March 26, 2009

New Wacom Intuos4 rocks!

If you have the slightest interest in computer drawing tablets, you need to see this thing.

Back in college, probably 15 years ago (dang…), I somehow persuaded my parents to let me buy a Wacom tablet for my Mac. The device blew my mind, and I remember spending the whole day at the dining room table, drawing & painting in Photoshop and Painter. I knew it was a transformative tool.

I felt echoes of that sensation playing with Wacom’s new Intuos4 tablet. The new device shows the results of some close collaboration between Wacom & Adobe during its development.

Until now I’ve never really been satisfied with the feel of the contact between the tablet surface & pen nib, as it’s always felt to me more like plastic-on-plastic than pen on paper. The new surface, however, feels great. My wife tried it and immediately said, “Oh, it feels just like a Sharpie.”

The Intuos4 introduces a clever, iPod-style TouchRing. A button in the center lets you cycle the behavior of the ring, letting it change brush size, rotate the canvas, move up/down through the layers stack, and more (screenshot). Being recessed, the ring is much less likely than the previous TouchStrips to get activated accidentally as you drag your hand past it.

The tablet also supports a very cool on-screen “pie menu” that supports quickly switching tools & running commands. Pressing a key on the tablet invokes the menu contextually, under your cursor, and you can configure the commands associated with it (screenshot). It’s similar to the “tooldial” from Logitech’s deceased NuLOOQ device. Frankly I’ve always been bummed that Adobe apps haven’t offered this kind of menu, so it’s great seeing Wacom step up to the plate.

The tablet design team flew down from Portland a number of times during development to consult with Adobe teams. As we don’t design hardware, it was fun to play with the various plastic mockups to evaluate feel & functionality. Wacom’s Joel Bryant writes,

We worked with Adobe to understand what features we could add that most complemented the direction you were going with CS4 and get validation on some of the ideas that we had such as the ExpressKey Displays. One direction that was totally changed based upon Adobe feedback was using the Touch Ring vs. the existing Touch Strip design (customer research had them with even preference). From the Adobe perspective, the Touch Ring fit much better with the CS4 Rotate Canvas feature especially. So we actually made that change directly based on Adobe feedback.

Also, the defaults for the different ExpressKey and Touch Ring modes were based directly on Adobe feedback and we worked collboratively with Jerry Harris to get the right code into Photoshop to support it. We actually went back and forth with the Adobe team a few times with prototypes to validate that the overall Intuos4 design did indeed have synergy with the CS4 design.

I don’t want to gush all day, so I’ll wrap by saying congrats to the Intuos team on an excellent release. PC Magazine has posted a detailed overview, so check it out if you want a deeper dive.

Posted by John Nack at 5:22 AM on March 26, 2009


  • Klaus Nordby — 6:14 AM on March 26, 2009

    I have a Wacom Bamboo, the modestly-priced consumer model, which actually works quite nicely in PS, AI, etc. I’ve considered upgrading to the LCD-based Cintiq version: almost all Amazon user reviews of the large $2,000 version are panegyric, whereas users of the small $1,000 version are highly critical. So I’ll now hold my Cintiq purchase until Wacom releases an Intous4-based and much-improved small Cintiq.
    Yes, this message is intended for all Wacom employees reading John’s blog: give us a new and improved small Cintiq ASAP — and you will see more business in these dark days!

  • Ken — 6:54 AM on March 26, 2009

    I have an older model Wacom, hard for me to use.
    I may buy this “thing” since you guys at adobe worked with them.
    Thanks again for helping “all thumbs” do it better
    Ken in KY

  • Elja Trum — 7:04 AM on March 26, 2009

    Sounds like an interesting follow-up for my soon-in-need-for-replacement Graphire4. :)

  • Ole M — 7:46 AM on March 26, 2009

    Gah, I just bought a rather shitty drawing board… really regret it, atleast now that this is out, and seems insanely awesome oO

  • Stephen — 8:43 AM on March 26, 2009

    Your mention of a new surface has me now interested but I still have mixed feelings and my first impression is ugliness. I love my Intuos3 but never use the express keys so the LEDs are cool but unsure about useful. The new pen holder is pretty cool with the nibs container but again, I use my tablet 10 hours a day, 5 days a week and the nibs last a very very long time.
    A decent upgrade but my bank account will be pleased that I have no desire to upgrade.
    I may change my mind if I tried one.

  • John C. Welch — 9:08 AM on March 26, 2009

    How does the surface compare to a Cintiq? (My wife will probably ask me if I’ve heard anything at some point, she has a Cintiq.)
    [I can’t really say, as I’ve never talked Wacom into giving me a Cintiq. :-) (I’m not complaining, guys.) My off-the-cuff feeling is that the Intuos can likely feature a good deal more pleasing surface roughness than would be acceptable on the Cintiq’s see-through surface, but others would know better. –J.]

  • BobH — 10:43 AM on March 26, 2009

    My biggest issue has always been the clunky pressure gradient. I cannot get a smoothly expanding brush line no matter what. There is always a point at which the line thickness jumps dramatically.
    I use a tablet all the time and it has always been an exercise in frustration.
    I am curious to try this newest version.

  • gary greenwald — 2:38 PM on March 26, 2009

    time to put the 12×19 up for sale and save to get this next month. i think controls are only on one side though, what about left handed people as myself if so?
    [The beauty is that you can rotate the whole thing 180 degrees, in which case the button displays will also do a 180. The USB plugs & the control panel are set up to make this easy. –J.]
    now if it only had a small configurator layout so i could just tap buttons with my free hands thumb along the side of the tablet to use configurator buttons…

  • Mark Thomas — 3:39 PM on March 26, 2009

    Yes, a tooldial! Photoshop needs this. Seriously. It should be dockable at the corners of the screen and invokable at the mouse location like a pie menu.
    At a glance I can’t tell if these new Wacoms are wireless or have a wireless option, but I sure wish my 3 weren’t tethered.

  • Scott Valentine — 5:08 PM on March 26, 2009

    Gotta love when products work so well together. I can’t wait to get a production model to play with!

  • JFBruckner — 12:57 AM on March 27, 2009

    Thanks for the news. I just learned with your post, that Wacom created this new Tablet. I have an Intuos3 actually, but this new one seems really Great. Really nice design, clean and soft. The Oled system is a nice idea especially when you use the tablet with a lot of differents Softwares, and it seems that their display rotate automatically when you rotate the tablet(?)because the tablet is intended for left and righthanded.
    I have some little questions :
    – Does the 2048 pressure make a difference compared to the Intuos 3?
    – To what could you compare this new contact’s feeling on the surface of this Intuos?

  • garrick — 5:31 AM on March 27, 2009

    Hmm. Not to be all complainy, but that looks really difficult to use for a left-handed person like me.
    Just spin it 180 degrees and all the buttons flip. As I recall Wacom’s buyers are 20% left-handed, which is twice the incidence of left-handedness in the general population. –J.]

  • Daniel Presedo — 10:04 PM on March 27, 2009

    1. How does the surface compare to a Cintiq?
    The Intuos 4 has a slight “grainier” feel to it, compared to the Cinitiq’s smooth surface.
    2. Does the 2048 pressure make a difference? Oh yes, the subtle soft hair like strokes blew me away. What really blew me away was using the Smudge tool with this new sensitivity. The smudge blending was just breath-taking beautiful…
    But I have to say that I still prefer the Cintiq because I can work 10x faster on it. But it is tempting to splurge to have it as well.

  • Greg Law — 12:54 PM on March 28, 2009

    Focusing on what good has been done rather than shortcomings, I suggest that Adobe work with Logitech like you did with Wacom and let Logitech’s NuLOOQ be resurrected into a great addition for the thousands who already have Wacom tablets and don’t want to have to replace them. The failing of the NuLOOQ was not its great concept or very well constructed device. (BTW – for a righty, placing the NuLOOQ to the left of the keyboad is a lot better than the Wacom location.) The device failed because it lacked hooks deep into the Adobe software which are necessary to give it a smooth, quick response. Instead its interface was through an add-on which was slow and kludgy.
    Is it possible for Adobe to help Logitech or publish the programming hooks needed for others to provide additional responsive input devices?

  • Jerry Harris — 8:03 PM on March 29, 2009

    If you are holding out on that CS4 upgrade this tablet might entice you to reconsider. The code that interacts with tablets had a great deal of elbow grease applied to it. The result is improved quality at the beginning and end of strokes, as well as improved response to pressure. PS now preserves pressure beyond 8 bit throughout the painting code whereas before cs4, only 256 levels or 8 bits made its way to this code. This should be more evident when working in 16 bit layers where subtle buildup can occur in the buffers used during painting.

  • Klaus Nordby — 1:17 PM on March 30, 2009

    Daniel’s comments about the Smudge tool reminds me about a pathetically underpowered PS tool, which I’d dearly like to see improved: the Blur tool. The amount of blur it provides is so puny in its maximum strength — it only works across maybe a dozen — that it’s mostly of almost zero use. Instead, I have to copy the layer I need to blur a part of, then Gaussian blur that layer, then paint in a layer mask with the blur showing through. Surely PS ought to have a simpler way to selectively blur parts of an image than this roundabout, file-bloating procedure? Corel Painter has had great a blur-painting brush since forever — it’s time to play catch-up!
    [I too would like to improve these tools. In your case, note that you don’t have to duplicate the layer: you could blur the layer, make a snapshot (via the History panel), then step back in history, target the blurred version, and use the History Brush to paint in the blur as desired. –J.]

  • Rob Reiter — 5:51 PM on March 30, 2009

    Now that I’m getting this new tablet, I’m more interested in getting the GPU acceleration to work on my MacPro 1.1 quad core Xeon machine. My current ATI Radeon X1900 XT card won’t support it reliably. What’s the best choice of card for me to replace it with?

  • Tom — 7:40 AM on April 02, 2009

    Greg, you’ve fallen into the “Wordperfect fallacy,” which blames one company’s self-inflicted market failure on lack of access to proprietary interfaces. It’s no more true for Logitech and Adobe than it was for Wordperfect and Microsoft.
    On Windows, Photoshop uses the published WinTab interfaces for pressure-sensitive tablet support. WinTab has remained stable for over a decade, and the only recent breaking change has been the need to support 64-bit. For that matter, WinTab was actualy designed by a hardware company, so Adobe has to code to the standard, just like everyone else (AutoCAD, etc.).
    There are several non-Wacom tablet makers who have managed pressure-sensitivity in Photoshop by supporting the WinTab interfaces. Logitech is a *much* bigger company than Wacom. Remember: they’re the largest branded peripheral maker (even bigger than Microsoft’s hardware division). They have no excuse for incompatibility; they simply misunderstood the market.
    No idea how the tablet interfaces work on Mac. Mac has traditionally been a less open system than PC. If you have a Mac, it was by your own choice — you should not be complaining about compatibility.

  • Matt — 4:23 PM on April 03, 2009

    I bought the Intuos3 less than a year ago, and now I think I might already have to upgrade.

  • Daniel Alekow — 6:38 PM on April 03, 2009

    Oh this is neat! In the past months I’ve been repeatedly checking wacom to see if they upgraded their intuos line and now that they have, I found out through your blog, haha. It certainly looks like a great update. I love my intuos3 already, it’s a great tool, but from the description it seems like they made really sensible improvements. Especially the fact that it reacts at almost no pressure now seems wonderful. And the wheel!
    Not that I see a need to replace my current tablet as it serves me fine, but I’m still excited about the ongoing development!
    Thanks for pointing it out and collaborating with wacom like that. Wacom really is what opens up the whole painting part of photoshop.

  • Greg Law — 11:35 AM on April 04, 2009

    John, in response to your response to my comments about Adobe helping others better interface with Photoshop, I think my mine were directly on point. In your post you report that “Wacom’s Joel Bryant writes,”…the defaults for the different ExpressKey and Touch Ring modes were based directly on Adobe feedback and we worked collaboratively with Jerry Harris *to get the right code into Photoshop to support it*.”” Obviously, Joel Bryant thinks Photoshop code was enhanced to provide the interface support Wacom’s tablet software needed. Why do you think Logitech wouldn’t benefit with this level of cooperation? (I do not know whether they ever asked for Adobe’s help, but the Logitech software engineer I spoke to who was involved in the Logitech design said it was an interface, not an incompatibility, problem and they could not get the software responsiveness users required and, therefore, the tooldial got ditched.)
    The NuLOOQ navigator (or some resurrected version) would also partially address additional input devices which has been the subject of some of your prior blogs.
    Since you are very interested in efficient interfaces, as am I, is there any reason that Photoshop cannot provide an interface for assigning commands to mouse buttons including full support for keyboard modifiers (ctrl+RC, ctrl+alt+button4, etc)? It would be awesome to change Keyboard Shortcuts and Menus to Keyboard & Mouse Shortcuts and Menus.
    BTW – CS4 on Vista x64, 8 GB, wacom intuos3. It works fine. No experience with an Apple.

  • che — 1:02 PM on April 06, 2009

    I am using a Bamboo fun,and i would like to use its wheel for rotating canvas but i dont know if it is possible but if it is not then it really sucks. The technology behind the touch ring is the same between any of these tablets.

  • Joel — 3:43 AM on May 06, 2009

    Just waiting for the next Cintiq 12 that would make use of this new 2048 pressure levels technology. Any rumor about it?

  • Suzy — 3:54 PM on May 18, 2009

    Rob, throw an nVidia GeForce in that machine. You’ll be happy.

  • Paul bright — 9:22 AM on February 17, 2011

    Evening all

    Could anyone shed light on whether the intuos4 is useful for an industrial designer? It seems that it was developed mainly for people doing illustration and graphic work. I realise that of course it is an awesome tool but would I be better off spending my time perfecting 3d modelling programs?


  • Paul bright — 9:23 AM on February 17, 2011

    Evening all

    Could anyone shed light on whether the intuos4 is useful for an industrial designer? It seems that it was developed mainly for people doing illustration and graphic work. I realise that of course it is an awesome tool but would I be better off spending my time perfecting 3d modelling programs?


  • Katie — 7:25 AM on April 22, 2011

    Have you had the infamous nib wear from the surface? I see all these complaints from December and the surrounding months (hundreds!) and they seem to have died down, but I’m not sure if it’s because the new surface cover is effective or not. Can anyone enlighten me?

  • Robert — 6:06 AM on May 17, 2011

    So John…. have Wacom been down to see you yet about the Intuos5 ? Time scale of that planned release I would dearly love to know….

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