Wacom Cintiq vs Ipad Pro and Pencil

For pressure-sensitive input to SA and other programs I use a 21” Wacom Cintiq monitor.  But I couldn’t resist ordering the  new Ipad Pro plus Apple Pencil--rumored to have similar abilities--when they became available last November.  Finally, after 7 long weeks of waiting, the Pencil has arrived, so here’s a very preliminary comparison of the two systems as used with SA.

To begin, in practice the 12.9” Ipad Pro screen doesn’t seem that much smaller than the Cintiq 21” layout, since if you start with a normal, non-fullscreen SA layout that includes presets etc. on the monitor, the actual image areas are similar.   Also, you use an ioS helper app on the Ipad called Astropad (astropad.com), which gives you a window into an area on your Mac monitor whose size you can choose, so whatever magnification you want is available.

I tested both systems on a range of pressure-sensitive SA presets, including those in the paint synth. ‘Wacom Specialty’ collection.  Close comparisons are easy because the image on the Cintiq monitor can itself be chosen as the area for input on the Astropad-enabled Ipad, so a variable-pressure Wacom pen stroke can immediately be followed by an equally variable Apple Pencil stroke in an adjacent area.

I must admit to some initial disappointments, though some could have been expected.  First, the ‘feel’ of the Pencil on the Pro surface has been praised in the press for its being just like drawing with a regular pencil on paper.  Well, it probably does have more ‘tooth’ than other styluses on smaller, completely smooth ipads, but it feels ‘glassier’ to me than the familiar drag of a Wacom pen on the Cintiq monitor.  Also the Wacom pen has an almost inaudible ‘gritty’ sound that I expect when dragged, whereas the apple Pencil is silent once applied--also a bit disconcerting at first.  

The apple Pencil has also been praised in the press for having zero time lag between pressing down and the mark appearing.  However, though that’s so for native ioS apps such as Adobe Sketch, Astropad does cause a brief time-lag because of its wi-fi connection to the distinct Mac system it is tracking--it shows as an initial purple streak before the brushstroke appears, even if you try to minimize the lag with an extra USB-to Lightning connector.  (But you get used to it fairly quickly).

What could have been expected was that you can’t precisely reproduce Wacom pen effects with the Pencil--because of course the SA software etc. were written to respond to Wacom commands, whereas apparently Astropad commands are of some more specialized kind.  (I did contact the Astropad team earlier, and suggested that Wacom emulation might be a good way to go, but apparently special features of the Pencil that had to be supported make that impractical).

But in any case, the Pencil/Pro combination works well enough to be very effective with SA in situations, such as a portable setup, where a Cintiq isn’t usable.  I hope that others will report on their reactions as well, now that the Pencil is finally becoming more readily available.

Cheers,  John

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Thank you for your study, John.

I'm also interested by the apple pencil (i already have the iPad pro) but the pencil is not available in France for the moment.

I tested another solution 3 years ago but I didn't have a pencil.

Air Stylus can also be a possibility. John (Dalton) began a discussion here.

  • Thanks, Bernard.  Your Avatron Air Display solution from  3 years ago is no longer available to new users--they’ve now replaced it with Air Display 3.  This provides an extra Ipad-based monitor screen via a wired USB-to-Lightning connection, which works well with the latest Mac OSX El Capitan 10.11.2, but unfortunately (see the outraged user reviews in the ioS app store) for more than a year now they’ve disabled pressure-sensitivity.  But other than that, it works fine in ioS 9,  either using the Apple Pencil on the Ipad Pro, or the the Intuos Creative Stylus 2 pen on regular Ipads.  In addition, finger or mouse drawing and ioS gestures (pinch to zoom out/spread fingers to zoom in, etc) also work on any Ipad screen, including with SA. 
  • But if/when you have the Ipad Pro plus Pencil usable with pressure-sensitivity via the Astropad app, why use Air Display 3 at all?  Well, remember that AD3 give you an extra Mac monitor screen, whereas Astropad only provides a window into a program already running on a main monitor.  So if the extra screen real estate is needed, AD3 used with ioS gestures on any Mac program in a separate window is a potent combination.  Also, the absence of pressure sensitivity is not usually critical, since repeated applications in areas requiring emphasis may work instead.
  • BTW, another solution for a wired extra monitor usable with SA (though also no pressure-sensitivity) is provided by the highly-rated app Duet Display, which functions very similarly to AD3, though it lacks AD3’s ioS gesture support. 

Thanks John, yes sure, things have changed in 3 years :-)

I think that Astropad makes the job. I don't specially want a mac monitor screen. I prefer using the iPad pro only as a window into a program, like a "canvas" tool, wireless.

Thank you, interesting feedback. I think one difference between the Apple pencil and the Wacom is that Wacom also detects tilt, not only pressure. I'm sure that would change how some presets react, even if you're not aware that you are using tilt.

  • Thanks, Florence.  Actually the Apple Pencil does support tilt differences in SA, to roughly the same extent as the Wacom pen in my testing.  But potentially the Pencil, with its extended 5/16” sharp-pencil profile, is capable of tracking much more extreme tilt angles than other pens, though currently this may be implemented only in some native ioS Ipad apps such as Procreate or Adobe Sketch.

Mmm, I didn't know that. I bought a Wacom Intuos pen a while ago for my iPad and it turned out to be useless. It's supposed to have as many levels of pressure as the stylus of a wacom tablet, but iOS apps only seemed to support less than 10 levels. I hope their support for the Apple pen is better.

Has any one of you guys noticed that it'd work smoothly on all iPad models except the iPad Pro 9.7? I did test the Apple Pencil on several iPads, and it messed up only on the 9.7 inch model. Do you have this problem or does this only happen on my 9.7 gadget?

Hmm, is it possible that you are testing the Pencil in an app that doesn't yet support it?

eg this review:


mentions iWork as one that's just been updated for Pencil support..


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