Wacom Intuos3 Review

by Reads (47,416)

by Jerry Jackson

Anyone working on an image in Adobe Photoshop or on a drawing in Corel Painter realizes how nice it would be to just pick up a pen and "draw" rather than trying to use a mouse. This is why graphic artists have long turned to Wacom pen tablets for editing digital photography and digital art. The Intuos3 6×11 is Wacom’s new mid-sized solution in their top-of-the-line family of pen tablets.

For photographers and graphic artists who haven’t already embraced the idea of a pen tablet or tablet PC, the appeal of the Wacom Intuos3 6×11 is that it is a full-featured "graphics tablet." Tablet PCs offer a great deal of flexibility and a range of practical applications; leading to their popularity with artists and other creative professionals. However, serious high-resolution graphics work often requires the processing power of a well-equipped desktop. This is where traditional graphics tablets such as Wacom’s professional-grade Intuos models still thrive.

Design and Build

The Wacom Intuos3 6×11 is one of the mid-sized tablets in the company’s line of six Intuos3 pen tablets. With a 16.5" x 10.3" footprint the Intuos3 6×11 is relatively large yet small and light enough to pick up off the desk and work with right on your lap. With a thickness of just .6 inches, it’s thinner than just about any device on your desk.


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Unlike the larger 9×12, 12×12, and 12×19 inch versions, which all have significantly larger footprints and are a little too large for most desks, the 6×11 version is large enough to be useful without overtaking your entire desk.


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As you can see from the bottom of the Intuos3, this tablet was designed to rest on a desk surface with four, small, padded feet and a flat base. Since many artists (myself included) often place a pen tablet on the lap while drawing it would have been nice if the base of the Intuos3 had two large rectangular or oval-shaped pads to cushion the lap.

Connections are made via the Intuos3’s single USB cable.

Setting Up the Intuos3

Setting up the Intuos3 really is as easy as connecting the tablet via the single USB cable, installing the drivers, and starting to work. Wacom also includes complimentary versions of Photoshop Elements 4.0 and the very fun Corel Painter Essentials 3.0, in addition to a set of CS-compatible custom brushes for Photoshop.

The complete list of package contents includes:

  • Intuos3 6×11 pen tablet
  • Intuos3 Grip pen
  • Intuos3 five button mouse
  • Pen stand
  • Replacement nib/tip set: 1 stroke nib, 1 felt nib, and 3 standard nibs
  • CD with Quick Start Guide
  • CD with tablet driver software for installation
  • DVD with valuable software included:Adobe Photoshop Elements 4, Corel Painter Essentials 3, and Nik Color Efex Pro 2 IE for selectively applying photo enhancements

The Intuos3 seamlessly integrates with your Vista-based computer and we had not major problems getting the tablet to work with Windows XP or Mac OSX. The Intuos3 didn’t play nice with a tablet PC, as expected, because the multiple pen input drivers created device driver conflicts that caused unpredictable behavior. Granted, this isn’t a concern because there really isn’t a point in using a graphics tablet if you’re already using a tablet PC.


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Although the Intuos3 automatically detects and adjusts for multiple displays, I did find that moving the mouse and pen from one screen to the other via the tablet was a little more difficult than expected. When I move a mouse I typically use the "pick up and reposition" method where I move the mouse a short distance, pick it up, move it back and then repeat the movement rather than having to move the mouse over a giant distance to cover two displays. If you do this with the Intuos3 the cursor will move back to whatever the original position was, preventing you from moving in "steps." In other words, if you have two displays and want to move from the left display to the right display you have to start on the left side of the tablet and slowly move to the right in one continuous motion until you reach the location you desire.


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Pen and Tablet Performance

With resolution and data rates (5,080 lpi, 200 pps) on par with Wacom’s other higher-end tablets, performance was predictably smooth and precise. The Intuos3 tracks quickly, without any noticeable lag even when rapidly moving the pen back and forth. The Intuos3 has 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity and pressure-sensitive functions in both Photoshop and Corel Painter performed exactly as expected. I particularly enjoyed the ability to use pressure sensitivity when applying Nik Color Efex filters to images in Photoshop.


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The included grip pen is Wacom’s standard two-button unit.

I personally found the all-plastic pen to be perfectly weighted and balanced. The contoured grip area is thick enough to promote good pen holding habits and reduce fatigue. Pen tips are removable/replaceable, and Wacom supplies several different tips (also called nibs).

For a softer, more "brush-like" feel, swap out the stock tip for the included spring-loaded version.

At the opposite end of the pen, a spring loaded eraser tip automatically calls up the eraser tool in many common graphic design programs, and even works to highlight and delete text in Microsoft Word. The stock grip pen can also be subbed out for several different accessory versions, including Wacom’s classic and airbrush models.

In Use

Most artists who use a pen tablet for awhile will tell you it’s impossible to go back to a mouse after using pen-based control. I am something of an oddity among the photographers and graphic designers I know in that I "like" pen tablets but I’ve never really "needed" pen tablets. That is, I never needed a pen tablet until I started using the Intuos3 6×11.


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I’m not sure what it is about using the Intuos3 with my studio desktop that makes it like a match made in heaven, but I honestly have a hard time even entertaining the idea of not using this tablet on a daily basis. The setup on my Vista-based desktop was a breeze. Photoshop CS3 instantly responds to the pen, mouse, and ExpressKey inputs as if they’ve always been there. The 16.5" x 10.3" footprint is perfect for my desk and the battery-free wireless pen and wireless mouse mean that I don’t have to worry about cords and I don’t have to worry about charging/replacing batteries.


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The four "ExpressKeys" are duplicated on both sides of the Intuos3 tablet surface for easy use by both right-handed and left-handed artists. All of the ExpressKeys come pre-programmed (see image below) but each button can also be individually configured to control whatever function you desire.


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The two "Touch Strips" likewise come pre-programmed but can be customized to meet the specific needs of each user. I personally found the default settings to be perfect for zooming in and out of an image in Photoshop, so I left them unchanged.

Conclusions

In the end, it’s hard not to recommend the Intuos3 6×11 tablet for photographers, designers, or artists. Like most Wacom products that have preceded it, the Intuos3 is exceptionally well-made and easy to use. The 6×11 size is arguably "perfect" for most users because it provides an ample active area and an even larger base.

If there is any drawback to the purchase of the Intuos3 it would have to be cost. At the full retail price of $369 some younger artists in college or struggling freelancers may not be able to afford this tablet. Of course, there are some things that are simply much more difficult (if not impossible) to do without a pen tablet. There are some cheap pen tablets on the market with similar active areas that retail for less than $100 … but absolutely none of those "imitation" tablets even come remotely close to the capability and durability of the Intuos3.

If you can justify the cost, the Intuos3 6×11 makes the perfect companion for your studio. People who aren’t using Photoshop or Painter on a daily basis probably don’t have any need for this type of product, but if you’re a working photographer or artist who is currently only using a mouse and a traditional desktop or laptop computer then you absolutely must go out and purchase this product.

Pros:

  • Easy to use with almost any setup
  • User-customizable "ExpressKeys"
  • Touch strips make zooming in and out a breeze
  • Battery-free pen and mouse
  • Pen has eraser and interchangeable pen tips
  • Included five-button mouse is nicer than expected
  • Nice software suite included in purchase price

Cons:

  • Movement over two displays can be slow and tricky
  • "ExpressKeys are nice, but more would be better
  • Expensive at full retail price

 

Wacom Intuos3 6×11 Specifications:

Dimensions 16.5" x 10.3" x .6" (WxHxD)
Active Area 6" x 11"
Pressure Sensitivity 1024 levels
Data Rate 200 pps
Resolution 5080 lpi
Function Keys 8, user assignable
Tilt Range ±60º

 

 


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