Look, I have absolutely no business owning a high-tech drawing tablet. My art skills are passable, but drawing using a digital medium just amplifies the realization that I haven’t really drawn anything decent in about 25 years. Yet I have always wanted to have one of those fancy screen-like display tablets as if it were somehow going to magically turn a practiced skill into a cold hard calculation simply because art was being done on a computer.
No. But that didn’t stop me from picking up the Cintique 16, Wacom’s — eh, budget display-based tablet. Maybe it’s the hope that this will get me to practice more, or maybe it’s just because I could, but this isn’t going to be a “review” at any rate because I’m more adept at opening the case and commenting on the device’s innards than I am about how well it works for arting. But if you’re looking for a no-nonsense overview of the device, here we go.
The box is Of Good Size, as the tablet’s overall dimensions are 16.6 x 11.2 x 0.4 inches. Inside you’ll find a narrow flap-covered box on the top which contains the power cable, and that’s it. This box extends the width of the packaging, but the cable only took up about 1/2 of that space.
The lower portion is covered by a nice white panel which is completely removable to reveal the tablet in it’s nice cloth bag. The bag is sealed with double-sided tape, and the tape came right off both sides of the bag when I opened it, so don’t rely on this to be a secure traveling case. It’ll be good to keep the dust off of it when stored away, but not good for much else.
Beneath the tablet are individual spots for the 3-in-1 cable (power, USB, HDMI on one end), the power brick, a slight manual, and the stylus slipped into a partial plastic sheath. That’s all!
The tablet has a good heft to it (about 4 lbs) but isn’t so heavy that it’s difficult to put away if you need to. There’s a VESA mount on the back if that’s your jam, but there are two “legs” that fold out towards the edges and two rubber feet at the bottom. The legs will click outwards for a secure fit and they’re a bit cantered which is good; before I realized that they lock into place, one of the legs re-folded down when I set it on the desk. Lock those legs, people! At the top rear is a hatch which slides upward to reveal the port for the 3-in-1 cable, and has some cable routing design so you can snake the cable out through a hole in the hatch and close it up. Neat!
Both sides feature a slim port, but on one side will be a fabric stylus holder loop inserted into this port. Because I watched some videos on this device before I got it, I knew that you can firmly tug on this loop to remove a small plastic panel which is magnetized and contains three extra stylus nibs. Changing the nibs is covered in the quick start instruction pamphlet. You can move this loop to either the left or right side of the tablet to suit your working needs.
The digitize screen only takes up about 13.6 x 7.6 inches of the real-estate, and that leaves a good amount of dead bevel around the edge. As someone who is just experiencing this genre tech for the first time, it does not bother me in the slightest, although more seasoned users and the more pedantic onlookers might complain that “Cintique 16” should mean 16 inches of usable space. This is apparently why this model is more inexpensive than the Cintique Pro 16 model which uses some of that dead-bevel to house action buttons. The base 16 has no buttons on the tablet itself except for the power button in the upper right corner.
The screen has a slight texture to it, but is still smooth. It’s not as smooth as my iPad, though, so the stylus has a bit of a drag to it — somewhere between glass and your average craft-store drawing notebook, I guess. When I drew my tree and worked on adding some strokes to the bark, I noticed that there were a few squeaks here and there, but nothing like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Thank goodness for 2019, because the setup is a breeze. You download the software from the Wacom’s support website, run it, and after an apparently required reboot, you’re ready to go! However, according to Wacom’s website, the Cintique 16 doesn’t exist as a product in the catalog as Cintique 16. It’s listed simply as Cintique.
I unplugged my VR headset and used the HDMI port on my EVGA 1070 along with the VR USB port on the PC to set this up, and snaked the power cable along the back wall to get it powered. With a press of the only button on the face of the tablet, I was ready to roll.
Sort of. The next task was figuring out exactly how to organize my desktops. I had 2 monitors, and now I have a third. I opted to mirror the display between my primary and tablet and use my secondary monitor as an extension. This allows me to see my work on both the tablet and the main screen, which is useful for Reasons.
The stylus does not require charging, so that’s a plus. It has a single rocker switch near the nib and an “eraser” on the far end. By default clicking the rocker near the eraser end will bring up a radial menu which offers undo, redo, settings, and some tablet-specific housekeeping functions. I used this to get to the Wacom settings panel, which hasn’t changed in gawd knows how long. Here you can change how the stylus operates in terms of pressure and how the eraser works. You can re-assign the rocker buttons
as well if you like. The settings panel also allows you to calibrate the touch-ness of the tablet. If you have a tendency to angle the stylus differently in each corner, you’ll want to use this setup to ensure that your cursor follows the nib.
The stylus itself is pretty comfortable to hold, but as an inexperienced noob, I had issues using it. I kept hitting the rocker switch which triggered various popups in Photoshop, and after a short while my hand started getting numb. I blame my angles more than the design of the stylus, of course. Overall, though, use of the stylus was responsive. There’s a feature in display tablets (including Surface and iPad) called parallax which is the distance between the physical nib of the stylus and the position of the cursor underneath it. Low parallax means the cursor is right under and closely follows the nib. The Cintique 16 doesn’t have the best parallax, but it’s pretty good as far as I’m concerned. This is important when you’re trying to line up your strokes at a very specific location, like in relation to other strokes or because you want to continue a line that’s partially drawn. Practice, like everything, will make things easier over time.
Using the Tablet
Drawing is drawing. You have a surface, put the drawing implement to the surface, press, and drag or push. Lines emerge. Simple! The Cintique 16 is no different, except instead of the dead-eyed stare of my old 13 inch Wacom Bamboo tablet, I have actual Photoshop to draw into.
There’s a learning curve here. First, you now deal with levels of pressure, and Photoshop (and other apps) need to be set up to know what you want pressure to mean. By default it means that when you’re using a freehand drawing tool (paintbrush, pencil), pressing harder will make lines thicker. When using airbrush, pressing harder “spits out more paint”, so to speak. There are other modes, however, which allow you to do things like alter the opacity of your strokes in relation to how hard you press, so there will be some fiddling needed to get your app of choice to work the way you want it to.
Then there are the old habits. Apps like Photoshop, After Effects, et al. benefit greatly if you learn even the most basic of keyboard shortcuts. When working in the app using nothing but a stylus, that becomes a more difficult proposition if you’re limited for desk space. This tablet is not a touch device. This means no pinch-to-zoom or three-finger-drag options. You’ll need to organize your desk in such a way that you can keep one hand on the keyboard and one on the stylus. As I am a right-handed user, this rules out the inclusion of the mouse pretty much entirely except for the direst of circumstances. I ended up setting my Logitech G710+ macro keys to things like pan, zoom in and out, and undo/redo, but I’ll admit; it’s not optimal. Of course Wacom sells an optional control wand that you can use in your free hand to program in such shortcuts, but that’s another fee on top of the cost of the tablet itself.
Now, here’s where I need to reiterate, once again, that although I’m not qualified to discuss things like color balance and other artsy terms, I do feel that I need to mention that the display on this device isn’t going to win any true-to-life awards. The display on the tablet seems to trend towards the low contrast end of the spectrum which can make an otherwise dull red color seem a bit on the pink side. When looking at the specs on the Wacom site, comparing the base 16 to the Pro 16, I can see that the Pro 16’s color and brightness differ from the base 16 in ways that lead me to believe that the base 16 just isn’t going to be displaying in ways that a serious artist is going to demand. For me, it’s cool. Maybe for you, it’s also cool. Maybe there’s some tweaking to get the a better display that I’m just not aware of, but the “Pro” 16 is “pro” for a reason, and part of that I suspect is to do with the display of colors.
I also need to just flat out learn how to use a tablet with my apps. My drawing in Photoshop was crappy. My lines were heavy, solid, and on occasion, pixelated. I tried soft and hard brushes, but my lines always came out the same. Truth, I use PS mainly for composting images for other uses. I rarely use it for freehand drawing, so I might just need to look for an app that’s more suited to sketching on the PC than a jack-of-all-trades like PS. I have yet to try the tablet with other Adobe products.
Wrap It Up
If you’re looking for a thumbs direction on the device because you’re on the fence, I can’t provide that. As I said, I’m a complete noob when it comes to what matters in a tablet, and I’m also exceedingly forgiving. If it does what it does, I accept that it’s doing it because I don’t know if it’s doing it right or doing it wrong. It just is.
Working with the tablet so far seems not that different from working on my iPad, with the exception that the iPad has no textured surface so the Pencil just slides along, and that the Cintique 16 has no input except for the stylus, so there’s no easy to way manipulate your app unless you’re using a free hand on the keyboard, mouse, or Wacom remote control doohickey. The colors are a bit frowny, but I can’t rule out that I really need to learn how to customize my display for the best output, and is probably not a nick against the tablet itself.
The thing that made me jump on this item was the price. The Wacom Cintique Pro 13 (oddly, that 13 inches inside the bevel) is $799, while the Cintique Pro 16 is a wallet-blistering $1499. The Cintique 16 is a relative steal at just $650. Obviously sacrifices must be made to slim down a $1500 tablet into a $650 package, so the resolution is less, there are no control buttons, the parallax is probably “worse” (not bad, but not as good), and the colors aren’t as sharp out of the box, but if you’ve always wanted a display-based tablet after years of suffering with sub-$100 hobbyist devices, and want to bank on the Wacom name, then take a look at the Cintique 16.