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Wacom, world leader in the pen tablet arena are now at Version 3 of their Intuos tablet, which was originally introduced ten years ago. The pen tablet is aimed at photographers, designers and illustrators to make light work of editing. There are four sizes of Intuos from A6 to A3 and we're looking at the one that will suit a pro photographer who uses Photoshop to edit – the Intuos3 A4. A pen tablet not only makes it easier to control the cursor while editing it's also supposed to be ergonomically better for those suffering from RSI, so I'm keen to see if it relieves my pain.
Intuos3 A4 Graphic Tablet: Features
The Intuos3 A4 has a footprint of 44x34cm, which is considerably larger than the 29.7x21 A4 area that can be edited. So beware of this - it takes up much more desk space than you probably imagined.
Within the editing area is a lift up sheet allowing artwork to be placed underneath. This means you can trace around subjects without harming the artwork.
Around the outer edge of the tablet are a series of Express Keys that can be customised
The tablet connects to your computer via the USB slot and this provides the power supply to the tablet too, so there's no bulky mains adapter required.
The tablet comes with a cordless Intuos3 Grip Pen and an Intuos3 Mouse. The Pen has 1024 pressure levels and 5080dpi resolution with a nib on one end and an eraser on the other. As well as the pressure sensitive tip there are two buttons that can be assigned to perform a variety of shortcuts The Mouse has five buttons which can be assigned to various keystrokes via the Wacom Tablet Properties dialog box. Neither the mouse or pen require batteries so it's very economical to use.
The tablet comes bundled with the driver software CD and Painter Essentials 3.
Intuos3 A4 Graphic Tablet: Handling
While the larger size footprint takes up a lot of desk space the advantage is that you can rest your hand on the tablet when using the mouse or pen. Without the extra surface area you may find it uncomfortable when editing near the edge of the frame.
The tracing sheet is recessed so the pen or mouse doesn't hit it if you happen to glide over. The downside is that it's tricky to lift (even with nails) when you want to place artwork underneath.
Wacom make a big thing about ergonomics and I certainly found the design friendly in that respect. Using a pen will help those suffering from normal forms of RSI, while the Express keys feature on both sides to make left and right handed users feel at home. I have been suffering from RSI for a number of years and found the pen did alleviate the mouse gripping aches and pains, but I also suffer from pain when I apply pressure on my palm or wrist so I found using a pen still created problems. I find it easier to control a mouse with my hand raised from a desk whereas when using a pen I tend to rest my hand on the carpal ligament so using this didn't resolve the soreness I get. I would have to adopt a different pen holding technique but that currently gives me less support.
From a technique point of view, using the pen with Photoshop is wonderful. It has a nonslip rubberised grip and is a extremely good balance in the hand. You can take advantage of pressure sensitivity that's not possible with the mouse, so pressing harder gives stronger flow and lighter reduces the flow. This is superb when doing layer masks and using the eraser to add or remove percentages of detail. It's also good if you're an artists as you can take full advantage of Photoshop's brush sensitivity. If you need airbrush quality and flow you need to invest in the optional Intuos3 Airbrush, there's also a Intuos3 Art Marker that has felt tip and marker pen style nibs.
The cordless mouse is also comfortable to use. It's light, but feels solid and has full control of buttons to switch it from left to right handed operation. The scrolling wheel has a ratchet style action for click stop control and is a touch more positive than the Microsoft Optical mouse I'm used to using, but on the downside the action feels quite stiff. The side buttons are easy to catch so I found I was doing things I didn't intend doing when I forgot I had the side buttons.
Intuos3 A4 Graphic Tablet: Performance
The tablet comes with a driver on the CD that you instal before connecting the usb cable. This was easy to do but I use a Western Digital Firewire drive and for some reason once I'd installed the tablet driver my PC could no longer see the drive. There was some kind of conflict, maybe coincidental, but odd that I'd been using the drive for about six months prior to installing the tablet without any issues. A reboot of the computer didn't fix the issue. I had to unplug the tablet, unplug the firewire drive and reboot two times before I got things back running smoothly again.
The tablet is ultra sensitive and works a treat. Having such control with the pen makes drawing around objects to make cut outs or brushing areas on layer masks incredibly easy. Mouse users will not look back once they've tried using a pen to draw and edit photos. The size of the A4 pad is really helpful too. I've used A5 ones before, but A4 is a luxury and really makes life easier, the downside is you do need plenty of desk space to have this ready for use while having the keyboard at arms reach too.
The pen tracks perfectly and there's no delay on movement. It's fluid and smooth, making it a doddle to do complex cut outs with the lasso or high quality cloning with the Healing Brush tool or Rubber Stamp tool.
I really like the touch strip next to the Express keys that you slide your finger up and down to zoom in and out of the image. This is also perfect when retouching because you can also scroll up and down the image and easily change the size of brushes.
Intuos3 A4 Graphic Tablet: Verdict
Having used a verity of tablets over the years the almost marble finish of this makes it really smooth to rest on, the Pen is really comfortable and the action is first class. The A4 version is perfect for a designer or Photoshop user who's mostly editing and doing little typing, but someone who's combining editing with word processing may find the smaller A5 one a better option.
If you've never used a tablet I suggest you find a dealer with one on demo or check out the next show that Wacom have a stand out and try one. As image editors it's one tool that definitely should be on your shopping list.
Intuos3 A4 Graphic Tablet: Plus points
Pen is really accurate
Express keys are faster to use
Intuos3 A4 Graphic Tablet: Minus points
Tricky to lift artwork sheath
Initial conflict with firewire drive
Large footprint for everyday use
Mouse scroll quite stiff
You can buy the Wacom Intuos3 Graphics tablet here.