How Awesome is the Wacom Cintiq 13HD?

JasonC —  April 29, 2013 — 8 Comments

I have wanted a Wacom Cintiq for as long as they’ve been available. Dabbling with computer graphics, photoshop, and sketching, there is just something about the concept of drawing directly on the screen with pressure sensitivity that is extremely desirable. But these things have always been pricey. For the past few years there has been the 12″ WX, but it was very low resolution and reviews complained of tracking issues and color issues, so I stuck with my aging Intuos 3 9″ tablet.

After having the Wacom Cintiq 13HD for almost a week now, I can honestly say this thing is incredible. This is definitely the model I’ve been waiting for. Maybe that applies to you, too.

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My background and setup:  

If you’re reading this blog, you may know a little about me, but I’ll include this anyway. I’m a life-long art dabbler and sketcher. I’d love to be like Scott Robertson or Feng Zhu. I do a fair amount of photography and photo retouching in Photoshop. The apps I use most are Photoshop CS6, Lightroom, Sketchbook Pro 6, Illustrator, & Indesign. My system is a late 2011 iMac 27″ (i7 3.4Ghz, Radeon 6970M 2G, thunderbolt) with 2 screens (the Cintiq makes screen #3). This configuration works great.


1. Size – the 13HD is an awesome size for sketching & photo retouching. Compared to the Intuos3 9″ the Cintiq 13HD is only 1.5″ wider and is actually shorter by .3″ than the Intuos. To me, this is a great size for desktop use. I suspect the larger Cintiqs may actually be annoyingly large in everyday use.
2. Accuracy – compared to an Intuos, the accuracy is phenomenal. Using 2-3 pixel brushes in the center of the screen, you can be deadly accurate. There’s just no way to get that kind of accuracy with the Intuos. You get instant feedback as you lay down your lines/strokes. I’ve been surprised how good this really is.
3. Feel – there is texture to the screen, which has a satin-type “finish.” When using the standard nib, it feels, to me, like using Copic marker on marker paper. This feels a lot better than the Intuos3.
4. Resolution – the screen resolution is 1920×1080, and with the size of the display, it is not quite retina-display resolution, but definitely finer than standard. I’d say it’s about 1/2 way between my 27″ 2560 iMac screen and my iPad4 retina display. There’s plenty of size to include a decent work area as well as interface elements from PS or Sketchbook Pro.
5. Color Reproduction – out of the box this is almost exactly the same as my old Cinema Display HD which has been calibrated with my Color Munki. I haven’t taken the time to calibrate the Cintiq yet, but it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not as bright as the iMac. It doesn’t have the same degree of viewing angle as the iMac, either, so it’s important to keep your angle right, but for drawing tasks, it’s right on the money.
6. The Stand – is slim, lightweight but very functional, for the most part.
7. The Buttons – I love these buttons! They come pre-configured essentially perfectly. Of course you can re-configure them as you wish. There’s also a wheel you can bring up on screen to provide a few extra functions. Overall the setup keeps you from having to use a keyboard except when changing tools. They didn’t feel stiff at all in my use.
8. The Stylus – it’s about 1″ shorter than the Intuos3 stylus and a little smaller diameter, too. This actually feels better in my hand as it’s closer to a regular pen in size. Also, the dark grey/black color looks more serious. The rocker switch still gets in the way more than it’s useful (your mileage may vary). The eraser end works great and seems pretty much exactly the same as before.
9. Speed – I had heard with Cintiq that there is a delay between your input and it showing on-screen. That has been non-existent on my system. It’s as instant as drawing with a marker on paper, only you get the ability to “undo!”

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1. The cable attachment feels a bit weak. It’s very similar to the iPod 30-pin connection. Moving the tablet around the desktop causes it to skew a little, but that doesn’t seem to affect it so far.
2. The cable attaching it to the connector is a bit too thick, in my opinion. It makes it stiff enough to give resistance when you’re moving it. Unlike the Intuos’ cable, which is thin enough that you hardly feel it at all. I’d love (and be willing to pay for) a thinner, or more pliable cable. Other than the stiffness of the cable, it is nice that it is a single cable extending out of the tablet. The power cord & brick take off behind my machine where they blend in with the incredible nest of cables already back there.
3. Toward the edges, there is error in tracking accuracy. I’m talking a few pixels off. At first, I thought this was going to be an issue, but it actually hasn’t been. It may just be a perspective issue based on calibration. In actual use, this hasn’t been any issue whatsoever for me. Most of my time is spent working more in the center of the screen. Interface elements are generally in the periphery, and they work fine. Just mentioning for completeness.
4. While the stand has “feet” that are rubberized and help reduce skidding, the tablet itself isn’t, so when you have it sitting up at an angle it will move on you. I might buy some “feet” to affix to the bottom of the stand on the front to give it some more grip.
5. There are only 4 square buttons plus the 5 buttons of the “wheel.” More buttons would be better so I could assign them to photoshop tools and never have to take my hands off to go to the keyboard.


Considering the large Intuos5 is $440 (the medium is $324) or so on Amazon, the added benefit of actually seeing what you draw under your pen tip as you draw it is well worth it. I think the intuitiveness of seeing what you draw as you draw it is a major win over touch gestures.


Make sure you purchase whatever adapter you might need to go from HDMI to your computer. For me that meant a $7 HDMI->Mini Displayport (thunderbolt) adapter. There aren’t any included adapters, just the HDMI connector. There is a USB port on the right side of the device (next to the connector and on/off switch). This could be useful for a small system. I think a great system for a graphic art student would be the Cintiq 13HD connected to a Mac Mini. With a cheap USB keyboard and mouse or trackpad. Or you could go with a MacBook Air with the Cintiq as a second display.

Is this device something everyone should consider purchasing?

I have to say “no” on this, and for good reason. $999 is a lot of money for most people. An iPad is a great multi-purpose piece of hardware that almost everyone will find useful in thousands of ways. The Cintiq is awesome at what it does. In fact, there is nothing out there that does the same thing nearly as well at any price that isn’t made by Wacom. But the Cintiq is a very specialized device that is going to have a select audience.  

Who should consider purchasing the Cintiq 13HD?

If you are a graphic artist or photographer, this is definitely a device you should heavily consider. For dabblers such as myself who have a little cash saved up, I think it’s a great buy. Especially if you have a single screen computer or laptop. Then the Cintiq gains even more value as it will double nicely as a second small screen, which is really useful in a lot of situations. Basically, if you regularly use Adobe Photoshop or any sketching software (Painter, Sketchbook Pro, Manga Studio, etc.) regularly. There are some limited uses in Illustrator as well, but the mouse is still best for manipulating control points. Here is my Amazon Associates Link to the Wacom Cintiq 13HD. Purchasing through this link helps support this site. Thanks!

For me, this is almost my dream device. (Make it wireless and still connected to Mac, or keep the form factor, touch sensitivity, and have it running on iOS (not Android!) and it would be there). Also, after using the 13HD, I don’t have even the slightest desire for one of the larger ones. I think this is the perfect size.

  • C5m7b4

    How do you currently have your Thunderbolt display and Cintiq hooked up. I am reading a lot that you cannot use a Thunderbolt display and a Cintiq at the same time. I really want to purchase a Cintiq but I want to make sure everything is going to work. I currently have a 2011 Macbook Pro and a Thunderbolt display that I love.

    • JasonEC

      I have an iMac 27″ which has 2 thunderbolt ports. One of those ports is connected to my Cinema Display. The other has a LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt 6TB hard drive attached. The Cintiq is attached to the LaCie.

      My understanding is that the display has to be the last item on the thunderbolt chain. In my case I have 2 thunderbolt ports. Not sure about the MBP. You may be able to get a thunderbolt hub and use the Cintiq and Thunderbolt Display. But I would check into it first.

      I think your situation is definitely a case where you might want to go with the 24″ Cintiq as it’ll have to serve duty as your large screen AND input device.

      Good luck (and let me know how you end up resolving this)!

  • Charles

    Good Day, this Cintiq is a great solution, and so portable, but i like to know if i can attach a keyboard (like mac keyboard ) to work outside the office using the usb port..

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  • Mark Hyland

    I too have two displays and the Cintiq13HD makes it number 3 (like you a 27″ 2011 iMac and a 23″ Cinema HD Display). Im finding it difficult to incorporate the Cintiq into this setup, instead compromising and connecting it to my 13: 2009 MBP. When connected a s a third screen, I find I have to drop the resolution of the iMac down to get all the display to play nice together. Do you have any tips on setting up the Cintiq as a proper third display ?

    • JasonEC

      Thanks for the comment! I haven’t had any problem with the Cintiq working well as a third display from a hardware standpoint. It may be because my graphics card has 2GB of memory. If I had the problem you describe, I’d probably do the same thing.

      My biggest “problem” with it as a 3rd display is more of a logistical and usage issue. Being a 3rd display and because it’s designed more for laying flat, it’s hard to make it useful for display purposes. Mostly I find that I have it laying over to the left side of my 2nd screen. I pull it out when I’m needing to use it for graphics.

      This has me thinking about things quite a bit. If the RAM of your system is limiting you to a 2-screen system, then you might be better off selling the 2nd screen and the Cintiq HD and getting a Cintiq 22 or 24 and using it as your 2nd (or even the primary) display. Since the new Mac Pro has been announced, I’ve been toying with this idea for my system as well.

    • Mark Hyland

      Thanks for the reply Jason. It works, but Im finding it confusing how to set it up in my Display Properties in Mavericks. Playing with doe of the options screws up the two main screens. I was wondering if you could share you’re setup so I can try that?

      • JasonEC

        On the Cintiq:
        I have resolution set to “best for display” (this is for all 3 screens actually)
        Rotation = Standard
        Refresh rate is 60 Hertz
        Underscan slider is set to “off”
        In the color tab I have my calibrated color profile selected.

        Does this help?