Show Your Creativity week 5: how does a Wacom Cintiq Companion compare to using a traditional graphics tablet?

This week our 8 artists and designers compare drawing and painting directly on-screen using the Cintiq Companion to working with a graphics tablet.

Welcome to week number five of our regular updates on Wacom's 'Show Your Creativity’ contest: where our selected designers, illustrators and photographers are using Cintiq Companions to create professional and personal projects – and telling us about their experiences.

Each week we’ll be giving an update on the progress of our contestants – each of whom who are vying to win a fantastic Wacom Cintiq Companion. To do this they need to supply us with a weekly round up of their device use and screen shots of their progress as they create or add to a project with the Cintiq Companion.

Some of our creative contestants have already been digging deeper within the capabilities of the Cintiq Companion. This week, in addition to progressing with their projects, we asked them to let us know if the Companion's pen behviour changed or affected their techniques. Had they seen any differences in how they push pixels on the page or canvas?

We also asked them if, given their experience, how easy they thought it would be for someone who had never used a pressure sensitive pen and tablet to use the Companion.

As we've seen, and you'll see again, these talented creatives show no let up in their enthusiasm in getting to grips with Wacom's portable graphics workstation.

Image: Peak Time by Ryan McAllister

Gidi Meir Morris has been using Wacom tablets for many years. “I'm so used to the intuitive nature of the pen, that it's hard for me to actually explain how I feel about it,” he says. “Its just second nature by now.”

“That said, I definitely find the fact that I am now applying the pressure directly onto the pixels which I'm editing makes the whole pressure sensitivity feel more 'real' in a way. If before I was controlling pressure from afar, now I'm applying a 'real' painting tool to a 'real painting... it definitely makes you feel the sensitive nature of the pen in a much more realistic sense.”

Regarding new users: “If you had never used a pressure sensitive device before, but nor are you a power user in the graphic application you intend on using, then I would definitely recommend you start on a device like the Cintiq,” he says. “It adds another layer of realism to the tool's usage, which makes it an easier and more natural experience.”

“On the other hand, if you are already a power user of the application, switching to the Cintiq adds not only the difficulty of learning the new physical tool but also the new controls for the application. In such a case I'd recommend the user stick to their existing environment, whether it's a Mac or - god forbid - Windows, and opt for a regular pressure sensitive device, such as a Wacom Intuos instead.”

“This will allow for a smoother transition, and can easily be followed by a move onto a Cintiq after the user learns how to work their way around the Intuos naturally.”

Unfortunately Gidi fell ill during the week. Though now recovered, he says his progress on his artwork on the Companion is therefore only marginal, but he has submitted a screenshot for us nonetheless.

Liam Brazier is another long time user of Wacom devices, and feels he is very versed with using his computers with a pen over the years. “That said, the Companion is my very first hands-on with a Cintiq,” he admits. “As I’ve said before the hand/eye coordination leap you have to overcome when first using something like an Intuos is understandably dissipated by drawing directly on the screen. It makes way more sense to create images this way, especially speaking as someone who didn’t have access to computers for creating at art school.”

“On the flip-side of that argument is that everything else you have to do on a computer is slightly more laborious with a pen,” he adds.

“The Companion has addressed some of these issues through being able to be controlled by touch. For example it offers a pop-up on-screen keyboard, and Windows 8 offers a touch-friendly ‘home screen’ for launching your applications. Unfortunately most work is undertaken via the 'desktop' - the name given to the old style, standard Windows environment. This means menus and tools can be a bit on the small side to handle efficiently. “

Liam has made a number of tweaks to font size and so on to counter this. “Adobe has also made some allowances in apps like Illustrator to increase the UI size that make hitting the right icon with your pen tip a better bet,” he adds. “All these make using the Companion much more enjoyable to use than straight out of the box. Ultimately however the Windows desktop area does feel like an awkward clash of what you want the device to do, and what it has to do due to limitations. I’d love to see smarter people come up with a more elegant solution, but for now it’s usable.”

“The Companion is equipped with USB ports so should you wish, an external keyboard, mouse, disc drive, or whatever could be attached to mimic a more familiar desktop scenario,” he says in answer to our question about newbie users.

“That sort of defeats the point however; the device is made to be used all the places that your desk isn’t, but you are. After setting up the Express Keys on the edge of the unit and the two keys on the pen itself to be shortcuts to all my most frequently used tools, I’ve spent the majority of my time with the Companion on the sofa, happily working, and probably more efficiently than I was before.”

“Is it easier to grasp than a Bamboo/Intuos for a first time user? It’s difficult question to answer, as one is more an evolution of the mouse whereas the Cintiq is the pen being a pen.”

Liam reveals that he managed to fit in an illustration for an ad this week: “Another opportunity to develop my burgeoning Illustrator skills, alongside getting familiar with the Companion. Client seems happy, and I haven’t felt the panic or need to flee back to the safety of my desktop machine yet.

“I also did some tweaks on an animation in After Effects, but I’m not sure video work is where the Companion’s talents lie. Rendering was practically useless compared to my iMac, but for adjustments on the go it’s workable.”

Estelle Baylis has been taking a course at the Art of Islamic Pattern School in Hackney Wick this week. “I've been hoping it may inform/inspire my Processing learnings,”she says. "It goes back to basics, only using pen to paper, so it's been great returning home and mirroring my day's learning in the same fashion, but to screen rather than paper."

“I've created a piece in Illustrator using the Companion," she continues. "I had to create a 12 fold grid in order to create the stars and hexagons. These were made with the pen tool rather than the shapes tool. So, aside from not using a compass, everything was created as hands-on as possible. During the most recent class we could only create a pencil outline grid, but at home I was able to recreate it in vectors, and then apply colour and overlays very quickly. Having the Companion meant I got to keep that same direct contact with the screen! I'd also have to say I'm impressed with the screen quality too."

"I really enjoy working directly onto the screen and feel I get more precision this way."

"I seem to remember struggling with a normal Wacom tablet for the first few days owning one!" she adds. "Still, it was very quick to get to grips with and I've never looked back. So I think the same would apply for a beginner with the Companion."

"We're also a lot more accustomed to these types of devices, touch screens and swiping, so can't see anyone really struggling. However, I would certainly recommend using a keyboard alongside. Personally I think the main issue will be trying to encourage Mac users to change to a PC environment."

Richard Ward thinks that learning to use the Cintiq Companion would be easier at first than using a graphics tablet in terms of coordination while drawing.

“After getting used to working on a graphics tablet you can still draw easily, but it doesn’t feel as natural as using the Cintiq Companion,” he explains. “I can use both well, and the major difference is that with the Cintiq Companion freehand drawing is much quicker, as it is much more like working with traditional pen and paper.”

“I would recommend the Cintiq to freelancers and professionals who want maximum productivity while drawing,” continues Richard. “Although I have found that a lot of employers do not buy their staff Cintiqs, so it's best practice using an Intuos at first just to acquire the skill of using a normal graphics tablet. But my preference would be to work with a Cintiq for drawing.

Richard has been continuing creating the artworks for the block puzzle, for which he submitted the first artwork in week two, of a tiger. “I have also been sketching ideas for new products for the wooden rail range of toys,” he reveals.

“Compared to the pen I had with my older Intuos tablet the pen sensitivity is much more accurate and has an overall smoother feel,” says Ryan McAllister. “It has been a pleasure experimenting with the various brushes and pens that use tilt recognition as this was a feature I didn't have with the older model of pen. I feel that I have been able to visualise new and interesting ways of creating strokes. As a side note, I really like the case for the pen, it fits neatly in the Cintiq Companion sleeve and has a very distinct feel.”

Ryan feels that the Companion essentially eliminates the hand eye co-ordination problem of using a graphics tablet without an integrated screen. “I feel that this is what beginners struggle with most, as many people already own some sort of tablet or touch screen device which they are already used to operating directly on screen. Although the cost would be considerably more I feel that a non-integrated tablet would be a step back for most people who are already familiar with touch screen devices.”

He continues: “For complete beginners who are only familiar with a keyboard and mouse they would benefit immediately from the integrated screen. However, there may be some initial difficulties getting used to the controls on the Companion. The biggest challenge would likely be configuring the expresskeys and rocker ring with the required shortcuts to suit their needs. A user who has relied on a external keyboard for years may have some problems getting used the device."

"However, I feel that Wacom have done an excellent job making the default configuration of the Companion suited for first time users. The user guides supplied are also clear enough to aid even a complete beginners to transition to the device. Personally, I also found there is a lot of useful resource online about how to get the most from the Companion.”

This week Ryan has been continuing work on patterns. “I have been making a lot of 'jigsaws' of faces and shapes around the theme of dense crowds. Notting Hill Carnival provided me with some inspiration with the assortment of colours and faces to look at. I came up with the idea of mirroring these jigsaws to create a pattern of colour and shapes, almost like a tessellation.”

Heta Dobrowolski feels that working on the Cintiq Companion comes very close to working on paper.

“It makes it much more natural to sketch as you would with traditional pens, pencils and brushes,”she says. “The flow of different brushes in Corel Painter becomes more and more natural the longer I work on the Cintiq. The pressure sensitivity is really impressive, and the line thickness variations respond to the pen wonderfully."

"I'm so grateful for Wacom supplying the tablet with pre-installed programs, especially Corel Painter as I would not have thought of trying it out otherwise. Corel Painter has been a revelation and has completely changed the way I do illustrations. Amazing. And really exciting, I can't wait to do more artworks on the tablet."

To answer our second question, Heta enlisted the help of a Wacom newbie.  “I gave the tablet to my friend to play around with when she came over. She has no experience whatsoever with any kind of graphic tablets, but does own an iPhone and an iPad Mini. Playing games like Minion Rush is more or less the same as on any touch-sensitive device. I had her try out Corel Painter too, which she wasn't familiar with. Once I'd shown her how to choose brushes, change colours and add/delete layers, she was off and had no problems at all, and enjoyed the experience very much."

“Being used to other touch or tilt sensitive devices makes it really easy to use the Cintiq,” adds Heta. “The only thing keeping someone like her getting a Cintiq Companion would be the high price, it would be easier on the wallet to get a normal graphic tablet like an Intuos tablet and a pressure-sensitive pen, or perhaps start with a Bamboo tablet. I have no experience with non-pressure-sensitive pens so can't comment on that."

"Comparing the ease of use of the Cintiq Companion to my Intuos4 tablet is worlds apart," continues Heta. "It's super easy to set up the Intuos, but it does take quite a long time to get used to drawing on a surface but not look at that but the screen instead. What made it more weird for me is I'm left-handed, but had always been using a mouse with my right hand - so I changed from doing artworks with my right hand with a mouse to using a pressure-sensitive pen with my left hand. It was very very slow for a long time until I got used to it and picked up speed. It was also a bit difficult to be precise in the beginning, [leading to] hand-eye-coordination problems. The Cintiq on the other hand takes more time to set up, as there are many more controls to set-up once you figure out which commands or controls are best for what. But getting used to working on the Cintiq is as easy as picking up a piece of paper and a pencil, it's very natural to draw on the surface you're looking at."

This week's submission from Heta is an illustration of the wedding dress she designed and made for my friend who got married this week. "She's got a very minimalistic Scandi taste in clothes, so the dress reflects that," Heta explains. "It is quite an amazing experience to do someone's wedding dress, I hadn't really realised what a big part that garment plays on the wedding day. I got so many compliments from the wedding guests it made me feel awkward (but super chuffed), as I thought the bride and groom should be the only ones getting any attention on the day."

"[to create it] I worked on Corel Painter again and continued trying out the particle brushes, they're perfect for hair and fabric frills. And airbrushes are great for fades - I used them to blend the body of the dress to the frill and the fade the legs under the frill. In reality, the dress is all in one fabric, the frill isn't see-through, but I took some creative liberties with the artwork to show off the particle brushes. Working on the Cintiq makes me so happy and content. I don't want to go back to the Intuos4!"