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Most of us would love to work with a cintiq-like tablet, but very few could afford one, especially if they are not professionals.

There have been questions about this, ideas to try to use an android tablet for such purposes, but everyone used the phrase "just buy a wacom bamboo tablet" like a mantra.

I didnt give up on my pursuit and found solutions that fit in a 150-200$ price range. Those would be PC laptops with integrated digitizers. Ill be buying a second hand Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 for around 190$. There are others, like the IBM X61, some toshibas, HPs etc...

So my question is: how come nobody advised buying such PCs? Are they little known about, or do they have some big disadvantages I dont know about?

I mean - its wacom technology. Sure, in the soon-to-be-mine Fujitsu model there are 255 pressure levels, not 2k like in intuos devices, but I am not a pro and I probably couldnt feel any difference between the two. These computers have reasonable specs, nice processors and should do fine. One might say that they have integrated graphics card, but is that such a big deal? Photoshop should run fine, at least for typical digital painting tools, and there is always GIMP (pretty lightweight compared to PS) or using the entire laptop as a remote desktop display for a stationary PC with decent hardware. All this in a price range below one fifth of the smallest cintiq!

Why wouldnt an amateur use such laptops for drawing, designing, digital painting etc? Is there something i need to know before making the purchase?

edit a bit more info about what im looking for: Im mostly interested in sketching, drawing and digital painting with the tablet. I dont like the pen-picture detachment when using regular graphic tablets, also i dont like it how i cant turn them to get comfortable drawing angles, and thats why im seeking a cintiq-like solution. I tried using some android tablets, but the lack of ANY pressure sensitivity makes painting very cumbersome - maiking a smooth colour transition is a lot of work, while with pressure sensitivity it would only take a few swipes. I dont really do any photo work. Also, Im just an amateur and do drawing/painting as a hobby, not a job.

So, any reasons why a PC tablet like the one I mentioned wouldnt satisfy my needs?

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There's a very similar question here: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/12875/…? but that assumes that the PC is insufficient to run Creative Suite. –  e100 Nov 27 '12 at 17:28
    
Actually, think I'm going to flag this as duplicate. As it stands there doesn't to be a sufficiently separate question here. –  e100 Nov 27 '12 at 17:36
    
Seriously, a duplicate? He was asking for software and or hardware allowing him to use his old (and NOT comparable to the one i proposed) tablet as an alternative. Now how is that related to asking about the pros and cons of using tablet PCs? Cause there are tablet PCs in the title of the question? Did you even read both questions, or do you flag basing on a quick glance? For the record, I posted this question AFTER I did research inspired by the qeustion you want to mark as a duplicate. How and why (or why not) are quite DIFFERENT questions. –  K.L. Nov 28 '12 at 11:18
    
Fair enough points. –  e100 Nov 28 '12 at 13:28
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This is probably more money than you are comforatable spending, but have you seen pens that work with tablets (like the iPad) that include a lot of the features you are looking for? For example, the jaja HEX3 hex3.co/products/jaja –  Dave Nelson Nov 28 '12 at 21:33

7 Answers 7

up vote 1 down vote accepted

lets start:

I'm an amateur artist as well, but managed somehow to get a lot of equipment xD. I haven't tried those tablet pc's but I have a Cintiq UX21, Intuos3 A4, and a few bamboo's.

By my experience I would tell you to get a intuos, 3 or 4.

Why?

  1. Those laptops as suggested on the comments won't run the creative suite or corel painter properly, even if you are doing it as a hobby, there will come a day (trust me) when you will want to paint at a better resolution to print your work, or a big illustration to add nice details, then that laptop/tablet will cry.
  2. The pressure difference IS noticeable, as you get better painting, you will notice it more. I just can't work with the bamboos, the pressure, and more importantly the precision when drawing/painting sucks. I gave away most of the bamboos.
  3. A scratched laptop is useless, or at least uncomfortable. Oh yes, it will end up scratched, don't come to me with gorilla glass or whatever-glasses, they all end up scratched, just google about people complaining their cintiqs being scratched, just use the thing long enough and it will be. A scratched normal tablet looks uglier(or cooler, like scars), but you still can use them well.

The Cintiq Illusion:

A Cintiq is a nice toy indeed (and more the 21 inches version), when I first had it on my hands I was almost crying of happyness. But on the long run it turned out not being so cool:

  • It's not such a big difference, when you get used to the intuos, using the cintiq is mostly the same, maybe you can get adapted quicker to the cintiq, but it's the same in the end.
  • The only difference is that with the cintiq sometimes you cover a great part of the image with your arm/hand, and have to lean back and take your hand off the screen to see it.

Also it's more troublesome to actually rotate the screen than using software rotation, ie holding R in photoshop to rotate the canvas, where this takes us to the next points:

  • The keyboard. Even if you are not a programmer, you will (or should) end up using the keyboard for the hotkeys a lot, it just makes your life easier/quicker. while using a cintiq, you will have to forget about the keyboard, it's too big, and the keyboard will be far away, despite they have shortcut keys and stuff, they are just not enough, trust me, they are not.
  • It's so big... It takes too much space on my desk, and I have a big one. A lot of times I just keep it stored in a closet or something, because it's an expensive toy and at least I, don't want to use it for gaming/whatching movies/surfing web. You will be wanting to make it last xD.

So I end up using the Intuos a lot more, it's more maneuverable, and more comfortable to work with. It has special areas you can set up so a small square is equivalent to the whole screen and stuffs like that.

In the end even an A4 is very big, a lot of people having A4 tablets end up using just a portion of it, you can notice because only that part looks more "scratched". Also it won't fit on my backpack, sometimes I wanted to take it to a friend home to paint together or teach them stuff or just going to a LAN party with design contests.

Conclusion:

Go for an intuos3 A5, it's big enough, and small enough, affordable (250$ or so) and with the same precision and pressure sensitivity as the expensive ones. If you feel rich grab the intuos4, it's cooler xD.

I know some professional artists (spanish) that works with the bamboo, but I think the price difference just don't worth it.

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Are you sure the laptop will cry? I compared its specs to CS6 requirements, and its good enough in every point (only the graphics card VRAM is between the minimal and recommended). Its got a core 2 duo, not Pentium 4. 2GB ram instead of 1... Seems like thats quite enough, isnt it? I mean, besides a better graphic card, my desktop has similar parameters and runs Photoshop (ok, its a trial) well! I thought that the GPU is mostly needed for liquify effects and similar. Im not trying to prove Im right, just curious ;) –  K.L. Nov 29 '12 at 11:26
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That computer will run the photoshop, but as you work with a bigger image, or higher resolution, or a psd with lots of layers, it will start crying. Try painting on a 300ppp A4 file. A lot of panning zooming and quite basic features are gpu accelerated: helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/kb/…. Although you can disable most of them, the gpu isn't really that important unless you work with 3D stuff, it's mostly the cpu and ram –  aleation Nov 29 '12 at 12:47
    
Many of the points you made in your answer proved to be spot on - therefore I accept it :) –  K.L. Dec 16 '12 at 22:37

I am not sure where to start here, as you say, you are not looking for a "Professional" tool, so your idea of what works for you will be different from others.

I recommend that you go ahead and buy the machine you are looking at and give it a try, it will be great if it works for you, and if it doesn't you can re-sell it again quickly and get most if not all of your money back.

For me, I have had different tools from a 12x12 CAD system with a 40+ button puck to small Wacom pads, iPads, and all sorts of mice and controllers. The big 12x12 monster was unwieldy and did not work for me at all, the 4x5 Wacom is great for photo-retouching in Photoshop and drawing in Adobe Illustrator, the iPad is fantastic for "painting" and sketching, and different controllers offer different levels of control that make working in specific apps much easier.

But the Wacom Tablet does not work for my everyday use, it gets in the way to much, I only use it for retouching and nothing else. I don't do any painting or sketching outside of goofing off with the iPad. On the iPad I only goof off painting and sketching, nothing serious gets done there.

A high quality mouse or the track-pad built into the latest MacBook Pros are my preferred input devices for Photoshop and Illustrator.

So my answer is that what works for you will not work for others and what works for me will probably not work for you. Experiment and see what you like.

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Could you please elaborate on how would my equipment be worse than an wacom tablet (not cintiq!) for a professional? I can see the problem in pressure levels (nearly 10x bigger in Intuos4) but I cant see any other possible cons of the wacom penabled computers. I happen to own an old wacom tablet, but find it very annoying having to coordinate hand movement with what i see on screen. Also, "turning" the tablet for comfortable drawing angles does not work quite right, even with the rotate canvas solution in photoshop. I feel these problems will go away with a pc tablet, and thats why im asking –  K.L. Nov 28 '12 at 11:27
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What I am trying to say in my answer is that your equipment may be perfectly adequate for a professional, and a Cintiq may not be a fit, but that it would depend on the professional and what their needs are. For my needs as a professional designer and enthusiast photographer, a small Wacom and a high-quality mouse are the best fit for me. I am not interested in spending the money on a Cintiq or even a larger tablet. But that is because I have had a larger tablet, I have played with a Cintiq, and I know they do not fit into my workflow. –  Dave Nelson Nov 28 '12 at 21:31
    
Very interesting insights, thanks! :) –  K.L. Nov 29 '12 at 11:11

I have had some success in using an older pen based Tablet PC to act as a digitizer for a Windows 7 desktop.

The method here shares the tablet PC's inbuilt wacom digitizer over the network as a virtual serial port, thus the desktop recognizes it as a digitizer tablet. VNC is then used to push the display back to the tablet PC (which is then scaled) creating a cintiq type experience. There is a video of it action here. It can be used over wi-fi as well. Software is all GPL/Free. It involves installing a small linux system on the Tablet PC.

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I believe the posts referencing "professional" equipment may be a realistic expectation, based on the work being produced. The complexity of projects I accept is heavily dependent on my equipment.

In my day job I publish high-quality, hard-bound books. I run a MacPro3,1 from 2008 with two four core 3.0GHz Xeons (8 cores total), 24GB RAM, a 128GB boot/application/primary scratch file SSD, four mirrored and striped 3TB HDDs running ZFS (6TB total usable space), two video cards and three flat panels (one 30" panel flanked by two 20" panels). This machine is a "good start" for many design situations I encounter, saying nothing about my $75,000 digital press.

I also have a 2011 Mac mini with 16GB RAM, a 256GB SSD coupled with a 500GB HDD attached to a single 27" monitor. Many people tell me my mini "specs out" almost equivalently to my Pro (or that I could replace the MacPro with a top-o- the-line iMac with a speedy i7), but I can sure see the difference when I'm working on a two-page, full-bleed 8.5"x14" brochure built with a many-layered, 300MB Photoshop file, several smaller 10MB-20MB png images, text and possibly a vector eps or two. Mind you I'm concurrently working in Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, jumping between the programs as I design, build and develop the different components and elements of the brochure, leveraging each program's strengths to surpass what any one program could produce alone. 24GB of RAM doesn't last long in a situation like this! I fired up my eight-year-old $12,000 color printer to print a couple of "simple" pages(at least by today's standard of my design!). I found myself waiting almost 10 minutes for the embedded Fiery on this old machine to RIP the file that processed on my new printer in under a minute. I didn't mind waiting another minute and a half for the forty copies.

I don't proscribe to the old mantra that time is money, but having the freedom to play what if multiple times on any or all elements of the project is design Nirvana. With consumer-grade equipment, I don't have the real freedom to play what if and create.

I have no words that can replace a thorough test drive with the real equipment in a real project. Play machines are bound by budgets financed with play money. Real machines get financed based on their return on investment.

If you're serious about putting together a shoestring budget machine, see if you can find a shop that will let you try it all out. Then spend a few hours (a full day if they'll let you!) working on the equipment, pushing it to its limits. See if you even need it or can make it work. As cool as the Cintiq is, a previous business partner used one daily and the machine would never be more than a fancy toy for me. For him, it was a serious tool.

On the other hand, you might also look into a refurnished Cintiq. All the glory of the 21" model, much less of the price.

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I've thought about this question a lot, and the solutions I leaned towards are:

  • Lenovo Thinkpad hybrid tablet (like then new Helix, but there are cheaper older models as well like the ThinkPad W700)

    If you want an economical drop-in replacement for a Cintiq, this doesn't make sense (especially with a brand new Helix) because the addition of laptop components makes it about as expensive as a Cintiq. However, if you're in need of a computer as well as a Cintiq-type tablet, then the Helix and similar hybrid tablets that have reversible screens can function as both. I chose the ThinkPad particularly because many of them use Wacom's tablet technology, however it doesn't seem to use a Wacom pen.

  • Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet II

    This is an Atom-powered 10.1" tablet that runs Windows 8 and also uses Wacom digitizer technology. It should be cheaper than a hybrid laptop, but it can be used pretty much as a Netbook too if you get the bluetooth keyboard add-on (or not).

  • Toshiba Satellite R15/R25

    Like the ThinkPad convertibles, these hybrid laptops also double as tablets and use Wacom technology. Unlike the ThinkPads, the R15 and R25 do use standard-looking Wacom pens, so may be closer to the actual Cintiq experience. Still, they're costly if you just want a drop-in Cintiq replacement and not a laptop.

  • ModBook

    You might have heard of this company a few years ago when they first started converting people's MacBooks and MacBook Pros into tablets. They are indeed using Wacom technology, as well as providing an etched ForceGlass surface that emulates the texture of paper. It's sort of a dream tablet for many who wish Apple would release a proper tablet aimed at creative professionals.

    However, being as they are actually modifying retail MacBooks, these are not at all cheap. In fact, looking on their site, the base version of the MBP is $3500.

  • Smartphones / Mobile Tablets

    I know these days a lot of people have taken to drawing and painting on their iOS and Android devices. But be aware, a phone-sized touchscreen is a very poor replacement for even the smallest Wacom Bamboo. It's almost impossible to find a decent stylus for capacitive touchscreens. All the commercial styluses are thick and clumsy, making the small screens even harder to make precision inputs on.

    Additionally, while a lot of the major graphic design software makers like Autodesk and Adobe have made mobile apps for both platforms, the available graphics apps for Android at least are very sub par. However, there are software solutions that let you connect your Android device to your PC and use it as a digitizer like a Cintiq. But you still need to deal with the capacitive stylus problem.

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So I got my Wacom penabled laptop and i think i have some conclusions to share.

First of all, 12" aint much, when its your total drawing surface, including menus and similar UI elements. I actually begin to understand, why Cintiq devices are so big - it alows for some swiping motions. It feels different from using a regular graphic tablet - a small move there equals a bigger one on the screen, here you have a 1:1 scale. If you have a handy shortcut for zooming in and out and moving around the pane (default space in PS) its not a big deal, and you can get used to it.

If you want to use a digitizer laptop, you need a separate keyboard, or at least a USB-plugged numpad. After turning the display, you have no access to the keyboard, and those keyboard shortcuts really come in handy. The buttons on the front of the display arent enough.

As for the performance issues, I have none with my Fujitsu Lifebook T4220. Photoshop trial version works nice and im not having problems with it drawing. Im not using any extreme resolutions, really big pictures or a gazillion layers on the stack - but for amateur usage im quite sure this is enough power. None of my work is destined for printing, no production pieces ore nothing - strictly amateur.

Im not really having problems with pressure sensitivity levels, in the sense that 256 is enough for me. Only sometimes the pen suddenly switches to full pressure mode without any warning, just to turn normal again after a few swipes. Maybe im having a driver conflict, as I still plug in my regular tablet from time to time.

So, apart from the issues i mentioned, Id say these laptops are quite good for non-professional usage, but you should try if thats your kind of thing before making a purchase. Most of the time, working stationary, Id say that a regular tablet should suit your needs no less than a digitizer tablet/laptop.

There is a big plus for working on the run. Maybe its not the level of handiness an Android tablet provides, but taking into account that you get to work on a normal laptop with pressure sensitivity pen, id say this is the best option for mobile digital drawing. If you could afford newer models with the wacom penabled technology, the better for you!

I needed a laptop anyhow, so i dont regret buying the one I got, and the pen is a nice addition (making notes at the university! yay!), but a dedicated graphic tablet or cintiq will be the way to go most of the time if only considering stationary. On the other hand, such a laptop could certainly be functional, and if you really want it, test it and buy it! If you want to stay mobile, such a laptop is also a good choice.

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Try Monoprice tablet. It does not support tilt, rotation but it does support very accurate pressure sensitivity and is very cheap. Like 55 dollars.

http://www.amazon.com/Monoprice-10X6-25-Inches-Graphic-Drawing/dp/B003ZZXXLK

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any reason to downvote this...i actually use it AND like it. –  Muhammad Umer Apr 6 at 3:15

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