Once every couple of years I attend Siggraph just to feel the vibe and to see if there are any cool tools that need some hands-on playtime. After feeling the cool thrill of seeing 3 of our IBM webverts on the big screen at the Nokia Theater in the 2008 CAF, I went back to the exhibition floor and found such a cool tool.
At the Wacom stand they were showing off their newish Cintiq tablets. I’ve seen these before but never really played with one. I’m always looking for devices and software to make the creative process smoother and this is one of those. The special feature of this tablet is that it has a built in monitor. This enables you to draw right on the canvas so it feels like you are drawing on paper. Those of you doing more pitches than jobs will realize immediately the worth of such a tool.
I’ve used Wacom tablets for over 10 years and can attest to the fact that they’ve saved my wrists. They are great for drawing and even for 3D but I still sketch on paper before I take the image into Photoshop. For me there has always been a strange disconnect to draw on one surface and to see it on another – the monitor. Now, with this Cintiq, that problem has been resolved and your brush strokes flow out of the tablet’s pen.
I decided to get the smallest one in their arsenal – the 12WX. I do like the 20 and 21 inch versions a lot but as I am a generalist, simultaneously using other devices, I didn’t want it to take over my entire desk space. Real estate is at a premium and I saw it more as a replacement of my regular tablet in combination with my 30 inch display. I wanted to be able to switch on the monitor part of the tablet for when I wanted to sketch.
Okay, so now you’re thinking, whoop-dee-doo, he finally discovered the Cintiq tablet. But although that’s great the cool thing I wanted to tell you about is a piece of software that makes using the Cintiq even sweeter.
Let me back up a little. The Cintiq 12WX is small and has a screen resolution of 1280 x 800. My 30 inch Dell monitor has a resolution of 2560 x 1600. The way you normally set up the Cintiq is by setting up your displays as DualView. This extends your desktop over 2 monitors and you can drag your canvas from PhotoShop to your second display – the Cintiq. If you want to work in Mirror View, in which both displays show the same image, you’ll have to set the resolution on both screens to the lowest one. In this case the one of the Cintiq. Believe me, 1280 x 800 on a 30 inch monitor looks awful. Also, I didn’t always want to always have the Cintiq monitor on and the Cintiq doesn’t have a switch to turn off the display (note to Wacom). When I’m not sketching I want to use the Cintiq as a regular Wacom Tablet by putting the monitor to sleep. What I found myself doing was switching display profiles in my Nvidia Control Panel every time I wanted to sketch.
I packed my bag and went out into the World Wide Web to find some help – and I did. The elegant solution that you all have to know about is the UltraMon at: http://www.realtimesoft.com. Their website is terrible but don’t let that put you off. I have to admit I paced up and down in front of this site before I found the courage to download their applet. UltraMon basically takes over your display settings. From your taskbar you can quickly switch from Single Display, Dual Display or Mirroring. This is great and already a lot quicker that opening your Display Control Panel to change it there but there is even a much nicer feature in UltraMon – it allows you to create short cuts. I created a shortcut for Photoshop in UltraMon. I won’t go into all the settings as I’m not writing a manual here but in essence this is what it does. When I click on my newly created Photoshop shortcut in my task bar UltraMon automatically changes my display settings to mirror. It wakes my Cintiq monitor up from sleep mode and displays full resolution (2560 x 1600) on my 30 inch display and projects this as well on my Cintiq. It probably does this by scaling 2560 x 1600 to 1280 x 800 but whatever it works. When I quit out of Photoshop UltraMon switches back my display settings to Single Display and puts my Cintiq monitor back to sleep. In short, UltraMon allows you to create shortcuts for each application that drive different display settings. UtraMon uses the icon from the original application for the shortcuts so it looks clean and professional.
This is a $40 “must have” piece of software if you own a Cintiq tablet.