style
Interactive pen display
Wacom Cintiq 18sx
by Lidka Schuch
Pressure-sensitive tablets have been out
there for a while, and almost any digital
artist who likes to dabble in brushwork will
have one. A stylus is surely a superior
drawing tool to a mouse, but using a tablet
and stylus still necessitates working on a
desktop while at the same time looking
straight ahead at a monitor. Working like
this is neither easy nor comfortable, but
“only a second-grade ballerina blames her
tutu for getting in the way of her dancing”,
thus many artists have learned to excel
with this configuration.
However, to see a drawing or painting
take shape on your canvas in real-time, as
you create it—this is still the ideal, just as
it was for artists in the good old days.
The idea of a pressure-sensitive monitor is not new—touch-screens are widely
used in cash registers, and interactive displays have been used for sales presenta-
tions for a while. But the Wacom series of Cintiq interactive
pen displays adds high resolution 24-bit LCD display technology good enough to satisfy an
artist…well, almost good
Wacom’s Cintiq displays, available in
15” and 18” models, could represent an important first step in pioneering a pressuresensitive, high-resolution, screen-based interface for artists and designers. But they
come at a healthy price—US$1,899
(~CDN$2,750) for the 15x model, or
US$3,499 (~CDN$5,300) for the 18sx.
The Cintiq 18sx, released in May 2002, offers a welcome improvement in LCD
technology—distortion-free viewing up to
160º in all directions. It displays images at
1280 x 1024 pixels in 24-bit resolution in its
14.1”x 11.3”active image area. The display
includes a Grip Pen with an integrated silicon rubber area which reduces gripping
effort and responds to 512 levels of pressure—twice the number of tones available
per color in RGB.
The Grip Pen, like any other stylus,
comes with a DuoSwitch, a clicker
with two positions. Either position
can be programmed for a selected
option from the pulldown list.
The Popup Menu (left) is a must
because it provides easy access to
many keyboard shortcuts without
using a keyboard. PopUp Menu
options are located in the Wacom
Tablet control panel dialog window.
The pen can also be programmed to
be application-dependent. For
example, since the Option key is
probably the most common modifier
in Adobe Photoshop, one clicker could be programmed to
simulate the Option key. The most common shortcuts in
QuarkXPress include Command plus Shift (Mac) or Control
plus Shift (Windows). The same clicker could be programmed
to simulate these key combinations for use just in XPress.
The Popup Menu is a great idea, but it’s not completely bugfree. In OS X, when I tried to use an Apple icon as a shortcut
for the word “Command”, I got a “ù” (apparently a problem
with the Mac’s conversion to Unicode). In OS 9.2, Apple icons
looked as they should, but I couldn’t take a screen grab
because the windowing system only permits this function
after the menu is closed.
E a s y s e t u p . The Cintiq has one single
wire containing the power, video and
tablet communications. Video interfaces
for analog (VGA) and digital (DVI) connections as well as USB and serial tablet
connections are all included. No special
port is needed and the whole operation of
plugging it in and setting it up takes just a
few minutes.
D i r e c t o n - s c r e e n i n t e r a c t i o n . An interactive pen display allows users to interact
directly with images, and this is the Cintiq’s most important feature. By making
the creation of artwork more like it was before computers, we can focus more on the
work and less on hand-eye gymnastics.
Nevertheless, hand-eye coordination will
continue to be an important component
of the process—at least, until a true neural
interface is perfected.
A m o r e c o m f o r t a b l e w a y t o w o r k . The
Cintiq stand rotates a full 360 degrees and
inclines to any desktop angle between 13
and 70 degrees. The comfort of being able
to rest one’s elbows lightly on the display
might even make tendonitis go
There are three possible basic
positions: Tablet Mode, Display
Mode and Lap Mode.
Tablet Mode, inclined less
than 32º, is good for leaning over
to draw or paint (just like over a
drafting table). In this mode, Cintiq rotates a full 360° without
touching the desk. Display Mode
(with Cintiq standing vertical) is
more useful for work requiring
keyboarding. In Lap Mode, the
display is removed from the stand
and rests between the edge of a
desk and the user’s lap.
The near-real paper feel. Cintiq’s
anti-glare and friction-coated surface in concert with the Wacom
Grip Pen stylus produces a feel
that is closer to pen and paper
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than any other interface I have used. It’s
unbeatable for anyone who paints or draws
or sketches. Not only that, but the heat
generated by the display will keep your
hands healthy and agile!
Any artist who uses brushes and pens
will fall in love with the Cintiq—and so
did I. When I began losing myself in Corel
Painter, only the missing smell of linseed
oil and turpentine stopped me from imagining that I was in a bright studio with
easels, canvas, brushes, palettes and tubes
of paint scattered everywhere. Since so
many digital artists work in dark and
bland-looking interiors, this elevating, reallife feeling was welcome and precious.
The beginning of handwriting recognition
t e c h n o l o g y. The combination of Apple’s
Display Specifications
LCD Screen Size — 18.1”
LCD Active Area — 14.1” x 11.3”
Max LCD Resolution — 1280 x 1024 (SXGA)
Color Depth — 24-bit
Contrast Ratio — 300:1
Brightness (cd/m2) — 210
Viewing Angle (L/R, U/D) — 80/80, 80/80
Pen Input Specifications
Pen & Eraser Pressure — 512 levels
Programmable Pen Switches — Eraser and two
side switches
Coord. Accuracy Center — ± 0.02”
Tablet Reading Height — 0.2”
Report Rate — 205 point/sec
Battery Free — Yes
USB Serial Connector — USB Plug A
RS-232 Serial Connector — DB-9pin Female
Mechanical Specifications
Dimensions (LxHxD) — 18.4” x 16.0” x 2.8”
Weight (excluding stand) — 7.7 kg (17.0 lbs.)
Incline Adjustment — 13° to 70°
Display Rotation — ± 180°
Stand Attachment — VESA 100mm with 70mm
US$3,499 [~CDN$5,300]
Wacom Technology
Web www.wacom.com
Graphic Exchange
Inkwell software (built on Apple’s Recognition Engine) and the Wacom tablet may
be the beginning of true on-screen handwriting recognition technology, and it may
even mean getting rid of a keyboard and
mouse for good—at least for visual artists.
The Ink Control Panel is installed with
OS 10.2 (Jaguar), but a pressure-sensitive
Wacom tablet—running on Wacom’s driver version 4.72-5 or later—must be connected to use it.
A floating Inkpad window appears
when the Handwriting Recognition option
is turned on in the Ink Control Panel. You
can write text in Text mode or sketch in
Graphic mode, and then send text (automatically converted to type) or a drawing
(as a greyscale image) to the active program, including e-mail. Inkpad also has a
popup Corrector feature (in Stylus Mode,
tap once on the word to correct it, then
press the stylus and hold it to see the popup correction options). To top it off,
Inkpad has icons for all four modifier keys
which makes using keyboard shortcuts
possible without a keyboard. And it provides a set of twelve gestures for common
functions such as copy, paste, select all,
delete, insert space, or insert paragraph
(called Vertical Space).
Although tricky to learn, Inkwell is a
brilliant version 1.0 app and promises a future simplified by the elimination of keyboard and mouse.
P e r f e c t f o r v i d e o a n d g a m e s . The Cintiq
18sx has both analog and digital video interfaces, important because it means that
it is both backward-compatible with the
large installed base of VGA monitors and
forward-compatible with the emerging
DVI video standard. This is a definite
bonus for video artists—or, for that matter,
anyone who plays games or watches
I t ’ s b i g a n d h e a v y. Measuring 18.4 inches
wide by 16 inches high and weighing in at
almost eight kilograms (17 lbs) plus a twokilo stand, the Cintiq 18sx is not easy to
put aside when access to a keyboard or
mouse is temporarily needed. And even
for the average person, using the display as
a laptop without the stand feels like being
stuck under a patio stone—just picking up
a dropped stylus can be an ordeal.
E r g o n o m i c s a r e a b a t t l e . In its most horizontal position, the unit is almost three
inches higher than a desktop, and this is a
bigger issue than one might think. In order to sit and use it, a chair seat has to be
much higher than normal typing height.
But a regular desk chair doesn’t have the
appropriate height.
A desk with a pullout keyboard shelf
turned out to be useless. Leaning over the
display involves sitting both higher and
closer, but the keyboard shelf kept getting
in the way of my knees.
In the end, I concluded that a drafting
chair with a built-in footrest (so my feet
don’t dangle) would probably provide the
most comfortable seating position.
However, by the time I’d finished my
testing, my elbows were hurting and my
back was aching. Better think about furniture before getting one of these godzillas.
Forget about using a dual monitor setup.
Letting go of the notion of working on two
monitors simultaneously was most disappointing. Digital artists dream of a larger
work area, and the idea of keeping pallets
on one monitor and work in progress on
the other is very appealing.
Technically, the Cintiq can be used in
conjunction with another monitor (although two graphic cards are needed), but
in practice there’s a simple reason why it
Using Apple’s Inkwell
technology, a word
can be corrected by
tapping on it once,
then pressing and
holding the stylus to
see the correction
options, except that
the popup list doesn’t
have enough choices.
For instance, three
characters which can
potentially confuse
the software are the
number 5, the letter S
and (the symbol
for a line break). All
instances of “S” and
“5” will be found on
the list, but there’s no
symbol for a line
break (Vertical Space).
won’t work: the Cintiq display is pressuresensitive, but a regular monitor can only
be accessed with a mouse, not a stylus.
Imagine having to drop your stylus and
grab your mouse every time you want to
change tool options or switch from one
tool to another. Don’t buy the second
graphics card, because you won’t use it.
LCD color display and calibration are
still inferior to CRT. Unfortunately there’s
still no comparison between the quality of
CRT monitors and LCD displays. Even after calibration, colors on Wacom’s LCD
looked too saturated; details in shadow areas were lost, and type didn’t look nearly as
crisp as it did on a standard 19” CRT.
Cintiq ships with an ICC profile, compatible with both MS Windows ICM and
Macintosh ColorSyncCalibration. Since
monitor calibration in Mac OS X
(through the Displays panel in System
Preferences) is very simple, this should be
a flash. But awkward manoeuvring with
the control buttons panel on the back of
the display (which is shown in the manual
from the front view, forcing me to follow
an upside down schematic), made adjustments very difficult. Dialog windows only
remain on screen for 30 seconds, so you
better read them fast. It was very frustrating
COLOR CALIBRATION. As with any monitor,
on-screen controls are needed to calibrate the
Cintiq display. The buttons are located at the
back of the display, but unfortunately, the
schematic in the manual is shown from the front
view. As it turned out, it was actually easier to
follow the instructions for the button controls
once the manual was turned upside down. As
well, the on-screen menu only stays open for 30
seconds, so you better figure it out fast.
to attempt to set Red, Green and Blue
gamma points, and impossible to set in
greyscale, so I used the expert options to
see a curve for each channel. And the results were far from perfect.
On-screen visual distractions are annoyi n g . First, the pointer icon is always visible. This is quite bothersome, but I eventually got used to it.
Second, whether you’re right-handed
or left-handed, you will cover up any pulldown menu with your hand when you activate it. The only solution I could find
was to hold the stylus at a different angle,
pointing up with the eraser and sticking
out slightly to one side of my hand.
It was also extremely difficult to set the targeted
gamma per channel, and outright impossible to
set all three channels together in greyscale
(below). No matter how much I squinted and no
matter how much I adjusted the brightness and
contrast settings…
My three wishes for improvements in the
Wacom Cintiq 18sx are simple.
M a k e i t l i g h t e r. It’s just too darn heavy to
use as a peripheral.
Improve the color fidelit y. Cintiq uses the
best LCD technology, but even the best is
still not quite good enough for fine graphics, especially if the output is to high end
color printing.
Add a keyboard, or perfect Apple’s
I n k w e l l i n t e r f a c e . Apple Inkwell software
in combination with any pressure-sensitive
…the apple just didn’t want to melt into the
background. Expert options must definitely be
used to set gamma per channel.
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For print output, the
white point should be set
at 6500° Kelvin (right)—
the recommended setting
of 5000° (left) is much
too yellow. Use the Expert
options to control the
slider rather than
choosing from the
pre-set list.
tablet could very well be the ultimate solution for visual artists, but not for writers
and typographers. And what about people
like me, who sometimes paint and photoedit, sometimes write, and more often do
both at the same time?
Keyboards are usually lightweight, but
together with a mouse and cabling they
can take up a lot of space. The constant
need to reposition all that equipment isn’t
healthy for us or for the equipment. Perhaps building a keyboard right into the display’s frame would simplify the whole
workflow setup and create true bi-directional connectivity.
Hand and Stylus. This digital illustration
(below), which I painted in Corel Painter,
seemed most appropriate since this is what I
saw continually while working with Wacom’s
Cintiq 18sx interactive pen display. It was
done entirely on the Cintiq with grip stylus,
on a Power Mac G4 running OS X.
Graphic Exchange
Granted, there are improvements that
could (and undoubtedly will) be made to
Cintiq technology; and yes, it is relatively
expensive for an accessory which still
needs some fine tuning.
But one thing is certain. Wacom’s interactive pen display is a wonderful first attempt to invent a better interface between
artists and their personal computers. And
speaking from personal experience, I will
say that for anyone primarily using brushes
and pens, there’s no question that the creative pleasure a Cintiq 18sx provides is
worth every penny.
Lidka Schuch is president of Toronto-based Studio L
(www.studio-L.com), a design studio and training
facility offering customized courses in high end
desktop graphics for graphic arts professionals.
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