Wacom Cintiq 13HD first look review

  • Price When Reviewed: £625 plus VAT

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We spend some time with Wacom's new digital drawing surface, which fits comfortably onto your lap.

While Wacom's 21- and 24-inch Cintiq screen/tablet combos are on many creative's moneys-no-object wishlist, they do have downsides of taking up most of your desk and weighing about the same as a baby hippo. The new Cintiq 13HD doesn't offer the expansive drawing areas of its larger cousins, but it does fit quite naturally on your lap. It also seems more practical for tasks from sketching through to linework, inking, colouring retouching, rotoscoping and VFX work – while the larger models are for more towards the finishing end of artwork creation.

It's a lot more affordable too.

I got a brief chance to play with the Cintiq 13HD just now and see it demoed by one of Wacom's 'evangelists' at a briefing. We should get our hands on one for a longer period of time soon – when we'll be releasing it into the hands of one of our favourite illustrators to see how it works as a daily art tool.

The Cintiq 13HD is a much-enhanced upgrade of the six-years-old Cintiq 12WX, adding in much of the functionality found in the newer larger models – though unfortunately not the multi-touch controls found in the 24-inch Cintiq HD touch. The 13.3-inch screen has a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution capable of producing a colour gamut of 16.7 million shades.

This gives the screen a pixel density of 165dpi, which makes clicking on elements within Photoshop's interface – especially small buttons such as in the Adjustments panel – require more precision that you're used to. However, if you have the Cintiq 13HD and Photoshop set up correctly, you're likely to have your interface on your computer or laptop's main screen and just use the Cintiq's screen for your artwork, photo, footage or animation.

You can avoid having to touch Photoshop's interface when you're working with shortcut controls built into the Cintiq 13HD and its software. Even if – like many artists who also work with real pens, pencils and brushes – you disable the pen's two buttons, there are four buttons and D-pad-style rocker switch on the Cintiq (above) to help you quickly zoom, change brush size, undo, add new layers or whatever you regularly find yourself needing to do. You can also set one of the buttons to bring up an on-screen radial menu to quickly select from a wider range of tools.

The 13.3-inch screen makes this Cintiq have the approximate same size of drawing area as the Medium-sized Intuos5. It fits comfortably in your lap, tethered by a single cable that only spiders out into multiple lines when it gets near your computer. Sitting back from you desk and doodling is easy – and evne though the unit had been on for a few hours, it was cool both on top and bottom.

If you do put it on the desk, Wacom provides a clip-on stand that lets you tilt the Cintiq to a comfortable level. Our evangelist preferred using the 20-degree level for drawing, using the most vertical 50-degree setting for presentations only. I concur, but you may prefer the other levels – so it's good that Wacom has built some flexibility in.

Wacom has changed the pen holder, replacing the traditional stand with a case (below) that – like recent versions of the stand – holds your nibs and wheels for colour-coding multiple pens. We're not sure why Wacom's still got the holder in the main press shots we've used at the top of this review.

While the case is not as elegant a solution as the stand on your desk – you can't just throw it in there as a meaningful way of saying 'I'm finished' (or just 'I'm done for the day') – but it's easier to sling in a bag with the Cintiq 13HD and a laptop.

The Cintiq 13HD's single cable splits into power, USB and HDMI – which means you'll need an MiniDisplayPort/Thunderbolt-to-HDMI adapter to connect it to a modern map.

While we're reserving full judgement on the Cintiq 13HD until we get a full chance to put it through its paces, at first glance it looks to be an excellent creative tool with a well-considered design. The level of creative control – such as 2,048-levels of pressure sensitivity – put it well above a standalone tablet such as the Microsoft Surface. In fact, the Cintiq 13HD's main competition comes from one of its own products that it hasn't even launched yet.

On February 28, Wacom announced that it was creating its own iPad- or Surface-like 'mobile tablet' in the late summer. No further information is forthcoming from Wacom – despite badgering from us – so we're not even sure if it'll be a Windows 8 device capable of running full versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Painter, After Effects et al. If it's an Android tablet, you could be limited to Photoshop Touch.

£625 is a lot of money to spend on a device if an untethered tablet computer is just around the corner, so we're hoping Wacom release more details on its 'mobile tablet' soon.

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