Earlier today I finally got my Christmas/birthday gift in the mail, my Wacom Intuos4 Large which I ordered from Amazon. I’ve wanted a new larger tablet for a while and that urge only got stronger when the new Intuos line was released early last year. The high price of the tablet had put me off for a while put after using it I can safely say that this was worth the money.
For the past five years I’ve been using an Intuos3 4 x 6 as my main desktop tablet (I also have a tablet PC). Being one of the smaller models available at the time the step up to my Intuos4 was quite dramatic. The large model measures 12.8 x 8.0 inches which s exactly 3.5 times the active area of my Intuos3 (which actually measures 6.5 x 4.5 inches unlike advertised). The Intuos4 also features the new tip sensor giving it 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, twice that of the Intuos3 line and quadruple that of the low-end Bamboo line. In addition the tablet features 8 OLED-labeled express keys plus a touch ring which can be toggled between four modes which effectively triples the available functions of my Intuos3 which only has 4 keys and a touch strip.
Cosmetically the Intuos4 is much sleeker than previous models. The surface of the tablet is mostly matte except for the express key areas. Two swappable usb ports allow for both right and left-handed use. The mouse has been updated and is less clunky than the old one that came with the Intuos3 but I still prefer to use a dedicated mouse. The stylus is essentially the same as the Intuos3 default stylus though slightly shorter and with a better eraser head. Lastly the extra nibs are now stored inside the stylus holder which is sure to help with clutter.
A Closer Look
Although it would seem that making the transition from using the Intuos3 to the Intuos4 would be easy it actually took me a little while to get adjusted. Due to the size jump I had to get used to making larger hand movements to get the same effects as before. However I had anticipated this and was glad it turned out as I predicted. The monitor I use is 22″ at 1680 x 1050 resolution so as can be imagined using something such as my old Intuos3 was awkward given the size difference. Although I got somewhat used to this quirk I would still be troubled by the discrepancies on occasion which is one of the main reasons I wanted a larger tablet in the first place. With the Intuos4 the active area of the tablet is closer to the viewing area of my monitor resulting in a greater synergy making it easier for me to create more precise line work and a noticeable boost in speed.
With the large size of the tablet, I find it takes up a considerable amount of desk space so the extra express keys and the new touch ring are a big help. Although I can still access my keyboard for short keys I find it awkward given the desk sprawl involved. Thanks to the plentiful express keys though I can quickly access my most frequently used commands. I also love the inclusion of the electronic labels for the keys since I have a habit of forgetting which key is which and I’m sure it would be great when switching express keys. Interestingly enough since I have my computer set in Japanese local the express keys appear in Japansese text for me. Not really a problem for me since I can read them but it’s still amusing. Of particular note is the new touch ring which can switch at ease between 4 different presets. The transition from a bar to a ring allows such tasks such as zooming in and out or resizing brush sizes to be much smoother.
One of the big features and one of the greatest topics of controversy regarding the line is the introduction of the new paper-like surface. The grain isn’t particularly rough by it’s noticeable enough to make a difference. For someone like me who prefers to draw on paper the new texture makes the digital process feel much more natural. Combined with the new size upgrade which is roughly the size of my sketchbook and the provided software which I will get to later I find it more enjoyable to work 100% digital. However the down side is that apparently the rougher surface results in accelerated stylus nib wear and eventual surface wear. With this in mind I’ve increased pressure sensitivity and will cover the tablet with a protective layer of paper to extend the life of the surface so that I don’t have to pay more money to replace it.
Included with the tablet as expected is access to some software. Unlike previous versions which included the software on disk the software is download only. All users get access to the Nik Color Efex Pro WE6 suite of photographic filters and Wacom Brushes 3.0 for Photoshop. In addition users can download two of the three following packages: Adobe Photoshop Elements 7, Autodesk SketchBook Express 2010 and Corel Painter Sketch Pad. Since I already own Creative Suite CS2 I opted to get the latter two.
Corel Painter Sketch Pad
Of the two additional packages I downloaded Sketch Pad is my favorite. The user interface is quite friendly and easy to navigate. Of course it’s biggest selling-point is that it is essentially a digital analogue of a traditional sketchbook featuring pages and whatnot. It really reminds me of Microsoft OneNote which itself is a digital notebook. The organization of Sketch Pad should help me create more digital only art. As expected of Corel the included brushes and tools closely match their real-world counterparts. The speed and effortlessness afforded to me through my experience with watercolor and chalk and everything in between really makes drawing in Sketch Pad a blast.
Autodesk SketchBook Express 2010
If Sketch Pad is a digital notebook then Sketchbook is a single sheet a paper. SketchBook is optimized for pen input and the user interface is designed to be easy to navigate using only the stylus. Most of the options are navigated using pen flicks which I admit were strange for me since I don’t normally utilize them. I can see how useful than can be though. Aside from the lack of page organization the tools are similar to Sketch Pad. I especially like the look of the pencil tool which helped with the above drawing. I still need to play around with the other brushes though for a better feel of the software package.
Overall I love my new Intuos4 Large tablet which is a step up in nearly every way from my old Intuos3 4 x 6. It’s basically everything I wanted and I’m sure it’ll make working on my digital art more efficient and more fun. My only concern is the reported nib and surface wear which I haven’t actually noticed yet given my short ownership time but I’ll make sure to take care of it so that I don’t witness it myself.