John Stanch
Issue: June 1, 2009


PRODUCT: Wacom Intuos4


PRICE: Intuos4 small, $229; medium, $369;
large, $499; extra large, $789

- sleek new look
- illuminated displays
- pen offers 2,048 levels of pressure

Over the years, my tablet has evolved from an optional accessory to a tool necessary to complete everyday tasks. I personally feel that using a Wacom tablet is much better for my tennis elbow than clicking away on a mouse all day.
I use my Intuos3 on a daily basis and while I love it, I do have some minor issues with the tool and have been looking forward to the day Wacom would release a new version to address these issues. Well that day is here, and the new Intuos4 tablet is everything I had hoped for and more.


Functional and now beautiful too, this sleek new design looks great attached to your Mac or your PC box. I suppose it doesn't really matter, but as a designer, I care and the older grey Intuos3 did not look like it belonged sitting next to either of those workstations. But, it's much more than a new shell on an old model, and it seems like everything was rethought and improved. The tablet's orientation, for example, can be easily flipped around to accommodate right- or left-handed users.
The most distinct feature of the Intuos4 is the illuminated display located next to the customizable buttons (available on the newly referred to small, medium, large and extra large versions — no more 6x8, etc.). The displays take the customizable buttons to the next level by actually making them useful. Personally, I disabled all the buttons and that finger slider on my Intuos3 because it would drive me nuts when I would hit them by accident, or if they decided to activate themselves. Now, if you forget what a button does you no longer have to push it to find out, just look down at the visual indicator next to the button.
Between the buttons on the tablet is a new touch ring. This comes in handy for scrubbing through frames, zooming in and out of timelines, and trimming footage in/out points in After Effects and Final Cut Pro. The button in the center of the touch wheel toggles between four user presets. As long as there is a keyboard shortcut for your most-used functions you can set it to do anything.   


The biggest update is that the pen is much more sensitive and now has 2,048 levels of pressure. You don't notice the difference in everyday tasks, but it is really great when you are painting in Photoshop or another program where you can really make use of this feature.
The pen is coated from top to bottom with a rubber grip, which makes it more comfortable to hold and is more likely to stay in your hand when you throw your arms up in the air after your application crashes. Perhaps the simplest improvement with the pen is my favorite: the ability to change a color ring around the tip of the pen so you can tell which pen is yours in an office full of tablets. This is nice when said office is also full of designers and animators who like to chew on things.


Wacom always provided a few extra nibs for their pen, but they often ended up in a box with the nibs from all the other tablets, never to be seen again. Wacom alleviates this problem with a new pen holder that twists open and doubles as nib storage, making it easy to switch nibs at anytime. Since it was so convenient to try the different nibs, I decided to give the other ones a try and I discovered I prefer to use the flex nib that mimics the feedback and texture of a pencil. The flex nib feels much more natural for me to work with than the default plastic nib.

I have made the switch from the 6x11 Intuos3 to the new Intuos4 XL version. At first glance I thought, "sweet," then I sat it on my desk and it took up nearly the entire surface. For a moment I thought maybe they made it too big. After some tinkering in the preferences panel I was able to customize the work surface to a longer format that resembles the aspect ratio of my dual monitor configuration. It is much easier to work with this set-up than it was to map the tablet to one screen and use a mouse for the other screen as I did in the past with a smaller tablet.


The worst thing I can say about new Intuos4 is that defaults for the buttons are not set up out of the box for common programs. Somewhat useful defaults are set up for Photoshop, but not for any other commonly-used programs. You will have to take some time out of your day or spend some time over a week and set up your preferences for individual programs. That said, it is nice that you have the ability to program the buttons to do whatever you want.


This new Wacom tablet is an indispensible tool. Wacom has definitely listened to its customers. This new tablet is versatile for customers' needs and is definitely worth the upgrade. The new design and features of the Intuos4, flat out, make my life easier.

John Stanch is a Lead Compositor at New York City's UVphactory (