In this article, I’m going to provide you with a general overview of some of the more popular devices from Wacom, based on first-hand experience in daily use. Beyond checking out a few of the amazing features these two devices offer, I’ll also give you some great tips to help you improve your workflow and experience using these devices.
1. The Wacom Cintiq Companion
The newly released tablet is actually a fully featured tablet-pc, which means you can run your favourite Windows software on it, as you would on any normal computer. Wacom also offers the same form-factor, only for a cheaper price, in the form of an Android OS tablet. It still features the same pressure sensitive pen and quality display, but you will be limited to using Android Apps.
I personally chose the first version, despite the huge price difference, for the simple need to have access to my Creative Cloud Apps, wherever I was, and also to have the ability to complete projects on the go. Previously, I was limited to either just sketching on pen and paper, or postponing the actual work until I was at my desk. I also tried carrying my laptop and Intuos3 A5 wide edition tablet, but anyone that saw one, the size is not exactly portable, especially when adding a 2.3kg laptop.
The tablet also features a number of customizable quick-keys that, together with the rocker key, and custom menus, help satisfy the need for an external keyboard, at least when it comes to shortcuts. This is the first major feature I’d like you to take a closer look at!
The Express Keys
The device features 4 Expresskeys, as well as a 5 button rocker key. These are fully customizable through the Wacom Desktop Center, and if you actually take the time to set them up once, they will greatly improve your efficiency in using the device.
I recommend using the 4 main buttons for the four most often used functions in your preferred graphics program. In my case, I’ve mapped them as follows:
Going from bottom to top:
- “Space” - Moving the canvas. The size of the device is quite great, but whenever you need to get up close with some detail work, you will always have to move around the canvas, and this button will help spare you from needless swishing across the screen all around your scroll bars.
- “Zoom” - Similarly, this function helps prevent the need of manually having to reach for the Zoom tool in Photoshop. If the button is pressed and held while dragging your pen, and released once you reached your desired level of magnification, you are automatically reverted to your previously used tool. If, however, you simply press the button shortly, you’ll be taken into “Zoom” mode, and would need to manually swap back to your previous tool.
- “Step Backward/Undo” - We all know how fond digital artists have grown of this shortcut. While using a keyboard, you might not even notice how often you actually make use of it, but once you’re left without one, you’ll start to feel slowed down by the need to go to Edit > Undo / Step Backward for every small mistake.
- “Invert Foreground/Background colour” - As my workflow often implies starting with rough, freehand sketches, this feature helps me increase the speed with which I can put down lights and shadows on the canvas. I tend to use this paired with a median opacity of 40% and don’t really pay much attention to silhouette errors, as this is just for reference purposes.
The Rocker Key
Equally relevant to the other express keys, the Rocker Key/Wheel provides you with an additional 5 customizable keys for your convenience. As this device is a Windows 8 based device, I strongly recommend you leave the central button mapped to your Windows key. Again, having a keyboard, you might not notice just how often you’re making use of the “Alt-Tab” combination, but once it’s missing, you’ll really appreciate having this dedicated key. Alternatively you could of course also map it to the above combination of keys instead of just the Windows Key, depending on your needs.
The remaining four keys are at your disposal, but I would suggest that you just take a day of normal usage into account before you assign any button to these. Normally they are mapped with some interesting overlay menus in various programs (Softkeys), but more often than not, you might find it easier to add your own shortcuts instead of learning a new set provided by default.
Reserve one of the keys for one of the most useful on-screen features Wacom has to offer:
“Apple Pie” (or Radial Menus as they’re actually called)
When pressing this button, you will be presented with a radial menu displaying a plethora of useful functions, which in turn can also be customized beyond your wildest dreams. One of the slices should always be reserved for a “Submenu”, in case you decide to add a few useful shortcuts to it for future use.
I use this menu for a few of the following: New File > Save As > Paste > Copy Merged > Levels/Curves/Contrast & Brightness
Things Worth Mentioning
The above functions are aimed at improving your experience with the device, but as with any new product, there are also “those features” that actually end up doing the opposite. For the Cintiq, the biggest nuisance is the multi-touch. One of the buttons was mapped to disable this functionality by default, and that for good reason!
The tablet does ignore your tactile input if the stylus is in range (about 3.5cm away from the screen), but for anyone with slightly larger hands (or any male user), this margin is easily overcome, and you end up leaving smudges on your artwork through unintended brush usage.
You’re faced with two options in this case: keep this in mind, and keep the stylus close enough to the tablet when dragging your hand across the screen, or disable this functionality. If you decide for the latter, remember that you will only be able to use the OSD keyboard with your Pen, one key at a time, instead of the multi-touch.
It’s also worth noting that the device features quite a large number of “secret” shortcuts (secret if you’re like me and avoid reading manuals like the plague). The most interesting one is the ability to map shortcuts to multi-touch gestures! Of course, this functionality is dependent of having the “Multi-Touch” feature enabled.
What this means is the ability to bring up your keyboard when tapping your screen with all five fingers from your free hand for example. There is huge potential using these shortcuts, but they really do require you to take some time customizing the device. Once this is done, you will not regret the extra time spent on doing this.
2. The Wacom Inkling
Although this device received rather mixed reviews, I urge you to seriously consider the fact that it was never meant as a standalone device, but rather a complementary means of improving your workflow. That means that it is not a tool used to create a finished piece of art (it’s not excluded, but not everyone is a pen-wielding genius), but rather a nifty bit of tech that can help you get your freehand sketches into digital form, without carrying around a large tablet or a scanner.
Using the Inkling
The form factor is about as portable as it gets, very well built, and the carrying case doubles as a charger, pen and replacement refills holder. Inside, you have the paperclip/sensor, a USB cable for connections to your PC as well as charging the device and the pen.
The sensor/paperclip has a built in mini-computer (best way I can describe this), that effectively records every pen-stroke, including pressure sensitivity and tilt, that you do on the attached piece of paper, within direct viewing range. It has a dedicated button for turning the device on and off, as well as one for creating additional layers (same as in your favourite graphics application).
With each time you clip the device to a new page, a new file is created in the memory. These features help ensure that no unintended overwriting of details occurs during your passionate sketch-sessions.
It is a very sturdy device and due to the small and elegant form-factor, it is really a beauty to carry around and bring out for a quick sketch in whatever café you decide enjoy your cup of coffee in!
Unlike with the Cintiq, there isn’t as much customization potential here, but for that you get a device that does exactly what it’s supposed to do, nothing more, nothing less. That however doesn’t mean that it is anything short of amazing, if used properly.
Preparing for Drawing:
First and most important thing you need to remember when setting up your Inkling for a sketch is Receiver/Sensor placement. Depending on your drawing style, whether you’re left or right handed, if you often arch your hand and have the tip of your pen aimed at your chest or opposing it and so on. It is of paramount importance that you consider this aspect before you even start drawing.
Second and equally important, is pen grip. Personally I had quite a hard time adjusting to the ideal position, as my usual grip was very close to the tip of the pen. As the Emitter is located right in the tip-cone, you need to hold the pen some 2cm away from the very end.
Keep in mind that the maximum paper size supported by the Inkling is A4. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use it on bigger canvas sizes, but it requires some smart stitching work in your favorite graphics application.
Finally, before you start your actual sketch, be sure to draw a few test-lines, and check to see if the middle led on the receiver lights up when the pen touches the paper! If that’s not the case, the pen and receiver are not communicating and your Inkling will not record a single stroke.
If you connect your Receiver to the computer and start up the Inkling Manager while it’s attached to a piece of paper, you can set the desired pressure sensitivity!
Ever wanted to get that perfect handwritten look for a particular asset in one of your 2D or 3D creations? This is the perfect time to get it done. Just snap your Receiver to a sheet of paper and scribble your way to victory! All you need to do later is simply export the file in your desired format, and import it in your scene/canvas, duplicate and mirror it a few times, and it will give you that additional bit of detail and authenticity that you required.
Nothing beats hand-drawn shading. From the basic crosshatch to more complex patterns, you will always feel more comfortable doing these in the classic pen & paper environment. With a bit of post-production, you can later overlay this on top of some of your digital artworks to get that hand-drawn feel in there.
Signatures never looked so good. I know, I know, you can do this with any given tablet, but trust me, nothing will come close to the real thing as using an actual ballpoint pen on paper, and the Inkling captures it perfectly, without the need for you to remove the background. What that means is that you’ll be able to “sign” your artwork accurately and quickly, without the need for additional edits.
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