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How the Beautiful Wacom Cintiq Touch Pen Display Was Born

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As a designer by trade, I’ve always been fascinated with the convergence of paper and pixels. No other piece of technology in the world comes closer to merging paper and pixels as the Wacom Cintiq touch Pen Display. In the past, I’ve used many Wacom products from the lower-end Bamboo Stylus to the mid-range Intuos, but nothing makes me drool more than the Cintiq series of pen displays. Here to explain how this phenomenal top-of-the-line design tool was born is Scott Rawlings, Wacom’s VP of Marketing for the America’s region. Take it away Scott!

In the early days of Wacom, an engineer created a black and white pen display with a rudimentary monochromatic LCD panel. The early application was for improving input for intelligent systems that benefited from direct interaction. While I was on a trip to Japan headquarters, this product was demonstrated to me. At that time, I was hired to envision product roadmaps for Wacom and this product really energized me with what could be possible given the trajectory of LCD panels quickly evolving to replace CRTs (this was in the late 1990′s). I was also working closely with Bill Buxton at the time, who was a chief scientist at Alias|Wavefront, on two-handed input methodologies (Bill is now heading up research at Microsoft). Although the idea of combining touch came a little later, we envisioned how artists use two hands and how important this could be for bridging analog and digital with direct hand-eye coordination.

Our first product, the Cintiq 18SX, was fairly thick and rudimentary by today’s standards. However, we worked closely with a great team of industrial designers at Ziba to make some real break-throughs, which we’re still refining to this day. Even the original stand was made to allow for rotation of the display like an animator’s light table while allowing the user to remove the display to use it on the lap of flat on the desk. Eventually, these larger displays will get really thin and light and be made with carbon fiber or other strong and lightweight materials — we will continually get closer and closer to the ideal fusion of analog and digital worlds for visual arts, design, and engineering applications. Tangible and direct interaction along with two handed input allow for tremendous innovation in the way visual people desire to work.

The recent release of our Cintiq 24HD made a real breakthrough in ergonomics for artists and designers who work long hours at a desk. The way the display integrates with the stand for ergonomics can only really be appreciated by working with the more traditional Cintiq design and the new one for days at a time. The new stand accomplishes two fundamental and powerful improvements: 1) it can be placed on a standard desk and still be low enough and close enough to work comfortably — this is achieved by counterbalancing the display and allowing it to hang over the leading edge of the desk, and 2) allowing close proximity with tilt adjustments enables the artist to change position frequently to avoid the strain of being in a fixed position for long periods. The display no longer needs to rotate because the multi-touch interface works with software to make canvas rotation a very simple and intuitive task in software — this approach to rotation is even better because menus and other things don’t rotate with the canvas (as they would if the user physically rotated the entire display).

In addition to some of the things mentioned above, we found that parallax is extremely important. This is the distance between the top of the glass and the surface of the image on the LCD. We continually work on minimizing this distance so that artists can increasingly feel like their pen tip is directly on the digital canvas. We’ve looked at special types of glass, optical bonding, and other methods to achieve a great experience. This continues to be a work in progress. We’ve also worked very hard to lower the heat at the surface of the LCD so those working on it don’t get sweaty hands and can work more comfortably for long hours at a time. Related goals may seem simple on the outside, but the engineering gets quite involved, especially when our team is also trying to keep it as thin and as light as possible.

The single most difficult thing, and the thing that really sets Wacom apart, is how challenging it is to get really well articulated pen performance from a sensor mounted behind a high quality LCD display. Using an EMR (electro magnetic resonance) sensor to send signals and energize a passive pen through an electronically hostile LCD environment while achieving excellent pen positioning, tilt, and pressure-sensitivity is extraordinarily difficult. It requires a lot of engineering magic. Each new Cintiq requires tremendous fine tuning custom to its display panel to accomplish performance that meets or exceeds Wacom’s standards.

We have been influenced by a Japanese zen and perfectionist mentality. Everything is questioned and there is a serious passion for what we do among our employees. There are a lot of fun personalities in our various teams, but especially on the development and product management side of things, long hours and serious commitment are cultivated to make the necessary strides. My fondest memories are the most difficult moments we’ve had in the middle of projects — not funny at the time, but perfect fodder for a Dilbert comic later. Speaking of which, it’s a great irony that Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, is one of our strongest advocates. If he only knew… product management and engineering have many stories to tell, but we’ll save them for another time :-)

Wacom is now involved with many leading companies bringing pen and multi-touch to direct interaction on-screen. Working with leading software partners like Adobe and Autodesk, innovation is occurring with mobile solutions and with how to transition seamlessly back and forth between mobile and a desktop metaphor. There are still a lot of things to figure out and it will take the collective talents of all kinds of people involved in hardware and software solutions. That’s what makes this time of transition so exciting. Cintiq’s legacy will be proving how far we can go taking the best about the distant past into the future. Working with direct hand-eye coordination on images, digital paper, a digital canvas, a draft board, but with all the advantages of two hands on digital tools.

EditorHow the Beautiful Wacom Cintiq Touch Pen Display Was Born

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