Wacom Intuos vs Cintiq - is a Cintiq worth it?

Do Cintiq's justify their huge price tags?

Written: 
December 7, 2020
Last Updated: 
September 20, 2021
When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
So you know you want a Wacom tablet, but you aren't sure if you need one with a screen or not; is it just plain better to draw on a screen? Or are they overpriced vanity devices, and you’d be just as satisfied with a screenless tablet? I’ve used both, so here’s my advice.
Contents (hide)

Wacom has been the undisputed king of drawing tablets for decades, and both of their premium lines of tablet are highly respected - Intuos, their screenless tablets, and Cintiq, their display tablets.

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

I've used both Intuos and Cintiq’s, and they are certainly both high-quality pieces of kit - but there is one important factor that I've found generally to be true:

If you like to draw linework, you’ll appreciate having a screen tablet - it’s easier to draw accurate lines on a screen than on a screenless tablet. If you prefer to paint than draw, you may actually prefer a screenless tablet - its easier to sit back from your screen and use broader strokes on a screenless tablet.

Personally, I'm more of a painter than a draftsman, and because I’m not drawing fine linework I actually find I can make art equally well on either a screen tablet or a screenless one. But, despite it not actually making much difference to my art and in fact is worse in some ways, I do really like the feeling of using a screen tablet.

My recommendations upfront, before we do an in-depth look into Intuos vs Cintiq:

Wacom Cintiq 16

Recommended for Drawing and higher budgets
If you like to draw and create linework, or have a larger budget for a better painting experience, I would consider getting a Cintiq 16

The Cintiq 16 is a good balanced tablet.

The 16" display is a comfortable size for making art work on with enough space to maneuver your arm properly - it also doesn't take up the whole desk and is even small enough to be portable.

It's got all the functionality you should need from a tablet, and when paired with a keyboard you can efficiently make professional-quality art work with it.

<button-link>Check the price of the Cintiq 16<button-link>

Wacom Intuos Medium

Recommended for Painting and lower budgets
If you paint more than you draw, and would prefer to save instead of splash out on a Cintiq, the Intuos Medium is a good choice.

If you're a painter more than a draftsman, you'll be just fine with a screenless tablet.  Infact, I know some people who also prefer to draw linework on a screenless tablet, though they are rare.

The Intuos Medium is small enough to be able to move it around, rest it in your lap and put in a backpack, but big enough to be able to draw properly from the shoulder and elbow and save your wrist from getting tired.  

Paired with a keyboard, it's an affordable set up that does everything you need for professional art-making - if you want to work without a keyboard, you may want to go for the Intuos Pro Medium instead, as it has more buttons and touch gestures to make up for the lack of keyboard shortcuts.

<button-link>Check the price of the Intuos Medium<button-link>

For a deeper comparison of Intuos and Cintiq, read on!

Usability/Painting Experience

Probably the most important element in this comparison: how painting on both of them compares.  Let’s start with something that is going to be obvious to everyone who knows what a Cintiq is:

Using a Cintiq feels more like real drawing and painting

With an Intuos, there is a hand-to-screen disconnect to get used to, moving your hand on the tablet to imitate brushstrokes while looking at your screen to see the results.

Due to actually drawing right onto a screen, a Cintiq feels much more like actual drawing.
It takes most people a few weeks to completely get used to a non-screen tablet and feel comfortable.

If you're jumping from making traditional art to using a screenless pen tablet for the first time, be aware it has a learning curve - it takes time to train your hand-eye coordination.

But because there is no hand-to-screen disconnect with a pen display, it's much easier to just pick up a Cintiq and feel comfortable drawing on it.

It’s also easier to make accurate strokes on a Cintiq than an Intuos, for the same reason. If you draw a lot of linework, this is especially notable.

I'm more of a painter than a draftsman so I feel fine using either a screen tablet or one without a screen, but a lot of my friends prefer drawing to painting and they prefer using a Cintiq because it's easier to draw accurate lines with.

On an Intuos, your hand will never be in the way of 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 - you can always see the whole piece of art.

This doesn't sound like much of an advantage at first, because your hand is always in the way when you are making traditional art, but once you are used to an Intuos tablet you also get used to your hand not being in the way - and if you then switch to a Cintiq, the first thing you'll notice is how annoying your hand is!

It becomes quite a luxury to be able to work on a piece of art without blocking part of it with your hand - a luxury that you probably won't notice until you’re without it.
Cintiqs, and all screen tablets, encourage bad posture and eventually issues with your back and neck

Honestly, back and neck issues come with the territory - digital artists usually sit down all day for hours on end, barely moving anything but their fingers, and this obviously causes health issues long term.

Screen tablets cause you to hunch

Doing art on a screen tablet makes it even worse, as you’ll often find yourself looking down and hunching over it in an unhealthy position.

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 high in front of you like a traditional painter would position their canvas with an easel.

You’ll get much better posture with an Intuos, as you can sit upright and still draw and paint just fine.
Cintiq’s can suffer from parallax issues

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 is considerably better, and with proper calibration of your stylus you can nearly eliminate it.

Some Cintiqs have bad color accuracy

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 - and some will never display the right colors.

With newer Cintiqs, this is a solvable issue with some manual color calibration, or by using a color calibration tool.

My old Wacom Cintiq 12wx from around 2012 had terrible colours though, with warm yellows and cold greens and I never knew how my art would really look on other peoples screens or printed.  No matter how much I tried to calibrate it, the colours were never perfect.  But later, I had both a CIntiq Companion and a Huion Kamvas Pro, and both had great color accuracy.

Intuos tablets are smaller, lighter and tidier than Cintiqs

Cintiqs are heavy, bulky and much more delicate than Intuos tablets, which makes tidying them away more difficult, as well as travelling with them.

Intuos are small and light enough that they are very portable, and can be tidied away really easily - you can also pair one up with a laptop, and you've got yourself a portable workstation that you could safely throw in a bag and travel with.

Also, Intuos tablets only use one cable, and most have bluetooth - Cintiqs have 3 cables, obviously giving you more cable management and just generally making setting them up and putting them away more of a hassle.

You can pair an Intuos with whatever screen size you like

With a Cintiq you are locked to working with it’s screen size.  Obvious, but important.

An Intuos can be set up with whatever monitor you want to, even setting it up with a 50" television if you feel like it, and if you want to change screens you can.

Price Differences

Cintiq’s are way more expensive than Intuos

You probably already noticed this.  It's probably why you're reading this article in the first place.

Wacom products are high-end professional devices, with high-end professional prices - Intuos tablets are expensive enough at hundreds of dollars each, but Cintiq's are Wacom’s top-tier line of tablets and have huge price tags to prove it, some that reach into the thousands of dollars.

Thousands of dollars is a lot of money for a tablet, when basically all the other cheaper tablets have the same functionality.

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.

Did you know there are decent tablets out there that only cost $25, new?

Cintiq require extra purchases

It's likely that you'll have to purchase additional stuff for your Cintiq.

You’ll need some sort of mount or stand for your Cintiq so you can get it set up at a decent angle for drawing - just lying a Cintiq down on your desk and drawing hunched over it is an easy way to strain your neck and back.  A couple of months of that might even cause serious damage.

On top of that, if you want to use your Cintiq as a second monitor while you aren’t drawing, then you’ll probably want to be able to put it at a good viewing height - so thats means you’ll likely want an adjustable stand, that can transition easily between viewing and drawing positions.

You probably won't need to purchase accessories for an Intuos tablet
On top of a getting a stand, modern Cintiqs dont have buttons on them so you’ll definitely need a keyboard or keypad of some sort.

Cintiqs also have a lot of different cables, so perhaps you’ll need some sort of cable management system to keep it all tidy.

Intuos tablets can usually just rest on your desk or on your lap comfortably while you draw, and slide away into a small space when out of use.  They also have enough buttons on them to be able to work without a keyboard, and have at most a single USB cable, and many no cables at all by connecting via Bluetooth.

Cintiq’s are more likely to break

Cintiqs have more moving parts than Intuos, and therefore more ways to break - the more complex a device is, the shorter its lifespan tends to be.

On top of the tablet functionality, Cintiqs have multiple cable ports and a screen. Just one of these things needs to fail to render your Cintiq useless and in need of replacement.

If you use a Cintiq as a monitor when you aren’t painting, this is doubly important - the Cintiq will be in use much more giving it more opportunities to break, but also if it breaks not only are you down a tablet, you've lost a monitor as well!

Intuos have less at-risk components - it just needs to pick up the stylus properly, and connects to your computer.  If it’s got Bluetooth you don't even have to worry about the USB port getting loose. You will only pull it out when you want to paint, and it will probably be tucked away safely when you aren’t painting.

You’ll occasionally see people relate online about how the Intuos they've had for years still works, and it's precisely because they are simple bits of tech with less points of potential failure.

Lastly, Intuos may use up more nibs than a Cintiq, because modern Intuos tend to have toothier drawing surfaces, grinding down the nib faster.  Nibs aren’t that expensive and Wacom nibs are pretty easy to got hold of, but its a small extra expense all the same.

QUALITY Differences

Both Intuos and CIntiq are Wacom products, who currently provide the highest quality tablets in the market.

However, recently there has been a lot of sentiment online that their quality has fallen a little in comparison to older models of their tablets - things like stylus nibs wearing out faster, USB ports and cables failing more often, that sort of thing.

Aside from the general quality of Wacom as brand, there isn’t much difference in quality between Intuos and Cintiq, except for the stylus:

Standard Intuos come with an inferior stylus, compared to Cintiqs and Intuos Pro

All standard Intuos tablets come with a Wacom Pen 4K, which is by no means a bad stylus - it's battery free, has 4k pressure levels and is quite ergonomic, albeit a little light to handle.

All Cintiq and Intuos Pro tablets come with the Wacom Pro Pen 2, which is largely regarded as a superior stylus - it has an eraser on the back end, 8k pressure levels and is slightly nicer to handle than the Pen 4K.

Functional Differences

There are a few key differences in functionality between Intuos and Cintiq, besides the screen:

Cintiq Pro’s have touch functionality

‘Pro’ tablets in the Cintiq range come with multi-touch capability, allowing you to use gestures to speed up your workflow. 

In my experience, using touch functions is slower than using a keyboard, but touch does make working without a keyboard much more possible.

Previous models of Intuos also had a multi-touch active area, so you could draw and do touch gestures on an Intuos, but unfortunately the new models don’t offer it anymore. 

Modern Cintiq’s lack buttons! Intuos have plenty!

SInce they dont have multi-touch, Intuos need to have buttons to cover that functionality - and they all have an assortment of different types and amounts of buttons, depending on the model.

If you use a keyboard in tandem with your tablet then you wont need to use the buttons, but because of the buttons it is possible to paint without a keyboard on an Intuos.

The new Wacom Cintiq’s have no buttons, so to paint comfortable on them you’ll either need a keyboard, Wacom’s own ‘Express Key Remote’ or splash out on the Cintiq Pro for touch functionality.

A cintiq doubles up as a monitor when not being used for art

This is pretty obvious, but many artists use their pen displays as additional monitors when they're not making art on them.

This may unfortunately decrease the longevity of the Cintiq, as the more you use it the more chance it has of something failing or wearing out.

Also, many Cintiqs are only 1920x1080 resolution, which is a pretty low resolution for their size and you could definitely get a higher resolution from a large monitor.

Cintiqs come with a bunch of obnoxious cables

To set up your Cintiq, you’ll have to use plenty of cables - usually 3 - and if we all know anything about cables is that they will eventually get tangled up and messy.

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

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 less practical tool - myself included.

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 screenless tablet to using a screen tablet (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 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.

My recommendations for Wacom tablets:

Wacom Cintiq 16

If you like to draw and create linework, or have a larger budget for a better painting experience, I would consider getting a Cintiq 16

The Cintiq 16 is a good balanced tablet.

The 16" display is a comfortable size for making art work on with enough space to maneuver your arm properly - it also doesn't take up the whole desk and is even small enough to be portable.

It's got all the functionality you should need from a tablet, and when paired with a keyboard you can efficiently make professional-quality art work with it.

<button-link>Check the price of the Cintiq 16<button-link>

Wacom Intuos Medium

If you paint more than you draw, and would prefer to save instead of splash out on a Cintiq, the Intuos Medium is a good choice.

If you're a painter more than a draftsman, you'll be just fine with a screenless tablet.  Infact, I know some people who also prefer to draw linework on a screenless tablet, though they are rare.

The Intuos Medium is small enough to be able to move it around, rest it in your lap and put in a backpack, but big enough to be able to draw properly from the shoulder and elbow and save your wrist from getting tired.  

Paired with a keyboard, it's an affordable set up that does everything you need for professional art-making - if you want to work without a keyboard, you may want to go for the Intuos Pro Medium instead, as it has more buttons and touch gestures to make up for the lack of keyboard shortcuts.

<button-link>Check the price of the Intuos Medium<button-link>

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!

Join the Newsletter

Get emailed when new articles are posted

Thank you! Your submission has been received!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

SelfEmployedArtist.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program,  an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. We also participate in similar affiliate advertising progams for Skillshare, Squarespace and others.
Chat with all of us on Discord!