Wacom Intuos vs Cintiq - is a Cintiq worth it?

Do Cintiq's justify their huge price tags?

Written: 
December 7, 2020
Last Updated: 
June 16, 2021
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Picking between Intuous and Cintiq is essentially the problem of picking between screen or no screen - but does a screen justify such a huge price tag? Will you be able to make better art with a screen than without one?
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Wacom has been the undisputed king of drawing tablets for years.

Intuos and Cintiq are Wacom's flagship tablets, made for digital artists to create high quality, professional work.

Without a lot of hands-on experience with both Intuos and Cintiq, it's really difficult to know which one you should go for - and whether the experience of using a Cintiq is really worth its massive price tag.

There's no easy way to summarise the differences between Intuos and Cintiq, but there is one important factor that I've found generally to be true:

In my experience, artists who mostly draw will enjoy a Cintiq more than an Intuos, due to being able to draw more accurately with a Cintiq - artists that mostly paint (like me) won't notice the benefits as much, but should still like how it feels to use a display tablet over a pen tablet.

Other than that, choosing between Cintiq and Intuous is mostly going to come down to budget, personal preference, and a few smaller factors.

I'm more of a painter than a draftsman, and I've had experience with both kinds of tablets.

Personally I really like how making art on a Cintiq feels, even though I know it makes little practical difference to my work, and is in fact worse in some ways.

But since Cintiq's are extremely expensive and fragile, I wouldn't recommend one as your first tablet.

Advantages of using a Wacom Intuos

As the industry standard for years, the Wacom Intuos is a pretty solid series of tablets. Let's start with the main reason people don't just buy a Cintiq instead:

1. Intuos costs considerably less than the Cintiq series

At the time of writing, Intuos starts at $80 and goes up to $200 for their most expensive model, while the cheapest Cintiq hangs around the $650 mark.

It's worth noting that there is also the Wacom One screen tablet, which is a little like a budget Cintiq, but even that is around $400.

Intuos is simply much, much cheaper

2. Pair an Intuos with whatever screen size you like

An Intuos can be set up to make digital art on whatever size monitor you want to, even setting it up with a 50" television if you fancy.

While you could hook up a Cintiq to paint on a 50" television, it defeats the point of purchasing a Cintiq!

3. Your hand will never disrupt you viewing your work

When you use a pen tablet like an Intuos your hand rests on the tablet, while your work is displayed on your monitor.

This doesn't sound like much of an advantage at first, but when you get used to an Intuos tablet you also get used to your hand not being in the way - and switching to a Cintiq, the first thing you'll notice is how annoying your hand is!

4. Sit with better posture

Maintaining good posture while working is something that digital artists have been battling with for years.

Unless you have invested in a standing desk, you will spend most of your time making digital art sat down at a desk, which will inevitably cause health issues.

Pen tablets like the Intuos are automatically more healthy for your back, as you're able to look up at your monitor, instead of hunched over a screen tablet.

5. More Buttons!

If you need a few keys on your tablet, a modern Intuos will do you better than a modern Cintiq.

All Intuos versions have customisable buttons at the top side of the tablet (and on Intuos they double down as a holder for stylus, if you keep your tablet on a surface).

For Cintiq, however, to get buttons you need to purchase the Wacom Express Remote that costs $100 -  or buy an expensive Cintiq Pro that comes with the Express Remote bundled in.

Either that or purchase an older model of Cintiq!

6. Intuos tablets get Texture sheets!

This does not apply to all Intuos - only to Intuos Pro.

With an Intuos Pro you will get 3 little texture sheet samples included in the box, that are testers for their 3 available texture sheets for the tablet.

It is an additional expense ($30 for the medium size tablet, $40 for the large), but if the feel of the stylus on the tablet surface is really important to you, it's worth looking into these.

7. Intuos tablets come with free software of your choice

With Intuos, Wacom has kindly bundled free software so you can get right to making art.

You get Corel Painter Essentials, Corel Aftershot 3, and Clip Studio Paint for free.

8. Intuos tablets are smaller, lighter and tidier

Intuos are small and light enough that they are very portable - pair one up with a laptop, and you've got yourself a portable workstation that you could even travel with.

Also, Intuos tablets only need one cable, and they have bluetooth - except if you go for Intuos S, they come in either wired or wireless.

Cintiq uses its now infamous "3 in 1 cable" and it's, frankly, really messy.

9. Intuos tablets are more durable

Intuos is overall more durable and long lasting - it has no display and it serves only one function, meaning less ways it could potentially break.

Disadvantages of a Wacom Intuos

Of course, despite its long history as a great series of tablets, the Intuos isn't perfect:

1. The Intuos stylus is slightly inferior to the Cintiq one

All Intuos tablets (except Intuos Pro) come with a Wacom Pen 4K which is one of Wacom's standard pens, while Cintiq tablets come with the Wacom Pro Pen 2.

The Wacom Pen 4K is by no means a bad stylus (it's battery free, has 4k pressure levels and is quite ergonomic, albeit on the lighter side).

In previous Intuos lines the stylus was very basic with lower pressure sensitivity levels, so the 4K is definitely an improvement.

But the Pro Pen 2 that comes with the Cintiq is highly regarded by professionals in the industry.

The Pro Pen 2 has an eraser, has very high pressure sensitivity levels, and just overall feels like a high end stylus that will last you for years.

2. Hand-to-screen disconnect

Tablets without a screen can be quite hard for some people to use, especially if you only have previous experience with traditional art.

With screenless pen tablets you draw on the tablet's surface, and marks are made on your monitor - the Intuos is no different, and this definitely feels weird.

The good thing about this is, is that it's a temporary issue for most people.

Through practice, for nearly everyone this disconnect becomes a non-existent issue - only in rare cases is someone just not able to get used to it.

As long as you persist and try to get used to it day by day, it will take no time at all to adjust to the disconnect of drawing with a screenless pen tablet.

One specific hint I can provide to improve your accuracy with pen tablets is to place them right in front and parallel to your monitor.

3. No multi-touch option

Previous models of Intuos offered you multi-touch.

Essentially the whole active area also served as a touchpad, and you could use your fingers for different gestures like zooming in and out, clicking, scrolling, rotating, panning, and more.

It's quite a loss that new models don't offer this, as multi-touch feels very intuitive to use and can really speed up your workflow - anyone who has made art with an iPad will know!

Advantages of using a Wacom Cintiq

In most digital artist circles, the Wacom Cintiq is considered to be the cream of the crop, for a few reasons:

1. A Cintiq feels more like real drawing and painting

Due to actually drawing right onto the screen your digital canvas is on, it feels much more like actual drawing and you don't have to get used to a hand-to-screen disconnect.

Importantly, because the hand-to-screen disconnect is gone with a pen display, it's easier to make accurate strokes. If you draw a lot of linework, this is especially notable.

I'm more of a painter than a draftsman, but a lot of my friends concentrate on drawing over painting and they much prefer using a Cintiq because it's easier to draw accurate lines with.

Jumping from traditional art to a pen tablet has a learning curve - it takes time to train your hand-eye coordination.

But going to a pen display has little to no learning curve, as drawing where you look just comes more naturally.

Digital art can be daunting for a traditional artist to learn - using a display tablet is more similar to traditional art, and having one less thing to worry about learning can be reassuring.

2. Wacom Pro Pen 2

With traditional art you need to use different tools for different parts of the process, but with digital art your stylus becomes all of them in one.

It's really important that the stylus feels good to use, and that you feel comfortable using it for long periods of time.

The Wacom Pro Pen 2 is one of the best digital art pens out there.

It comes with all the basics plus 8192 sensitivity levels, tilt, 2 customisable buttons, a nice rubbery grip, and it's nicely weighted.

Plus they give you 4 little colored pen rings you can swap out on the stylus, which allows a small amount of customization - it's not a big deal, but it's a nice touch to be able to personalize it a bit.

3. Optional touch screen with the Cintiq Pro

Having a touch screen and using your fingers for gestures and actions can speed up your workflow - Cintiq Pro comes in touch screen models, as well as standard without touch screen.

Granted, it will cost you quite a bit more money for the luxury, but if you're willing to invest in a Cintiq Pro in the first place and think the touch functionality will help, then why not go the extra step, right?

4. The display

Many artists use their pen displays as additional monitors when they're not making art on them.

This does come with the slight caveat of decreasing the longevity of the Cintiq, as obviously, the more you use it, the less time it will take to wear down.

Overall having a second display is really useful for all kinds of work, so it's a relatively small price to pay, all things considered.

Disadvantages of a Wacom Cintiq

Cintiqs might be the cream of the crop, but they still have their flaws:

1. Cintiqs are Expensive

The big one: Wacom products are high end professional devices, and the Cintiq's are their premium line so therefore very expensive - multiple hundreds of dollars.

Click here to check the current prices for a basic 16" Cintiq on Amazon

It's difficult to spend so much money on a tablet, especially when just starting out your journey in art and your future is uncertain.

Not to mention, in the last few years we have seen Wacom's competitors come out with great screen tablets themselves - Huion, XP-Pen and others - which even further makes you question if it's worth investing so much money in a Cintiq.

2. Bad posture and eventual issues with back and neck

These problems come with a sedentary digital artist's lifestyle to begin with, but doing art on a display tablet makes it even worse.

Making art on a pen display requires you to be looking down and hunching over it most of the time, and that will cause back strain and bad posture with long lasting health issues.

To combat this you have to find a way to set your screen tablet up in a more ergonomic position, such as using an adjustable arm to position the Cintiq in front of you like a traditional painter would position their canvas with an easel.

3. Parallax

The main selling point of a Cintiq is that it feels like real drawing and painting - but it's not 100% identical, and one big difference is parallax.

Parallax, in layman's terms, is the distance between where you draw on the screen with your stylus, and where the cursor appears and makes a brushstroke.

Older Cintiq models had quite a lot of parallax - in Wacom's newer line, however, the parallax issue is considerably better, where with proper calibration it's not noticeable for the majority of artists.

4. Extra purchases

It's likely that you'll end up purchasing additional stuff for your Cintiq, and that means more expenses.

While the Cintiq is absolutely usable immediately, in time you'll probably find yourself getting annoyed with how the cables seem to get everywhere - so you'll buy a cable-tidy.

You might dislike the lack of buttons on the standard version of the tablet - so you'll purchase a keypad for hotkeys.

You may find you strain your neck and back when you hunch over the display to draw - so you'll purchase a more adjustable mount for the display.

While this is an issue with all pen displays and not just Cintiqs, with Intuos these issues are simply not there.

5. Cintiqs can have bad color profiles and need calibration

This problem differs from model to model, and some are better than others, but a lot of Cintiqs don't display the right colors out of the box.

This is a solvable issue with color calibration, but it's something to be aware of.

6. Cintiqs are not portable

Even the 13" Cintiq models are bulky, heavy and awkward to travel with, not to mention fragile.

If you want to take your workstation with you, Cintiqs simply aren't a good way to go.

7. Some Mac users report lag when using Cintiq

If you plan to hook up a Cintiq to a Mac, this might be a major factor.

I don't have direct experience with this, but if you have lag between you Cintiq and Mac and no other fix seems to be working, some users have reported that using this specific USB C adapter from StarTech can help.

8. Obnoxious cables

To plug in your Cintiq, you need plenty of cables - usually 3 - and they will get everywhere.

Depending on your computer rig, you might even end up needing to purchase adapters.

With Intuos, again, this isn't an issue - they are either wireless or just need a single usb cable to function fully.

9. Some Cintiqs are still 1920x1080 resolution

The Cintiq HD series has a relatively low resolution of 1920x1080.

This might not be an issue for some artists, but is likely to be for many - especially when modern monitors reach much higher resolutions than this.

10. Replacement costs are higher, and more likely

If the Cintiq breaks in some way or is simply too outdated to be viable any more, you have to replace the whole thing - an Intuos breaking or becoming too outdated isn't as big a cut into your budget.

This is especially valid if you're using a Cintiq as your second monitor - if it breaks, not only are you down a tablet, you're down monitor too!

And Cintiqs will definitely break more often - they have many more cables, ports and working parts than an Intuos, and therefore more ways they can fail, as well as all the extra time they are used just as monitors.

Cintiqs usually burn out faster, plain and simple.

Conclusion

Looking back over the advantages and disadvantages of each, it would appear like the Intuos is the clear winner, with many more pros and less cons compared to a Cintiq.

On paper, and for the money, the Intuos is a better choice and looks like a much better deal than a Cintiq - but the reason people pay a premium price to own a Cintiq can't be fully described with a list of pros and cons. The fact is, pen displays just feel good to use.

It feels more like real drawing and real painting, and artists are willing to pay a lot extra for that feeling, even if it's a much less practical tool.

As I said at the top of the article, in my experience this matters more to artists who draw a lot, than it does to ones who paint.

I am more of a painter, and I can comfortably work on either a pen tablet or pen display.

People think that going from using a pen tablet to using a pen display (like from Intuos to Cintiq) will improve their work - perhaps if I made more linework I would agree, but in my experience as a digital painter I think this is completely false.

I use a pen display because I prefer how it feels and I can afford it, but I would be ok moving back to a standard tablet and would still paint just fine.

In fact in 2019 my Cintiq broke, and I had to use my old backup Wacom Bamboo tablet to do my work while waiting for a replacement.

I got on completely fine - but I was still excited to get back on a pen display when the replacement arrived!

Heres what I recommend:

If you've decided to go for a Cintiq, I would recommend going for an entry level 16" Cintiq as I personally think it's good value - click here to check the current Amazon price for a Cintiq 16
If you've decided on an Intuos, I would recommend the basic medium model as a great balance of cost to usability - here's the current price over on Amazon

Hey, I'm Christopher

I started making digital art in 2009, and became a full-time freelance artist in 2016, able to work on my own schedule from anywhere in the world.

Now, I want to help young artists make the same journey!

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