About three years ago, my wife Luba bought a Graphire 3, 6×8 (which I have commandeered some time ago) and started to edit with it. I think what pulled me in to give another go at the tablets is to see how effortlessly she was creating artwork, both in Macromedia Freehand but more importantly, in Adobe Photoshop. I just knew I had to get one and learn how to use it.
So first off… Point number one: When you plug in the tablet, ask a trusted friend to hide the mouse for a few weeks, because unless you started with a tablet, it will be just like typing, and you have to force yourself to touch-type, instead of typing with 2 fingers. It’s very different than working with a mouse and struggling for a few minutes, I see most people unplugging the tablet, and switching back to the mouse. However, if you persevere for a day or two, the experience becomes amazing!
The point at which I realized the true value of the tablet is simply when I started seeing how much faster I can edit faces with the pen tool. Because the tablet has a relative positioning attitude (so your tablet is mapped to your screen, and a specific point on the tablet will always be the same point on the screen) you tend to be able to move to exact locations on
the image and edit out blemishes much faster than with a mouse. Also, changes made with a Photoshop tool that requires a natural flow along the lines of your object (like a face) is just so much easier to do well with a pen or stylus than with a mouse. I would not be over-exaggerating to say that it has cut editing time in half.
Wacom is considered “the brand” when it comes to graphics tablets, and the Intuos range is considered the tablet of choice for professional retouchers. It also has the price tag to match (about R5,500 for the 6×8) but, if you earn your living in graphics, it’s definitely worth it. Wacom has recently seen some competition for their top end Cintiq in the form of the Axiotron Modbook which is basically a converted Macbook. Wacom must be very confident with their market position as they supply the technology to make the Modbook. Alternatively, they just realized that they will make money whichever you buy, so what’s the difference?
But enough of that… Let’s get to the Intuos review:
The Intuos 3 (6×8) is quite a bit bigger than the Graphire 3 (6×8) as well as heavier. New to the tablet is the addition of 4 Express keys and a touchpad (for scrolling) on both sides of the tablet. These keys are fully programmable, but I have found that I tend to stick with keyboard shortcuts (as I did with the Graphire) The Intuos looks sleek! It screams sophistication when standing next to the Mac, and in all honesty, works like a dream!
I tell my students never to shoot with a professional grade camera body or lenses unless you are will to spend your savings within a week. The same with this tablet. The difference between the Intuos and Graphire is just like that. Not that the Graphire is in any way bad, just that the Intuos has such a better feel. Quite a bit more natural.
The Stylus (or Pen) is longer than the Graphire 3 pen and therefore much more balanced. The button on the pen is also much more responsive and actually sit in a position where they are usable. The rubberized grip also extends much further, so general comfort is increased (except for the buttons, nothing I had an issue about, until trying the new pen).
The Intuos has about double the pressure points than the Graphire, so this means smoother action and gradients while drawing (The harder the nib is pushed, the larger the affected area grows) Something else Wacom added is interchangeable nibs, so that you have a standard nib, one that is spring loaded, and one from a completely different material, so that you get a better feel on the pen to better resemble brushes or felt-tipped pens or pencils.
The working surface is also much smoother to work on and resembles a traditional paper “feel” much closer than the older Graphire tablets (which was just a hard plastic covering, that lost it’s smooth touch as the surface got scratched. Many professionals referred to it as needing to “work in” the tablet to get the feel right)
Generally, the tablet is a joy to work with, but not portable anymore. If you want a portable tablet, look at the bamboo (or 4×5 Intuos or 4×5 Garaphire BT, a Bluetooth version) The 6×8 or 6×11 (wide) versions works great on 17 and 19” monitors, if you are playing with double monitors or larger monitors, I suggest you look at the A4 sized tablets to get the most out of it, otherwise the working area becomes too small to get those large sweeping movements just right.
As a final tip: Cover the tablet when not in use, as the surface scratches (not easily, but it does) and even a little bit of dust gives you that “fingernail on chalkboard” feel when you start working after a day or two. It also wears out the nibs a bit faster.