Wacom Intuos 4

Today Wacom announced a new line of pressure sensitive tablets. It’s been a while since the Intuos 3 was released and there have been a few murmurings that a version 4 release must be around the corner.

Review by Colin Smith

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Meet the Intuos 4 line of Pressure sensitive tablets. These new tablets, are sexy! Dressed in satin black, they are very sleek, they have a slimmer footprint than the Intuos 3 and you will notice the OLED display proudly showing the assigned shortcuts.


Scroll Ring

Gone are the touch strips. People always bumped the touch strip on the right hand side and found them cumbersome. The have been replaced by a single scroll ring. The scroll ring has a button in the center, so it actually serves as 4 in one. You just move your finger around the little groove in a ipod-style fashion and dial in your settings. This is an improvement over the touch strips for 2 reasons, you do all the work with your non-pen hand, which means you can keep drawing while making adjustments. Also with the button, you now have 4 functions versus only 2 touch strips. There is a little LED that lights up to show which scroll ring mode you are in. Oh, you south paws were about to ask, what about us? The tablet is reversible! That’s right, flip it over, press a switch and everything including the display is flipped over just for the lefties.

Radial Menu

Cintiq users will be no stranger to this feature. If you are, you need to get on wacom.com and update your drivers lickety-split! The radial menu is essentially a more elegant replacement for the pop up menu. You are faced with a dial-type menu with little chunks of  pie. Click on each piece to open a new set of slices. Each slice can have a keyboard shortcut assigned to it. This is similar to the nulooq that Logitech used a few years ago.

Express Keys

Express keys are still there, although they are now organized into 2 columns of 4 buttons, making 8 all together. There are some new ones such as the radial menu, info and Precision Mode.

Precision Mode

Precision mode is revolutionary! When you activate it, it makes the pen much more sensitive. This means that you can move your hand a lot more, but get a lot less movement on screen. This is great for detailed drawing in tight spaces. I found myself programming the front switch on the pen for precision mode. One of my past frustrations was accidently moving the pen while releasing a menu. For example, changing the blend mode in Photoshop, I would choose overlay, but the pen would slip a little as I was releasing and I would accidently choose another mode. Or trying to lift the pen after choosing a scrubby slider without changing it. If you have used a pen tablet, you know what I’m talking about. I love to click the button on the pen for precision mode as I release a setting. Now I never accidently change the settings.

Illuminated Display

One of my favorite additions is the illuminated display. This tells you exactly what is assigned to each button. You can even enter your own names for the functions, so the jokester in us can have a little expression. This display solves the problem of having to remember what shortcut is on which button. Some people used to put a little masking tape on the tablet (guilty). The problem with that was changing applications. Suddenly the Photoshop shortcuts are different when you’re in Flash. (Umm, you can program shortcuts (since Intuos 3) for different applications that change when you change apps, in case you didn’t know, or didn’t watch my video).  
Now with the display telling you exactly what will happen when you press each button changes everything. The (OLED) Display updates instantly when you change applications. I now have all my functions of even humble mail programmed into the express keys, sure I don’t need a pressure sensitive pen in mail, but I sure love being able to change the quote level with the swipe of a finger, or add an attachment to my email by pressing a key that says “attachment.” Yeah, Imagine what’s possible in a graphics application! You can program the tablet for every application on your computer and assign shortcuts and the touch ring. InDesign users will love adding fit to frame, insert special characters and all those other goodies.  You can adjust the brightness of the display from the tablet control panel.

Pressure Sensitivity

Pressure sensitivity is the big reason people buy a pen tablet. By pressing harder or lighter with the pen, you can change things such as stroke width and opacity of the paint stroke. This makes it closer to drawing with a real pencil or pen. In the Intuos 4, pressure sensitivity has been increased from 1024 levels of pressure to double that, 2048. Does it make a difference really? Oh yeah it does. Pressure starts much earlier in weight. The extra levels are added in the gentle end. Drawing now starts at only 1 gram of pressure (vs 10 with the Intuos 3). I found that I was able to do some very delicate shading, with much smoother transitions. I used to be a little frustrated at a really light touch,, but now I can paint in a way that wasn’t possible with the Intuos 3. The pens now support a tilt angle up to 60 degrees.


When it comes down to it, the pen is one of the most important parts, because that’s what you’re holding most of the time. The pen that comes with the new tablet has also been redesigned. The pen still has a nib on the front and an eraser at the back, still is cordless and doesn’t need a battery. The barrel is a little shorter and a touch heavier. This gives a more balanced and solid feel to the pen. The rubber grip is much smoother and better integrated into the pen than before. The nibs can easily be changed and there is a set of nibs and a tool for changing them built right into the pen stand. Just twist it open (What will they think of next!).


Sorry, the accessories from Intuos 3 and Cintiq are not compatible with the new Intuos 4. This is because of the new tip technology, it’s not a ploy to make you buy more accessories.  However all the usual suspects are available for the Intuos 4. You can get the airbrush, extra grip pens (including a fatter one) and the 6D Art pen. Thankfully the 6D Art pen has been redesigned more like a pen with a round nib, rather than the old marker style one. This was great for people who like to draw with markers, but personally I want rotation with a normal pen, which is now available.

How does it feel?

The Wacom Intuos 4 has a different feel than the 3. The feel has been improved and feels just like a pencil on paper with the default nib installed. I really like the smooth surface, it’s not as slippery as the Intuos 3 and feels really natural. Personally, I fell in love with the 4 as soon as I started using it. I was very surprised with the difference in feel.


The tablet comes in 4 sizes. It’s a little more like a clothing line now, as the sizes are S,M,L and XL. Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large. All of them have the illuminated display except for the small. All tablets come with the Wacom Grip Pen and Cordless Wacom Mouse. They all work on Windows and Mac.
Sizes are all in wide format and are shown here.

S = Active area: 3.875” x 6.3”
M = Active area: 5.5” x 8.8”
L = Active area: 8” x 12.8”
XL = Active area: 12” x 19.2”

All tablets are 2048 Levels of pressure and a resolution of 5080 lpi (Lines per Inch).
 It plugs into a single USB port on your computer and requires no other power supply.

Personal view

Pros: Personally I was very surprised with the Wacom Intuos 4 tablets. I didn’t expect to feel such a big difference in using the tablet, but it just feels much more natural and I love the extra sensitivity in the lighter end. I have used the S and the M sizes. I found the Illuminated display just amazing and this makes the tablet worth the money just as a shortcut device! I think the extra 10 nibs build into the base just genius and users will love the different feel from each nib. The radial menu takes a little getting used to, but I now love it much better than the touch strips and I like all the express keys on one side by my non-dominant hand.
Cons: Takes a little bit of re-educating to program everything and set up properly. (Wes Maggio, from Wacom and myself have updated our Wacom Tablets and Photoshop CS4 training DVD to help people quickly get up to speed on the Intuos 4. This 4th edition of our DVD is available right now!)
The only real con, is the same gripe I have had all along with previous tablets; you still can’t save your presets. So when you move to a different computer or reset the tablet prefs, you have to reprogram everything in. It’s not hard, just time consuming.


I4 Small = $229
I4 Medium = $369
I4 Large = $499
I4 Extra Large = $789

Estimated Street Price

I4 Small = $229
I4 Medium = $349
I4 Large = $469
I4 Extra Large = $789

Buying advice

I have no hesitation in recommending the Intuos 4. If you do any retouching or drawing in Photoshop, Painter, Flash etc, you are crazy to not have a Pressure Sensitive Tablet. What about upgrading from an Intuos 3? Ok, I didn’t think I would say this, but the new features and better feel really do make it worth biting the bullet and upgrading, if your budget allows it. The M size will suit most peoples needs and personally I think it’s the most comfortable. The Small size is great for portability and the price conscious. For people doing extensive drawing or CAD, the Large and XL may be worth looking into.


RATING: 5/5 This is one great tablet and worthy of an Editors pick!

Check out the 4th edition of Photoshop CS4 and Wacom Tablets. Now fully updated to include training on Intuos 4!

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