My Review Of The New Portable “Sketchbook” Cintiq 12wx

cintiq-sketchbook.jpg

My portable “sketchbook” Cintiq arrived on Tuesday. After my first few hours with it, here are my initial impressions:

Beauty and Brawn. Like other Cintiq’s, this is a quality product with an elegant design. It’s thin but sturdy (although a tad heavier than I thought it would be). You almost think that you could knock it off a table top without doing any damage…although I wouldn’t recommend trying.

Drawing on it feels smooth and natural, just like a regular Cintiq.

Screen Specs. The high-resolution screen displays a crisp image with rich color. It has a wider viewing angle than my laptop screen, which means I can tilt it at different angles and the color shifts just slightly, if at all. Laptop screens are notorious for their shifting color, so this was a pleasant surprise.

If you are a stickler for color, you may not like the Cintiq’s default color settings. I’ve never been able to get my desktop Cintiq to be quite as precise in its color calibration as, say, an Apple cinema display, and my guess is the sketchbook Cintiq also can’t be fine-tuned as precisely as some would like. Although to be fair I haven’t done much research into how to calibrate the new Cintiq. But for general purpose cartooning and illustration the color is still very good.

The screen is a little smaller than I thought it would be (6.5 inches high x 10.25 inches wide), but still workable. The widescreen format strikes me as an odd choice for a drawing surface. I would have preferred something that is a little taller and a little less wide, closer to the proportions of a typical sketchbook.

The screen is a very high resolution (1280 x 800) for its smallish size which means that my Photoshop palettes appear much smaller on the Cintiq than they are on my MacBook Pro. That’s nice because it leaves more space on the screen for the actual artwork. (EDIT: The screen resolution of the Cintiq 12wx seems to be much higher than the screen resolution of the 21UX, Cintiq’s large desktop model. An image at 100% size looks a lot smaller on my portable cintiq than an image at 100% size appears on my desktop Cintiq.)

If you prefer, you can also move all the palettes onto your laptop screen and then easily toggle back and forth between the two screens with the click of the “toggle” button. Let me explain…

Just Push This Button. Like a regular Cintiq, you can program the side buttons to act as shortcuts for whatever keyboard commands you use most often. It’s a nice little time saver. There is also a touch strip on each side that, by default, is set to zoom in and out. I’m left-handed so I disabled the touch strip on the left side (I keep accidentally activating it with my drawing hand), but the one on the right works nicely.

To illustrate, this diagram shows the Photoshop commands I’ve assigned for my personal working style:

cintiq-buttons.jpg

The buttons are also chordable, meaning you can press two or more at once. For example, you could assign one to be the “command” key and one to be the “option” key and use them in conjunction with your keyboard, if you are so inclined.

The sketchbook Cinitiq actually has two more programmable buttons than my large desktop Cintiq 21UX (one extra on each side). The two extra buttons are by default set to “toggle”, meaning that by clicking the button you can change which screen is being controlled by the pen. Click it once and you can draw directly on the Cintiq screen. Click it again, and moving the pen on the Cintiq translates into moving the cursor on the laptop screen, just like a Wacom tablet would do. It’s a really slick and efficient way to move your cursor between screens (to access drop-down menus in the Photoshop menu bar, for example).

Having ten programmable buttons is nice, but a lot of people use more than just ten common keyboard commands. Last night I attended a presentation by a Cintiq rep, and he showed us an often-overlooked feature. When customizing your Cintiq (on a Mac look under System Preferences), you can create your own pop-up menus and assign them to a button. Tapping the button will then result in a pop-up menu appearing on screen listing whichever keyboard shortcuts you want to use. You can even include Photoshop actions in your pop-up menu.

Twists and Turns. The fold-out stand locks into two positions–a low-angle for drawing and almost-vertical for, say, giving presentations to clients.

If you would rather work with the Cintiq completely flat there is a small pivot ball on the back that makes the Cintiq surprisingly smooth and easy to rotate. But rotating it does affect the pen tip alignment. As with any Cintiq, the fact that you are drawing through glass means there is a slight gap between the pen tip and the cursor. To compensate, the Cintiq can be personally calibrated for each individual artist by shifting the cursor just a bit so that, depending on the artist’s height and left- or right-handedness, the cursor appears to line up with the pen tip. This works out great, as long as you keep the Cintiq in “landscape” mode. I tried rotating it sideways a full 90 degrees (“portrait” mode) and I noticed the cursor was suddenly about 1/8-inch off from the tip of the pen. It’s not a huge problem–I could get used to that fairly quickly, I think–but it would be nice if there was a way around it. A motion sensor that automatically shifts the cursor would be nice.

There’s a lot about this new Cintiq to love. But it’s not perfect. My primary disappointment has to do with portability.

A Tangled Web. I was surprised at how many cables the Cintiq need. It would be nice if it could draw power from the laptop like a Wacom tablet, but it can’t. You have to plug it in to a wall outlet. The power cord passes through a “brick”, then up into a converter unit which is essentially another brick. Three more cables come out of the converter unit–a USB cable, a monitor/video cable (the kind with the two little screws), and a power cable that runs to the Cinitq. It all adds up to thirty feet of cable! Add in the power cable and adapter for your laptop, and you practically need a second computer bag just for all the cables. It’s not plug-and-play, it’s plug-and-plug-and-plug-and-plug-and-play. It’s not so much of a nuisance that it would keep me from taking the Cintiq on out-of-town trips, but because the cables are so unwieldy I don’t think I’ll be hauling it over to the coffee shop much. Which is a bummer because I was looking forward to using this Cintiq to get out of the studio more.)

(EDIT: The other day I was having “cabin fever” and needed to get out of the studio. I took my portable Cintiq to a coffee shop in a nearby mall. I was fortunate enough to set up at a large four-person table next to an outlet. It only took a couple of minutes to set everything up, and then I was able to spread out nicely and work very comfortably for a couple of hours. It wasn’t bad at all. But if the coffee shop had been crowded and only the small tables were available, or if I hadn’t found a spot near an outlet, my Cintiq setup probably wouldn’t have worked out.)

If you travel with the Cintiq you will need to set it up in a location that has two open outlets within reach–one for your laptop and one for the Cintiq. Since not every hotel room or relative’s bedroom has two open outlets, I would suggest going to the hardware store and buying one of those little adapters that turns one outlet into three. Better yet, buy a travel surge protector.

The video cable worked fine with the DVI port on my MacBook Pro. However, if you have a MacBook or other laptop with a mini-VGA or mini-DVI port you may have to buy an adapter.

I should also mention there is a warning in the manual instructing you to never plug, unplug, connect, or disconnect the Cintiq without first shutting down your computer, or you will risk damaging your video card. I’m not sure if that’s a legitimate concern or just something the lawyers threw in, but I thought I’d mention it.

Supersize Me? The sketchbook Cintiq is 16 inches wide, which is about an inch too wide for my computer bag. Even if it did fit, I wouldn’t have room for all the cables. So I’ll have to buy something a little bigger. My wife suggested a small carry-on suitcase—after all, I bought the sketchbook Cintiq mainly for travel—but that would be overkill. The Office Depot website has a few laptop bags that are just over 16 inches wide, so hopefully it won’t be too hard to find one I like and that is deep enough for all the cables.

(UPDATE: I purchased this bag at OfficeMax and I think it’s going to work out quite well. Nice and roomy without feeling like I’m carrying around a giant piece of luggage.)

Overall this is an amazing piece of machinery. It works just like a desktop Cintiq, which for many artists (like me) means saving time and simplifying your work flow. It’s far superior to a Wacom tablet in that (a) you can draw directly on the screen, which means you can work faster without taxing your eye-hand coordination, and (b) unlike a Wacom tablet, you can turn and rotate the Cintiq without having to worry about messing up the orientation of your lines.

With the 12wx you have the added benefit of portability—as long as you don’t mind dealing with a lot of cables. You might not whip it out at the coffee shop, but if you travel a lot or take your work off-site you’ll find the overall setup to be very convenient.

If you want to draw digitally but can’t cough up $2,000-$2,500 for a large desktop Cintiq, and if you don’t mind working small, I would highly recommend the $995.00 Cintiq 12wx.

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29 thoughts on “My Review Of The New Portable “Sketchbook” Cintiq 12wx

  1. That was a fantastic review. I’m trying to decide between this one and the new 20″ model for working in Toon Boom Storyboard. I’w worried that the resolution an the 12″ might be too low to display the workspace correctly. If you ever have a chance to try out the Storyboard demo version on it, I’d love to get your impressions. Thanks.

  2. Good review Cedric. Wacom should have sent you one for free just for review.

    Having used the discontinued 15″ Cintiq for a couple of years before upgrading to the 21″ I wondered why they didn’t just bring back a new higher res 15″ version. I think 15″ is about as small as you can get and work comfortably with most graphics programs like Photoshop and Flash. This may work great for Art Rage and Sketchbook Pro though. It sounds like this one is just as portable as the 15″ but with a smaller screen. I used to take my 15″ back and forth from work everyday in a regular messenger bag and it was about the weight of a laptop.The 15″ was even small enough for me to use in my car with a laptop. I also found that bundling the wires was a better way to transport it. just make sure when you pack it you are not putting stress where the wires connect to the Cintiq as you can lossen the internal connections.

    Some of the guys at work were talking about the new 12″ but I had to recommend against it and now that I know it is really not more portable than the 15″ I would have to suggest just looking out for a 15″ on E-Bay . you can usually find them for around $800 and it would be a better overall working enviroment.

  3. Hi Cedric,
    I posted this on an older post of yours about Jagged lines in Photoshop using your Cintiq…..

    Just got my Cintiq 21UX last week and love it too…..but I am having the same issues in Photoshop as you……were you able to resolve the problem…..it’s very strange because in Corel Painter and Alias Sketchbook the lines are as smooth a silk……
    Here is an image of what I am describing about line quality with Photoshop using the Cintiq 21UX

    Click on the link below and click on image to enlarge

    http://creativeboytv.deviantart.com/art/CINTIQ-21UX-Line-qualities-72022346

    Wacom have told me it’s a Photoshop issue….hmmmm
    Cheers
    Mike
    creativeboy.tv

  4. Thanks for the kind words everyone. I’m glad it was helpful.

    Paul, the resolution on the 12wx is actually very high. So high that images appear smaller on the Cintiq than they do on my laptop monitor. It makes for a very crisp image, so I don’t think that would be an issue.

    Mike, I still haven’t totally resolved the Photoshop inking issue. But I’ve found that if I ink at exactly 100% size, the inking overall is pretty smooth. Very strange.

  5. Hi Cedric,
    Thanks for your reply….if you figure out the mystery let me know……will keep searching for a solution…….really love my Cintiq but it’s bittersweet if I can’t sketch with it in Photoshop….enjoy your weekend Cheers Mike

  6. I would never say that I can’t sketch in Photoshop. I sketch in Photoshop all the time on the Cintiq, and it works great. It’s just that when I ink in Photoshop, sometimes the slower I move the pen the harder it is to keep the line smooth.

  7. Hi Cedric……well for me I use Photoshop for all my renderings and drawings……some I like to have the sketch as the underly for the rendering or have the sketch over top of it for a more loose look but with the line quality being wobbly that sort of screws up my end result…..it doesn’t seem to be an isolated case as I hear from more Cintiq owners having the same issues with Photoshop
    Cheers Mike

  8. I love the big cintiq but the 12inches….come on, $999 for a Tablet PC with no Hard drive, operating sytem, or even Wifi. Even my 3 years old old Toshiba M200 goes up to 1400×1050

  9. Hi –
    this is a nice review and i agree with most of it. I got my Cintiq 12wx the other day and i absolutely love it (its my first ‘Cintiq experience’ of any kind)…

    Only things that are different to your review is the arm doesnt seem to lock into two positions, its completely free so you can set it to any height… i dunno if thats an improvement they made since your version? i like the way you can set it how you like.

    The alignment issue – it varies slightly whenever you change viewing angle, but the calibration process is really simple (two clicks and your done, in the driver settings) so i re-calibrate every time i change the viewing angle (if you wanted to work portrate for a prolonged period rather than a quick line, re-calibrate while viewing in portrait)

    As far as photoshop line quality when you’re inking slowly – that has to be the sensitivity of the tablet picking up minute natural wobbles that a traditional ink and paper doestn pick up 😛 i dont really know what to suggest other than learn to ink with more flowing sweeps… maybe you can turn down the sensitivity for inking in the driver?

    the resolution and price are great – its a good working size without getting too big, so you can have it on your lap comfortably in front of the TV 😛 – however i totally agree with the wiring issue – there’s quite a spaghetti of cables going to the breakout box – and i dont expect you need all that length… maybe theres a really really short DVI cable you can get somewhere, that would solve some issues.

  10. btw – the touch strip – if you set up to undo (on PS undo history) and down to redo (PS redo history) you can scrub back and forward between undos in all programs!

    also, in Flash, for animating, ive set the strip to go forward/back a frame – so that i can ‘scrub’ the last few frames – which is cool fun.

  11. p.s. sorry if i sounded arrogent above – i’m having the same problems with wobbly lines in PS – but i find zooming in and making broader strokes helps with the issue. 🙂

  12. Firstly, I thank you for your clearly review, I’ve been searching about 12wx review, and this is good enough.
    In my oppinion to rotate the tablet is the most important we needed in drawing, we can’t stay in one position only (just like intuos, that can not be rotate at all). I’m just wondering if I can drawing with this 12wx in 180 degree, could that be possible?

  13. Pingback: Tom’s MAD Blog » Blog Archive » Briefly: More on the New 12″ Cintiq

  14. Mulyanto,

    Yes, you can rotate the tablet 360 degrees, though if you keep spinning it the power cable will eventually get wound up. Also, for complete 360 degree rotation you have to draw flat, you can’t rotate it while tilted up on it’s stand (unlike the large desktop Cintiq’s which can be rotated freely at any angle). For me, I rotate and slide the tablet back and forth some while drawing, maybe 30 degrees in each direction, and find the Cintiq 12wx very easy and comfortable for my drawing style.

  15. Thanks cedric,
    I appreciate your information, because I had dreamed to have one of this kind for a long time.

    That’s really convince me to save money for buy one cintiq 12wx. Unfortunately it’s more costly in my country Indonesia (the price up to $1600). 😦
    By the way I like your comic about “are you a good person?” it’s clearly to read and understand.
    I do drawing some bible story for my sunday school here 🙂

    Thanks

  16. just as an aside, if you have a gameboy DS there’s a remarkable piece of homebrew that lets you use it as a pressure sensitive paint tool. Might appease some people who lust after a cintiq to paint, but can’t afford it. A lot of pro concept artists are getting into it now, using it as a quick portable sketchbook.

    Software: http://www.collectingsmiles.com/colors/
    Gallery (click an image then scroll down to see a timelapse:
    http://colors.brombra.net/

  17. I like your review about the new Cintiq 12WX.

    I just want to ask you guys do you experience any problems with that device?
    f.e. : cursor flickering across the screen and/or inaccurate pen tracking ?

    The reason is I bought one for me, and tried to draw lines using a
    ruler and there was No single straight line.All of them are a little curved or wavy. I did calibration and at the top left and bottom right corner cursor aligns good but at some portions of the screen (upper third) the cursor is offset a lot from the pointer of the pen.
    Also there is cursor flickering all over the screen y 1-2 pixels, sometimes more sometimes less… but very irritating.

    I tested it in different computers with XP and OSX – same result.

    Wacom support clams my tablet is perfectly working and they don’t see a problem, but I cannot accept that as a normal pen tablet behavior.

    Thank you in advance.

  18. Thanks for that great review!

    BTW, I think if you repeat your PS/Painter/SketchbookPro line experiment with any tablet you will find the same results. At least that’s the case on all the tablet’s I’ve tried. PS has very primitive sample interpolation (that little “smoothing” checkbox in the brush pal can be used to turn it off completely so you can see straight lines between tablet samples). SBPro’s are just fantastic (as is it’s display of zoomed images). Painter’s are adjustable per brush.

    Hopefully someday adobe will send a little more love our way.

  19. Pingback: Ask Mr. Artist Guy: Should I Buy A Laptop Or Dekstop Computer? « Cedric’s Blog-O-Rama!

  20. To Chris: Photoshop’s pen/painting tools aren’t quite as robust as other art programs that are more designed from the ground up for smooth, natural tablet feel. I get some wobble in Photoshop with my Cintiq, but I think it’s the way Photoshop tracks the tablet, not the tablet itself. When i use SAI Paint Tool ( a great little Japanese program with no bloat, amazing tools and a low footprint) my inking lines are as smooth and defined as when I use a brush.

  21. To Chris,

    I Think I have had same problem like you. There’s curve wave at bellow part of 12″ screen. I think this problem is manufacture deffect.

    I have been looking forward for wacom answer, after I was send complain letter for 4 weeks.

    well, still they’ve not replied me yet

  22. Hi cedric, sorry to bother you again.

    I have one more question about this cintiq 12wx.
    have you tried to put cintiq 12wx on 21ux rotate stand?(in order to make 12wx can be rotated) 🙂
    Could it be possible, what do you think of it?

    By the way how the “good news” translation that I send to you goes?

    Thanks

  23. Hi, just wanted to give you info about the hot plugging of monitors.

    I have grown up believing that video cables followed serial port rules (never hot plug or unplug!). In fact this is not true anymore (at least since LCD panels with DVI connectors).

    I talked about this with the tech guy that takes care of ALL the workstations in the Fiat Group Automobiles design centerS (there are five neighboring centers accounting for probably a hundred and fifty Cintiq 21UX tablets!!!!).

    Well I asked him after seeing him unplug an “old” Cintiq 21UX and plugging a “new” Cintiq 21UX (latest hardware revision) right on a running PC.
    He said he regularly swaps monitors on hot computers and NEVER lost any display or video card. EVER.

    This doesn’t mean there mustn’t be any chance your hardware will be damaged. Just that it looks like it doesn’t ever happen!

  24. I’ve had the Cintiq 12UX for awhile now, but I’ve been having some problems with the wire connected directly to the tablet.

    It seems that whenever the wire is in a certain position, I lose the connection, and/or my screen flickers.

    I’m unsure why to this is happening because the wire is never bent or put in a bad position.

    Can anyone help?

  25. Pingback: The Search for the Cintiq | The Fantasy Art of Angela R. Sasser

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