At a Glance
Wacom's pressure-sensitive graphics tablets have become ubiquitous, indispensable tools for Mac-based graphic artists. But if coordinating movements across a tablet with on-screen actions is awkward for you, then you should consider Wacom's Cintiq, the latest iteration of that company's combined tablet and LCD screen. It fixes many idiosyncrasies of Wacom's previous LCD tablets and, at $1,899, is more reasonably priced.
The Cintiq's 15-inch LCD screen has a maximum resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels and support for 24-bit color. Simply by pressing and holding a hinged release on the Cintiq's stand, you can tilt the tablet to any angle for use as a completely upright monitor or an almost-flat tablet.
Tricks with Video Cards
Because Cintiq works as a second display, you'll need an additional video card. The Cintiq attaches to your Mac's video port via its DVI outlet, and it comes with a DVI-to-VGA adapter, so you should have no trouble attaching it to any modern Power Mac, iBook, or PowerBook with a video-out port. To connect it to a Power Mac G4 that has an Nvidia GeForce2 MX video card with TwinView, you'll need a $50 ADC-to-DVI adapter, available from Belkin (800/223-5546, http://www.belkin.com). No matter which Mac model you use, you'll also connect the Cintiq to your system's USB port.
Look and Feel
The tablet's display is first-rate, offering excellent color, brightness, and contrast; however, the contrast ratio of the Cintiq's LCD, like that of all LCDs, varies slightly across its surface.
Earlier Wacom LCD tablets suffered from two main problems. First, the tablet surface that sat over the screen was so thick that there was too much space between the on-screen image and where the stylus touched the drawing surface. This created a parallax problem that was annoying when doing fine-detail work. But the Cintiq has a much thinner drawing layer that allows the pen almost direct contact with the underlying surface.
Second, previous Wacom LCD tablets had a very slippery texture that pens would often skate across. The Cintiq's surface is much-improved, providing resistance similar to a piece of paper's and giving you much better control for fine strokes. However, it isn't tilt- and bearing-sensitive, so it can't determine the angle at which you're holding the stylus and therefore can't use that information to vary the characteristics of strokes.
Wacom provides an Ultrapen stylus that supports 512 levels of pressure sensitivity, a two-way side-mounted rocker switch, and a programmable eraser. But unfortunately, the Cintiq can be used only with the Ultrapen stylus, not with specialty pens such as calligraphy or airbrush styluses.
We can't help but wonder why Wacom didn't include the new Grip stylus, which comes with the high-end Intuos2. The Cintiq is also a lower-resolution tablet than the Intuos2, and it lacks a programmable menu strip.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Previously, it was difficult to recommend Wacom's LCD tablets to anyone but highly paid graphic artists, but this is not true of the Cintiq. The tablet's improved design and more comfortable drawing surface, as well as its ability to stand upright make the Cintiq well worth its price. If the bulk of your work involves digital painting or retouching, and especially if you've been contemplating the purchase of an additional flat-screen monitor, you'll want to seriously consider the Cintiq.