Wednesday, June 25, 2008

the pen



The longer I photograph and more importantly edit wedding photographs the greater my appreciation and dependancy on my Wacom tablet becomes.  At first it was this annoying device I had to clumsily put up with.  As time and the clumsiness past I started to sorta enjoy using the device.  Today I don't sit down to edit photos without one.  Last week (what prompted this article) I had to do some photoshop work for our store's Viewpoint committee photos using a store laptop (no Wacom).  I found myself getting very frustrated with how archaic the mouse was as an editing device.  I sorta sat back as I realized that I'm a Wacom snob.

If you are not familiar with Wacom tablets - here is a basic rundown.  Using a pressure sensitive pen (as pictured above) on a a pad ranging in sizes from 4x6" - 20x20" allows one to replace the mouse with a much more precise instrument.  When looking at the tablet area - it represents your screen.  If I place my pen in the top left corner that is where my mouse pointer will appear.  Within programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Panter X, etc the pressure sensitivity allows the user to command thicker or thinner brushes simply by how much pressure is applied to the surface of the tablet with the pen.  The tablet is especially useful when dodging and burning, and applying delicate skin retouching.  As I covered above - the Wacom has a modest learning curve and takes a while to adjust to.  I had to force myself to use mine for about a month until it became the natural tool to use.  I loved the results - but hated that I wasn't proficient with it.

Wacom produces three series' of tablets:
 
image courtesy of wacom

Bamboo - the enthusiast or someone looking for a lower price of admission will appreciate Wacom's attention to quality in an entry level product like their Bamboo tablets.  They usually don't come any larger than 4x6 and limit the user to 512 points of pressure sensitivity.  Basically this means that as you press the pen it won't have as large a difference in brush size between pressing lightly and pressing with a heavy pressure.  They start around $79.00 - $89.00 in most retailers.


image courtesy of wacom

Intuos 3 -  Wacom calls this the professional photographer and graphic designer's tablet.  It doubles the points of sensitivity offered on the Bamboo level - bringing it up to 1,024 points of pressure and comes in a larger variety of sizes.  Also, the customizable quick controls are in two locations (for left handed individuals like myself).  This is the tablet I use for two reasons - the price was right and the size works for desktop application as well as traveling.  When you upgrade to the Intuos series you get more out the pen than additional sensitivity.  Wacom ads pen tilt technology.  This means that brushes size and shape can change (if you so choose) as you pivot the pen off it's center axis.  Probably not something to terribly important for photo retouching; however, if you paint, draw, or design with the tablet this is a HUGE selling point.  The 4x6 Intuos starts around $199.99 and the 12x19 unit sells for around $749.99.


image courtesy of wacom

Cintiq - The MAC DADDY of Wacom tablets.  Instead of drawing on a tablet that corresponds to a point on your screen - draw directly on the screen!  Same points of sensitivity, same pen tilt.  The screen sits on an adjustable stand that can either stand up as seen above in the picture or almost flat on the table.  This is the second generation of Wacom Cintiq tablets which means a lot of early adopter customer feedback went into its construction.  The first gen Cintiq had a thick sheet of glass above the tablet which made the pointer appear to not line up with the pen - this has been resolved in the new units.  Some individuals complain that the monitor is a little washed out with it's default configuration - nothing that a little monitor calibration won't fix.  So what's the catch?  Wouldn't everyone want the Cintiq?  I know I would love to have one.  Two pieces that make the cost of admission a bit high.
  1. Space:  The units take up a lot of room so you will need a big desk.  I am not a fan of keyboard drawers in desks - they never seem to stay put for me.  You will need a desk that has room for a keyboard to the side or a drawer under the desk.
  2. Cost:  The base 12" unit starts at $1,000.00 and the unit I have pictured is about $2,100.00.  You would need to be making some serious money on  your work or have your work drastically effected to justify this technology in my mind.
Wacom has tablets out there starting under $100.00 which makes them very affordable considering the advantages of the technology.  If you have an Apple Store in your area they generally have Wacom tablets out on display.  Best Buy sells the base Intuos and the Bamboo units - but won't have a demo for you.  I don't consider myself to be an expert on the Wacom line - just a user; but, if you have any questions please feel free to email me or drop your question in the comments.  Have a great day!

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Mike said...

Have you considered making a tutorial on the basic setup of a wacom tablet? (for those of us in our first 6 months and still frustrated)

I've suggested it time and time again but can't seem to get the guys at Kelby training to do one, so I'm looking else where.

I'd love to see one from someone who uses it every day... they'll know what is important and what's not, what slider settings etc are the most effecient.

great posts.

mike

Mike said...

Have you considered making a tutorial on the basic setup of a wacom tablet? (for those of us in our first 6 months and still frustrated)

I've suggested it time and time again but can't seem to get the guys at Kelby training to do one, so I'm looking else where.

I'd love to see one from someone who uses it every day... they'll know what is important and what's not, what slider settings etc are the most effecient.

great posts.

mike

Rick Mead said...

Mike,
Thanks so much for the ideas. I don't consider myself to be an expert in the area of Wacom tablets; however, I will look into doing a tutorial. I guess the hardest part is the interface and unfortunately there isn't much other than practice to remedy that. I will think on it this week - but I wouldn't be surprised to see a Wacom Tutorial next Monday.