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Product Review: Intuos4 From Wacom

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If you use a product like Adobe Photoshop, or Corel Painter, and you are not using a pen tablet, then you don't really understand what you are missing. A pen tablet allows you much more control than you can get with a mouse. It gives you much more efficiency in movement and the pressure sensitivity gives you the same kind of control that you would get from a pen, pencil, or paint brush.

The Intuos4 consists of a digitized pad that plugs in to the USB port on your computer. Your computer then treats the device as though it were a mouse. Through the use of a product like Photoshop or Painter that can take advantage of the rich technology that the pad enables, such that when you use the pen, you can apply more or less pressure which translates to various thicknesses and more or less affect on your image.

Intous4There was a time when the pen tablet was geared just for the commercial artist. They were expensive and the limited amount of software that was enabled to use the device was also geared toward the professional. Then came the Intuous3 which, while having a reasonable pricing structure, also seemed to work with more products, and now had traditional artists as well as photographers getting in on this technology.

Now enter the Intuos4 line of pen tablets. Not only has the price remained reasonable, there are now four sizes to choose from, and the quality of the product has improved dramatically. The total shape and surface have been completely re-engineered to give you more consistent strokes over longer periods of time.

I have worked with the Intuos3 (the 6 x 8 inch) for a number of years and it has become a mainstay in my workflow. Early on, that workflow was primarily photography where it has helped me with things like dodge, burn, sharpen, and blur effects as well as other techniques enormously. Over the course of the last couple of years, I have added Painter to my arsenal and would be hard pressed not having a Wacom tablet. The control is just phenomenal.

In the new Intuos4 line the tablet sizes are small (3.9 x 6.2), medium (5.5 x 8.8), large (8 x 12.8), and extra large (12 x 18.2). The one I now have is the medium and it is roughly the same size as my Intuos3. It is a tad bit smaller on the overall area, but as I realized with the longer width and smaller height is that it works better with my widescreen monitor.

Intous4What do you need to run the Wacom Intuos4?

• Windows XP (SP2), Windows Vista, or Mac OS X10.4.8+
• Color Display
• Powered USB Port
• CD/DVD Drive
• Internet connection to download the bundled software that comes with the tablet

What do you get with the Wacom Intuos4?
• The Intuos4 tablet
• The Intuos4 Grip Pen
• The Intuos4 Mouse
• Pen stand
• Ten replacement nibs (five standard, one flex, one stroke, and three hard felt nibs)
• Nib extractor
• 5' USB cable
• Quick Start Guide
• Installation CD (includes tablet driver software and electronic user manual)

OK. This stuff is all cool, but what about the tablet? Well let's start off at the beginning. While it does not bring anything to the table from a quality of the tablet standpoint, it does show me that they are taking everything into consideration, and that is the very well designed packaging. From first look, you just know that there is something special in the box.

Opening the box you have the re-stylized tablet itself. Its black appearance is much sleeker than the previous grey look. The eight programming ExpressKeys are grouped on one side and they are highlighted with illuminated labels that light up in blue and really make it stylish. The pen holder is a little taller, and the pen itself is much sleeker.

Installing the software is a snap. Pop in the disk and follow instructions. You do want to wait till prompted before you plug the tablet in. One of the new things about this tablet is the fact that, unlike the Intuos3, the keys are set on one side and in the middle. There are two USB ports on the unit and you can switch which one based on if you are right-handed or left-handed. Again, well thought out.

So what is new with the Wacom Intuos4?

Intous4New tip sensor now gives you ultra control. The Intuos4 now gives you the ability to capture the slightest nuances of pen pressure right down to a single gram of weight.

Twice as much pressure as the Intuos3. The Intuos4 now gives you 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. This will let you dynamically adjust the exposure, brush size, line weight, and opacity.

More natural feel has been given to the Intuos4 pen style. It features a more contoured barrel which is designed to maximize your grip. It will even reduce the stress to your hand and wrist as well as better emulating your favorite writing, drawing, or painting instrument.

More efficient shortcuts have been implemented by the use of the ExpressKeys. These will give you the ability to activate your own unique shortcuts and modifiers in each of your applications. You can even see your settings change in the illuminated display areas when you switch between applications.

New Touch Ring will give you better control for zooming, scrolling, changing brush size, rotating the canvas, or layer selection. The toggle button in the center allows you to control up to four different functions in each application.

User-defined switches that are located on the pen are preset to right-click and double-click, but you can change them to be what you want based on your most commonly used functions.

Slimmer profile is more comfortable than the Intuos3. It has a more gently sloping feel and an "easy glide" palm rest that provides for more support while working on all areas of the tablet.

Pen tip storage is now in the pen stand. Remember when I said that the pen holder is taller? It is taller so that you can store pen nibs in it. Just twist it off and you will see the ten replacement nibs. In the center is also a small ring that you pull out and it can be used for extracting nibs that wear out from excessive pressure.

Intous4Visual references are available on the Intuos4 medium, large, and extra large tablets. The illuminated displays provide a visual reference to each key's function. On the small tablet, pressing the default ExpressKey will display the setting to the screen.

Additional Software is available when you register. You get Nik Color Efex Pro 3 Wacom Edition 6 which are a set of photographic filters for the use in digital photography and transforming your images. You get Wacom Brushes 3.0 which are additional brushes for your use in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. And you get to pick two out of these three products: Photoshop Elements 7 for Windows or Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac, Autodesk SketchBook Express 2010, or Corel Painter Sketch Pad.

Reversible table makes much more sense than two sets of buttons on each side. Now you can maximize your productivity of both of your hands by having everything on the side that you would use it most on.

The mouse is not really new, but not something that I use much. Along with the pen, there is also a mouse that comes with the Intuos4. Like the pen and tablet, the mouse too is black. For those who use the tablet 24/7, the mouse is there to replace your mouse so you can keep your tablet on your desk the whole time.

The more I work with the Wacom Intuos4, the more I appreciate the 16:9 aspect ratio. I am not sure how this will affect someone with monitor that has a 4:3 aspect ratio, but I think that this can be rectified by limiting the area within the configuration setup.

While it will take some time to really get use to, I do like the ExpressKeys. The reason I say this is that with the Intuos3, the keys were different shapes and different directions. Here they are all the same size and right next to each other and it is easy to think that you are hitting one when you are hitting the one next to it. Not a big deal, just a bit of retraining.

Another great innovation is the Touch Ring. With the old tablet, you had the Touch Strip, but you could only assign it one function. Now the new Touch Ring can support four functions. And switching is all with the press of the central button. The Ring functions much like the ring on an iPod.

The Pen, which is black like the tablet, is also much improved. I liked the old pen really well, but the new one is just so much better. The grip is rubberized and it is so much more comfortable than before. It really feels like you are holding a natural pen. The enhanced sensitivity really gives you the feel of control. The pen stand is also outstanding in its design and use ability.

Intous4The tablet itself is a big improvement. The surface has a better feel to it. It is almost like you are drawing on paper or canvas. The ergonomic design is more comfortable than drawing on a paper tablet, but without losing feel.

My only real complaints beyond the closely spaced ExpressKeys are that the black styling is a finger print magnet and a dust collector. It is to a lesser degree the same with the pen.

That said, if you are considering a graphics pen tablet, and are still on the fence, then let me give you a little push. For the price, the Wacom Intuos4 Medium is really a good deal. One thing to keep in mind that from the stand point of size, the medium is probably the largest that most people will need. It takes up a good bit of desk space, but is balanced with the size of the new monitors.

I had my last one for over four years and it has served me well. Once you get accustomed to using the pen tool, you will wonder how you could have survived without it. It is for that reason that I very highly recommend the Wacom Intuos4 Medium Tablet.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.