I’ve been a big fan of Wacom tablets for years. Whenever anybody asks me what tablet to buy, my response is usually “Whatever’s within your budget that has Wacom written on it”.
So, when Wacom announced their new entry-level Intuos tablets earlier this year, I was intrigued. It’s seen a few updates over previous generations. And now I’ve spent the last few weeks getting to know one.
I have to admit that I tend to not use a graphics tablet these days quite as often as I used to. My needs have changed over time, and I don’t need to do as much retouching as I once did. And retouching is where Wacom tablets really excel to help photographers speed up their workflow.
Most of my retouching work in the past has actually been with animals, not humans. Getting every hair on a dog perfectly aligned and rid of the strays that seem to cling all over their body and fly all over the floor. Straightening awkward feathers on birds, and touching up a snake or lizard’s scales, there are countless retouching tasks with animals that you just don’t think about until you’ve tried it.
Animals are something I’m starting to get back into photographing again recently, though, so my need for a good tablet has resurfaced. And that’s what made me perk up when I first saw the new Wacom Intuos announcement.
The new Intuos tablets are smaller than the previous generation while keeping the same drawing area, and the Bluetooth models claim 60% longer life. A small tablet with long battery life is ideal for when I’m working away from home with the laptop.
The tablet I’m using is the Medium size Wacom Intuos with Bluetooth. On opening the box, I’m confronted with the tablet itself.
This is the first Wacom tablet I’ve used that has had any kind of wireless capability. So it was a novel experience to pull it out of the box and not see a cable dangling below. On lifting the tablet, in various slots in the box underneath I saw a USB cable, the Wacom pen, and basic setup instructions & warranty information.
That USB cable is a good one, too. Unlike most USB cables which are plastic coated, this one is silicone coated. This means it should stand up much longer to the rigors of daily life. It also has a built-in cable wrap so that when you need to pack it up to go, it’s not just a tangled mess in your bag. Although, personally, I’ll be leaving this one at home, as I usually carry a couple of micro USB cables in my camera bag anyway.
The tablet itself feels quite sturdy. It’s nicely finished and feels good in your hands. There is a little flexing, although I’m not too concerned by it. It’s certainly not enough that it makes me worry about its durability or longevity. For use at home, it certainly won’t be a problem, and when it’s out, it’s in the same pouch as my laptop, so it’ll stay flat.
I was a little disappointed to see that there was no holder for the pen, although a quick search on Thingiverse and a little assistance from my 3D Printer will soon solve that.
Update: I just realised that the little flap sticking out at the top of the tablet isn’t just there for decoration. It’s actually a pen holder. I’ll still print something for when I’m at home, though, so that it’s not rolling around on the desk in between uses.
I’ve been using this tablet between two computers. There’s my Windows 7 desktop, the main machine on which I do most of my, and my Windows 10 ASUS ZenBook Pro laptop. Stating the operating systems is important because I had a few issues on Windows 7.
I thought maybe the socket I was using was bad – I was using the USB “hub” built into my monitor – so I plugged it straight into one on the back the computer’s motherboard. Still nothing. After some Googling, I discovered that this was apparently an issue introduced by Microsoft in an update one time that they never got around to fixing. So, reboot, hit F8, tell it to “Disable Driver Signature Enforcement” and my problems went away.
On Windows 10 with the ZenBook Pro, no issues whatsoever. Install the software, plug it in, and away we go. In fact, I didn’t even need to plug it in. As I mentioned, this is the Bluetooth model, and my ZenBook Pro has built-in Bluetooth, and it connected pretty much straight away with ease. My desktop does not, so it needs the USB cable.
So, my plan is that when I’m at home, I can have it plugged into my desktop, constantly charging. Then, when I need to work on the go with the laptop, I can just grab the Wacom and leave the cable behind, having it communicate with the ZenBook Pro through Bluetooth.
So far, this setup seems to work perfectly on both machines.
Yes, if I’m away for a longer period then the Wacom can still drain. But it uses a standard micro USB cable to charge, and I already have a couple of those in my camera bag for charging other devices. So, worst case, I can just grab one of those out of the bag to plug the Wacom into my laptop if needed while I’m using it to charge it back up at the same time.
The free software
As well as the tablet driver & software, the Wacom Intuos currently comes with up to three pieces of free software – “up to” depends on which model of tablet you buy (small, small + Bluetooth or medium).
Chances are, you won’t want or need to install all three applications, but they’re designed for different types of Wacom user. They’re offered to allow users who are new to tablets and digital drawing to get up and running quickly at no extra cost.
I had a brief play with the applications, and they all seem to work quite well, but I didn’t delve into them too much as they’re not really a part of my regular workflow and they’re not the main focus of this review. If you’re not yet locked into a particular software, though, they’re a nice little bonus to get you going before you eventually just cave and subscribe to Photoshop CC.
Tablet & pen overview
The Wacom Intuos tablet isn’t quite as advanced as its big brother, the Intuos Pro. It doesn’t have as many buttons and doohickies, but that doesn’t mean it can’t stand up to the task.
The build quality of both the tablet and the pen is rather good. The tablet does flex a little if you put some pressure on it, but it certainly doesn’t feel like the cheap plastic toy that some other tablets I’ve used in the past have.
As for the pen, it comes with a hard nib installed in the end, and three spares contained within the handle. I’ve only ever used hard nibs with my tablets in the past, but I might have to get some of the softer ones and give them a try. I do wish it was a little narrower towards the pointy end, though.
There are two buttons on the pen, which can be configured in a number of different ways. Mine’s set by default with the button closest to the nib set to scroll (or zoom when in Photoshop), and the other button set to simulate a mouse’s right click. These can be reconfigured on a per-app basis if needed.
On the tablet itself, there are five buttons. One of these is the power button and the other four offer various functions. As with the buttons on the pen itself, these can be reconfigured to perform a variety of functions, and you can configure them differently for different apps when required.
There’s an LED indicator over the power button in the centre. This shows various colours depending on the state. When it’s plugged in via USB cable and charging, it’s red. Fully charged, it’s white. It flashes blue when connecting over Bluetooth, or shows a solid constant blue when it has made and is maintaining that Bluetooth connection.
In Bluetooth mode, a quick tap of the power button turns it on and hunting for a Bluetooth connection. After a while, if it doesn’t find one, it gives up and shuts itself off. If you want to turn it off manually, holding the power button down for a couple of seconds shuts it down.
And finally, what I originally thought was just a decorative flap – the pen holder.
Using the tablet
I’ve mostly been using the Wacom Intuos with Adobe Photoshop on my desktop and as a general mouse replacement on the laptop. The latter definitely takes some getting used to, and is something I’ve actually tried to avoid doing in the past.
I’m left-handed, but I use a mouse with my right. Most software keyboard shortcuts are designed for the left hand. When I use my mouse right-handed, this isn’t a problem. As soon as I switch over to a pen, however, I use it in my left hand. So, it becomes a problem as I need to put the pen down to use many shortcut key combos.
In the past, I have typically bounced back and forth between a pen and the mouse as needed for my day-to-day use. This is the way I still work with a tablet on the desktop, and why I really only use it for Photoshop.
With the Laptop, though, it’s a different matter entirely. The Wacom tablet is definitely much easier than using a trackpad, and it doesn’t care that I’m left-handed.
The trackpad on the ZenBook Pro is very nice, to be fair, and supports multitouch and various gestures. But, it’s still a lot quicker with the Wacom after some practice. So, I’ve been forcing myself to do it. Like I said, it takes some getting used to, but it soon becomes quite comfortable. Anywhere.
For Photoshop it performed as well as one would expect. After all, it’s a Wacom tablet. People expect it to perform impeccably. And it does.
While the Wacom Intuos comes with 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, I’m not sure I could really feel the difference between that and the 1024 levels found in other and older tablets. Or, even the 512 levels in my really old Wacom tablet.
But it’s probably just me. I’m most definitely not the type of artist who would be able to fully utilise that sort of sensitivity, as you’ll soon see.
My use of a Wacom is typically for retouching, not drawing. And even for retouching, it’s not really all that often. Retouching just isn’t my daily grind. But a graphics tablet is one of those tools that’s simply invaluable when I do need one.
For me, using a tablet rather than a mouse is more about being able to easily follow contours in parts of an image with the clone stamp or healing brush tools, and for more precise control when dodging and burning that a mouse just can’t offer. And for those tasks, it works extremely well.
When it comes to drawing something from scratch, it interacts with Photoshop’s brush presets and custom settings wonderfully. It was only let down by my inability to draw (this is why I use a camera).
As a general purpose mouse or trackpad replacement on my laptop, it worked surprisingly well after I started getting used to it. I did try it on my desktop briefly, too, though, purely because I was curious how well it would perform. My desktop runs three monitors, though, so I wanted to see how it could handle this kind of a setup.
The software offers two configurations. Mouse mode and Pen mode.
Mouse mode works similar to the way a mouse does, as the name would suggest. When you put down your pen, it starts moving from the current cursor position in whatever direction you move the pen.
In pen mode, different parts of the tablet map to specific parts of your display. With this small a tablet, though, when you’re mapping the tablet to three 1920 pixel wide screens, it gets a little jumpy. A very tiny move on the tablet can turn into a big leap on the screen. This isn’t so much a problem with this particular tablet, though. Any tablet of this size would suffer the same issue. I’m just asking too much of it by trying to control across three monitors.
Pen mode with the tablet only utilising a single monitor is how I normally use it in Photoshop, and for that, it’s spot on.
On the ZenBook Pro, I only have the one built-in display, so no such similar problem there. The area of the medium tablet maps very well to its 15.6″ 1920×1080 IPS display.
Whether I was just generally doing day-to-day stuff, editing videos in DaVinci Resolve, or drawing & retouching in Photoshop it made working on location with the laptop a bit of a breeze. Although, like I said, it took a little getting used to.
The Intuos Bluetooth model offers a 15 hour battery life, too. This means I don’t need to worry about it dying in the middle of the day as long as I leave the house with it fully charged. When it’s at home, it’s plugged into my desktop for whenever I need it, so it’s constantly charging. But I still keep a spare USB cable in my camera bag when I’ve got the Wacom with me on location, too. Just in case.
What I loved
I’ve tried to be as objective about this as I can because I’ve been a fan of Wacom for a long time. But a few things do leap out at me, particularly with the Bluetooth version.
- Wireless operation – assuming you’re using a computer with Bluetooth
- Long 15 hour battery life
- Built-in pen-holder is actually more useful than I thought it would be, especially on location
- Very slim and compact to slip into a bag with a laptop
That last one might sound a bit odd. I mean, it’s a graphics tablet, they’re all pretty thin, aren’t they? Well, yes, but this one does seem particularly thin compared to some of the tablets I’ve owned in the past. It even fits happily into the document wallet on the Lowepro PhotoStream SP 200.
What could be improved
The only real complaint I have is about the main surface of the tablet. Or perhaps it’s the supplied nibs that come with the pen.
Either way, those nibs do seem to mark & scratch that surface quite easily. In just the first couple of uses, I saw scratches on the surface of the tablet that weren’t just marks that I could easily wipe away. It was actually a little surface damage. So, it does potentially make me worry about the longevity of that surface.
That being said, it doesn’t really seem to have gotten much worse as I’ve used it more beyond those initial scratches. So, perhaps it was the nib and it’s now “worn in” enough to not really have much of an effect.
It would be nice, though, if the tablet were supplied with a selection of different nibs, including a soft one. This could potentially help to keep the surface looking a little cleaner, and also give the user the opportunity to try the various nibs available without having to pay more to buy a bunch of extra nibs separately that they may not even like.
For what is, which is essentially an entry-level tablet for photographers, the Wacom Intuos is a nice little tablet. It’s easy to get to grips with, works over USB or Bluetooth, and it’s nice and smooth to work with. Even if you already own a more advanced Wacom Intuos Pro or another tablet for your desktop, the Intuos still makes for a great lightweight travel companion that takes up hardly any space for working on the go.
And if you don’t already have a tablet, it’s the perfect introduction to the world of graphics tablets that still has a use in the event that you upgrade to the Intuos Pro or even a Cintiq at a later date.
The Wacom Intuos now goes everywhere my laptop goes. And when it’s not out with me and the laptop, it’s at home, plugged into my desktop for Photoshop use and to keep it charged.
The Wacom Intuos is available in two sizes. Small with a 6.0 x 3.7″ drawing area, with or without Bluetooth, and Medium with an 8.5 x 5.2″ drawing area and Bluetooth.