REVIEW : Wacom Cintiq 13HD Drawing Tablet / Display


Some folks really struggle working with a Wacom tablet.  They find it difficult to relate the position of the pen on the tablet to the work that they want to do.  I have students who bought a tablet but gave up on it pretty quickly.  Sad because when you invest time, they can become indispensable.   A quicker route to success might be a tablet that is also a displayI bought the bigger Wacom display / tablet the first year it arrived.  I don't have the touch version and I'm absolutely ok with that.  Being able to tilt the screen at any angle and draw right on it for editing images, or when I think I can actually draw is nothing short of magical. As I am doing more tutoring and mentoring, I was thinking of something that would take up less space and still give me all the power of the big Cintiq.  Chris Atkinson at Henry's of Newmarket agreed to help me out.  He brought in the Cintiq 13HD for me to review and try, on the understanding that it had better not be coming back.  He has no worry on that score.


If you already use a Wacom tablet, the drivers you have probably work.  If you don't and you use a Mac, download the latest drivers from Wacom's site because the included CDs are basically useless to you.

I am using the Cintiq 13HD with a 15" Macbook Pro Retina so the connections were (mostly) straightforward.  The Cintiq needs a USB port AND an HDMI port.  My Macbook has the HDMI port but if yours doesn't you at least will need a display port or Thunderbolt port and a Thunderbolt to HDMI adapter.  This should be in the box frankly and that it isn't is cheap to the point of dumb.

800x600_13HD_07You will also need AC power.  Much is made of the portability of the Cintiq 13HD and it's true so long as AC is available.  It is, after all, a display.  The cable is a bit of an octopus having the HDMI and USB at one end, a tap for the power connection and a single connector at the Cintiq end that is reminiscent of Apple's old 30 pin connector.  The cable is about ¼" in diameter so it doesn't bend well and takes up space.

Wacom penWacom includes their excellent pen in a nice presentation case along with an assortment of alternative nibs along with accent rings to personalize the pen.  The finish on this pen is nicer than on the pen for my other Cintiq or for the Intuos 5 tablet that the Cintiq replaces.

800x600_13HD_01The Cintiq has four soft buttons and a "rocker-wheel" with centre button on one side of the unit.  The screen is blessedly matte so not fraught with reflections like so many other displays.  Colour fidelity is very high, matching the colour corrected 23" Cinema Display I have nearly exactly out of the box.  I am having issues with the Color Munki Photo software with multiple displays with Mavericks and so have not yet promoted the Cintiq to primary, and done the reboot dance to see if the software can calibrate the display.  Hopefully some day XRite will manage to get their thumbs out and fix their software.

The buttons and wheels are all programmable through the Wacom preferences tool on the Mac, I can only presume that they have a similar offering for those running Windows.  I find them a bit less usable than on the Intuos or the bigger Cintiq.

Mass Moving

800x600_13HD_02The Cintiq 13 is designed to be lightweight and it is.  It comes with a cover/stand that has three different lean angles in addition to flat.  It does not slide around but it does tend to wobble a bit and it is more work than it should be to click the Cintiq into a specific lean angle.  I wish that this was more stable.


My testing involved using the Cintiq as a second display and as a working tablet.  It's a nice display but smaller than a usual desktop.  Screen resolutions are limited to 1080p, 720p and 1600x1200.  Default is 1080p which is nearly illegible for my eyes.  I've set mine to 1600x1200 and it's ok, 720p makes a Photoshop an exercise in moving around so that doesn't work for me.  I would prefer more resolution choices than are offered.

That stand is also quite annoying if you don't get the screen positioned just right, tending to fall over a lot.  The price of portability I guess.

As a tablet the Cintiq works very well.  I found it gritty at first but more use smooths the nib out and it now rides smoothly.  I got used to working on big displays so I have had to relearn zoom and move keystrokes in Photoshop to move around on images.  The big deal for me is the ability to engage the pressure sensitivity as a brush function and this worked flawlessly.  I was able to control filters and masks not just by drawing but also handle flow rate and such using just pen pressure.  Just like you should be able to do.


wacom-cintiq-13HD-img3-lShould you buy one?  Your use case will determine.  I did because the device fits my desired use case and because I was able to purchase mine during one of Wacom's irregular dealer rebate sales.  You have to look for those, but when they come you can usually save over $200 on the purchase of a Cintiq.   There are real downsides, including the big cable, the remembering to flip your display settings in your computer if you need the cable exiting the left side of the unit, and a high regular price.  Wacom also does these tablets that are also Android tablet computers, but at their regular selling price, I don't see them flying out of any stores soon.   On sale you can usually find a Cintiq 13HD for under $1000.  That is a lot more than a decent LED powered IPS LCD display and a Wacom Intuos 5 tablet, but there is a convenience and usability factor you just don't get any other way.

Tips to Make Better Images : Enhancing Your Editing Experience

If you're looking at this article, you probably would like to make your experience when editing better.  This isn't an article about a specific piece of software, or some workflow technique. Wacom MediumWhen we use editing software, many of us interact with it, using the same interface points as we do for the rest of our computing, hence using the keyboard, mouse and / or trackpad.  These are terrific tools and I'm not saying forget them, but if you really want to improve your editing experience, you have to add a tablet to your kit.

Oh wait you say, I can't use a tablet and pen because it's not working on the screen directly.  Not so my friend.  If you have created the skill to use a mouse or a trackpad, a tablet is very easy to add to your repertoire because you are working with a screen pointer in the same way.

Where tablets and pens ARE different is in the tactile area.  Just as with a pencil, you can press harder or more softly to change the strength of what you do.  Like a marker, you can angle the pen to the tablet and change the feel and the effect.  In fact, design tools like Photoshop even have brush palettes specifically for tablet pens.

If you've thought about this you know that there are multiple tablet lines and even model variances from single manufacturers.  I am going to make it simple for you.  Assumption A is that you are a photographer and that your primary use of the tablet will be for post processing.  If that's so, the Wacom Intuos lineup is what you want to look at.   Trust me on this, because I've spent hard earned money on different tablets and even different Wacom tablets.  Save a lot of time, pain and money and go directly to the Intuos.

It doesn't matter whether you use Windows or OS X as the tablets work with either operating system.  The drivers are solid and the installation is easy.  The biggest question is what size tablet to get.  Now budget may be a factor because larger is more expensive but take the time to think about this.  The Intuos comes in two flavours the 4 and the 5.  The 4 is only available in the Extra Large size while the 5 series come in small, medium and large.  If you have buckets of money they also make the Cintiq line which are tablets that are also IPS displays but that's a different story entirely.

The size of course is usually interpreted to reference the overall dimensions, but the important criteria is the working area.  The larger the working area, the more finite control you have, at the expense of portability and desktop real estate.  Unless you are a digital painter, you probably want to pass on the Extra Large.  Here are the working area dimensions for the three versions of the Intuos 5.

  • Small : 6.2" x 3.9"
  • Medium : 8.8" x 5.5"
  • Large : 12.8" x 8.0"

Wacom touchI've owned the large and used it on the desktop before I switched to the Cintiq, but I find myself working remotely and traveling a lot and so I bought the small version and find I use it all the time.  Once connected, i don't even use the mouse or trackpad as the tablet is so effective, even for non-editing some times.

Wacom is the top name in tablets.  You can get different pen types that give different feels, different nibs for different effects and in the 5 family there is even touch support.  I'm of two minds about touch.  It's fine if you want a big touchpad but I turn that off when editing because of interference between my hand edge and the pen.

I'd suggest looking at either the small or medium versions because of the balance of portability and flexibility, but decide what's right for you.  Whichever you choose, choose a tablet and you will absolutely see an improvement in your editing experience.  Yes there will be some acclimatization required but it will go quicker than you think.

Until next time, peace.