January 17, 2012 0

Wacom Intuous 4 – the scratchable pen tablet

By in ruttan's place

Electronics – do they make your life easier, or simply more costly and complex? I’ve blogged about my exploding toothbrush, now it’s the saga of the scratchable tablet.

All six of you regular blog visitors may have noted I’ve got a new, expensive toy — a Wacom Intuous 4 tablet, which has replaced my Wacom Bamboo pen pad for working on graphics with the computer. The drawing surface on that older device had gotten shiny and worn, but no serious scratches, and I had never replaced the nib, even though the thing was in use every day for about a year.

When it arrived a couple of weeks ago, the new Wacom was more complex, but very precise and smooth-feeling. I didn’t get the jagged lines that the cheaper, less “high-resolution” product made. At last, I had something that worked almost as well as my traditional pens and brushes, with the colours and changeability that you can get with computer graphics.

After going through a bunch of youtube tutorials, and figuring out how to tweak Photoshop (a process still ongoing), I felt ready to go as a digital-type artist, as my experiments on this blog have been showing.

One feature of the new pen is a selection of removable nibs, nestled in the inkwell-shaped pen holder. There are actually 4 different kinds. But generally you have the black ones, which are standard, then the white, slightly rougher-feeling ones, which according to the manual will give a softer, more brush-like stroke.

Nora (AKA the Black and White Tornado) is investigating them here, as you can see.

I watched yet another online video showing me how to remove and replace nibs, then with happy anticipation, performed the operation on my own device. I opened a new drawing file.

Didn’t notice any immediate difference in the stroke, but imagine my horror when the first pass or so of the new white nib across the tablet caused a nasty gouge in the pad. You can see it in the shot below, now that I’ve shooed away the cat. And though she has claws and was sitting on it, I swear she is NOT responsible.

I hadn’t pressed particularly hard, and already my expensive tablet had a groove on it I could feel with my fingertip. Was it even going to be useable after a month or two of use?

I did a web search on “Wacom Intuous 4 pad scratches.” Didn’t come up with advice on my exact case, but read a lot of online complaining about how nibs wore down quickly, and were expensive to replace. I signed up with the Wacom.com website, and then had to do a second registration to search the users’ forum.

That contained the usual half-literate expressions of puzzlement and panic (which of course never affect Yours Truly!) and finally a link to a third-party site selling plastic protective covers for Intuous 4 tablets. I picked up one of these via Amazon, feeling annoyed at paying the extra $17. What was also annoying is that I saw that the price of my tablet on the same site had dropped by about $70 since buying it, probably because of the number of complaints.

I typed a slightly passive-aggressive note to Wacom customer support. They responded quickly and with a friendly e-mail, offering to replace the pad surface for free. They told me that both the nibs and the pad are “wearable surfaces” and a replacement pad would be in the mail.

This morning there was a knock on the door at 8:30 am. I had been drawing and blogging until three that morning, but collected the envelope containing the plastic shield. It’s a rectangle of mylar with adhesive on the edges.

Anyhow, the regular nibs don’t seem to scratch the surface much. Think I’ll wait until the new pad arrives until applying the cover. And then there’s the fun of figuring out how to replace the pad. Does it pry out with a sharp tool? Is there a screw in the back?

I still like the new stylus, and hope it helps produce many drawings in the years (or months) to come. Perhaps if there was more competition, another stylus maker to keep them sharp like Mac vs. Microsoft, they might have done a better job.

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