I’m a freelance graphic designer working on everything from branding to UI, and an illustrator – where I specialise in painterly portraits (example below). I’ve been using a Wacom tablet of some kind for over 15 years, for both my illustration and graphic-design work.
While the Cintiq tablets have always interested me, they represent a significant investment, and I’ve never really felt that my current tablet and separate screen setup was lacking.
I’m currently using the latest Intuos Pro Medium with a new iMac Retina 5k. Prior to that my main medium was acrylics, and I grew up with some kind of drawing equipment in my hand, through to a degree in Visual Arts. For me, the primary concern with any digital-drawing setup is how natural the mark-making feels and the image reproduction quality.
One of the greatest strengths of a drawing tablet – as opposed to one with a screen built-in – is that your hand isn’t in the way of your image. As a leftie, while I know I’m not going to smudge a digital image, years of adjusting my hand position for writing on paper means that I love not having my hand in the way of whatever I’m creating.
I’ve also tried painting and drawing on an iPad, but the lack of pressure-sensitivity just didn’t keep me coming back, and I have always wondered if a ‘professional’ iPad was around the corner.
Another reservation was a more egotistical anxiety. What if the moment I use a Cintiq, I realise I’ve wasted the last few years of my life without one?
Wacom Cintiq 27QHD review: First impressions
Carrying the huge box up the stairs upon delivery, I was immediately struck by how much this was going to impact my physical setup. I had to reconfigure my desk (okay, have a massive tidy up) just to be able to get started.
As a piece of kit, it’s an undeniably impressive object. The face of the device is striking edge-to-edge glass. The frame around the screen is uninterrupted by physical buttons, a first for the Cintiqs, marking the product out as a device for professionals to truly focus on without distraction.
Perhaps it doesn’t quite have the unmistakeable beauty and build quality of an Apple product, but anyone who sees it is going to gaze admiringly at it. At this point I should mention that I didn’t have the optional Ergo stand for review, but more on that later.
At 9kg it’s not exactly heavy, but I was grateful to have a wireless keyboard. Interestingly, considering the larger screen size, the footprint isn’t much larger than the previous top-end 24HD model (32.3 x 20.1-inches compared to 30.3 x 18.2-inches).
Wacom Cintiq 27QHD review: Set up
With the device in place on my desk, actually getting it on and working was a breeze. I mirrored my displays, opened a recent drawing, and off I went. Drawing on the screen feels fantastic and very natural. In terms of depth, at 3mm you’re closer to the screen behind the glass than ever before, but initially (compared to mark-making on paper) you are still aware of that admittedly small gap.
Wacom Cintiq 27QHD review: Workflow
With my Wacom tablets I always disable all of the buttons, and I prefer to use the keyboard for everything. With the Cintiq, my keyboard was out to the side, and at this large scale, it’s also much more of an effort to reach over to a palette on the right hand side, or a menu at the top of the screen. It quickly became apparent that I was going to need to do things differently. This is where the new ExpressKey Remote comes in (the older, smaller 24HD has physical buttons on the device itself).
Wacom Cintiq 27QHD review: ExpressKey Remote
The remote control can be positioned magnetically wherever you find comfortable at the sides of the device, or held in the hand. I soon realised that this neat little peripheral is really the way to get the most out of the Cintiq, with its 17 customisable buttons.
Naturally you have to think carefully about the functions you’d like to set up, and then memorise the buttons you’ve associated them with. It’s like a complex RPG – the rewards of making the most of the remote will pay dividends, but the learning curve is steep, and it’s going to be some time before there’s no ‘cognitive load’ before each button press, and you iron out mistakes.
Of course with the Cintiq being such a significant investment, you’re going to want to make the most of the functionality it offers in terms of improving your workflow. Handily, you can save your carefully configured settings to the new Wacom Cloud.
Wacom Cintiq 27QHD review: the Touch version
I reviewed the £300 more expensive Cintiq 27QHD Touch, which lets you use tablet-like gestures with your hands such as pinching to zoom.
Unfortunately I found this aspect of the device to be rather unpredictable and unresponsive. It often twisted when I wanted to zoom, but even when it was performing the desired transition, it just didn’t feel very intuitive, and sometimes didn’t seem to pick up my gestures at all. The main downside seems to be that you can’t use the touch settings at the same time as drawing. When you can zoom in and out via the ExpressKey Remote, I personally couldn’t imagine paying extra for this.
Updated drivers may improve touch control in the future - and perhaps I could improve my technique with more practice - but touch controls are supposed to empower you with something intuitive that you don’t need to learn how to use. Being so used to the responsiveness of an iPad, I couldn’t particularly recommend the top-end model over the other for this feature alone.
Wacom Cintiq 27QHD review: Colour and resolution
While at 2,560 x 1,440, the resolution of the Cintiq is significantly higher that the previous top-end model (1,920 x 1,080), with the QHD standing for Quad High Definition, clearly in this regard it’s still some way off the stunning retina iMac at 5,120 x 2,880.
For professional use, to avoid needing a reference monitor, you’re advised to also get the separate Wacom Color Manager peripheral, which is currently £176 on amazon uk, although bizarrely I couldn’t find it on Wacom’s site.
The Cintiq's colour gamut covers 97% of the Adobe RGB working colour space used by tools like Photoshop. The retina iMac covers 98% – little more on paper – but even at maximum brightness the Cintiq just doesn’t make your artwork sing in the same way. The colours can be customised out of the box without the additional manager, and I got pretty close to the balance of my Retina iMac display, but without having the Color Manager for review, I couldn’t advise whether it really is possible to use the Cintiq as your only display.
There’s also a screen fade issue that was exacerbated without having a stand, because when leaning over the device you end up being much closer to the screen. Where I was intently focused on the painting area, looking over to a reference image at the other side of the display, the drop-off in terms of colour depth and brightness is quite noticeable.
Wacom Cintiq 27QHD review: Ergo Stand
I soon started to feel uncomfortable having to lean over to draw. The built-in legs give you a shallow angle but I would say that a stand is an essential purchase. While the official Ergo one looks great, another option is an Ergotron arm, which can let you actually rotate the screen itself and gives you a bit more flexibility in terms of positioning.
Wacom Cintiq 27QHD review: Conclusion
The Wacom Cintiq QHD27 is a striking piece of professional kit, which feels fantastic to draw on. Drawing on one of the smaller tablets you’re mostly only ever using your wrist, but the rest of your arm can come into play here, and it feels very satisfying as a result.
Every time I used it, I found I could easily get into the flow of my work, and felt truly focused on it. Without the keyboard in reach, once I started to customise the ExpressKey Remote, my workflow started to catch up with my current tablet/keyboard setup – and as a bonus, with the focus on the giant drawing tablet, I felt less compelled to check my email and social media.
A stand is going to be essential in terms of getting the most out of it, and maintaining good posture and comfort for hours on end.
Future models will no doubt have improved resolution, brightness, and colour depth, and hopefully the touch controls will become more intuitive and reliable, but overall the Cintiq 27QHD is an amazing device which is truly exciting to use. Now I have to send my review model back, I’ve realised that I won’t be able to live without it, so the bottom line is that I’m keeping that space free on my desk.