By Kevin Ames
When Wacom introduced the Intuos3 Professional Pen Tablet last September, I was truly impressed. I’m a longtime Wacom Intuos and Cintiq 18SX user. The Intuos3 had me drooling. I asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool—I mean really cool—to have an Intuos3 style Cintiq?”
The Wacom folks smiled, nodded their heads and agreed it would indeed be cool. I wrote a glowing review of the Intuos3 for Professional Photographer magazine while dreaming of a color calibrate-able LCD panel with Express Keys, Touch Strips and a bigger screen—at a lower price. (I was dreaming, remember?) I could see myself flying through Photoshop projects, pleasing clients in record time and making some serious coin. It was a very good dream.
Rarely does reality surpass dreams in pure enjoyment and satisfaction. When it does, though, it's stunning. And stunning is just one of a long list of adjectives that inadequately describe the Wacom Cintiq 21UX. It’s that close to being perfect. To fully appreciate this amazing tablet, you have to work with it yourself.
The first thing you notice is how bright and evenly colored graphics on the screen are, even viewed at angles up to 170 degrees. Ten degrees more and you’d be looking at the edge of the screen—phenomenal! The colors remain consistent at any angle. Even better, the Cintiq 21UX ships with an ICC color profile.
Then there are the Express Keys, two sets of four customizable keys built right into the frame on either side of the tablet. Each of the eight keys can be assigned individual duties as a keystroke, mouse-click of modifier (command/control, option/alt, shift, etc.) to speed workflow. I've set up two of my left-hand Express Keys to engage Photoshop’s Edit>Step Backward (multiple undos) and to toggle File Browser on and off using keyboard shortcuts. One Express Key is the modifier shift and the last is assigned the spacebar to give me access to the Hand tool without having to reach for the keyboard. On the right side (I’m right-handed, by the way) I’ve set the Express Keys to control the size of the image on screen: View>Actual Pixels, Fit on Screen, Zoom In and Zoom Out. Once I got used to using the Express Keys, which wasn’t at all difficult, my productivity soared.
If Express Keys aren’t enough, let me tell you about Touch Strips. Touch Strips can scroll, zoom, change brush size and more, merely by running a finger up and down the strip’s surface. My left Touch Strip controls brush size. When I run my finger up the strip, the brush gets larger, down the strip and the brush gets smaller. Tapping the top of the strip increases the brush size in the same way as hitting the right bracket key does. A tap to the bottom of the strip reduces the size one step. I can hold down my shift-key-designated Express Key, tap the top of the strip four times, and my brush hardness increases to 100%. Four taps to the bottom makes the brush completely soft. (Hold the shift key and type the right bracket on the keyboard to make the Brush harder in 25-percent increments. Shift-left bracket softens the brush in 25-percent increments.)
The Cintiq 21UX Grip Pen seems to be identical to the Intuos3 stylus. It has 1,024 levels of sensitivity, twice that of the previous Cintiq. Like all Wacom pens, the Grip Pen is cordless and battery free. Each pen carries a unique identifier so multiple Grip Pens can be programmed for different jobs. The Grip Pen and the Cintiq 21UX now support pressure and tilt sensitivity to give users intuitive control over the application of creative effects in Photoshop, Corel Painter and Macromedia Flash.
With a single Control Panel (Windows) or System Preference (Mac) installed from the supplied CD, the Cintiq driver is easy to use and has individual areas for the setting up the tablet, Express Keys, Touch Strips and Grip Pen.
The Cintiq 21UX sports a 21.3-inch (diagonal) screen with native resolution of 1,600x1,200 pixels (UXVGA), 46 percent larger than the Cintiq I had been using.
- The price? Dreams come true here as well. The Cintiq 18SX, predecessor to the 21UX, launched with a $3,499 price tag. It was so successful that Wacom dropped the price to $2,499. Now the larger, more sensitive and amazingly functional, Cintiq 21UX still sells for $2,499.
There’s one thing that keeps the Cintiq 21UX from attaining perfection. When it is used with another monitor displaying the palettes, there is no simple way to reach over and click on a layer and still be working on the LCD. You have to use an Intuos3 to move the cursor to the other display. I hope the engineers at Wacom are working on a toggle that will remap the screen to both monitors so I never have to leave my Cintiq 21UX.