Could the iPad replace the Cintiq on illustrators' desks?

Some graphic designers, digital illustrators, artists and others use expensive, specialized graphics pads like Wacom's Cintiq, which integrate a flat panel display into a digitized tablet surface suitable for use with a specialized stylus. With Apple's focus on continuity between iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, I've begun to wonder if the iPad may make a suitable, less expensive replacement.

What got me thinking about this the other day was a discussion with my daughter. She's a gift artist, fond of drawing cartoon characters in the "chibi" style of Japanese anime and manga for herself and her friends. She uses the iPad exclusively as her input device. She also has a less expensive Wacom tablet, without a built-in screen.

She uses the iPad almost exclusively. When I asked her why she doesn't use the Wacom tablet more, she told me that it doesn't "flow" as easily for her when she has to keep her eye on the screen — a vertical surface — but draw using her hand on a separate horizontal surface. She hasn't had any professional or academic training using the tablet. As an intuitive artist, the iPad simply makes a lot more sense for her.

I asked her, "Would you like it if you could tether to your iPad to the screen, and use that as an input device?" Her response was an emphatic yes. She told me that she thought it would be a lot more natural as an input method.

You got your chocolate in my peanut butter

Already, artists and other use the iPad to create beautiful visual art, illustration and design. And thanks to a wealth of apps that tap into this creative well, there's no shortage of ways to get your artwork from your iPad onto your Mac. But using your iPad as an extension of your Mac — as an actual input device — isn't yet on the table.

Wacom cornered the market on touchscreen tablets years ago with the Cintiq brand. The devices connect to your Mac using a combination of HDMI, DisplayPort or DVI-I (for the video signal, depending on the model) and USB (for the input signal). What happens when you connect them, and install the accompanying software, is rather spectacular: You add to your Mac an integrated digital easel. A color display that you can work on as intuitively as if it were a blank canvas or piece of paper in front of you.

Cintiq displays are not cheap - $999 gets you the 13-inch model. Step it up to 22 inches and be prepared to fork over $2,499, or $2,999 for a 24-inch version. But these are incredibly specialized devices designed to appeal to a relatively small niche of professionals who truly need this sort of capability.

The funny thing about Cintiq tablets is how much of that work is already being done on the iPad. So why not make the iPad work more like the Cintiq, and expand the arsenal of artist's tools on the Mac?

Too cramped?

Obviously the 9.7-inch diagonal dimensions of an iPad Air might make for a small workspace for the average illustrator. But I see iPads get used all the time to create beautiful works by artists, illustrators and designers, so I don't think it would be that much of a detriment to use as a Mac input device.

Of course, if Apple were to ever introduce a larger iPad, like a hypothesized iPad Pro, that'd be a delightful option too. But so far that remains a pipe dream.

What's more, I don't foresee a future in which Apple makes the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro into a "two in one" like the Surface Pro or the burgeoning field of tablet-cum-laptops emerging in the Windows space. It's a problem in search of a solution.

Why bother?

It's already pretty easy to create content on the iPad and move it back to the Mac, and it's going to get easier with iOS 8 still, once iCloud Drive is live. So what's the advantage of trying to use the iPad as an actual Mac input device?

Seamless workflow would be one benefit. Instead of having to worry about data transfer between devices and cloud use, working locally on the Mac using the iPad as an input device would be an obvious benefit. Another would be the ability to use Mac-native tools on the Mac itself, rather than relying on iOS-specific software.

Plus there's the utility of the iPad itself. People wouldn't invest a thousand dollars or three into a specialized input device, they'd instead be buying a general purpose tablet that does a million things besides, but also acts as an input device for the Mac.

Your thoughts

I don't we're that far away from putting the disparate pieces pieces together here: iOS 8, Yosemite and Continuity make it clear that Apple sees a lot of sense in blurring the lines between operating systems and devices, instead making the work you're doing with those devices the most important thing. This seems like a step in that direction.

I admit that my sample size of one doesn't make for the most scientific study of this, so I'm curious about what you think. Are you an artist or illustrator using a Cintiq display, or do you look at them with envy? Can you envision using your iPad as a direct image input device for your Mac?

Peter Cohen
  • If Apple integrates a Wacom-style digitizer onto iPad screen, and creates a stylus whereby 3rd-party developers can develop stylus-capable apps around, then the answer to your question is yeah, absolutely. To me, a stylus is a killer feature for a tablet. It opens up whole new capabilities in apps. That's the feature I love the most about the Surface Pro 3. Imagine a native iPad version of Photoshop that's stylus-enabled.
  • I'm just afraid people are too tied to the Steve Jobs way of thinking from 7 years ago about styli on touch devices that it'll never happen on a larger iPad.
  • I think that's changing. Otherwise, we wouldn't have gotten the iPad mini or the upcoming larger-screen(s) iPhone 6. And Apple has received many patents for an stylus or "iPen."
  • While you are right that a lot of people might think that, this story about Jobs being against a stylus in general is an urban myth. If you watch the original iPhone introduction from 2007, he said that a stylus is a dumb idea to operate basic phone functionality, he never said that a stylus is in general a bad thing.
  • That's very true. If I remember correctly, he said if you NEED a stylus, you have failed.
  • I don't think people are tied to that way of thinking at all. We sell plenty of styluses at the store I work in.
  • iPads definitely need a pressure-sensitive digitiser for general sketching, etc. Select Android tablets have had this feature for several years and I personally use a Samsung Galaxy Note 8. It truly is way better than using a traditional graphics tablet separated from the screen being worked on. I have 2 Wacom tablets. As for Photoshop on the iPad: no thanks! A real computer running a real processor is an absolute necessity for full-blown Photoshop. I can't figure out why people are taking such a huge step backwards trying to do work on iPads. We finally have super fast Core i7s and magnificent quality 27+" monitors and people want to step back to slow mobile processors and tiny screens?
  • The bigger problem than size, at least for many types of illustrators, is the lack of iPad's pressure sensitivity, though that may change: And yes, there are pressure sensitive stylus options for the iPad; they are just nowhere in the same class as Wacom's offerings. For how many types of artists that difference matters, I do not know... Sent from the iMore App
  • This.
  • The two main issues should be pressure sensitivity and resolution (input resolution as in how many points on the surface get scanned and registered). Pressure levels can easily be captured from the pen itself, but the actual amount of hot points on the surface are what they are. And they are designed for finger tips, that's why pretty much all iPad pens have very broad tips (and drawing on an iPad requires a huge amount of zooming and panning, as you can't work with finer tools). So, I assume that software and pen alone won't make it happen, Apple would have to increase the density of touch sensitive areas on the surface.
  • I've been waiting for this feature for so long! I don't get it, you can use the iPad as a mouse and you can use it with drawing apps and a pressure sensitive stylus or even as a second display but no one figures out a way to put all of this together? What's the issue? I'm this close to getting a Wacom Intouos because I don't feel like waiting forever... Sent from the iMore App
  • I can't wait for this feature as well. I think the issue is not pressure sensitivity or input resolution, but actually the lag between the actual contact with the screen and the software response. There are milliseconds of delay between these two events but since our fingers are so relatively "fat" we don't notice that the delay. But with a stylus, if we drew a line on the screen, the line would appear just a little behind where our stylus was touching, and we would have to wait for the line to catch up. This would break the illusion that we are interacting directly with the device at the very least, and possibly even induce nausea in trying to draw. A while ago I saw a Microsoft research video on screen technology, and they had improved screen responsiveness almost by a factor of 100, to the point where it felt like the response was instantaneous. I'm sure that screen technology is getting better, and that once the screens are "good enough" they will introduce pen input, but once I saw this video it made more sense to me why Steve Jobs said, "If you see a stylus, they blew it".
  • I do all of my drawing on my iPad Mini now, using a pressure-sensitive Wacom stylus and apps like Procreate and Adobe Ideas (due to the price, I've never had a Wacom tablet). You can see some of the results here: Honestly, I'm not sure I could get used to a Wacom at this point. Between the built-in screen of the iPad and the included sharing options, it just makes drawing and uploading so simple for me. I'd love to see it get Mac pairing, but that's really my only missing feature!
  • Hey Massie, Your drawing strangers series is pretty cool, i especially like /u/Electr0G33k 's Where the Wild Things Are nostalgia. Duet is launching next Tuesday I think it could be the Mac pairing you are looking for. It would be great to have your feedback on how we could make it better for illustrators.
  • I'd be glad to take a look—can I use the Dropbox link on your site, or do I need to wait for the launch?
  • Great. The dropbox link downloads the Mac side of the app. You could install that now if you'd like, but it won't be useful until you have duet's iOS app on your iPad. We just closed our beta program, but the iOS app will be launched in the App Store next Tuesday!
  • Sounds interesting! You may or may not have seen my review of Avatron's Air Stylus app, which sounds similar to what you're doing with Duet: My main issue with that app was the lag introduced when drawing in Photoshop. It really wasn't a workable solution for artists—and in fact I ended up buying a Wacom tablet soon after writing that review so that I could use Photoshop as a drawing tool—but perhaps Duet will handle that better. I'll keep an eye out for it!
  • I didn't see that, thanks for linking it is very well written, would love to have you review Duet. We actually have eliminated the lag experienced with AirDisplay by requiring the iPad to be plugged in via lightning cable. No internet connection required. Sent you a tweet asking for your Apple ID and we can open up another spot in the beta :)
  • Quick question: I've installed the beta, but so far it seems like I can only draw in Photoshop on my Mac and then have it show up in Duet. What I'm really after is the ability to draw on my iPad and have it show up in Photoshop on my Mac (via Duet). Am I missing some setting that will allow me to use my iPad as an input device, or is that not an option?
  • Hey Massie, these features are still in development, but I believe there is a possible workaround to your problem. I sent you an email with more details. Thanks!
  • I'm not a professional Digital photography editor, but I have owned several Wacom tablets for use in Photoshop. They seem to work great but I also agree with your daughter that using the iPad display is a much smoother experience when tethered with my Mac. With all the great photography editing Applications available for the iPad, I rarely ever use a pen tablet anymore. For the types of editing that I enjoy doing, I have found it much more productive to work on the iPad. Being able to quickly navigate on screen without the hassle of a mouse or trackpad is much more efficient for my needs. I would really enjoy a full-scale pixel editing Application to use the iPad and Mac together.
  • Without pressure sensitivity it's a no go for me. Personally I love Wacom products they are focused on on making fantastic products for artists. Apple has moved away from that way of thinking and is focused on making products for mass markets. Which I am completely OK with, I just don't see Apple doing it better than Wacom. And on a side note I actually prefer working on Wacoms Intuos line versus the Cintiq like. Once you get past the disconnect from the screen and the surface it is actually better for me to draw without visually having my arm/hand in the way.
  • With a standard touch display there is no way the iPad can replace a cintiq with it's more accurate pressure sensitive stylus input. I'm sure there are professionals that create on ipads on the go but only an amateur would think an iPad could be a substitute for purpose built hardware such as the cintiq
  • Oh yes, this is a great use of an iPad, as I discussed in my blog back in Feb. And it is available NOW through a 3rd party app, noted in my update in June. But I think this is something that Apple should implement natively as part of the Continuity features in iOS 8 and Yosemite - among other integration opportunities that are not yet announced. With the 2 OSes evolving, converging and integrating closer and closer, it seems like a natural.
  • Not a good idea. Wacoms have zero lag, pressure sensitivity, extreme precision with a tiny nib, and extra buttons for right and middle click on the stylus. Plus a large range of sizes. Drawning on an iPad is a toy, nothing more. Besides, there's no need to buy a cintiq, a regular Wacom can be had for far less and works just fine.
  • I just sold my iPad 4.
    I have been a Graphic Designer for 25 years and I hated that I couldn't get my iPad to play with my MBP or my Mac pro. One of the only products that Apple has made that just wasn't properly connected to the Apple ecosys. Pissed me off. Not too mention having to purchase all the pro apps over... Forget it. Would be nice if they do it, but not holding on or out. Like my Pros too much.
  • The stylii issues will resolve themselves soon enough. The bigger problem is the software. Right now, the iPad software is still a huge compromise. Even outside of photoshop, there's things like Illustrator and Painter. you can get SOME of those features on the iPad, but which ones? It's a bit difficult. you end up needing a lot more apps to get the same work done, because each app does less, and i'm unaware of any iOS apps that have any form of automation that you can use on a desktop app as well. As well, there's a lot more to a Cintiq than just drawing on the screen. There's a lot of customization you can do with the buttons on the Cintiq so that, for example, in Painter, you can rapidly switch brushes without having to stop working to use a palette. But I think the question, as posed, is a bit highlanderish. The iPad could indeed be a great cintiq-like device without it having to replace the Cintiq. Indeed, Wacom could concentrate on iPad software that allows using the iPad as a "Cintiq Mini" and if you need a larger surface, they certainly make a device that qualifies, and you're already used to how a Cintiq works. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.
  • Styluses where a big disappointment.
    Went as far as a Bamboo and then said forget it. Too much money in drawing apps that where supposed to be the one that was the magic bullet, and Bamboo what the Creme 'de la Creme... I have used wacoms and they have it down to a art and they work near perfect.
    Biggest PLUS, you can determine your work area on the pad and you can rest your hand ANYWHERE and not trip the damn stylus up.!!!!
  • I imagine an iPad could replace the smaller Wacom products for this purpose, at least for folks who don't care about pressure sensitivity. But above a certain screen size for the Cintiq, we're looking at specialists like a friend of mine, who does terrific illustration in several apps on the big canvas that his mid-size Cintiq allows. He naturally prefers to see all the work at once without having to scroll. Figure I'll ask him how he feels about iPads as drawing devices now, especially since he's been doing iOS UX work for the past couple of years. I remember trying large Cintiqs on a couple of occasions, and had slight issues with lag. I still prefer pencil and ink, but I'm of a certain age. ;)
  • I tried hacking something like this together using my iPad as a second screen (with Air Display) and the results were less than inspiring. The lag was awful and the accuracy just wasn't there. For the work I do I need full Photoshop and it seems like anything other than a wired connection is a non-starter. Also, the drawing tablet senses the stylus before it touches down - something that won't work on a capacitive touch screen. As much as I'd love to get rid of one more single-use gadget on my desk, I have a feeling my drawing tablet is here for the foreseeable future.
  • Very short answer to the headline question: "No"
  • I can achieve similar results without a stylus as I do with a stylus. Having had wacom tablets. and the iPad, I much prefer drawing on the iPad. with procreate. being able to rotate and resize on screen, and control opacity with speed is enough to make it feel more real to me than a wacom tablet. Cintiq is going to be better than an iPad though. The size alone is worth it. But you loose the ability to quickly rotate (non-destructively) with desktop based drawing software. In fact I have a battery powered wacom pen for ipad with pressure sensitivity. But often I don't use it. It's not that much better that put up with having to carry it around with my iPad. I think people convince themselves of how good/necessary pressure sensitivity is that they can't fathom that a well written piece of software can replace the need for one. If the new pressure sensitivity for fingers works well with the new iOS 8 then I will be a happy camper.
  • Check out air display for ios. It lets your iPad or iPhone work as an additional monitor. Simply out the app you want to use on the new monitor and bam. Instant touch screen input for your Mac. I do not know if the pressure sensitive stylii? For iPad will work for this type of setup but wouldn't it be awesome if it did?
  • Wouldn't it be great if iAds were pushed to your Wacom?!!!11one Wonder what format they would use.
  • Honestly, if the iPad had a digitizer, I would buy it tomorrow. I have used wacom tablets for years and I have always struggled, like your daughter, keeping my eyes on the screen. You eventually get better with it, but there is still a disconnect.
    I want to go all digital with my sketchbook. But I don't want to be tethered to a computer. That either puts me in the market for a surface pro, or a wacom companion. But I hate the windows operating system.
    I highly doubt that apple would add a digitizer to the iPad. That would make it thicker. Plus, wacom has all the patents locked down. That leaves me with the current apps in the App Store, which are cool, but bit entirely an illustration tool.
    I'm that niche market that would love an iPad with pressure sense. Sent from the iMore App
  • Adobe's ink and slide look cool. They have pressure sense over Bluetooth. But I'm waiting on a real illustrator's review before I'd consider buying. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have been doing digital illustration on the iPad for a few years now. I understand there is no magic device that does it all. For portability's sake, performance, battery life, connectivity, pricepoint and app environment I chose the iPad over other options. I've read all your comments so far, and all your concerns are valid. I felt the same way, until I began doing professional work (forcefully) on my iPad. I have options- I own a Cintiq, a Mac Pro, a MacBook Pro and a few Wacom tablets of different sizes including a wireless one. While I am very comfortable working with traditional blind tablets (over 15 years) I've become very attached to the overall experience of being able to do work on the go with a device known mainly for selfies and Angry Birds. That being said, I'd love to see an iPad Pro with a proper pressure sensitive stylus and native palm rejection like the Wacom-enabled Surface line. However, for the time being, there are some pretty clever workarounds for those of us who create in an iOS environment. I shared recently a bit of my workflow in a review video I did for the latest Jot Touch. You are invited to check it out and if it's of any use to you, awesome!
  • I have the 13 inch cintiq, i got it about 3 or 4 months ago, I'm not a pofessional or anything, I just enjoy drawing, until I got the cintiq I had been using my ipad for a lot of my digital art but it's very hard to be precise with an ipad and a chunky finger, then again it's also a huge pain the behind to get out and hook up my cintiq when I want to do a bit of drawing, I suppose having a roomier desk or apartment would cure this but for me thats the biggest problem, so since the novelty of the cintiq has worn off, I find myself drawing on the ipad a lot more simply because its so convienient. I'd LOVE it if there were a way to use a propper stylus on the ipad screen, none of these third party styli even come close. It's really up to apple to make their ipads with this in mind. Perhaps even a different version if the ipad that has a resistive touch screen for artists or people who want to write on it. Sent from the iMore App
  • Hey mybhopal! What's your take? Leave a comment . I would prefer ipad which is handy, crisp, thin, portable for outdoors yet able to work as an input device in the studio. size of ipad is no limitation if one is able to work on the zoom area of a canvas, only thing that I would care to possess is free
    flowing of work in hand.
  • iPad Pro :)