Wacom Cintiq

For about a week now I have been playing with my new toy…no, scratch that, rather I have been evaluating my new Wacom 12" Cintiq drawing tablet. 

For anyone who is not familiar with the Cintiq end of Wacom’s digital drawing tablets this is a pressure-sensitive tablet that is a touch screen that shows the image directly and allows you to use direct drawing and retouching on the image itself.  This eliminates the hand-eye coordination problems that come about when you are drawing on a tablet that is physically removed from the image itself. Wacom’s tablets are available for both Mac and PC.

Wacom’s pressure sensitive tablets begin at the low end with BAMBOO (3.7"x5.8" active area) and BAMBOO FUN in two sizes (3.7"x5.8 and 5.3"x8.5" active areas). The Bamboo line has 512 pressure levels. Next is the middle-range Graphire3 BLUETOOTH (6" x 8" active area–also with 512 pressure levels—and like its name implies is wireless). The INTUOS is next in six versions (4"x6", 6"x8", 6"x11", 9"x12", 12"x12", 12"x19" and all these have 1024 pressure levels).  Finally come the Cintiq tablets: the 12WX with the 12" diagonal pressure sensitive screen, the 20WSX with the 20" diagonal screen, and finally the 21UX with the 21" diagonal screen.  All of these tablets have the 1024 level pressure sensitivity, and what sets them apart is that they are miniature LCD screens—flat monitors, if you will—and you write and draw directly on the screen.

For Valentine’s Day from my Dear Wife I received the 12WX tablet that I have been lusting for since they first appeared in advertisements last year.  A client of mine owns the larger 20WSX and uses it for painting (no turpentine, no smell, and no mess) with Corel PainterX, but the 20WSX uses more real estate than my desk could handle, therefore the 12WX had presented itself as ideal to the space at hand.

I’ve worked my way through a number of generations of Wacom tablets over the years and currently own an older Graphire2 tablet in the discontinued 4"x5" size, and I regularly use the 6"x8" GRAPHIRE3 BLUETOOTH tablet with my MacBook Pro 17" C2D laptop.  Now for desk use I’ve added the 12WX Cintiq.

A piece of smooth to the edge tempered glass covers the screen and fits flush across the tablet face and allows the hand to track across the entire tablet surface without dragging on any edges.  The tablet is roughly 2 inches larger than the interactive area on each side with a lesser amount at the top and about 2 3/4 inches at the bottom.  Five buttons and a touch sensitive slider strip are positioned on each side of the active screen.  The pen is a grip pen with a really nice textured gripping area, a programmable rocker selector switch and 1024 pressure levels; and it has an erasing function as though it were a real pencil.

The tablet has a built-in brace to allow it to be slanted from 28 to 60 degrees, and best—to me—there is a small protrusion on the back of the tablet (that when placed flat on the desk with the bracket folded) allows the tablet to be rotated so as to allow you to draw or retouch as though you were working on a sheet of paper that could be rotated as needed.  The tablet has a long enough connecting cord so that it can also be used in the lap as though it were a sketchbook.  Since I like to work in bed, the latter ability is one that I have really taken to.

The screen has a 1200 x 800 native resolution and either by luck or very good design its color profile matches the color from my Epson 7600 printer.

Here’s a front face view of the tablet with CS3 and an image from my digital camera.

The Expresskeys are the five keys on each side of the top of the tablet; they can be changed from their default settings but the default settings will solve most needs.  The defaults are:
1.    CTRL modifier key for Windows.  Command (Apple key) for Macintosh.
2.    Shift modifier key.
3.    ALT modifier key for Windows.  OPTION modifier key for Macintosh.
4.    Pan/Scroll function. (Brings up the Hand tool to move image)
5.    Display Toggle. Available only on multiple display systems.

The Expresskeys can be chorded; for example, pressing on keys 1 and 3 together simulates CTRL+Alt in Windows or COMMAND+OPTION on Macintosh systems.

The Touchstrips are not numbered in the above image but they allow the operator to zoom in (pushing upward) and out (pushing downward) to resize the image.  In programs that do not allow zooming the Touchstrips allow scrolling.  If desired, custom commands can be assigned to the Touchstrips; for example they may be set to change brush sizes by simply stroking upwards on downwards.  Even more refinements are available by exploring the electronic and paper manuals.

Here’s the back of the tablet. You can readily see the folding bracket that can be tilted from 28 to 60 degrees to fit the comfort angle of the artist.  Just above center is the protruding dot that allows the tablet to be rotated so that it is possible to work on the top, bottom, or edges of the image at any angle that compliments the brush strokes being used.


Let’s set up the pressure-sensitive pen.  In your system preferences pane, by double-clicking on the Wacom tablet under OTHER you will access the following menu.  As you can see the tablet and the pen are selectable and in the pen menu you may select to adjust the TILT SENSITIVITY, TIP FEEL, the DOUBLE CLICK DISTANCE and the rocker buttons on the pen itself.


I’ll only show it once, but each end of the rocker button can be programmed to respond with any of these menu items.


The following menu choices can be accessed from OPTIONS above.


Sensitivity on the tip feel and the threshold pressure required is available as an adjustment when DETAILS is selected from the starting pane.


Once your pen settings have been chosen, you are ready to work.

Did I say that working with the tablet is fun?  Well, it certainly is, but more than fun it allows me to draw and retouch with a precision that was not possible with a mouse and not even possible with my Wacom 6" x 8" Graphire3 Bluetooth tablet.

Here’s working with the tablet in my lap in the normal sketchbook position; I’m sitting on my bed (and listening/watching TV while I work). The tablet appears wider than it is because of the wide-angle lens used for the shot.  The tablet is actually a 3.25:5 ratio in height to width or about 2/3 as wide as it appears here. (Sorry about that; it’s a small room and I couldn’t move the camera back any further).


See how easy it is to rotate the tablet and allow your hand to follow the normal stroking angle for drawing or retouching. In this angle, the tablet appears much closer to its actual height to width ratio.


Several years ago I didn’t use a tablet and after years of using a mouse I had to have massive carpal surgery on my right hand and right elbow.  The surgeon commented that he or someone like himself "… always got photo-retouching people eventually for carpal surgery" but those who used tablets of any sort seemed to put it off longer.  I, personally, wish I had started using one much earlier.

Check out the full line of Wacom tablets at; they come in all types and sizes and a varied price and performance range. If you do photo retouching or drawing and painting on the computer they make it much easier and more intuitive.  Having worked my way up through a number of smaller tablets I think I have finally reached some kind of personal paradise with the 12WX Cintiq.


By Dr. Michael N. Roach

Dr. Michael N. Roach is a retired Professor of Art from Stephen F. Austin State University. His 33 year teaching career spans the silver to digital age. His images have been shown throughout the American South, Russia, Ireland and France; some of them are in the permanent collection of the Combes Gallery at The American University of Paris in France. An avid Mac Computer advocate he teaches workshops on digital imaging and courses in Adobe Photoshop as well as digital printing for the Fine Arts.

3 replies on “Wacom Cintiq”

Jode, if you like working directly on the screen, I’d recommend trying the 12″ Cintiq. You’ve run into the problem that has me constantly steering customers away from the huge Wacoms: They’re huge, and if you don’t design your workspace to accommodate them ahead of time, they’re a disaster. (An expensive disaster, too, which often leaves people using them despite the pain and misery a bus-sized tablet inflicts.)

The 20″ and 21″ Cintiqs can work well, but you have to have a large work surface available and figure out ahead of time how everything’s going to be arranged.

If you’re familiar with the ergonomics of drafting tables, that would be roughly the best thing to emulate if you want to keep the 21″. This may be easier said than done depending on your work space.

I purchased the 21″ Cintiq about 10 days ago to try to solve a slight carpel tunnel issue I have before it gets worse. My thoughts were that the large Cintiq would give me a greater range of motion and solve the repetitive stress problems with my arm/wrist. In trying to fix one issue I seem to have created a worse problem with pinched nerve etc in my shoulder and neck. I think the problem is due to there being no suitable way to set up a work environment with the large Cintiq. The Cintiq was too large to sit on my keyboard tray so I removed the tray and put everything (keyboard/tablet/mouse) on the desk. Then because it was too high it cause other problems. Also I am having to reach uncomfortably far to the mouse. With the very long hours I put in at my computer I know that an ergonomically correct workstation is important and I was wondering if anyone has a solution for me. The tablet itself is wonderful but I am starting to think I made the wrong decision and should have stayed with the 6×8 Wacom I have been using for years.

Comments are closed.