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The Cintiq’s built-in LCD shows you what you’re doing right on the tablet.
In graphics applications, traditional drawing tablets give exceptional control beyond mere mousing. But artists have to learn how to move the stylus on the tablet surface, watching the results far away on a disconnected monitor. This separation is jarring at first, and some people never overcome the feeling of being a puppeteer with a pen. Instead, the Cintiq 12WX crams a 12.1-inch, 1,200-by-800-pixel LCD underneath the touch-sensitive surface so that digital ink seems to flow directly from the stylus. This solution usually mimics the feel of a sketchbook, teasing serious home artists and pros on a budget.
We first noticed the Cintiq’s small, light form when setting it up. A single cable runs from the 16-inch-wide device to a breakout box that has power, monitor, and USB plugs. The 4.4-pound tablet looks great flat on a desk, and we even felt comfortable holding it in a lap. After trying several positions, we most often kept it angled up slightly on its built-in easel. This pivoting stand is supposed to tilt it to a range of angles, but we could only get it to stay put at the highest and lowest positions.
With the software and hardware connection working, we ran through the calibration process. We tapped two targets with the battery-free, cordless stylus and began sketching. Painter X (4 out of 5 stars), Photoshop CS3 (5 out of 5 stars), and other art applications supported the Cintiq perfectly. We used a heavier touch to draw thicker, darker lines. Certain brushes even read the angle at which you hold the stylus, giving calligraphy-like results. Editing photos with the Cintiq also worked well, since we could control the opacity and other crucial variables by touch. And in all of the programs, we could physically flip the stylus over and use its pressure-sensitive eraser end to immediately scrub out lines.
The comfortable Cintiq stylus includes a rocker-switch for Control-click and other immediate options, and the tablet has two groups of five physical buttons. Those can be programmed to execute key commands, although it’s best to leave one to swap between pointer movement on a remote monitor and the Cintiq. (Or you can use the Cintiq without another display at all.) A touch-sensitive strip adjacent to these two banks of buttons controls zoom by default. It’s a nice idea, swiping a finger to change perspective, but we grazed it too often, popping the view in suddenly. We much preferred the circular design on the Bamboo line’s zoom control; repetitive swipes felt tiresome versus an iPod-scrollwheel–like jog. Thankfully, you can turn off the entire zoom strip if you like.
But our main complaint is that the onscreen cursor drifted slightly from the stylus’s tip point when we approached the very outer edges of the tablet. Anywhere inside a centimeter from the edge, the stylus tip was tracked perfectly, but close to the edges, the cursor wandered several millimeters away. We tried watching only the cursor and disregarding the stylus tip—which worked—but violated the point of the tablet.
The bottom line. The vast majority of the Cintiq 12WX surface feels just like drawing or painting in a sketchbook. The edge-tracking issue disappoints, but the tablet will otherwise delight pros on a small budget and enthusiasts with money to spend.
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later, DVI or VGA connection, USB port
Drawing and retouching onscreen is as fluid as an analog tool. Slim, manageable tablet shape. Battery-free, cordless stylus registers pressure and angle. Sharp, clear LCD panel.
At edges, onscreen cursor drifts from stylus tip. Why-bother software bundle includes outdated programs. Jerky scroll strip registers accidental touches.