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Drawing Tablets Head-to-Head: iPad Pro/Pencil vs. Surface Pro vs. Wacom Cintiq Companion

With the recent releases of the Apple Pencil and Microsoft Surface Pro 4, drawing tablets have gone mainstream, and many artists have purchased or will soon purchase their first tablet.

But with a variety of choices, including Wacom’s Cintiq Companion, what is the best one for animation artists? While we’ve yet to see a head-to-head comparison from a professional animator (let us know if you make one), artists from other disciplines have started testing out the various devices and comparing their strengths and weaknesses as drawing tools. The best review I’ve seen so far is by industrial designer Spencer Nugent who gives a smart and objective appraisal of the three major devices: iPad Pro, Surface Pro, and Cintiq Companion.

Nugent personally prefers the iPad Pro and Pencil combo, though he says that the Cintiq Companion “wins hands down” in terms of how the stylus interfaces with the screen and how much it feels like paper. He cautions that ultimately it’s up to each artist to find the device that suits their personal needs.

Another comparison, though only between the iPad Pro and the Cintiq Companion, was posted by graffiti artist APSE. He chooses the iPad Pro over the Cintiq for its portability and value:

  • talos72

    The thing that holds me back with regards to iPad Pro is that it may be great for drawing and painting with certain software, but I incorporate 3D work into my art: Zbrush, modo, etc. I can use the Cintiq with Zbrush for digital sculpting and with my laptop I can run full versions of Adobe’s apps plus plugins, etc. I am not sure iPad Pro would be able to replace the Cintiq in those instances…I wish it did.

    • Chad Townsend

      Surface Pro 4 has a really good processor in the video card. The pro 4 was designed with 3D production in mind.

    • Thewhoopimen

      You could try Astropad on the App store and use it to sync your workflow on your computer onto your iPad pro like the Cintiqs. I’m waiting for my pencil to come in to try out the App.

    • lepenyhal

      The iPad Pro has a great future in terms of 3D design. An example is Shapr3D, which is a 3D solid modeler being developed natively for the iPad Pro, and it’s much more intuitive than using traditional 3D sculpting tools on a desktop or a cintiq.

  • Chicken McPhee

    So iPad Pro is like a cintiq with a more color-accurate screen (that can’t be custom calibrated), better tracking and sensitivity.

    Wacom has been lagging behind. As much as I love using my Cintiq, the functionality is mostly inconvenient, it’s as though it were designed by someone who doesn’t know anything about the target demographic; the driver software to drive it all is pretty horrendous, so I’d much prefer not having to worry about drivers crashing at random, or my screen getting completely decalibrated in the middle of my work causing me to have to restart my PC to return to work.

    People praise Wacom, but it’s really just overpuffed gibberish; a product that barely changed for the past 15 years at prices completely prohibitive for a regular user. This companion tablet seems nice, but observe how much slower the refresh rate is, it’s embarassing. Wacom is inferior hardware. iPad isn’t all the way there with software, but greatly increased portability.

    • parkplace06

      IPad is like surface rt… Notice he used the surface pro 3 and not 4…i bet the sp4 might just beat the iPad pro…

      Reasons I say that: 256 points of sensitivity in the sp3 vs 1024 on the sp4. Sp4 also has several tips included to change style.

      I don’t own either.

      • Chicken McPhee

        1024 is pretty poor for 2015, given that wacom products have had 2048 for the past decade or so. Apple isn’t at least entering the game of pretending that touting with a higher number means the product is better and their tilting actually works. I can’t use my Citniq pen to tilt it like I would a pencil.

        • Chad Townsend

          Again no one is using the pressure sensitivity even close to 256.

          • Chicken McPhee

            Hahahaha, sure, why don’t you switch to some ancient tablet with 256 and tell us how it goes?

        • white vader

          I want to try the SP4, but having used Wacom Cintiqs I still prefer an Intuous as A there’s no screen/stylus “disconnect” (except for, you know, being completely disconnected with the monitor) and obscuring the cursor with your meathooks, and B the lack of calibration drives me crazy especially in an animation/vfx studio environment where it’s pretty unforgivable.

          But after mucking around with the Pro and the “pencil” (didn’t buy it – don’t care too much about tablets in general), I thought it was instantly better than any Wacom product I’ve ever used including the companion, hands down. But of course stymied by the OS issue/that it’s a tablet not a notebook or whatever.

          Does anyone remember Calcomp? They used to have the best styluses until now. Just like drawing with a pen. And a really great mildly toothed surface. 20 years ago. Oi.

      • Maxim∑

        its like Surface RT in terms of software limitations? no because iPad at least has a very healthy app ecosystem. If SP4 wasn’t x86 it would have nothing…

        SP4 works well in onenote, i was not impressed with the stylus out of that application at all.

        I prefered the Pencil over MS’s pen, wish it had the same eraser function though.

    • KW

      Boy you’ve really had some bad luck with Wacom, I have never had a single problem with any of Wacom’s products.

      • Chicken McPhee

        Really? I’ve been using a variety of Wacom products for the past 18 or so years and there were always some issues. Some minor, some major, but always something. Not non-stop, but enough that it won’t let me forget how imperfect their overpriced hardware is.

        • Sporting my “Told you so” face

          I haven’t had many problems, tho I do feel like Wacom stopped innovating about ten years ago. Now they just seemingly change the case and sell what they sold last year as a new product.

          • Chicken McPhee

            Exactly. They use pretty crappy screens for Cintiqs too, which is CRIMINAL considering the INSANE markup.

    • Chad Townsend

      I couldnt agree with you more. It’s really just a brand youre paying for at this point. I still like the Cintiqs but i’m not a fan of the cost of the companion. Cintiqs are a bit high as well.

  • parkplace06

    I see you used the sp3 and pen which has only 256 points of pressure sensitivity vs 1024 on the sp4 which also has several brush tips included with it.

    What is sad is that you didn’t use the sp4 and now your article is being used to show iPad as better which doesn’t appear true at all. The iPad pro is a better equivalent of surface rt due to its limitations

    I don’t have either and use a MacBook pro but think the surface book can replace a MacBook pro potentially.

    • Chad Townsend

      This pen pressure mentality has been debunked over the last few years. Programmers developed software to test how much sensitivity the average artist was using when drawing and painting. turns out no is even getting to pressures reaching as high as 256. it just doesn’t matter. It’s just a sales point.

  • schwarzgrau

    Surely there will be a lot of apps for the ipad, but at the moment you can only use apps instead of real software, which makes it a pretty expensive sketchbook. Which is fine for a lot of people, but spending “only” a few hundred more and you get a “real computer” which can run any software, made me buy the Companion 2. Another aspect are the express-keys, which are essential to me, to animate.

  • Dave

    I hate my cintiq companion Hybrid. Worst and most annoying wacom product I ever bought. Can’t wait to sell it to some art school chump

  • I own a SP3 w/ and SP4 pen. I also own a Cintiq and a mac. First off if you have an SP3 get the SP4 pen, you don’t get better pressure sensitivity but you do get the nice tips and an eraser (though its up to the program to support it (looking at you ToonBoom)) The SP3 experience has always been better than other tablets I have owned (6 not including iPads) however the biggest issue for me is wavy lines, everyone talks about the pressure sensitivity but thats not relevant since Ntrig and Wacom are not the same. The issue for me is that if you draw slow the line jitters (this has been widely documented) If you draw fast this isn’t an issue but sometimes can be annoying. The palm rejection is okay but its sometimes crap, I feel like I need touch on since there are no programable buttons.

    In the end I still prefer my cintiq. Laptop drawing always feels weird and constrained.

    • Chad Townsend

      I mentioned to you the last post to write the Adobe Photoshop team about the wavy line issue through twitter. your notes can help them out a lot and they are very quick to respond and talk with you. Super friendly guys. I have now experienced the wavy line issue and noticed it goes away when i close Photoshop CC and reopen it.

      • white vader

        I think it’s finally resolved with newer Cintiqs from memory. Wasn’t a Photoshop issue. And nobody cared to do anything about it for literally years. Many complaints have been made.

      • The issue I had is on the Surface Pro 3 and in all applications. Its known and was somewhat addressed with the SP4 though not as good as I had hoped

    • Have you considered using this app called Lazy Nezumi Pro ( http://goo.gl/r2L4P5 )? It’s a fix for slow drawing.

  • @nc

    If I were a traditional artist (relying on canvas and paint) and I want to use a tablet for brainstorming ideas before I put paint on canvas, which one should I go for? And I’m not thinking of sketching a piece using just one app. I want to try out various ideas, and do a series of tasks. For example I take a photo of my subject, and cut the subject out with a stylus, juxtapose some other photos with it, try out various backgrounds, draw over it with more ideas, and finally use that as a reference. I know I can use a regular laptop for that, but I’m looking to use features such as stylus, pinch to zoom, and such. Thanks.

  • Arp

    I wish he’d had a SP4 for comparison instead. It does look like Apple has made a great stylus with the Pencil but the iPad is still limited by available apps & their abilities. Procreate is fantastic but for all of the folks who use Photoshop they’ll have to finish their iPad work on their desktops

    I’ve been using a Toshiba Encore 2 Write since April and – besides having 2048 levels of pressure that actually work (unlike a lot of iPad stylii) – having a full operating system makes a huge difference. It’s nice being able to all my work on one device. If Apple had made the iPad Pro run OSX it would have been a very, very compelling device. Instead, many people will need a desktop to finish work started on the iPad Pro.

  • John Colasante

    I have used all three and while the Cintiq Companion 2 is not perfect it is for me the best drawing experience of all three devices by a lot. I really wanted to love the Surface Book by the way, but I will be returning it and keeping the Cintiq. The Surface pen is no where near as smooth and responsive as the Cintiq. It’s not just about pressure levels, its about the way it responds to light strokes (yes I optimized both pen settings).

    If you are penciling and need an experience close to the lightest touch of pencil on paper, you will get that on the Cintiq. Not so much on the Surface. If you do not compare them side-by-side you can “get by” with the Surface and even think it’s great, but once you try them together you really feel the superiority of the Cintiq.

    • donnp

      Yup, my thoughts exactly. Surface Book is a stunner but the drawing experience has a ways to go before it matches Cintiq.

      Hoping that Wacom releases a GPU dock for the next gen Cintiq Companion.

  • DrBonsconovich

    I think my Dell x210 eats all of these for breakfast and costs $150. The digital drawing market is so manipulated that it makes my wallet bleed.

    This sort of stuff should be extremely cheap and available – but there is so much profit added on these products (particularly the iPad and the Cintiq) that I’ll stick with better, second hand tablet computers.

    Apparently this is how price discovery works but as that’s a load of toss this is the cheapest you’re going to get these things.

  • Robert Holmén

    So why can’t they eliminate the cursor lag?

    Don’t tell me it’s about how much data that busy pen is generating.

    The location of the pen in the XY space of the screen is a four byte value at most. Plus a 2 byte pressure value and a 2 byte tilt angle (if the pen supports that). According to Wacom, a pen is read about 200x per second. Even if you quadruple the data load to accommodate signalling protocols it is microscopic in comparison to the data processing ability of the CPU.

    A screen is updated every 60th of a second which is enough time for 30 million CPU clock cycles and enough time to transmit about a megabyte of data on a USB or typical wireless connection. The lag is not about how much data the pen is generating.

    There really isn’t a good reason the cursor on the screen should be any more than one screen redraw behind the location of the physical pen and yet it obviously is in those videos.

    I called Wacom once to ask about the obvious lag. The rep was like, “lag? what lag?”

    She insisted that I must have some seriously deficient or malfunctioning computer. But here we are 10+ years later with computers 10x or 20x faster than what I had when that conversation happened and the lag is still the same.

  • J-Devil

    I like both the Cintiq Companion and the Surface Pro. The Ipad pro is just an ipad and everyone talking it up as “the artist’s tablet” must not really do heavy production work. Also, its kickstand has one angle.
    My Surface Pro 1 could wipe its ass with the iPad Pro simply because my OS is 64bit. Also I just straight up don’t like Apple products for art so I’m biased.

  • Christopher R

    I’d stay with Wacom; then again, a Wacom Tablet with a Nice Laptop go hand in hand, something I’ve considered even though I love my desktop.