Product Review: Page (1) of 3 - 09/21/04 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at page facebook

Wacom Intuos3 Graphics Tablet

Pressure-sensitive cordless pen system By Dave Nagel
There are few tools out there that can be said to be applicable to everybody in the visual arts, but a graphics tablet is surely one of them. Whether you're in 2D or 3D, whether you design still or motion graphics, whether you're just retouching images or creating works of art from scratch, a graphics tablet will improve your workflow and productivity and present you with creative options not available with a mouse or other input device. It's not even a question of whether you should have one, but which one you should have. For most, the answer is probably the new Intuos3 from Wacom.

For a visual artist, a graphics tablet is an investment to decrease the amount of time it takes you to get a job done and the amount of frustration you experience in getting the job done. It can allow you to do in one stroke what might take multiple swipes with a mouse, plus numerous button clicks. Consider, for example, using a Paint Brush or Clone tool in Adobe Photoshop. With a mouse, it's click, draw, stop; resize, click, draw, stop; change opacity, click, draw, stop; change color, click, draw, stop; switch to the eraser, click, draw, stop. In other words, it's not a smooth-flowing process. We've gotten used to it over the years, to be sure. Consider the same tool process with a tablet: Increase the pressure of your stroke, and you make the brush bigger; tilt the pen a little bit, and you can alter the opacity of the stroke. Tip the pen over, and you have an instant (and pressure-sensitive) eraser. You can also use pressure and tilt parameters to affect color, angle, roundness, scattering, depth,  flow, etc. And Photoshop is just one example; there are few creative tools out there that don't support the pressure or tilt features of Wacom tablets in one way or another. Trust me: If you move over to a tablet, you'll wonder why you ever wasted your time adapting to a mouse.

Personally, I now have four Wacom tablets--a 4" x 5" Graphire, a 9" x 12" Intuos (original), a 15-inch Cintiq 15x and, now, a 6" x 8" Intuos3. I use all of them on my various computers, and, in fact, I haven't used a standard mouse for anything--let alone creative production--for more than three years now. The Graphire is nice because it's compact and inexpensive, typically considered a good "starter" tablet. The Cintiq, of course, is great because it's a pressure-sensitive LCD display, and it's hard to argue with the ability to draw directly on screen. But for tablet features--resolution, sensitivity and tilt--nothing beats the Intuos line. It's simply the best. And now that the Intuos3 is out, it's even better.

Hardware features
The Intuos3 is available in three sizes: 4" x 5", 6" x 8" and 9" x 12". (For those who prefer even larger tablets, the 12" x 12" and 12" x 18" Intuos2 models are still available.) I'm reviewing the 6" x 8" model here. All of the Intuos3 models include three hardware components: the USB-based tablet; the cordless, battery-free pen (with stand); and the cordless, battery-free  mouse.

The tablet itself receives several changes, including a more ergonomic redesign with a sloping wrist rest and an acrylic overlay. But the most major exterior change is the addition of physical buttons and touch strips on either side of the tablet's active area. These include eight buttons (four left, four right) and two touch strips (one on either side).

The buttons themselves are set as modifier keys by default, though they can be programmed to do several things, including keystrokes. (We'll get to these in the section about the software, below.) The touch strips are designed to be used for scrolling and zooming, though they, too, can be programmed to perform custom functions. For scrolling and zooming, you can simply drag your finger (or the pen) up or down the strip, tap the top or bottom of the strip or touch and hold the top or bottom of the strip for a sustained scroll or zoom. Personally, I find the the buttons and touch strips fantastic additions to the functionality of the Intuos tablets. Up to now, I've been using a scroll wheel on my Logitec keyboard, but this is much easier.

Beneath the surface, the Intuos3 also gains one major improvement: a resolution increase to 5,080 lines per inch. That's twice the resolution of the Intuos2 (2,540 LPI) and more than twice that of the Graphire3 (2,032 LPI).

As for the new pen, I come from the original Intuos tablet, so the differences are dramatic. The new version includes a squishy, rubberized grip and better overall design. It also ships with alternate nibs that can give your pen a different feel. One is a pressed-felt nib that gives the pen something of the soft, scratchy feel of dry media, like a pastel or charcoal pencil. The second--and the one that I'm keeping in there--is a spring-loaded stroke nib that moves in and out of the pen as you increase and decrease pressure. What a difference this sort of tactile feedback makes! Note that this nib was available for the Intuos 2, but only in a pen sold separately for $79.95. So you're basically getting that great pen thrown in for free with the Intuos3.

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