If you are serious about drawing and want to take your skills to the next level while, maybe, getting ready to land that job as a creative, you need to own and learn how to use a pen display tablet.

I have created a list of my top ten favourite drawing tablets here for you to use as a general reference, however, today I am going to review for you the Wacom Cintiq 22HD Pen Display Tablet which Wacom kindly lent me for this review.

If you are on the fence  on whether or not to invest in one of these technological beauties keep reading as I am sure you’ll find in this massive and multifaceted review, plenty of info to make up your mind about it.

 What you’ll find in this review

I have written this review with the simple goal of letting you know precisely what kind of experience you can expect if you decide to invest the non-trivial amount necessary to purchase the Wacom Cintiq.

I will be talking about specific features and tech specs but, to be honest with you, I wanted my perspective to be focussed on the actual experience and potential benefits of using the Cintiq over a non-screen tablet.

So this is the perfect review if you are considering to upgrade your setup or to invest into a professional-grade tablet and want a fresh, jargon-free perspective on the device.

Finally, you’ll find, besides mine, the opinion of two professional illustrators Anil Tortop and Lucia Masciullo, one with a background in digital illustration and animation and the other with a background instead in traditional art.

So, let’s get started…

Review: Wacom Cintiq 22HD Pen Display Tablet

The Cintiq 22HD belongs to the professional series of tablets by Wacom, and in essence it consists of a large, 21.5 inch or 54.61 cm screen that can be used to draw directly upon using the proprietary Wacom stylus.

It can be considered a tablet monitor for all intents as it does not act independently and needs a computer to run it. It’s not, in other words, self contained like an iPad Pro for example or Wacom Cintiq Companion.

Its most attractive feature, which differentiates it from the other non-Cintiq pen display tablets is precisely the possibility to draw directly on the screen which makes for an absolutely intuitive drawing experience particularly if you come from a traditional bnackground.

“So, how is it to use the Cintiq 22HD by Wacom? Well, it’s actually pretty awesome, there is no doubt about it and here is why…”

Size. The Cintiq 22HD is BIG. It is a 21 inches monitor but is surrounded by a considerable  bezel plus an outer shell where quick access buttons are located that further extends the width of the unit.

But don’t get me wrong, size is one of its strengths as drawing on it feels incredible. More screen real estate means more space for the UI of whatever software you are using to draw but it also means a large canvas to draw, sketch, paint or work at your photos or digital projecst. A large canvas allows for more flexibility, multiple workflow options and the ability to work on details while maintaining a complete view of the image you are working on.

Virtually non-existing latency. I had a pretty decent rig to run the Cintiq pen display tablet, so your experience may vary, however, I did not experience any significant lag using the stylus even when I ramped up the size of the image I was working on and used dynamic brushes. A glorious lag-free drawing experience!

The accuracy of the stylus.  After a very simple calibration process, the stylus tip latched securely to the virtual brush and would never skip a pixel or show any noticeable jitter while I was using it. The realtive positioning of the stylus tip and virtual brush on the screen was consistent and rock solid throughout my testing.

The stylus is a dream to hold. The stylus is lightweight (almost feathery light) and ergonomic. It fit perfectly in my hand and it was never tiring even after hours of continuous drawing. Also, the feel of the stylus on the screen is remarkably nice and even customizable to an extent. The sensitivity or stiffness of the stylus can be changed via drivers and the stylus comes with three different types of nibs that can change quite considerably the feel of the pen.

Here is a quick time lap video of me using the Cintiq for a simple sketch.

And that’s about it really.

If you wanted to know how it feels to draw on a Cintiq you probably do not need to read further. These are the core features that make the Cintiq experience so incredible.

If you decide to invest (yes invest, because this thing is damn expensive) in this technology you will be graced with a ultra-sturdily built tablet monitor that offers amazing screen real estate, and an unparalleled as much as intuitive digital drawing experience. Stylus latency (or absence of thereof) and ergonomics also contribute to recreating that visceral pleasure of drawing and painting using traditional media.

There are more nice features to talk about and also some drawbacks that I have noticed and will discuss in this review, however, this is where the meat of this products really lies, in my opinion.

The additional features are certainly nice but don’t necessarily take the experience to another level (and you can definitely use the tablet without them) and the drawbacks (some of which might be considered just personal preference) also do not detract from the overall experience enough to significantly reduce the enjoyment of the product.

Additional features of the Cintiq 22HD

pen display tabletStylus and nibs. The stylus comes with a series of replacement nibs that offer even more versatility and customizability to the drawing experience. Stroke nibs offer a brush like feeling (which I loved and used throughout my testing sessions) while hard felt nibs and plastic nibs provide a harder feeling to simulate pen on paper and pencil on paper.

It’s great that the tablet comes with a selection of nibs ensuring longevity to the kit (before you need to buy new nibs) and allowing a bit of experimentation with different drawing feels.

ExpressKeys. The tablet comes with a set of buttons on its right and left (also to accommodate right and left-handed users) that are completely customizable and offer quick access to functions that you use often such as ‘undo/redo’, ‘save’, ‘zoom in/out’ etc. There are 8 buttons on the right and 8 on the left side of the screen (plus an extra button to select the functionality of the TouchStrip).  While it’s nice  to have these buttons I didn’t find them particularly useful overall.

pen display tabletIf you decided to buy this item because you are a professional or intend to become, there’s really no better way to increase productivity than with the concomitant use of the keyboard. One hand on the stylus and one on the keyboard is more than enough to have a speedy access to every shortcut you might need in a way that is faster than using the ExpressKeys on the pen display tablet and without having to constantly change your posture while drawing.

I am right-handed, for example, and I also found very annoying to use the right positioned buttons as I had to stop drawing and move my hand to the right. The left buttons felt more naturally in reach of my left hand but I still needed to access the keyboard for several shortcuts so I eventually decided to use only the keyboard instead of constantly alternating between it and the ExpressKeys.

I can see the utility of the buttons if you are working away from your computer keyboard but, as I mentioned, if you are using this product to increase productivity as well using the keyboard is a must.

On screen keyboard. The tablet has a summonable, on-screen keyboard to be used on all those occasions you need a keyboard in order to, say, name a file or a layer in Photoshop, for example.

While serviceable, this is not the speediest option and using a real keyboard is way faster. Again, it’s nice to have these options here otherwise you’d be forced to use a keyboard but I hardly see them implemented in a professional workflow.

The touch strip. On paper the touch strip is cool. It’s a customizable, touch-sensitive strip located behind the ExpressKeys that can be used to access functions such as ‘zoom in/out’, ‘scroll up/down’, or really any function couple with two opposing values.

In practice, I found myself not using it much.

While I really wanted to like it, I think this was due to a certain lack of responsiveness (you can customise the responsiveness of the strip but still), a certain coarseness, difficult to describe in words, that I experienced while using it for zooming in/out or changing brush size.

But I also found it tiring, after a while, because I had to change my drawing position to reach for the strip or, alternatively, I had to draw while holding my left hand on the strip which I definitely found uncomfortable.

I think that, overall, expressKeys and touchStrip lend themselves to a more casual use of the tablet by enthusiasts for example who do not need to maximise productivity and for those who don’t want to or can not use a keyboard to complement the tablet functionality.

The monitor can be physically rotated. This is another feature that I found myself not using. When you draw on paper you might want to rotate your sheet to achieve the perfect angle for a difficult pencil  or brush stroke for example.pen display tablet

Here you have the option to rotate the tablet monitor to a similar effect although, due to the size of the monitor I found this option rather clunky and ended up using digital rotation (rotating the sheet inside the software). It was just quicker and less cumbersome.

Things that I did not like or found slightly annoying

Non-retina resolution. The monitor comes with a native 1080p resolution which is kind of fine for the format, however, contrarily to a computer monitor from which you’d normally stand 20 – 40 cm away, in this case, you are practically smooshing your face on the screen while drawing so you can see the pixels.

This translates into a sort of graininess of the monitor that out of the box caught me off guard and which I wasn’t expecting at all for the price point of the unit.

I have to admit that after a few hours of using the unit I forgot about it and I stopped noticing it while I was, instead, absorbed by the beautiful drawing experience so I consider this not a huge deal, however, a higher pixel density and consequently a crisper picture would have been appreciated.

pen display tabletThe monitor stand
. The tablet comes with a sturdy enough stand that allows for propping the monitor at different angles.
Nice but, again, for the price, it would have been nice if the stand allowed to prop the monitor at any angle and not just one of the three pre-defined positions. Nothing to write an angry letter to Wacom for, still it would have been a nice touch.

Overall monitor quality. Wacom doesn’t manufacture monitors so it was no surprise (even though not particularly stylish in my view) that the ASUS logo appeared upon turning the Wacom Cintiq on.

However, for almost two thousand US dollars I was expecting to be blown away by the clarity, sharpness, and depth of colour of the monitor but I wasn’t.

It certainly looked a bit better (deeper blacks, wider gamma) than my cheap, yet very decent ASUS VS248, but I paid my display only around 140 USD!

The Cintiq monitor is a very competent monitor and by no means a cheap one, however, it isn’t particularly bright nor sharp nor the colors particularly vibrant and if you add that noticeable graininess to the mixture I have to admit it did not leave a great taste in my mouth (again for the price).

All in all, I was not impressed by monitor quality of the Cintiq.

Messy and ugly cables. I didn’t like the absence of cable management options. The unit comes with three, rather ugly and (admittedly) necessarily long cables (a USB, power,and a DVI) to rig the unit to the computer.

However the cables are stiff, difficult to bend to your will and there is no cable management solution offered out of the box. Again, no big deal but another missed opportunity to elevate the product to another class.

This is for me, time now to hear what Anil and Lucia thought about it. Please keep in mind that they had the chance to come to my office and test the unit for a couple of hours each.

Illustrator Anil Tortop opinion on the Cintiq 22HD

I have had the opportunity of trying the Cintiq 22HD Pen Display Tablet for a few hours, here are my thoughts on it in no particular order:

– It’s great to draw on the surface that you put your pen.
– After using retina displays for years, the image quality didn’t impress me. It feels like there is a grainy filter on the screen. I think this is the biggest downside.
– As a shortcut addicted person, I definitely need the keyboard. (I purposely tried to force myself to set up and use the quick access buttons on the device).
– The little gap between the tip of the pen and the digital brush looked very annoying at first but I quickly got used to it.
– I noticed that the hand with which I was drawing was constantly covering some part of the drawing, I guess I am used to being able to see the whole drawing area unobscured when I use my Intuos Pro tablet.
– I liked the size of the device. It’s bigger than my current screen but not too big. Feels ideal for a book illustrator.
– Being that close to the drawing  and screen is nice but I don’t know how my neck, shoulders and eyes would feel after a couple of weeks.
– Pen pressure and the feeling of the surface are very nice. I didn’t feel much difference with my current Wacom though.

“Overall, it’s a very nice device. But I have been using a drawing tablet for more than 8 years now and I don’t feel like investing a Cintiq would drastically increase my productivity. I might have considered it if it was cheaper or amazed me without any cons”.

Anil TortopAnil Tortop has been illustrating children’s books for over 8 years. She has worked with several publishers in Australia and back in her home country Turkey, besides illustrating for independent authors. You can check her latest work on www.aniltortop.com

Illustrator Lucia Masciullo opinion on the Cintiq 22HD

I have to admit I have had a lot of fun experimenting and drawing with the Cintiq 22HD Pen Display Tablet. I am a traditional illustrator and in my work, digital is usually reserved to preparatory and explorative sketching and colour experimenting before moving to either watercolour or acrylics for my finals.

The first impact with the Cintiq has been really positive, it took me no time at all to familiarise myself with the device and, in truth, drawing on the screen felt almost immediately very natural and spontaneous as if no learning curve was really involved. The stylus felt good in my hand and sketching/colouring as well felt really good from the get go.

So if you are a traditional artist like me thinking of moving toward digital, this kind of device offers a very low barrier to entry even if, like me, you have never really dealt with digital in your art.

Now, bare in mind that I do own a regular Wacom tablet which I use in conjunction with my work from time to time but the overall experience of drawing directly on the screen felt immediately way better than drawing on a tablet while looking at the screen.

The ergonomic of the device also worked quite nicely for me as I am used to drawing and painting on an inclined surface, I felt at home working upright on the screen as well.

I didn’t particularly enjoy using the expressKeys or the touchStrip. Both required me to constantly moving toward the screen, which I found kind of uncomfortable and the strip wasn’t as responsive and smooth as I would have wanted particularly when trying to zoom in/out while working in Photoshop. 

I did not have time to configure keyboards shortcuts so I was hoping that the device would have out of the box more intuitive and effective options to access most commonly used functions while digital painting such as zoom, rotate canvas or modifying the characteristics of the brush.

I found the size of the screen really nice, a good balance between drawing space and space for the software UI. It was nice to be able to draw on such a large-scale without having to constantly adjust the zoom level of the image.

“Overall I have had loads of fun with the Cintiq 22HD and the immediacy with which I was able to use it and draw/paint naturally was really amazing.

What would make me think twice however before buying one is certainly the high price particularly if compared to that of the largest Wacom Intuos Pro and the nagging thought that this format doesn’t offer an enough superior experience to the non-screen tablet once a bit of time has been invested into learning how to draw without looking at your hand”.

Lucia-Studio2-300x200Lucia is an award-winning children’s book illustrator living and working on the beautiful Gold Coast. Lucia has collaborated with several top Australian and English Publishers and illustrated more than fifty books, among which the CBCA Honour Book and Prime Minister Award shortlisted Come Down, Cat! and CBCA shortlisted Family Forest and the best-selling series Our Australian Girl. You can check Lucia’s work at www.luciamasciullo.com

And there you have it, guys, these are my thoughts on the Wacom Cintiq 22HD Pen Display and those of two professional illustrators coming from slightly different backgrounds.

In conclusion, I can say that using the Cintiq is a great experience, it’s built like a tank, drawing on it feels effortless and it’s certainly the closest you can get to traditional media without getting your brush wet. It’s not a coincidence if Wacom tablets are the facto standard in the industry.

As far as I am concerned, though, some design and implementation miss opportunities plus a few nagging issues held it a bit back, in my mind, particularly considering the steep price asked.


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