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Pressure Sensitive Painting Comes to the iPad – review

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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The Intuos Creative Stylus for iPad, by Wacom.

Consider this a tech product review by an oil painter.

Tool under review: Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus for iPad

What it does: this stylus allows for pressure sensitivity when using painting apps on the iPad.

Price: I paid about $135.00 Canadian, retails for $99.95 from the Wacom store which weirdly, does not ship to Canada. Special thanks and shout-out to Kristin and Holly (the person behind the Twitter) at Vistek here in Toronto for their amazing customer service.

What I used: The Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus for iPad; iPad 4 running ios7; ArtRage for iPad painting app.

TL;DR: If you are an artist or illustrator using an iPad for image, get this tool. It’s not perfect, but far, far better than your finger.

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Why is pressure sensitivity important?

When using almost any traditional artistic tool, from a pencil to a watercolor brush loaded with paint, you can vary your line width in a single stroke. This allows for huge variation in shadows, shading, layering colour and detail in general.  By rapidly shading with a pencil, for example, pressing harder leads to making darker marks. Gradation is possible. Pressing harder with a brush puts more of the paint-loaded bristles in contact with the paper or canvas, leading to thicker lines.

Interestingly, the Mac Store in the Eaton Centre here in Toronto let me know they don’t sell styluses of any kind: it was part of Steve Jobs’ vision that people engage with content with their finger to make it more personal. I wonder how long that odd idea will last. Writing a letter in pen is personal; finger painting one is not. My finger is pressure-sensitive – yet the iPad is made not to respond to that pressure.

Here’s an image I made to demonstrate pressure sensitivity. On the left are strokes with various ArtRage tools using my finger. On the right, I used the pressure-sensitive Intuos Stylus.

 

Left: painted with finger. Right: painted with Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus, displaying pressure sensitivity. ArtRage app tools labelled handily down the side.

Let’s break down what we’re looking at, above.

  • Ink: Pretty easy to see that with a finger, the line width stays the same. With the Stylus, it varies.
  • Pencil: The incredibly light marks using my finger can be adjusted with the app’s settings to mimic the dark ones on the right from the stylus: however, anything that stops you from having to open the toolbox is a boon when you’re in the flow.
  • Airbrush: Airbrush had the least difference in feel. Because digital painting typically allows for the “spray” to become thicker the longer you hold it in place, there wasn’t a huge variation. Thick and thin lines with the stylus are noticeable though.
  • Oil paint: To mimic the amazing pressure variety of the stylus on the right, on the left I actually went into the settings and changed the width, once. But no comparison, is there. The Stylus helps it look and flow more like real paint.
  • Watercolor paint: I tried a variety of green and brown lines, and then below I blended shades of brown watercolour using palette knife tools. The differences are huge.

 

Here's an example piece. I drew the Ent from Lord of the Rings a few years ago in traditional pencil, then loaded a scanned copy into the ArtRage app seen here. By placing the pencil drawing on a separate layer and using the Blend Mode: Multiply, I can paint on layers beneath the pencil while the drawing floats on top. I started out by painting with my finger, then switched to the Intuos Creative Stylus.

 

Autumn Ent - Lord of the Rings fanart © Glendon Mellow. Finished it off with the Intuos Stylus.

What’s awesome

Support: An increasing amount of apps are opting into being compatible with this pen. Wacom is the industry king of pressure sensitive inputs for digital media and digital painting, so they are in a good place to shake up the app world. There are three main features that apps can support: pressure sensitivity, palm rejection and settings. As of this writing, at least one of these features is supported by: ArtRage, Procreate, Sketch Club, Sketchbook Pro, Sketchbook Ink, Sketchbook Express, ArtStudio, Inkist, IbisPaint X, Zen Brush, MyScript Notes Mobile, Inspire Pro and Wacom’s own Bamboo Paper app, with more apps on the way.

Key Features: The pressure sensitivity itself is incredible. I have an older Intuos 3 graphic tablet for my home pc, and the iPad Stylus has double the sensitivity of that old workhorse, coming in at 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. Pencil and watercolour in ArtRage feel lyrical instead of kludgy, intuitive instead of like drawing with mittens on. Many of the apps supporting the Stylus have palm rejection as well so you don’t have to worry about resting your hand on the iPad while you draw.

Case: The Intuos Creative Stylus comes with a nice sleek black case that holds extra nibs (2 extra included), the pen and a spot for the AAAA battery. I typically carry my traditional mechanical pencils for sketching in a toothbrush holder because of the compact size, so I appreciate the design of the case.

 

The Intuos Creative Stylus case on the left, and my traditional Pentel .3mm pencil in toothbrush-holder on the right.

What’s less than awesome

The Tip: The tip is too large. Typically when I draw, I use a .3mm mechanical pencil, the smallest implement I can find, with larger areas done with a 2mm pencil. Precision can be difficult: this is somewhat mitigated by zooming in on your artwork, but even after several weeks, I don’t think I am replacing my traditional pencil work after all. And I was quite happy to.

I’m hoping the next gen of this pen will offer different sized, finer tips.

Also no eraser on the back end: you have to switch functionality in-app.

 

L-R: Sharpie fine point marker, Intuos Creative Stylus, Pentel .3mm pencil, regular old drawing pencil. Despite the fact that it looks bigger than the Sharpie, the Intuos Creative Stylus tip is actually quite squishy so it feels about the same as a Sharpie. Far less precise than what I'm used to.

The Button: There’s a big ol’ rocking button (by that I mean two buttons) on the side of the pen. In ArtRage, this can actually toggle the palm rejection feature on and off: it also seems to stop the pressure sensitivity from functioning, which is nice if you need a precise line.

What’s not great is the size of this button. I’m accidentally toggling this on and off every time I paint. Each time I let an artist friend try it out (overall I love the Stylus, so I’m showing it off) the first thing people do is accidentally hit this button. What. A. Pain.

The Battery: a quadruple ‘A’, that’s AAAA is not the easiest thing to find off the shelf. Order online. I’m also not entirely certain how to turn the pen off: it works by Bluetooth and a little blue light on the pen comes on when connected to your iPad. At first I was unscrewing the back end of the pen and removing the battery every time I stopped using it, which made it a bit cumbersome. Now, I’m just shutting off Bluetooth on my iPad instead. And the battery life seems decent. I bought the pen in late November and haven’t replaced the battery yet.

 

Here's a sketch of my Trilobite Boy character, done completely on the iPad with the stylus and ArtRage inks and pencil.

Here's the finished version using only the ArtRage app and Intuos Creative Stylus. Click on the image to see how I messed with it further in the Halftone app.

My advice

For Artists: remember that feeling when you stopped using your mouse to paint and got your first graphics tablet, or switched from a Bamboo to Cintiq? Using the Intuos Creative Stylus instead of your finger is like that feeling. Suddenly, you can really create on the iPad.

For Wacom: next-gen, make smaller, finer tips, and a smaller button.

The Main Thing: I feel like I am actually making art and doing illustrations with this stylus. It removes the finger-painted gimmick feel I often find with the iPad and allows for true blending and shading. With a finer tip I would consider going fully digital. For now, traditional pencil drawings loaded into my iPad with digital painting using the Intuos Stylus is my favourite way to create.

________________________

See also: The iPad as a Digital Sketchbook: The Hunt for a Stylus by Kalliopi Monoyios here on Symbiartic

 

Glendon Mellow About the Author: Glendon Mellow is a fine artist, illustrator and tattoo designer working in oil and digital media based in Toronto, Canada. He tweets @FlyingTrilobite. You can see Glendon's work-in-progress at The Flying Trilobite blog and portfolio at www.glendonmellow.com. Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. LaughingMantis 1:04 pm 01/30/2014

    FYI: On my iPad Air I use the Adonit Jot. What’s awesome about this stylus is that it has a clear flat disk nib that lets you see the much tinier and finer point where the center of the disk is. I’ve read that the reason the nibs have to be so large is that the ipad is designed to pick up the width of a finger (I think its like 5mm). The Adonit gets around this by making the connecting surface clear. Now I really need to get the pressure-sensitive version of the Jot (I think Jot 4). Because I love this stylus!

    Link to this
  2. 2. Bioperspective 10:05 pm 01/31/2014

    Thanks for this review Glendon. Not sure if it’s available in Australia yet, but I can’t wait to try it. I’ve been illustrating with computers for 20 years… seeing the rise in complexity of the software, not to mention the cost, I’m keen to see if this may one day lead to a lo-fi or atleast lower tech way to create digital illustration. I’m not ready to ditch my desktop machine and photoshop just yet, but maybe that day is within view? Certainly a portable option, whether in the operating room or the Outback, both places where I’ve found current technology, even a laptop and small wacom tablet, too cumbersome. Note to LaughingMantis – thanks for the headsup on the pressure sensitive Jot, which I didn’t know existed. I’d love Glendon to do a comparison of the two!

    Link to this

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