Posted on Apr.15, 2009, under Reviews


We interrupt the normal stream of images for a quick product review…

I recently purchased a new Wacom Intuos 4 Tablet primarly to use with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS4. This product was recently announced at the NAPP Photoshop World held in Boston, MA. I’ve been using a table for several months, mostly to help with creating layer masks in Photoshop. I was using an old Wacom Graphire tablet that someone at my work had decided they no longer wanted. I found using the tablet to be quite helpful in creating masks and doing fine grained work on my images, but that was the extent of my use. When I heard about the new Intuos 4 Tablet, I decided it was time to take the plunge and get a ‘real’ tablet. I was not disappointed.

The Intuos 4 comes in four sizes, Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large and prices range from $229 to $789 (MSRP). I paid $349.99 for my Medium size tablet at BestBuy.com. The price includes the Tablet as well as the right to download the following plugins:

  • Nik® Color Efex Pro™ WE6
  • Wacom Brushes 3.0

and two of the following three software packages:

  • Adobe Photoshop® Elements 7 Windows or Adobe Photoshop® Elements 6 for Macintosh
  • Autodesk SketchBook Express® 2010
  • Corel Painter™ Sketch Pad

All four versions have an active area for the pen, and a side bar with buttons (Express Keys) and a touch ring, similar to what you find on an iPod. The Small model has an active area of 6.2″ x 3.9″. This size was comparable to the tablet I had been using and I decided I wanted something larger. The Medium has an active area of 8.8″ x 5.5″ and an overall size of 14.6″ x 10″, or roughly the size of my 15″ MacBook Pro. The larger models (Medium, Large and Extra Large) all have LCD displays next to the Express Keys which are used to display the function assigned to each key. Unfortunately the small version does not have this feature.

All four models come with the following:

  • Intuos4 medium pen tablet
  • Intuos4 Grip Pen
  • Intuos4 mouse
  • Pen stand
  • Ten replacement nibs (five standard nibs, one flex nib, one stroke nib, and three hard felt nibs)
  • Nib extractor
  • 5′ USB cable
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Installation CD (includes tablet driver software and electronic user manual)

When I received my tablet I was impressed by the packaging. The influence of Apple on how computer products get designed and packaged is certainly evident. The table comes in a black box, similar in size to what is used for the MacBook Pro. The tablet, mouse and pen are all black, and all of the packaging match this color choice. The tablet itself is jet black. The pen area has just a bit of texture, similar to the feeling of paper, not the smooth plastic surface that my Graphire table had. The area around the pen area also has texture and a matte finish, the express key area is glossy. All in all a very impressive looking tablet.

Fortunately the tablet’s functionality meets or exceeds the tablet’s good looks. The software installation was simple. I put the disk in and the driver installed. I was then able to configure the tablet in System Preferences (Mac OSX). The configuration utility allows you to assign functionality to the 8 Express Key buttons, as well as assign functionality to four modes of the touch ring. Different functionality can be assigned for each application. For example, I have one set of functionality for Photoshop CS4, another for my Mail application. When assigning functionality to the buttons, you can also assign a label. This label appears next to the button using the LCD display. If you change applications and the functionality changes, the label will change as well. No need to remember how you programmed the buttons. This makes them much more useful, at least to me.

One of the nicest features of the tablet is the touch ring. The touch ring makes it easy and simple to zoom in/out on my image, change my brush size, or rotate the display of my image to make editing easier (a new feature in Photoshop CS4). In the center of the ring is a button. Pressing the button toggles the touch ring through four modes. So, for something like Photoshop, I have one mode for zooming, one for changing brush size, etc. Very useful.

When I first started using the tablet, I was amazed at how it felt. The pen body has a nice grippy feeling to it and when I put the pen on the tablet it felt as if I were drawing on paper. I immediately opened Photoshop and created a new document. I selected the brush tool and used the touch ring to adjust the size. I then simply wrote my name. I had tried in the past to get a digital copy of my signature using the old Graphire tablet. The results were always horrible. This time, when I wrote my name, the results were wonderful. The Intuos 4 has 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity and it shows. My signature had thin and thick portions where I had used lighter or heavier touch. The image was quite fluid. I then opened an image and played around with creating a layer mask. Using the touch ring to zoom in and out was a joy, and I had great control of what I was doing with the pen.

The only issue I had was that I felt that the active area of the tablet was almost too big. When I wanted to grab a new tool, or move to the layers palette it felt as if I was making large motions with my arm. I’m used to a mouse with high sensitivity where I only have to move it a little bit, so using the pen took a little bit of getting used to. After a short while, I found that it was very easy to move the cursor around with the pen and I starting using the pen for other applications instead of the mouse. Between the pen and the Express Keys/Touch Ring, I found that I could read my mail, read my tweets on TweetDeck and other things.

I still found the active area of the table to be a little to big, but the driver software actually has a solution for that. In the configuration, you can explicitly specify the active area of the tablet. I just made mine a little smaller than the full area and I found things worked out much better for me. Related to the tablet area configuration, you can also configure the tablet to work with multiple monitors. Some other minor features are the ability to configure the tablet to be either right or left handed. The tablet comes with two mini-USB connections and you can select which one to use to make it easier to work right or left handed. You can select the handedness in the configuration so you can have your Express Keys either on the right or left side. The software will then adjust the LCD to display correctly.

I’ve just started using the tablet so I’m sure there will be more things to discover, but I would just like to say that so far I’m extremely happy with my choice. I love the feeling of the pen and the level of control I have. The Express Key/Touch Ring functionality is terrific. I think that this tablet is deserving of all the hype it is getting. If you have any interest at all in working with a tablet, I highly recommend checking out the new Intous 4.

Disclaimer: I have no connection to Wacom other than as a satisfied customer.

For more details on the Intuos 4 check out www.wacom.com

Text Copyright © 2009 James W. Howe – All rights reserved

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One Comment

  • Paul McGee says:
    If I am editing only in Lightroom, its a mouse. If I am using Photoshop, I am using a tablet.
    I have one of the tablets from XP-PEN : https://www.xp-pen.com and I love it, but have been using a mouse for 10 years, so it’s just as natural.

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