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Gear & Apps

Intuos Pro – The Ultimate Retouching Tool Review

By Kishore Sawh on July 21st 2014

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Post processing as a skill set is something all photographers need to have a handle on. A tremendous bulk of time is spent in post, and if you’ve been shooting for a while, you should appreciate that anything that makes that time more productive, more efficient, faster, and more enjoyable, is worthy of investigation and implementation. Wacom tablets are about the best tools you can have in addition to software, that succeed in all of these areas. It is the quintessential tool for post processing that will up your skill and transform your results.

I wrote a short while ago about the Intuos Pen & Touch tablet, which is what I use most of the time. You can see the full review here, but to sum it up, it’s a brilliant tablet and the price point just makes it all the more attractive. Last year, Wacom did what could be considered a large cosmetic redesign (with functionality reworks also), and re-branding. The Bamboo lines transitioned and updated into the Intuos Pen, Intuos Pen & Touch, and Intuos Manga. The Intuos 5 line is now the Intuos Pro.

Not all updates, however, are upgrades, and I’ve spent some time with the Intuos Pro Large to see where this falls.

The Intuos Pro Line

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Intuos Pen & Touch vs. Intuos Pro Large

Appearance & Build

Like its predecessor, to which the Pro is almost identical, this line of tablets looks the business. It’s understated in all matte black, 8 tiny led lights adorn it to alert you of the parameters of the active area and toggle dial position, and it’s nicely textured. This texture is something that I find very helpful, except for the fact it has a habit of wearing off if you’re a user that likes to press very hard (this will not hamper ability). It has a sort of look as if it came out of the Apple skunk works lab – which is interesting considering Samsung’s purchase of about 5% of the company. It’s a 5% that may be responsible for the refreshed lines.

[REWIND: Photoshop For Travel Photos | Easily Fix Camera Shake & Perspective Issues]

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My desk. That’s a 27inch iMac and you can see just how huge this tablet is compared. Uses up a lot of space

It looks more grown up than its non-pro counterparts, and the lack of wires adds to this. The wireless connectivity package is included. It’s small, as it consists of only a battery and transponder to be placed in easy-to-fit slots under the tablet, and the other end of the transponder to a USB port on the computer. This all makes for a quick set-up and clutter- free workspace. It works well and I saw no lag at all. Furthermore, I was able to sit on the couch and use the TV to edit which is a good distance away from the computer. The one caveat is that the battery does need to be charged from time to time so you will need to keep that in mind and keep the cable handy. I would simply just do it while you sleep.

The Pro line comes in three sizes from small (12.6 x 8.2 x 0.5 in), medium (15 x 9.9 x 0.5 in), to a whopping 19.2 x 12.5 x 0.5 inch large. Those are the dimensions of the entire tablet, whereas the active area on each is decidedly smaller. No matter what the size, the design and layout is the same. The basic design is also an ambidextrous one, where there is the tablet touch pad area, and on one side, a selection of 8 express buttons and a toggle dial. To switch from righty to lefty or vice versa, one need only to switch the orientation of the tablet, and make a selection from the system settings. Easy as pie.

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Functionality & Customizable Buttons

The Pro line boasts 2048 pressure levels which is about double that of the Intuos Touch lines. I think for 99% of photographers, the 1024 levels are fine. I must admit that there is a somewhat noticeable difference with the added levels of the Pro, but it’s not needed, and how I use the tablets is very much a nod to my old art days. For artists and GDs, I would say this feature, along with the tilt sensitivity may actually be deal breakers because it’s easy to see the benefit of it in those arenas. In photography – not so much.

The orientation of the keys on the side of the tablet, and the number of keys and toggle dial, are for me, the biggest advantage of the Pro line. When I’m really getting into a groove of editing, it’s beyond preferable for me to be able to just have the tablet in front of me and being able to use it, and it alone, without the interruption of having to switch back and forth between the keyboard and the tablet.

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While the Intuos Pen lines below do have 4 express keys, they are arranged the the top of the tablet, which is my single biggest problem with that tablet. It may be my only issue. Having the keys controlled by one hand, and the pen and surface by the other, just makes for a seamless flow of movement. I set the buttons to an appropriate selection and then it’s just go, go, go.

Express Keys and Toggle Dial

There are 8 buttons which can all be customized to your liking. They are not marked on the tablet itself and you can forget which is what. However, simply placing your hand over any key will bring up a transparency on screen to show you which button is for what. It’s a nice touch, but the complaint is it can be a bit delayed in displaying. Each button can be set to any combination of keystrokes, modifiers, clicks etc to make for a truly personalized experience, and allows for execution of common functions.

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The toggle dial, somehow doesn’t seem to suffer from the same, albeit minor, delay issue even though it’s touch sensitive. The center button allows you to select from 4 options which can again each be set. Using the circle around the center button, you can adjust the selected option. This is great for layer cycling, and brush size if you don’t like to control brush size from the pen. The dial is a nice addition, but honestly with the touch capability of the surface, some of its ability seems redundant.

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highly useful precision mode slows down movements and makes great for minute edits

Surface and Stylus

This surface, as mentioned above, is both textured and touch sensitive to 2048 levels. This touch ability lets you use the surface much like you would a trackpad; to navigate the pointer, scroll, pan, zoom, rotate etc. The ‘tooth’ of the surface gives little resistance and allows for a natural feel and feedback. Resting your hand on it while simultaneously using the pen doesn’t seem to be a conflict, even with the touch ability on (which is something that can be toggled on or off at will).

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What I should interject here, is that the surface is enormous on the large, and if you’re using the tablet for photo editing you really don’t need that much space. Remember that the active area of the tablet mimics the screen, so the larger it is, the larger your movements need to be to make a change on screen. Worth noting too is the large isn’t a tablet you can move around with, whereas the smalls are perfect for a laptop bag.

I think the small tablet, or perhaps medium to be safe, is more than enough. You can see from above that the small box on the right is what I adjust my active area to be, effectively making the rest of space useless. There is one caveat, though. If you use multiple monitors you can set the tablet to use different parts for different screens. A nice touch.

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The stylus, I would have to say, is quite significantly better than that of lower end models. It’s more weighted, more ergonomic, easier to hold and use for longer time periods, and just feels better in the hand. The stand it comes with is also a nice touch. I’m for anything that makes me feel like Christopher Marlow, who has just stuck his quill in a fruit to hold it. The stand isn’t just a sheath for your stylus, as it comes loaded with 10 extra nibs. Some are normal replacements, and others are for different textures to be mimicked in your software.

Thoughts & Conclusion

If you have an Intuos 5, you do not need to upgrade. It’s as simple as that. The tablets are almost identical with minor changes here and there. If you’ve had yours for a while and have the wireless package, even more reason to stick with it. The large one I had to review, also came in around $449, so it’s not cheap. I still am adamant that most photographers need only the Intuos Pen & Touch for $75. It’s what I mostly use, and I do quite a bit of photo retouching. The tilt sensitivity is nothing to get hooked up on unless you’re an artist, and neither are the extra pressure levels.

That said, if you have more dollars than sense, or perhaps you’re in the market for a tablet to grow with, or you’re a heavy user, I would recommend this for you. Having the keys on the side, and so many of them, really make it a do-all machine, and makes a keyboard and mouse secondary while editing. So to sum it up, it’s brilliant. It’s expensive, but brilliant. It’s not worth the upgrade from the 5, but it’s worth considering. Get the Intuos Pro here.

Again, nothing will transform your retouching like a pen tablet will, and Wacom is arguably the best. I use it heavily for Photoshop, and the nuance it enables me to achieve is beyond that any mouse of track pad can offer. Aaron Nace of Phlearn uses the small Pro, and he says he wouldn’t even continue to use Photoshop is he didn’t have this tablet. That alone speaks volumes.

If you are a fan of Aaron’s teachings (and who isn’t?), be sure to check back here for updates, and follow along with Aaron on YouTube and Phlearn. You should also consider becoming quickly adept at Photoshop with the Phlearn Photoshop 101 & 201 sets as they are very comprehensive, and will have you doing things with Photoshop you may have otherwise thought too complex, or didn’t even know you could do.

All images retouched with single clicks using the SLR Lounge Preset System

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Darryn Plessis

    I have the Intuos 4 Pro ; and the  part that nobody is commenting is on: is the fact that the intuos 4 is better: When you map a function to the Button on the left, it has the option to name the command you just created: SO: the intuos 5 and Pro – and whatever comes after, lost this feature thanks to samsung… It’s all about looking at your screen now – which is good, because it spaces the buttons out instead of stacking them on top of each other and relying on their name-LED’s to do the part; 

    Going from Intuos 4 Large – to a  Intuos Pro Small _ so excited to get touch responsiveness and use it at work;  IT field to do many types of things with a touchpad and drawing device;

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  2. Rob Kirkland

    Very helpful review, thanks glad i found it.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Glad it was of some use. The Pen & Touch has since changed slightly, but nothing major.

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  3. Gurmit Saini

    Hi Kishore what would you recommend for someone who is just starting with tablets? I do retouch images in Photoshop, but was wondering whether it really makes a difference and also which one to go with? Thanks

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  4. Basit Zargar

    Want it

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  5. Floyd Harris Jr.

    This article is very informative. I have been considering a Wacom table for some time and will probably buy the medium version of this new tablet.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Floyd, hi there. I’m glad you found this of some use, and you can’t go wrong with the medium tablet, at all. I will certainly say though, as an echo to what I mentioned in the article, that generally for photo retouching it is beneficial to make the active area very small – to save lots of movement. As such, the small tablet is more than adequate. I prefer it and it may save some desk space, and money. Just a thought. Cheers

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  6. Kent Gresham

    I just got the pen and touch small. I could not be more happy. It takes a little of getting use to. I feel like I am back to drawing and painting again. I love it.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Glad to hear Kent, it’s what I move around with most of the time and I generally never feel like i’m doing without. Happy retouching, and share some fruits of your labor. Cheers

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  7. Ji Hoon Heo

    I found a Intuos5 Pro small for 129 for the refurbished version on Adorama. Do you think its worth the extra 45 dollars to buy the Pro instead of the Pen and Touch ($85)?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Ji, if it was my money, I would do it. Once you really begin using it t, having the button layout as it is on the pro, I think is certainly worth it. Nice find.

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    • Mi Guel

      Get it Ji Hoon Heo, it will be worth it, your workflow pace will more than triple, and once you cap the learning curve, watch out, you will be retouching at warpspeed.

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  8. Chuck Eggen

    OK, based on this article I’m going to get mine out and try once more. I really want to like it but I can’t past the initial frustration. Thanks for inspiring me to try again.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Chuck, I say this wholeheartedly – stick it out. Use it consistently for a week or so, customize the settings, give it a real run, and you’ll see there’s 99% chance there’s no going back

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    • Hannes Nitzsche

      I agree to Kishore! Upon reading this article, I decided to take the plunge and ordered the intuos pen and touch. I followed everyone’s advise and didn’t use my mouse. The initial frustration you are talking about, passes quickly. I’ve been using it now for about 3 weeks and I really like the feel of it. Especially when applying adjustment brushes. My mouse has been collecting dust ever since :)

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  9. Mi Guel

    Picked up the Wacom Intuos4 Pro PTH640…I tinkered with it a bit, wow it is very responsive, love the scroll wheel option and it comes with a 5 button wireless mouse :)

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  10. Mi Guel

    Just in time article…I have a Wacom Bamboo CTH470 it is decent, but the Wacom Intuos Pro series is much more sensitive/responsive based on all things read and seen. I have a friend that is selling the Intuos Pro medium for a decent price. Thinking about picking up it. Does anyone in this thread use a trackball mouse in conjunction with the Wacom tablet?

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  11. Rich Taylor

    Thanks! After reading this I am for sure gonna try out the Creative Pen & Touch being as I am a budget photographer/editor. Thanks for the great read Kishore!

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Rich, apologies for the late reply, but thank you for reading and taking the time to spread the kind words. I think the Creative Pen & Touch is a great place to start, and I wish you well with it. When you’ve used it a bit shoot up some images on the site, and in the competitions. All the best,

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  12. Greg Faulkner

    Never mind the tablet look how tidy your desk is!

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    • Kishore Sawh

      haha. Greg, I’m a pretty tidy person. But my desk, has got to be clear. Im a bit OCD when it comes to this stuff.. If it’s a mess, I will not work until it’s cleared.

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    • Greg Faulkner

      You would definitely not like my desk then!

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  13. Steven Lelham

    It’s great to have one of these handy in the studio

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  14. Evan Wilson

    I finally made an account on SLR Lounge just to comment here for you guys that haven’t yet made the leap to an Intuos products. The oldest component on my home-built work station is my Intuos 3 tablet. I have progressively swapped out other components over the period of YEARS including the motherboard, processor, hard drives, even the computer case. Everything in my computer is different since the time I purchased my Intuos 3 back in 2008/2009ish (not sure exactly when I bought it)

    I don’t use the tablet all of the time, I wouldn’t even say I use it a lot. I will say that whenever I do want it, it’s ALWAYS good to have it. There are just times when that tool just fits the job. I highly recommend getting one.

    Here’s my tip. Considering what I wrote above, if you want to make the transition into a tablet. Go get yourself an older model Intuos or consider buying a used one from someone. The Wacom products are SOLID. You could potentially save A LOT of money if you just want to try to get into it.

    When you do get into using one, then you may want to invest a lot more cash into a modern one. Think of it this way. You picked up a cheap old model and you know you like it. You can then save up a few hundred dollars and invest in an Intuos Pro, something you will keep as a tool for at least several years. Then do the right thing and either keep your old tablet for your laptop bag or pay-it-forward to another photography enthusiast in your social circle.

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    • Jim Johnson

      Second this comment. Just get into using a tablet. It will change the way you edit.

      I had a cheap as hell Graphire tablet for many years (I bought it at Circuit City if that tells you anything) and it still works great.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      “Get one. even if it’s older and less expensive. pay it forward later.” Glad you joined us Evan, really nothing to disagree with there. Cheers

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  15. Hannes Nitzsche

    Thanks for this interesting read! :)

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  16. Jacob Jexmark

    Using a medium Pen & Touch and before that a Bamboo. I have felt NO need at all to upgrade to the pro. I love the Pen & Touch!

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  17. Mathew Parri Thomas

    I picked up my 1st tablet in the Spring and can’t believe I’ve been working so long without one. Absolutely love it and use with both Photoshop and LR.

    I’ll echo other comments about size. I’ve got the Intuos Pro Medium and with my 21″ iMac it’s probably still too big. The ‘wrist movement vs arm movement’ is very true. I’d try a small in the shop if it needed replacing.

    Another plus is how easy it is to store. My wife also uses the iMac and I keep the Intuos stored in the unused keyboard drawer that makes up part of our office desk. Because it’s wireless I can just grab it and get going in seconds.

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  18. Jared Stewart

    I’m using the Intuos Large and have it mapped to a very small surface area. If I had to make the purchase over again, I would probably go with the medium, or even the small to save space and money.

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  19. Leslie Troyer

    I think I’m going to have to hide my mouse – so I force myself to use and learn. I can see how it can really speed things up, but lots of frustration till you get it down.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Leslie, it certainly will. Don’t feel alone here, as we all went through it. Literally that first week I remember wanting to use the tablet as a frisbee.

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  20. Herm Tjioe

    Kishore, as with any product that touts wireless, what immediately comes to my mind is : 1) is battery removable 2) is battery unique and proprietary ?

    Those mini laptops on the market have no way of replacing or removing the battery without significant work. I also prefer to have the option of going wired (power-wise). Laptops having a power plug while battery is recharging really wear out the battery’s lifespan. If that battery is specialized, then I better keep it in good health as the years go by and the problem of acquiring one becomes expensive. For me I’d like to keep the battery uncoupled whenever possible, in order to be available when I do need to be on battery power, perhaps in the field

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    • Stan Rogers

      The battery is proprietary and removable/replaceable — and the wireless feature isn’t compulsory; you can operate with wired USB if you prefer (so even if you’ve used up the battery’s life and a replacement is no longer available anywhere, you don’t lose the tablet, just the wireless feature). What has changed over previous version is that the wireless feature is no longer an extra-cost option.

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  21. Drew Valadez

    How is a tablet for just using LR? I never, almost NEVER, open up PS:E unless it is for stitching together a pano really. Even then I still open Microsoft ICE over PS:E for stitching.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Drew, I would say it’s still very useful. Now I’m now sure to what extent you use LR, or what your subjects are, however, LR is still capable of retouching portraits, and detailed things like it. ANything where precision is needed, this will help. Beyond that, movements become more fluid, and the buttons on the tablet and pen itself make for quicker changes where you would otherwise have to leave the image and go do adjustments. I would say if you’re questioning it, try the one I mostly use, the Intuos Pen & Touch. Inexpensive, and really covers almost all the bases.

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  22. JOHN CLIFFORD

    a cutting edge in photography

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  23. Anthony Thurston

    Great stuff! I hardly ever use the tablet that I have, need to get back to using it…

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Tony, get back on that saddle son! Honestly the first week using it you’re going to hate it. HATE it! Just getting used to using a tablet, that is. After, you’ll wonder how the hell you ever did without.

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    • James Matthews

      I just dug out an old Wacom Graphire 4 that I’ve had for about 8 years! I tried to use it twice and got frustrated with it. Time to stick with it this time :)

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    • Stan Rogers

      You bet, James. There’s nothing at all wrong with the Graphire, except maybe that the aspect ratio of the tablet is more 4:3 than 16:9 (that’s not the problem you might think it is in real life) and it doesn’t look as sleek as the recent designs. (Oh, and it probably came with a mousey thing that really needs to go away.) The trick is to unlearn all of the mouse/trackpad habits you’ve developed, and for most people that means about a week of working exclusively with the tablet and stylus (at least in your graphics programs, though I wound up using it everywhere) until both your brain and body figure out that the tablet maps to the screen and, yes, the cursor is where the pen tip is, always, always, always. Once that connection is made solid, it’s hard to break, and you can put the tablet away for months or years on end then pick it up again like it was yesterday, or switch easily from the smallest Graphire/Bamboo/Intuos “not pro” to the enormous Intuos Pro Large without skipping a beat. (The only thing you’ll notice, really, is that there’s *exercise* involved with the Large; it’s more about the shoulder and elbow than about the wrist and fingers.) As for the difference in pressure levels, that makes a lot more difference to an artist painting with variable brush widths (especially large-sized “natural media” brushes); we photographers tend to be more concerned with pressure-sensitive opacity and/or flow (256 levels is more than enough for that), and when we want a variable-sized brush, it’s usually when painting very small details (and the ability to go smoothly from 3.02 pixels to 3.05 pixels without missing any steps in between really isn’t all that vital, but being able to go from 302 to 305 smoothly is).

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  24. Ji Hoon Heo

    This is the article i was waiting for! Definitely picking one soon now.

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  25. Jason Viglione

    This is a great review and very perfectly timed for me. I’m running around on a Wacom Graphire 3 from many years ago and I need to upgrade badly. I just couldn’t decide. Since I am someone that keeps these items for a long, long time, I’ll go with the Intuos Pro. I more than get my money’s worth out of them. Also, I was caught between the medium and large and you sold me on the medium. I like the real estate, but the large is just gigantic and the extreme movements make it unreasonable.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Jason, glad you found this helpful. If you have any further questions don’t be afraid to hit me up. Also, I would say wise choice on the size. Really, unless you are editing on two monitors (whyyyy?) then the large is just huge and cumbersome. I’ve heard it uses batter faster also, though I don’t have anything concrete to back that up with. Cheers

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    • fotosiamo

      I would recommend the Intuos Medium (which I have) vs the Large for one reason. The way you use the Medium is like a pen, which is through movements of the wrist. The way you use the Large is like a paintbrush, which through movements of the forearm.

      So if you’re not a painter, retouching w/ the Large is not that easy. Plus, having a large space doesn’t really help you as much and you’ll tire much quicker than a Medium or a Small.

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  26. MARTIN MIANO

    Really cool stuff …. I have seen such in many pro photo retouchers

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Martin, hi there. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to go spend a load of cash on one of these. The one I use mostly as I said, is $75, and if you’re just starting out, you need nothing else. Believe me. I say give it a shot if you’re remotely into retouching. Cheers

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    • MARTIN MIANO

      Al consider the 75$ one …. thanks a lot KISHORE …….

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    • Jim Johnson

      I’ll second that the medium pen and touch works fantastically. If I were creating computer illustrations, I might need all the functionality of the pro line, but with photo retouching, the more basic models suit my needs.

      You can use the pen only versions, but I have found the touch much more convenient so I don’t have to switch back and forth between the pad and a mouse (other programs don’t like the pen very much— I’m looking at you inDesign!).

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    • MARTIN MIANO

      Thanks for the thoughts JIM

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    • Jim Johnson

      I forgot, I also have one of the small pen and touch that I take on the road. The only reason I like the medium one for my office is that the surface area for touch on the small is a little small for my big hands and I tend to run off the edge when dragging stuff (the pen function works fine, it is just with the touch pad function/mousing). If it weren’t for that, I would probably have stuck with the small one, which is about half the price of the medium.

      I would never go larger than the medium. It is about the size of a standard sheet of paper.

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