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  • Wacom Mobile Studio Pro 16 Review - The Digital Illustration Monster

    When it comes to drawing the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro makes no compromises, it is hands down the best drawing experience I’ve had on a Windows tablet to date.

    It comes in two sizes 13 and a larger 16. I’ve been using the 16 over the last week and I’ve really been enjoying it. It has a full 4k display that looks great from a distance and even better when you’re directly hovering over it.

    Specs: i5 processor, 8gb of ram 256 hard drive $2399 - full specs here

    The screen has a slight matte finish, this is mostly to give it a little tooth for the stylus when drawing. It feels pretty good, not quite as good as the texture you’ll find on the Wacom Intuos tablets but just enough texture where you will never feel like your stylus is ice skating on the screen.

    The first thing you’re going to want to do when you get a tablet like this is calibrate the stylus. Wacom’s setup makes this easy. Just tap your pen in the center of all the target points and you’re off to the races. You’re going to want to have your tablet at the position that

    This isn’t a big deal, you can recalibrate your tablet any time in the settings.

    You will hear a lot of illustrators talk about Parallax. That’s the distance between where the tip of your pen is and where the cursor appears on the screen. Often times with these kinds of tablet the further you get from the center of the screen the more inaccurate the pen becomes but even in the far corners it looked pretty spot on to me. This is partly because of the calibration and partly because Wacom has has reduced the thickness of the glass above the screen. So there is very little difference between where your stylus is and where the cursor appears.

    Running this through my basic drawing test of drawing diagonal lines or looking for hiccups while drawing circles it passed with flying colors. For all the people who called me out and said the surface pen doesn't wobble when you draw really really slow it was my hand check this out.

    Shaky lines aside. for me the part that makes this superior to say using something like the Surface Pro are the hot keys along the side. I love physical buttons. Even though there are apps for windows that give you on screen buttons it’s not the same.

    On most Windows hybrid devices I need a keyboard for something, using apps like Photoshop without keyboard shortcuts is like using a car without doors. Sure it works but you really can’t take any fast turns with it. The express keys make this the first Windows tablet experience I’ve had where I can truly go keyboard free for hours at a time.

    You probably already know this but it has a touch screen. I got really comfortable using the hotkeys and little ring thing to change brushes, and brush sizes or set one to the control key and then use my hand to pinch and zoom or pan around my sketch. The palm rejection works well, every so often I will accidentally change layers with the side of my hand but I didn’t have any problems with my palm leaning any extra marks on the canvas.

    One thing to be aware of is that the screen does get warm towards the lower right hand corner. Not hot but you can definitely feel the temperature difference in that area.

    This stylus is the Wacom Pro Pen 2 stylus. Here is what Wacom says about it:

    • 4x more accurate: I can see that

    • Virtually no lag: depends on the program

    • Natural tilt support: confirmed

    • No parallax: nailed it

    • 4x more pressure sensitive: yep

    Can I tell the difference? Apart from the improved parallax not really. It feels great, but I thought the old pens felt really good to. I’ve used tablets that have 2000 levels and the drivers stunk and so the pen did to and I’ve used the old Surface Pro 3 pen with only 256 levels and thought it was pretty good. It depends on the apps you’re using and how well balanced the pen is.

    It’s kinda like megapixels on a camera, you always want more, but at a certain point light balance and all that other stuff is more important to the quality of your pictures.

    I found this pen to be pretty much flawless. I got a great range of lines going from thick to thin. Drawing quickly didn’t create any weird shoestring effects. Drawing slow produced no wobbles at any angle. I could hold a consistent amount of pressure going around curves or drawing circles.

    I did find lag but it wasn’t in the pen, it was usually in the app. If I was using a brush that has to render in photoshop it would slow down, but that’s not on the pen.

    Adobe Illustrator was kinda buggy on this. Basic strokes lagged in it and it has this weird quirk where when I start using the stylus I lose touch controls until I leave the program and come back, I left a comment in Adobe’s forums about that and they told me to file a bug. Bug report filed!

    So far I have heaped effusive praise onto this device, it’s because I really really like it. No hardware is perfect so let's bring on the cons?

    Some of these aren't cons as much as they are trade offs. Like the speakers aren't very good. They are kinda echoey and on the back which just makes it sound more distant. If you like crisp sound bring along some headphones.

    Like the new Macbooks this device only has USB c ports. 3 of them along the side, there are no standard USB slots. The power charger that comes with the tablet uses one of these ports for charging. If you’re like me and don’t own any actual devices that use USB C ports you’re going to need an adaptor or two. I picked up the cheapest USB dodadds I found on Amazon and they are perfect. Well perfectly sized, if they were even a millimeter thicker I couldn’t plug them both in at the same time because they would be to thick to sit side by side.

    There is also a hole along the side for this handy dandy pencil holder. The problem here is that I can’t have anything like the power charger plugged in at the same time the pen is in the holder. It’s a cool idea, just not executed well, would make more sense to put it on the other side or along the top. Or behind your ear. Or on your cat.

    I don’t know, This is why i don’t design products.

    Several folks have asked me about the fan, the fan on the Companion 2, Wacom’s last tablet was really loud. This is much quieter, I can still hear it but it’s much quieter than say my macbook pro’s fan.

    What do you think when you see this number. $2400

    That’s what I think too. The prices are kinda crazy high, this is a premium product so you are getting what you pay for a great tablet. I wish, i really really wish there were more configurations. I really want 16gb of ram, for those of you who were on my live stream last week you saw what happened when I had to many things open at once. It totally broke the stream, took a couple minutes to recover after shutting down Photoshop.  If I want 16 gb of ram I have to pay another $600.

    That extra $600 also gets you a bigger hard drive, a 3d camera and a better processor, but I just want more Ram man.

    It also lays flat, it doesn’t come with any kind of stand. Wacom sells a stand that has three settings on it’s website for (wheeze $100)

    I had this old UC logic stand lying around and it works great for it, the little rubber doodads collect dirt like nobody’s business but I can set it at a bunch of different angles and it stays.

    Another feature of the tablet is the ability to plug it into any computer and use it as a stand alone tablet like a Cintiq, so you can plug it into your Mac at home and use Windows on the go. Or you could plug it into your Windows machine at home and also use Windows on the go. Or you can plug it into Ubuntu at home and write your own drivers. Don’t listen to me do whatever you want, I’m not your dad.

    In order to use this as a tablet you’re going to need a USB c port on the computer you’re plugging it into. If you don’t have a USB c port then you will need the Wacom link which you can get on their website for (wheeze $100)

    OK, I’ll stop doing that now.

    Another thing to be aware of is the size and weight. This is portable but I wouldn’t call it super portable. It weighs 4.5 pounds, after toting around a little android tablet over the last month this feels incredibly heavy. Also the 16 won’t fit in a standard laptop bag, it’s just a little to big. The size is great when I’m at my desk, if you want something more portable the 13 is only 2.8 pounds.

    With either unit you’re probably going to want to bring your own keyboard and the power adapter when you’re on the go. Wacom sells its own keyboard separately but any keyboard will work.

    I’m getting about 3 to 3.5 hours of drawing time on a battery charge. If you are taking this with you anywhere you’re going to want the power adapter as well.

    I don’t see the things I mentioned here as cons as much as tradeoffs that you’re going to make with this device. It’s a premium product. It feels great, it draws great and it works great.

    Wacom set out to make the best windows tablet specifically design for drawing and they have done just that.

    The price is high, but it reflects the quality of the product you’re getting. If you are an artist and you spend all day with a device like this and you can afford it then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

  • Drawing on the Surface Pro 4: Full Review

    This is the text for my video review above.

    Hello, today I’m reviewing the Surface Pro 4. This model has the M3 processor and 4gbs of ram and is the lowest priced Surface Pro 4 Microsoft sells.

    I’m not going to be covering all the technical benchmarks that most other reviews do because what fun is that. I’m talking about drawing on this thing. How does it hold up.

    I’m breaking this review down into 3 parts. First the hardware, what makes this tablet good for drawing? Then I’m going to be talking about software, I tested out a couple apps I like to draw in. and lastly my thoughts and opinions and if the low end surface Pro 4 is powerful enough to handle this kind of stuff.

    Hardware

    What is the Surface Pro 4? This is a full blown PC. It runs full blown Windows 10. Any program that Windows can run this can run. It has this great pen and a touch screen so naturally a lot of artists have gravitated towards these machines.

    The latest Surface has some nice little upgrades. The type cover is a big step up. I never liked the trackpad on the old typecover, this one works the way you expect it to. The type cover is pricy.

    Do you need it? Yeaaaah, you really do. you don’t need it - need it. You can get around without it.

    It’s like getting a filling at the dentist. you don’t neeeed novocaine. But you’re entering a world of pain without it.

    Windows was built to be used with a mouse and keyboard, and so are all the apps I use. I like to hold the shift button down to get a straight line or the alt key to duplicate something. Some of that stuff you either can’t do or it’s really hard to do without a keyboard.

    My favorite feature on the Surface Pro 3 is on the back. It’s the kickstand. Look at this hinge. If this software thing doesn’t pan out Microsoft should become a hinge company. You can set this at any angle and it’s going to stay.

    I should put an asterisk by that statement. It’s not going to hold the weight of your whole arm when you’re drawing on it, it will sink down. but you can brush against it without it collapsing on you.

    I find the angle it settles in at to be a good drawing angle for me.

    So the pen, I kinda went overboard gushing about it in my first impressions video. But I really like it. The main change here is the rubber tip. It provides a little bit of friction on the smooth glass screen that gives you so much more control over drawing.

    Wacom has always put a texture coating on their tablets to give it some drawing resistance. I hear the new iPad Pro will have the same thing. The rubber tip stylus achieves a similar effect here.

    You can also buy a pack of tips from Microsoft for $10 that have varying degrees of rubberiness so you can find one you think feels best.

    The pen now has 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity over the old pen’s 256. On paper this Sounds great, but The pressure sensitivity is hit and miss, I think it needs some calibration. there was a lot of variance from program to program. More on that in a minute. The Surface has an app that lets you change a the pen settings and pressure sensitivity. So if you like drawing light you can adjust to make that easier to do.

    The back of the pen now has an eraser, since it’s rubby to it feels like you’re really erasing. It’s also a button. Press once to open One note, hold it down to activate cortana and pressing it 3 times to initiate the self destruct sequence. I would not recommend doing that.

    It also has a button along the side, this usually works as an right mouse click

    The pen can now stick to the side of the tablet with magnets. And not just any magnets, this is one crazy strong magnet, like the kind they use in space.

    In fact there are a lot of magnets on this thing. The power cord has magnets and the type cover also has a crazy strong magnet.

    Get ready for anything metal to stick to this. paper clips, other pens, headphones, potatoes. not potatoes. These are some good magnets. If this software thing doesn’t work out Microsoft could become a magnet company.

    The line jitteriness that bugged me with slow strokes on the SP3 has been improved. I can definitely feel the improvement. I don’t know if it’s because you have more control with the rubber tip or if they improved the software, it might be a combination of both.

    Software

    Here I’m going to be focusing on 3 programs I know really well, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator which is a vector program and Clip Studio.

    Photoshop has always been my go to drawing app. Mostly because in my day job as a web designer I use it a lot and know it backwards and forwards. So I do a lot of my drawing and painting in it. Especially my early pencil sketches and roughs.

    For sketching and beginning steps Photoshop performed really well. I thought I might see some slowdown because of the slower processor. Nope, it runs great. As the file size got larger I did notice some lag on some of the brushes I use. It can take a second for the lines to catch up to the pen. This occurs with larger files, like 300 dpi full page illustrations where I have several layers built up already. I noticed it once I got to the inking/painting stage of my process. Honestly I totally expected this. I actually expected more lag and slowdown than I saw, in fact this exceeded my expectations as far as performance on the M3 processor. I don’t know if it’s because of the processor, or just that it has 4gb of ram. I shut down Illustrator to free up some ram and I did see performance increase.

    One thing that really started to get to me as I used it more and more for finishing was that the pressure of the pen felt off. I like to choose a brush width and use the pressure of the pen to adjust the width of the strokes. Here is what I saw the brushes doing. The pressure isn’t consistent. SO as the faster strokes taper off they don’t gradually get thinner but you get a really fast tapered edge that looks odd. Once I saw this I couldn’t unsee it, it happened everywhere and drove me nuts.

    My first thought was to adjust the pressure sensitivity within the little pen app that comes with the Surface. I noticed the same tapering problem there too, it’s harder to see because it has thinner strokes.

    Experiment time. Is this a hardware problem or a software problem. THe SP4 pen works on the SP3 so let’s see if I have the same problem. Nope, the strokes look great, exactly how I want them. Also the surface pen app on the SP3 has much more gradual looking lines as well.

    I’m pretty sure this is a software pen calibration issue. I posted my screenshots on Microsoft’s answers site and site and I’m hoping to get some clarification. I’ll post the links to that in the description, so if someone does help resolve this you can see it down there.

    Also good news is that in the last year and a half of owning a Surface Pro 3 is that Microsoft has supported the heck out of the thing. Many of the problems artists had with the SP3 at launch, like adjusting pen pressure and disabling the windows button, Microsoft was able to address with software updates. I would imagine that in a few weeks or months this pen pressure calibration issue will be resolved.

    Illustrator, let’s talk about Illustrator. Again, I was working on some good sized illustrations there and I didn’t notice any lag at all. Illustrator is going to run really well for you on this device.

    Last year Adobe rolled out a big update for Illustrator that introduced a touch mode. I’m a fan of the touch mode because it can be really hard to grab anchor points on a high density screen like this one, the points are just to small, so the touch interface they built makes that much easier. I’ve done an entire video on that. Make a funny noise while pointing at the screen where the link will be.

    I also have played around a bit with Clip Studio, also known as Manga Studio. They are the same program, just with different names because… I really don’t know. Like Illustrator it ran better than I thought it would. If it’s your primary drawing app than the low end Surface might be a good fit for you. I inked and colored this wrestler dude in both Photoshop and Clip Studio and where Photoshop showed some brush lag after a while clip studio was great. I haven’t used Clip Studio’s more advanced features because I’ve only been using it for a couple months so there might be some stuff I don’t know about that taxes the system but for every day painting it’s great.

    Another thing to point out is that it doesn’t have the brush taper problem I talked about in Photoshop. I know a couple artists who love Clip Studio especially for inking. I can see why, the lines just seem smoother and more confident when I draw in that app on any device.

    Someone asked me to try SAI’s Paint Program on this because it’s free… oh man, this is old. How old is this? I guess it works. I’m not sure I ever got pressure sensitivity to work on this. and holy shaky pencil lines batman!

    Performance

    This exceeded my expectations. I definitely noticed only having 4gb of ram. My Macbook has 16gb, my other Surface has 8. So I’m spoiled. If I had Illustrator and Photoshop open I might jump from one to the other and it took a second or two for the program to respond. Once it loaded up it was fine. But definitely noticeable.

    I didn’t specifically test battery life, but If I was going to stick my finger in the wind I would say about 4 hours of drawing time is what you should expect from one charge.

    By far the most common question I get is “can I get the low end Surface and use it for art.” My answer is mixed. If you’re going to use this for a school laptop to take notes and surf the web and occasionally draw on it. Yeah, I think the low end is going to work great for you.

    If you’re like me and you have a couple apps open at once most of the day and are working on this 8, 10, 12 hours a day. you really should go up a level or even two to get the 8 gb of ram. So like this fellow on twitter who asked about AutoCAD. If you use it more than an hour a day get a better device.

    Look at it this way. You may save $100 now, and that’s a lot of money, but 1 year from now, 2 years from now you might hate this. I can say 1 ½ years after getting my Surface Pro 3 with 8gb and the i5, it’s still good, I love it.

    Last question: Am I going to review the Surface book! No! If you look at the Surface book specks they are identical to the high end Surface Pro’s. Plus it doesn’t have a kickstand. I really like the kickstand.

    Am I going to review the iPad Pro. Oh hell yeah. I should be getting one of those later this week. So pumped. I really like this pen and device. I’m an Apple fanboy, but honestly I’m not sure the iPad pro can displace the Surface as my drawing tablet. Stay tuned!

    If you have any questions let me know in the comments. I’m actually much much better at answering questions on Twitter, I have a hard time sorting through all the comments on Youtube. So if you want a faster answer hit me up there.

  • How to make the web better? Take care of the noobs.

    the shift

    About a year ago I became a noob. My new medium was video. There is lighting, sound, writing, storytelling, editing and performing. So many facets of a new medium to become proficient at. I’ve been googling really basic stuff and soaking up other’s wisdom.

    When I started, I was the audience. I’ve been illustrating and web designing for a while so I wrote scripts as if I was explaining something to someone in my shoes.

    The questions and comments I got on those early videos blew my mind. Questions so simple that I hadn’t even thought to ask them. What app did you draw that in? Did you scan that in? How do you draw something like that digitally?

    At the same time I was asking the same kinds of questions about video production. Can I plug a mic into an iPhone? Why can’t I draw a perfect square in After Effects? How do I get my forehead not to shine so damn much?

    My videos really started to get some traction and build a following this fall when I started pulling the content way back to a beginner’s level. Analyzing every line in my script and looking for places where I could explain something in more detail. I know the difference between a Wacom Cintiq and a Surface Pro but to many watching they see a screen being drawn on and assume they are the same kind of device. A totally understandable assumption.

    I feel like that bare bones beginner mentality has been lost in web design. Specifically in front end development. I’m a UX/UI guy. I used to write quite a bit of html/css so I don’t consider myself a complete noob. But man, I’m so lost right now.

    I set up this very blog with Craft this fall. My first time trying it out and kicking the tires. Whenever I had a question I took to Google. For the first time that I can remember I couldn’t find anything useful that answered my questions. I found a lot of people asking the same questions I had, but the answers were mostly the “install this framework, library or some other dependency” sort of answers.

    I know that I can do some killer animations without Javascript. I know I can build a blog without a css framework. I know I should be able to make changes to a CSS file without spending half a day setting up an environment. These tools exist to make expert’s lives easier, but they create a huge barrier for the less experienced.

    Maybe this is what our field is becoming. Maybe I should suck it up and invest more of my time into learning Grunt, Bower, Angular, React, or whatever the flavor of the month is. Maybe I’m becoming a relic of the past. But there is opportunity here.

    If you’re looking to carve out a niche on the web, look towards teaching the beginners. The best part is you don’t have to be an expert, just share what you’ve learned. Write, tweet, blog or stick your shiny forehead in front of a camera and talk. No matter how basic you think it is, I guarantee there are hundreds of people searching for your advice.


    This was written as part of the #startyourshift project. Anybody can join in, in fact you, yes you, should. Read more about it here.

  • iPad Stylus Roundup

    If I was going to use words to describe drawing on the iPad I would use words like: lackluster, meh or sub par. Drawing on the iPad has always been a second rate experience to like a Wacom tablet or my Surface Pro 3. That may all change in a few weeks with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.

    Since we might be at the end of an era (the poor drawing on an iPad era) it's probably a good time to look back at some of the styluses I've worked with over the years and talk about where they are lacking, and that's what I do in this video.


    Here is the TLDW version:

    iPad styluses aren't accurate at all. Even if you spring for an $80 bluetooth stylus it's not going to improve your experience. The advertised features of a bluetooth stylus are hit and miss. Pressure sensativity, not bad. Palm rejection, horrible.

  • The Top of Page 3

    This is the top half of page 3. Still needs some cleanup, texture and extra color layers added in Photoshop. As well as some panel boarders. My plan was to get the first 3 pages done and post those as the first installment of the comic. hopefully that will be happening next week.

  • Selling Other People's IP

    I would love to draw some cool Star Wars prints to sell on my site. It’s something I’ve thought about from time to time. You know the kind of artwork I’m talking about, a quick Google search of any popular video game or movie franchise will get you hundreds of beautiful fan made posters and prints that you can buy from the artist.

    There is one things that’s always stopped me from diving into the world of fan art, a college class I took years ago where we covered fair use law. The rules are pretty clear; if you don’t own the rights, you can’t sell it. Period. There isn’t much gray area here. One read of Andy Baio’s legal experience and you get a sense of how bad this can bite you.

    Since there is so much fan art for sale out there I figured there must be channels to get approval from the IP owners. I had some ideas for a fun Mario poster so I started researching Nintendo’s policy on such things. I couldn’t find it anywhere on their site, so I wrote to Nintendo’s legal department to see if they could point me in the right direction. Here’s the reply I got:

    Hello Brad,

    Thanks for writing to us. I would like to apologize for the delay in our response, and thank you for your patience while awaiting our reply. I appreciate your interest in Nintendo and all our video game products. To us, it represents a great sign of success and recognition of the Nintendo brand.

    We are grateful for all the requests we receive for permission to use Nintendo properties; however, we receive thousands of requests and do not have adequate staffing to review them all. Therefore, our general policy is to decline all such requests, no exceptions. Unfortunately, this means there is not a contact that I can refer you to for more information. I realize this isn’t what you wanted to hear and thank you for understanding.

    Although we are unable to grant permission, use of Nintendo properties without our formal permission may still be allowed depending on the circumstances. You are encouraged to seek your own legal counsel if you have any questions about whether your particular proposed use is permitted without Nintendo's authorization. This is not a comment on whether we believe your particular proposed use is permissible—Nintendo cannot provide legal advice.

    Well crap.

    Companies like Nintendo are in a strange spot. On one hand the people making fan art are rabid fans, the ones you want to support. On the other hand they are using their intellectual property to make a living. It’s probably the fan backlash that keeps many of these companies from clamping down on these sorts of art sales.

    In this middle of all this I found this video from a comic convention a few years back. Very enlightening.