Quit mousing around! Save your hands and arms from RSI (repetitive strain injury) pain while gaining precise user-configurable control for your computer “pointing device.”
by Wayne Cole
More than a decade ago, I was having hand, arm and shoulder pain from using a mouse to do intensive 3D modeling. I decided to bite the bullet and bought my first Wacom tablet. Within a few months of putting it into use, my symptoms were gone and have not returned.
Since then, I have owned and used every generation of Wacom tablet to come out. When I am on the road with my laptop or in someone else’s office using a non-tablet-equipped machine, I feel like I have reverted to the dark ages of computing. For architectural drawing, modeling, digital painting, or photo processing, to me there is no better device.
The Intuos 4 has an updated design with six programmable buttons, and multi-mode touch-surface shaped like a donut. The donut’s center contains the mode button. During installation, you can choose to set the Intuos 4 for left- or righthanded operation. In the right-handed operation, four small LEDs distributed around the donut from its 2 o’clock through 4 o’clock position serve as mode indicators. In the default setting, the four available modes are auto scroll/zoom, cycle layers, brush size, and canvas rotation. By running your finger around the donut as if you were controlling a jog wheel, you can change parameters according the active mode.
Wacom Intuos 4 (small) with pen, pen holder and mouse Since all this is user-configurable, the touch ring (donut) and six express keys are not labeled. Not to fear, however. You can set one button to show “settings” and with a simple press, the Wacom software pops up a map of the current function set for each button and for each mode of the touch ring. Each programmable button has a pull-down menu of function choices, some of which lead to further sub-menus of choices. For example, if you select “Modifier” as the key’s function, you will be presented with a menu from which you must select which modifier to use- CTRL, ALT, shift or click.
The Wacom Control Panel applet also lets you set the actions associated with the controls on the cordless pen. This includes both positions of the duo-switch, the eraser, and various tip parameters like double-tap distance, tip feel, and tilt sensitivity. You can set the pen to provide a very natural pen or pencil feel that is very easy on the hands, wrist and arms.
The Intuos 4 also comes with a cordless mouse for those rare occasions when only a mouse will do the trick. The center scroll wheel is dualfunctioned: Tt can be pressed and clicked like a middle button on a three-button mouse. As with the tablet keys and pen switches, the mouse button and scroll wheel actions are fully programmable.
As with previous Wacom tablets, the Intuos 4 allows you to create customized tablet, pen and mouse settings for different applications. When you operate in a window of an application with customized settings, those settings will automatically become active, then reset when you leave that application’s environment.
After setting the functions for all your programmable buttons, (right panel) you can view those settings on the screen (left panel). SOFTWARE AND ACCESSORIES
As if all that flexibility were not enough, Wacom bundles some additional software plug-ins and tools with the Intuos 4. Adobe Photoshop Elements LE, Nik Color Efex Pro, Autodesk Sketchbook Express, Corel Painter Sketchpad and Wacom Brushes are available for download. (Some of these packages require you to register your Intuos 4 to get serial numbers so they will run on your machine.) You also have access to Wacom’s Privileges program that provides cost savings on the purchase of upgrades to a number of third-party applications.
Driver updates are freely available at Wacom’s website as are .pdf versions of their user manuals. You can also find tutorial videos, white papers and case studies on the website that might help resolve any questions you have regarding tablet specs or operation.
Stored in the base of the pen stand you will find 10 different nibs for the pen so you can further customize the fell of the pen on the tablet. Wacom also provides a number of optional accessories for the Intuos 4 including items that function like inking pens, air brushes and art pens.
The Intuos 4 is designed with widescreen aspect ratio in mind, but with its configurable mapping function can easily be configured for a standard 4:3 display. Available in four sizes from small to extra large, these Mac and PC compatible tablets operate identically with one small exception: The larger three sizes have OLED status lights beside each express key indicating the adjacent button’s setting.
For my purposes (and cramped quarters) the small tablet works fine. It has a footprint similar to a good-sized mouse pad, and the pen resolution is as fine as I need for even the most detailed forensic photogrammetric measurements. If I need to “park” over a point, for example, to get a pixel position that I am recording in another application, I position the pointer with the mouse. But for virtually all my other computing activities I use the pen instead of the mouse. The pressure sensitivity is a wonderful tool when using painting tools in applications like Photoshop, or Painter. Configuring for a multi-monitor workstation is no problem with the tablet mapping function. But if you have really large monitors and want fine precision pointing control, you might want to consider one of the larger sized Intuos 4 tablets. Scrolling zoomed windows, like that huge NLE timeline on which you are working or drag-drop operations that cross large swaths of screen real estate are much easier and more efficient with a pen than a mouse.
In all my years using Wacom tablets, there has only been one application (no longer produced) that had minor issues with pointer control using the pen. Basically, if you can use a pencil or a pen, you are good to go. Install the software, attach the tablet to an available USB port and start enjoying RSI-free computing.