Monday, 27 February 2012

Review - The Cintiq 12WX

So, some time ago, my other half planted the serious suggestion of a Cintiq in my head (after I'd just bought him an awesome TF2 figurine). The idea had occured to me after Wacom released their 12 inch version that was much more within my budget, but I'd never felt a burning need for one, and I eventually went on to get an updated Intuos 4 tablet instead a little while later as a birthday present.

So a couple of years later, after a good friend had just bought the 12WX model second hand on ebay, and was delighted with it, I started to consider the possibility more seriously. After discussions about budget, my partner and I decided I could potentially get the 24" Cintiq, I erred on the side of caution and plumped for the 12WX instead. After all, if it turned out that I loved it, I could always resell it in a few months and upgrade.

I have to say that Wacom's products are always well made, and beautifully packaged and both Cintiqs are no exception. So it was with glee that I unboxed the 12WX and set it up on my desk, alongside my Intuos 4. It fit neatly next to my Samsung 24" monitor, where, when I wasn't using it, it could be used as a secondary monitor. The stand that flips out from the back is fairly sturdy, and as long as you're not stupidly heavy handed, will withstand a fair bit of flipping in and out.

What I liked most about the 12 inch model was it's mobility... it's just big enough to be used almost like a heavy sketchbook, and I could easily sit back in my chair and have it in my lap, resting against the table, or use it with the stand more like a traditional canvas. If you're one of these people who uses everything wireless, the wire snaking over your desk might bother you, but it's a small price to pay! The screen itself is lovely and smooth, quite like the surface of the tablets, which I've always liked. There is a definite disconnect the first few times you use a cintiq, especially if you're a pure traditional artist, or if you've got used to the tablet, and being able to see everything clearly on a screen in front of you. The thickness of the 12WX screen is fairly minimal, but you do still notice the fact that the cursor is a little bit under where you're putting the pen down. But, I do believe this is something that you'll eventually get used to over time. So after calibrating the cursor to as close as I could, I excited set about doodling.

My first 12WX doodle is in the post prior to this one, at the end - the elfy guy with the blue earring. When I first saw a 12WX in the flesh it was bigger than expected, but now I was drawing on it, with Photoshop open, the amount of screen I was actually drawing in seemed to get significantly smaller. There's a couple of factors to this. One is the screen resolution. It's only 1200 x 800, which isn't much better than an old school monitor, so I found all my photoshop palettes were bigger than I expected. Normally with an intous and a 2 monitor set up, I would have all my palettes on my secondary monitor, leaving all my space for the painting. One thing I'd not considered was the fact I wouldn't be able to easily jump from one monitor to the other. You can set one of the function buttons to toggle your displays, but that gets really old really quickly when you're using things like layers, history or even just picking brushes. This meant that along with a fairly small painting space, I now had to find room for all those palettes I used regularly on the 12WX screen area. In CS4 and 5 you can minimise most of the palettes, which I did, and eventually had a little bunch of them all stacked up on the right hand side. Down side to this, is when you have more than one or two palettes expanded, they overlap. Which meant I had to start adjusting to only using history or my layers palettes as and when I needed them. Again, perhaps a small sacrifice, but it did slow my work speed down a little.

All of those minor niggles were workable though. I even managed to get my key photoshop shortcuts set to the buttons on the side of the 12WX, so I didn't have to awkwardly find a keyboard to sit next to the 12WX to use every 2 seconds. You still have to have the keyboard nearby, if you're used to using shortcuts, though if you really didn't want one, you could just use all the in-program menus instead. Eventually the niggles work themselves into your routine, and I found myself enjoying the experience of drawing directly onto a screen. It's an odd sensation, and I found myself not being able to draw quite a neatly as I would with the intous, mostly as the movements were smaller, and less flowing from the shoulder, more from the wrist (which is one of the issues I have with the smaller intous tablets). But even that I figured was a good thing - I'd been wanting to loosen up my work for a while!

After I'd finished the elf image, I still had some minor concerns about the screen size and resolution, but I figured I always had the Intuos to fall back on (if my other half didn't need it for modelling). It was then I started a new piece - fan art of World of Warcraft. After I'd done an initial draft, I was checking how the image looked on my Samsung monitor, and was amazed by what I was seeing.

The draft I'd done on the 12WX looked all muted cyans and blues, but the exact same image on the Samsung was full of over vibrant purples and violets. I've worked in graphic design for print, so I understand that different images will vary depending on what monitor you look at them on. But I'd never seen such an astonishing shift in saturation and hue between two screens - usually it's a bit darker, or slightly warmer or cooler, but this looked like a totally different image. Convinced it was probably me not setting things up properly I spent the rest of the evening doing everything I could think of to try and rectify the issue. My aim was to try and get the two monitors close, using the Samsung as a base, as I'd used it for ages, and it had never been too much of a problem. I tried calibrating the monitors, looking at the setting on the graphics cards, trying settings in photoshop, manually adjusting the monitor settings on the cintiq and the Samsung and installing profiles that had come with the 12WX. But nothing made any kind of impact on the sheer amount of difference in the images. Nothing I did could get the Cintiq to display the deep vibrant purples I could see on the Samsung screen, everything was coming out understaurated, especially in the violet and magenta ranges.

In the course of the evening, I was finding more and more posts in forums and on blogs that were from people saying they had similar problems, some with undersaturation, some with too much saturation. I even found a post by a guy who obviously knew a lot about monitor colour spaces that compared the 12WX screen to a cheap laptop screen in terms of the gamut of colours it could display (in layman's terms - that it just doesn't have the capability to show saturated colours or those in the darker tonal ranges). The more I read the less sure of the 12WX I was. Colour accuracy is of massive importance to me, as I often work with subtle colour and tone shifts, and a screen that couldn't handle those is no good to me, no matter whether I could draw directly on it or not. I was even more disappointed to find no real responses from Wacom on any of their forums either, with the more informed responses coming from other posters (I even saw a wacom tech support guy thank a poster for telling him something he didn't know!). After a day or two's further research and having a few responses from people with the same issues, I made the tough decision to send the 12WX back. It also transpired that the 12WX only has half the levels of sensitivty of the Intous 4 tablets - 1024 instead of the 2048. This might have accounted for the lack of exactness that I couldn't put my finger on when I'd been painting the elf - although I could just attribute that to me getting used to the sensation of drawing on the screen.

Let me say here that I spent a good 4-5 years of my working life colour correcting photographs for print as part of my job, so I got pretty good at being able to spot very subtle shifts in hue and tone. It's something that will instantly leap out at me if I'm looking at something on a monitor, so I am probably seeing stuff that a lot of people won't see, or wouldn't be bothered by. And I could even have put up with the 12WX had I been able to get it even slightly close to my Samsung screen (which I could have used to double check on), but when I have the same image open twice, and they look so substantially different that I actually have no idea what colour I'm actually painting in, it's a massive dealbreaker for me. There were a few posts by people who had the colour issues that a calibration tool would help fix it considerably, but from my perspective, I object to having to buy extra equipment just to get a monitor to do something it should be doing without help.

I'll also temper by saying that I've read reviews on the 12WX by people who do exactly the same kind of stuff I do, and were perfectly happy with their 12WX. My gut instinct with mine was that maybe it was one of a bad batch, but I felt strongly enough about it that I didn't want to be bothered finding out if that was the case. The suggestion that we simply upgrade to the brand new 24" was made. When we went for the 12WX, I confess I didn't do any kind of research into the quality - I would have never suspected a Wacom product would come in under par. Even the smallest intous 2 graphire tablet I had when I first started digital painting had been a stellar little thing. And I would still stand for Wacom now and say their products are the only ones you should look at if you want to use a tablet or monitor for drawing. But in hindsight (wonderful thing) I think if I had done the research on the 12WX, I would probably have never bought it.

These issues with the 12WX might not even have been noticed by most people, I admit. I'm very fussy! But here's my summing up of the 12WX in simple pros and cons:

· Great quality feel to the product
· Easily manoverable
· Doesn't take up much space
· Can be used in your lap or on a desk!
· The sensation of drawing directly on a screen is a definite bonus, if you have any kind of · tradtional background.

· Screen resolution is too low
· Colour range is severly lacking
· Does get quite warm after longer periods of use (this isn't a con for me, as I have poor circulation which often leads to me getting cold hands)
· Lower levels of pressure sensitivity than the Intuos 4 tablet range.

In summation, if you really want a Cintiq, but your budget wont stretch to the bigger models (the 21" is still a viable option, although it too only has 1024 sensitivity levels) then this is still a tool to consider. If you simply want something that makes digital art more immediate, go for it.

But as a professional tool, I couldn't say i'd recommend it. The colour space thing just throws up too many issues, and while you could work around it if you have a secondary monitor, by checking and adjusting, I like being able to just paint my images with the palette I'm looking at while I paint, not second guess whether it'll look good! Colour calibration tools like the Spyder or Pantone's Huey are another option, and still come in cheaper than the bigger models and can do clever things like adjusting your colours on the fly according to your room's ambient lighting, but I can't attest to how well they work here.

I hope this is insightful to anyone considering a 12WX or any Cintiq product. Having returned the 12WX, I now have a (well researched!) 24HD Cintiq. I've only had a it a little while, so I'll give it a good go and write up a review of that too, so that those considering both can get another opinion.

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