The Intuos® Creative Stylus Review

JasonC —  October 22, 2013 — 1 Comment

There are a ton of products out there to help with the creativity process. Everything from pencil and paper to a high-end pressure-sensitive display with various creative apps exist. And they ALL work. It’s just a matter of finding what works best for you, but then also keeping that with you so you can get busy when the creative streak hits you.

Many people have iPads, and they’re great for a lot of things. Browsing and email work great. It’s even getting a little easier to do some creative writing on the iPad (especially if you have a keyboard for it). But there’s no denying that trying to create any graphics on the iPad ends up feeling like you’re literally finger-painting. Do it enough and you can even do OK with “finger-painting.” But it can be frustrating and maybe not everyone is meant to be an iPad VanGogh.

Now you have another option: The Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus (ICS)

Wacom creates awesome products that are geared towards bridging the gap between traditional media and digital media. Intuos tablets have been around for years, letting you “draw” with pressure sensitivity, though you’re drawing on a tablet and looking at your computer’s screen. Then there is the Wacom Cintiq line which basically puts a pressure sensitive tablet on a screen, so you can literally draw where you’re looking with a high degree of precision. But they’re expensive. Last year they released the Wacom Inkling, which is a special pen and sensor that you can clip to your notepad and draw like you would with a pen, then hook it to the computer and download a digital version to your computer, which you can then manipulate with your favorite applications. (I’d love to get my hands on one of these for detailed review…)

 

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Sitting atop my Leuchtturm 1917 5×7″ notebook you’ll find (L->R, Top->Bottom in the middle) iPhone 5, Case for the ICS, Intuos Creative Stylus, Cintiq Stylus, Amazon Basics stylus, Uni Kurutoga .3mm mechanical pencil, Palomino Blackwing 602, and finally the box for the ICS.

 

The Intuos Creative Stylus is a $99 stylus that you can use with your iPad to create art or manipulate images. It aims to turn your iPad into something approaching a Cintiq. Here’s my review.

How does it work?

This stylus is a battery-powered device that includes a small pressure-sensing tip underneath the rubber tip. When using certain applications (not every app supports it), it sends the iPad information wirelessly through BlueTooth, telling it how hard you are pressing. The app then uses that to make the line on the screen thick or thin or dark or light depending on your brush settings.

Why is this a big deal?

If you are drawing, you naturally adjust how hard you press to produce a darker stroke when you are sketching with a pencil. If you are using a paint brush, pressing hard generally makes a broader stroke. In calligraphy, you control the flow and the width with your pressure. Pressure sensitivity allows you to create more naturally  in digital media, making the process quicker and more satisfying.

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Above:

This shot compares the pressure sensitivity in Adobe Ideas. On the left is my cheap low-tech stylus with an example of how it performs in Ideas. Ideas is one of the best applications for producing variable-width lines based on the speed of your drawing and the change in the speed. You can see that it produces something like a pressure-sensitive effect. On the right, you can see true pressure sensitivity with the ICS. Notice the thick and thin sections of the lines (including the writing below). As I drew the line(s) I altered the pressure I applied. What you can’t see is that I did the same thing with the stylus on the left. Clearly brown was the wrong choice of color for this particular example, but I’m in the Autumn spirit.

Does it actually work?

In a word… Yes! Is it perfect? No. But I think some of the limitation is in the apps I’ve used. For $99, though, this is a fantastic approximation of a Cintiq experience.

Pros:

1. Natural-feeling stylus

This stylus is very similar to the stylus for my Cintiq 13 in general shape. It is significantly heavier, but it feels “solid,” and it feels good.

2. It’s unobtrusive

After pairing the stylus with the app, it just works. And it’s so unobtrusive that it essentially fades away and you can just get to drawing.

3. The pressure sensitivity is much better than expected

Honestly, I was expecting the sensitivity of this thing to be jerky. It’s not. It is smooth and very responsive with a wide range of sensitivity. 2048 levels to be exact.

4. The accuracy of the stylus is better than expected.

I have another standard stylus for the iPad. I’ve tried to use it for drawing in Sketchbook and Adobe Ideas, but although the tip of that stylus looks pretty similar in size, the Intuos Creative Stylus is much much better for drawing. Kudos, Wacom.

5. I already owned several apps that include support for the ICS.

Obviously, your mileage will vary, here. I would expect this is something that will improve over time. Bamboo Paper is a free app by Wacom (though you have to pay $.99 for each of the “good” brushes to get full use of your ICS). $1.98 is worth it, though. Sketchbook is probably the top sketching app for the iPad, and even with fingers people have created amazing things with it. It’s pretty full-featured and intuitive. Adobe ideas is smooth and fast and it may even be my favorite in regular use, but you’re limited to the brushes it includes, which are pretty limited, though very fun.

6. It’s super portable.

You can take this thing with you anywhere. If you are visiting a park, you can just plop down on the ground and start painting with it on the spot. Try THAT with a Cintiq. Same thing for taking notes and sketching. Or if you’re in-between meetings. This is a killer feature.

Cons:

1. Palm rejection:

Supposedly, with this technology, you’re supposed to be able to rest your hand on the screen and draw with the stylus like you would on a sheet of paper. This is just not very effective in most apps. It does work OK in Bamboo, though, so maybe it’s an app-thing and can improve with developer attention. Check the website at intuoscreativestylus.wacom.com to check if palm rejection is supported on a particular app.

2. Photo Editing:

One of the major uses for pressure sensitivity is photo editing. To me, this means Photoshop. Folks, we’re just not there yet. But over time, I expect tablets will become more central to the creative process (especially with the ICS’ arrival) instead of just being where we all view content.

3. Are you connected?

Unlike other devices that connect through BlueTooth, the ICS doesn’t use the standard pairing process in iOS preferences. You have to find in each app where the setting to connect the ICS is located and then press the button on the stylus. It then connects pretty much automatically. However, if you leave the app, or close your iPad, you lose the connection. Just remember to hit the button when you get started with the right app again. There’s not enough visual feedback to let you know whether or not you’re “connected.” The pen does flash a small blue light when connected, but this may be covered by your fingers.

4. App support:

I’ve mentioned several times that I think some of the features of the pen are limited by the apps that support it. As more apps support it, this should get better. And Wacom may be able to help with development kits to make it easy to access the full function of the pen in tons of apps. Right now there are only a dozen or so apps that support it at all.

5. It’s no Cintiq

The accuracy is pretty good, granted, but it’s still not nearly as good as a Cintiq. If you try tracing on an image, you’ll see what I’m talking about. In practice, though, I don’t think this is a big deal at all. It is so easy to 2-finger zoom and work in tight and then pinch to zoom back out. It’s a different way of working, but it does work great.

The bottom line (Should you get it?):

If you are a creative, or just like to draw, this is an excellent gadget for you. I think it might even be a good tool for production of artwork in time as application support and variety improve. I suspect palm rejection can improve over time as well. If you have any of those tendencies, I’d say $99 is a super cheap cost-of entry for the capabilities you get. If you already have an iPad, this is an easy decision, really. Most iPad owners keep their device on hand, which is essential to the creative process as you need your tools around when the creative mood hits. That’s one of the big drawbacks to an Intuos or Cintiq tablet: when you’re out and about, you definitely do NOT have it with you.

On the other hand, one of my biggest usages for a pressure sensitive device is in photo editing. I do this with my Cintiq every other day or so (sometimes for hours at a time). As of now, there’s just not a lot on the iPad to make this a viable photo editing solution, in my humble opinion. For a cheap entry into this area, I’d recommend a small Wacom Bamboo tablet with Adobe Photoshop Elements. For a while, Adobe was offering free download of some much older versions of the Creative Suite app, so check into that as well. Even an old version of Photoshop is an unbelievably powerful tool for photo editing and art creation in general.