Cintiq vs cheaper competition?


I’m looking too possiblly purchase a Cintiq 13" for drawing but am wondering if some of the cheaper alternatives might be just as good (or close enough). Any personal experiences, opinions, and recomendations are welcome.



Let me preface this by saying that, apart from the the old KoalaPad in the 1980s, I’ve only ever owned Wacom products. That said, I’ve used nearly a dozen such tablets in that time and done much research on the competition of the time. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. PRICE: Wacom brand is more expensive than the competition and probably always will be.

  2. BUILD QUALITY: The alternatives usually feel lighter and less sturdy. Not always the case, but usually. Wacom tablets seem built to last. The longest I had any one tablet was 7 years. I only stopped using it because the input standard on PCs changed from serial to USB. It was still performing like a champ otherwise.

  3. PEN QUALITY: This might be a deal breaker for some. Wacom’s pens are the best. How so? Most alternatives don’t have erasers and/or require battery power. Wacom pens don’t require batteries and also have erasers. Additionally, not all of the alternatives have pens that have multiple barrel buttons. Some don’t have any. Overall, Wacom pens feel sturdier and have a more balanced weight to them. Alternatives have pens that are known to die or break easily. That’s why some of them include multiple pens. (Another reason is because buying after market pens for most of them is impossible.)

  4. DRIVERS: Wacom drivers have never been 100% perfect. I won’t lie to you. Some versions have been hit or miss. However, Wacom usually makes good and fixes the problem relatively quickly. By and large, Wacom drivers tend to be stable and highly compatible across multiple platforms. The alternatives… eh… not so much. Read the reviews and you’ll see what I mean. For some people, these things either work on their system or they don’t. It’s hit or miss. These manufacturers don’t support their products nearly as well. You may not get a driver patch for many months - if at all - with some of these products. Other users have found relief by using drivers from other regions like Japan, but you can’t count on that. Another thing to worry about if you go non-Wacom? Stroke defects. Some of these drivers for the Wacom alternatives are so bad that you may get lagging, jittering, or random stroke spiking. True Wacom tablets don’t typically suffer from such problems unless you’re using them on really old/slow systems.

  5. APP SUPPORT: If you have a Wacom tablet then you’re almost guaranteed that your drawing or 3D app of choice will work with it right out of the box. With the non-Wacom tablets… hit or miss. Some apps might recognize your pen. Others might not. Still, others might require you to jump through hoops and force you to fake having a true Wacom. Not worth the trouble.

  6. SCREEN QUALITY: If you’re going with a pen display, beware. Not all are made equal. Cheaper brands tend to use cheaper screens. What does that usually mean? Lesser color quality. Dimmer brightness. Narrower view angles. Fuzzier picture. Some off brand, non-Wacom, pen displays are darn good and defy all expectations. However, those are the exceptions, not the rule. Additionally, some have screens with no built-in protector. You’ll scuff those things up in no time without one. Those which do include a screen protector tend to be glossy. In low light situations, that might not matter. However, in an amply lit room, you can expect a fair amount of reflections and gloss. True Wacom pen displays have screens with built-in protection. Said screens also have a semi-matte quality to them, which reduces glare and reflections. True Wacom pen displays don’t scratch as easily. I’ve had my Cintiq for years and have never gotten a single scratch on it… 3rd party screen tablet usually also pick up smudges and oily fingerprints quicker.

  7. PARALLAX: Just in case you’re not familiar with the concept, here’s the gist. Your screen protector is a top layer above the actual screen itself. When the two are very close together, the cursor and pen tip have very little separation. You won’t (totally) notice these multiple layers. However, on a knock off, that protective top layer of glass or plastic is sometimes too far away from the screen itself. You can see that your pen tip isn’t exactly on top of your cursor. That might affect your strokes as well as your concept of where the cursor should be relative to where you expect/want it to be. True Wacom tablets feature SOME parallax, but not nearly as much as most of the competition.

  8. USER DEFINED EXPRESS KEYS: Some off-brand have none. Others let you buy such buttons, but only in remote form. Wacoms have express keys built-in, making apps like ZBrush much more of a joy to work with. Sculpting without express keys at your thumb’s touch can be SUPER annoying and difficult. Ever try sculpting on a standard MS Surface Pro? Not always so comfortable. You may have to resort to using a 3rd party app which lets you have virtual express keys. Not nearly the same. Wacom tablets often also feature scroll wheels or touch strips. The alternatives usually don’t. Bare bones.

  9. WIRING: Some 3rd party tablets have their cabling built in. Nope. You don’t want that. If the wire breaks or the connector gets damaged then you’re either screwed and out of cash or faced with the prospect of sending the tablet back for repair - provided that you’re still in the warranty period.

  10. STANDS AND MOUNTS: Some of these 3rd party pen screens either have terrible default stands ore no VESA mounting option. That would prevent them from being mounted onto an articulated swivel arm. Trust me. That’s an option you want in a tablet. I’ve got my WACOM Cintiq mounted to an arm. If I wanted to sit and draw then I can. If I wanted stand instead, I can do that too, painting on my pen display as if I were painting on a traditional IRL canvas.

  11. PEN OPTIONS: With most non-Wacom tablets have pens that only come in one style. Pencil shaped & thickness. Wacom sells pens that are thick, thin, rubber gripped, simple, shaped like airbrushes, shaped like crayon, and so on. If you’re a Wacom user then you have options.

One final caveat… Beware the smaller model pen displays. I once had a smaller Cintiq 12wx. Not much smaller that the current 13" model. You don’t REALLY want to use a program like ZBrush on such a small display. Text might be hard to read. In some cases, depending on the resolution, an app like ZBrush might end up seeing its GU eat up most of the screen. You don’t want to work on such a system where the clutter leaves you with barely able to see what it is you’re working on.

Bottom line? Go with Wacom. You pay more, but you get more. Fewer hassles. Greater compatibility. Greater longevity. They’re the industry leader for a good reason. They rock. Go cheap? Get cheap.


OK. I’m convinced.

Thank you for the exhaustive explanation. It’s very appreciated.