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Wacom Cintiq 18sx

Pressure-sensitive LCD pen tablet By Dave Nagel
Last October I reviewed Wacom's Cintiq 15x, the company's least expensive and most impressive pressure-sensitive tablet combined with an LCD screen. It took me about a day of testing it to realize that I couldn't live without it for my graphics work. So I bought one for myself. Now Wacom has released its Cintiq 18sx, the big brother to the 15x, and what can I say? I'm stunned.

I know Wacom doesn't like loaning me their equipment for review because it always goes back to them covered in my drool. I know this sounds a little bit gross, but it's just a fact of corporeal life. If a company's going to make tools like the Cintiq, it's going to have to learn to live with bodily fluids.

The benefits of pressure-sensitive tablets
Now, before I get into the 18sx in particular, I want to discuss pressure-sensitive tablets in general. I went a decade or so of my computer life without ever seriously exploring the potential of a graphics tablet in my work. I tried out an ADB-based Artz Pad way back when, but the technology just wasn't there at the time. Old tablets were slow to respond, and they lacked support from important applications.

My reintroduction to tablets came a few years ago when I got my hands on a Wacom Graphire pressure-sensitive tablet. Literally, overnight, it changed the way I work with my Mac. While it took me a short time to become reacquainted with something other than a mouse, it was worth it in the investment of time. Not only did drawing and painting become more natural and intuitive in the digital medium, but the tablet also expanded the possibilities of virtually every piece of software I own, not just 2D graphics programs like Adobe Photoshop, but 3D programs and video editing and compositing software as well. Virtually every piece of software that can support pressure input does support pressure input.

Just take Photoshop for example. No longer did I have to adjust my brush size manually when I wanted to vary strokes. No longer did I have to adjust the opacity of the Clone Stamp tool. I didn't have to use the fade option on a brush because I could fade a stroke just by reducing pressure with the tablet's pen. I could touch up photos more precisely, and I'd never have to input a value into a parameter field again. (Well, mostly, anyway.)

What's more, even programs that don't accept pressure can still be used with the tablet. Today, I still use that same Graphire tablet in place of my mouse for virtually everything I do, whether it's checking e-mail or just navigating through the Finder, because it acts simply as a mouse automatically. (Heck, I could even play Unreal Tournament with my tablet and shoot at guys just by clicking the pen.)

The point is this: If you're in the visual arts, you ought to have a pressure-sensitive tablet. Whether you can afford the low-end Graphire ($99) or the highest-end LCD pen tablet system (which we're looking at today), your work will benefit from it.

LCD pen-tablet systems
My introduction to LCD pen-tablet systems came back in 2000 when Wacom sent me their PL500 for review. This was a 15" LCD screen that allowed you to draw directly on the screen. It was great, but the price was, to say the least, disconcerting. It came in at $3,999. My next 15" LCD tablet was the Cintiq 15x, a version that was improved in every way, including the price. At $1,899, it shaved more than $2,000 off the price of the PL500. As I mentioned, this was the LCD tablet I bought for myself. (You can read my review of it here.) You want to talk about changing the way you work? Just imagine drawing directly on your canvas! To date, I think you can't add a more useful enhancement to your computer for the price.

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