Wacom Cintiq Companion user reviews: the final verdict from designers, illustrators and photographers

After eight weeks, our designers, illustrators and photographers who have put the Wacom Cintiq Companion through its paces tell us how it changed how they create.

Watch Estelle talk about her Wacom Cintiq Companion experience in the video above

Motion Design Director Estelle Baylis took a little time to get used to the new experience of working directly onto the screen. However as she suffers from neck and shoulder issues, Estelle also appreciated the fact that she could use the Cintiq Companion directly in front of her, rather like an easel.

“I like the fact that the Cintiq is also a computer which means I can work anywhere with it and access emails/internet,” she told us. “So rather than being fixed at my desktop computer, I can choose to work elsewhere if need be.”

She wasn't keen on the Windows OS at first, and indeed in our final interview, she still expresses a desire for the Companion to run the Mac OS. However arming herself with a Mac keyboard seemed to settle some of her initial concerns and she was soon drawing on the screen directly into Illustrator. “It's just a much more natural way of working,” she states.

Nor was she long restricted to the keyboard, informing us that she started to use the Companion's shortcuts within Illustrator, mostly for increasing/decreasing the brush width via the touch strip, as well as creating a few screen shortcuts for the radial menu.

As well as working full time, Estelle is also learning Processing, and using this to create illustrative generative artwork. During the competition, Estelle found she could make use of the Companion's in-built camera to photograph some plants as source material for her work in Processing, first using the brushes Illustrator to trace over the shapes.

And although she's still averse to the PC-style environment, she has recently been extolling the benefits of the Cintiq Companion to other creatives.  “Working directly onto a screen makes so much difference,” she adds. 

Watch Heta talk about her Wacom Cintiq Companion experience in the video above

As a senior designer for Vivienne Westwood, Heta Dobrowolski was well placed to explore how well the Cintiq Companion could work in the world of fashion illustration.

Her initial dismay at the long and wide aspect of the Companion's screen turned to delight when she realised how useful this would be when used in portrait orientation.  “My artwork looked so wonderful in Illustrator when I turned the tablet to portrait orientation!”an excited Heta shared with us. “I get the full body and it’s so big, much bigger that on any monitors I’ve worked with so far.”

One of the software tools on the Companion provided another welcome discovery for Heta. “Corel Painter has been a revelation and has completely changed the way I do illustrations,” she told us. “ Working on the Cintiq comes very close to working on paper, it makes it much more natural to sketch as you would with traditional pens, pencils and brushes. The flow of different brushes in Corel Painter becomes more and more natural the longer I work.”

This evolution of her workflow led Heta to work a friend's wedding dress on the Companion, trying out Painter's particle brushes for hair and fabric fills, as well as fading and blending with the airbrush tools.”

Though well versed in the art of using the Intuos, Heta did encounter some initial problems with the Cintiq Companion, some of which required Wacom tech support to step in to help. However as you can see from the artwork Heta submitted over the contest, such teething trouble was soon a thing of the past.

Heta feels that although some of the commands and controls of the Companion could require time for new users to get up to speed, it's a device that anyone with experience of touch-sensitive devices would soon get up to speed. 

“Getting used to working on the Cintiq is as easy as picking up a piece of paper and a pencil,” she said. “It's very natural to draw on the surface you're looking at.”

Watch Gidi talk about his Wacom Cintiq Companion experience in the video above

Portrait photographer Gidi Meir Morris feels that “every photographer who respects themselves should be working with a tablet”.

“If you had never used a pressure sensitive device before, I would definitely recommend you start on a device like the Cintiq,” he told us. “It adds another layer of realism, which makes it an easier and more natural experience.”

Well versed in both the use of Wacom tablets and Photoshop for his retouching work and photo post processing, Gidi took on the Cintiq Companion with great enthusiasm. He threw himself into the contest by completely replacing the Wacom Intuos in his workflow. Although he experienced some drop in productivity at first, he was very soon producing fantastically enhanced portraits and mixed media digital paintings on the Companion.

He warns creatives that the Companion can be a complex undertaking however, telling us “it requires you to make a major shift in your approach to your art work and process.”

Gidi comes from a painting background, so he particularly relished the experience of being able to create something from scratch again, this time in the digital realm.

“The experience you have just painting onto the image takes you to a completely different place,” he states in our final interview. “It gave me the chance to look at my work in a different way.”

In fact the Cintiq reignited his painting passion, as he told us during the competition: “It has pushed me into trying something which is very different than my usual work and has hence started a brand new and exciting project for me.”   


Watch Liam talk about his Wacom Cintiq Companion experience in the video above

Illustrator and animator Liam Brazier was one of the first of our creatives to really take to the Wacom Cintiq Companion. He favourably compared the initial experience of drawing with custom pressure-sensitive brushes on the device to working on paper.

Liam was keen on the mobility of the Companion, having sold his previous laptop to buy a desktop workstation with more 'grunt' for his animation. The device subsequently freed up his workflow, not only releasing him from being chained to a desktop all day, but also by allowing him to work outside, sketching in the real world. He also pointed out the suitability of the Cintiq for client meetings: “The Companion has a really nice screen for displaying work, both video and illustration,” he said. “I can see the touch input being a bonus for clients shifting through pieces with ease, with me then being able to make any changes to work right there and then on the fly.”

He also found it easy to use the Companion in less formal situations, such as sending us his artwork from his bed or being more sociable with his family while sketching on the sofa.

Liam's creative skills were not diminished in any way either;  he submitted consistently excellent artwork, particularly winning fans in the more geeky parts of Digital Arts towers with his geometric Star Wars-themed pieces.

In our final interview Liam said he had been pleasantly surprised just how much the Companion answered his needs.

“I prefer using this as a mobile device to create on, than the previous laptop,” he says. “I trust my hands more than a mouse or a trackpad. Drawing on the screen has taken away that extra layer of distance, that alienation you get between what's in your brain, your hand and the computer.”

Watch Richard talk about his Wacom Cintiq Companion experience in the video above

Product designer Richard Ward was off in China on a factory visit for his toy designs when the contest kicked off, but he soon got up to speed with his colourful creations.

A long-time user of Wacom tablets, Richard rapidly picked up the Companion workflow. He told us the major difference with non-integrated tablets is that with the Cintiq Companion freehand drawing is much quicker. He described the experience as much more like working with traditional pen and paper.

“The best qualities are the accuracy of the pen and the drawing surface,” he informed us. “The pen glides smoothly to create a natural feeling while drawing. Being able to freely rotate the device itself makes it easier to draw straight lines and curves. You can rotate the canvas digitally to do this, but being able to rotate the actual device makes it even easier.”

It also helps him creatively, working in Corel Painter and Adobe Illustrator for the most part, with some post processing work taking place in Photoshop. Like our other creatives, Richard explored using the camera on the Cintiq Companion; in his case it was to take photos of wood grain, and then to uses the photographs to give his product images some texture.

“I usually sketch in 3D as the designs will be made into toys,” he told us. “The Cintiq Companion is really good for this as it’s easy to draw straight lines and the feeling of the pen against the surface is just right.”

He's also been a great fan of the portability of the Cintiq Companion, saying it has allowed him to change working environments. “It can replace my old heavy laptop, my large Intuos and my 12-inch Android tablet,” said Richard. “The Cintiq Companion is all of these things combined into one.”

Watch Ryan talk about his Wacom Cintiq Companion experience in the video above

Freelance illustrator Ryan McAllister had owned a Wacom Intuos 2 for some years, so he treated the Companion as a fresh take on the pen and tablet approach, in particular experimenting with the various brushes and pens that use tilt recognition.

Ryan was one of our more adventurous creative contestants, taking the Cintiq Companion on bus trips and ferries. “The Companion is just the right size to hold like a large sketchbook, a big plus if you don't always want to be sat at a desk or have it resting on your lap,” he told us.

He quickly found that he could even replace his real-world sketchbook for his initial task of creating rough drawings. Moreover, as he tells us in our final interview, “I could work up the rough sketches on the Companion and continue working on the [drawings] right through to completion. That became the thing that was great about using the Companion.”

Ryan also exploited the features offered by the Companion's ExpressKeys and Rocker Ring to build in his own Adobe Illustrator shortcuts.  He continued to tweak these presets and streamline his workflow throughout the Show Your Creativity timeframe, ultimately finding that some of his shortcuts could be performed faster on the Companion than on a desktop computer.

As for usability, Ryan is of the opinion that the Companion essentially eliminates the hand eye co-ordination problem of using a graphics tablet without an integrated screen. He's no fan of the Windows 8 OS though, despite being a long-time Windows user. “Although when it comes to using Illustrator or Photoshop, there's not much difference,” he adds.

He feels a user who has relied on a external keyboard for years may have some problems getting used to the device, though adding “I feel that Wacom has done an excellent job making the default configuration of the Companion suited for first time users.”

Watch Idil talk about her Wacom Cintiq Companion experience in the video above

Art director and photographer Idil Sukan had serious reservations at first about how the Wacom Cintiq Companion would fit into her workflow. Although due to space restrictions we couldn't feature all of her concerns online, she raised some issues about screen and pen response, the amount of onboard memory available for Photoshop, the lack of a keyboard for shortcuts and the presence of Windows 8 operating system.

However Idil persevered, deciding that instead of using the Companion as a replacement for her iMac and Intuos desktop workflow, she would consider it as a portable tool instead..

“I don't want to over-tax it,” she informed us in the first week of the contest. “Commercial photography work is too heavy going for it. Perhaps [I'll use it] as a sketching pad, or for post production of smaller images from a compact camera.”

However Idil did appreciate the precision drawing available on the Companion. “Zoomed right in, you minimise the discrepancy between nib area and cursor icon,” she explained. “There is a really lovely relationship that you form with such a large screen, so close up, with a stylus that you've known and loved for so many years.”

With an exhibition of her photography in the pipeline, Idil subsequently started working on backstage portraits of comedians appearing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. During this process she found that the Companion proved itself to be a better workhorse than she expected.

“It presented a new and exciting way of working for me,” Idil told us. “A lot of my work is physically segmented into the photograph and then the post production process. That's always been the one process in my head, so it's been exciting to be able to take this on the road.”

Idil also got around one of her earlier gripes – addressing the lack of an integrated keyboard by buying a bluetooth portable version. She still doesn't like Windows however.