Review by Tjeerd Royaards
If you are an artist and you use a computer to help you create your work, you’ve probably heard of Wacom. Wacom is basically the industry standard when it comes to digital drawing tablets used by professional artists. The Cintiq line of Wacom offers a range of tablets that allow you to draw directly on the screen, creating your art completely on the computer.
Artists agree that Wacom makes great products. But they are also quite expensive. For a long time, Wacom has maintained a virtual monopoly on drawing tablets, but in recent years competitors have emerged, mainly from China. Last month, the European branch of Taiwanese company Yiynova contacted us to inform us of their products, with which they hope to compete with the Wacom Cintiq. I offered to test one of their units. For the purpose of full disclosure I should mention that I received the test unit at no cost. Research shows that products received for free do tend to be reviewed more positively, although I will of course try my best to be as objective as possible.
The most important thing to note about Yiynova tablets (aside from the rather complex type names such as MVP20U+RH) is that they are considerably cheaper than their Wacom counterparts.
[Update December 2: According to Yiynova Europe, the price difference between Europe and the US is due to VAT (21% in the Netherlands and comparable rates in other European countries), higher shipping costs and a warranty of 2 years instead of 1 year that US costumers get.]
For that money you get a screen size of 19.53 inch diagonal (49.6 cm). Closest comparison from Wacom is the 22HD Cintiq, with a slightly bigger screen size of 21,5 inch (54.6 cm), available in Europe (the Netherlands) for €1599 and the US for $1649. However, for this test the main comparison will be the Cintiq 13HD (screen size 13.3 inch/33.8 cm, price €699), for the simple reason that that’s the one I own and use.
The Yiynova tablet and the Cintiq I’m comparing it to are not stand-alone equipment. They function as an additional screen (you can draw on) and need to be hooked up to a laptop or PC to function. They are both compatible with Mac and Windows. Stand-alone tablets do exist. Wacom offers the Companion and MobileStudio. I’ve also heard good things about the iPad Pro in combination with graphic software. However, I have no personal experience with either.
What you get
The first thing I noticed when unpacking the Yiynova is the screen size. On the photo below you can see how it compares to the 13HD. It’s absolutely huge.
The biggest difference between Yiynova and Wacom Cintiq is the screen surface. The screen surface the Yiynova is glass (like and iPad), while the surface of a Cintiq has a finish that approaches the feel of paper. I’ll get to that difference in more detail later on in this review. The aesthetics of the screen are great; in my opinion it actually looks better than tablets in the Cintiq line. Only potential letdown is that the screen glass is held in place in the plastic housing with small clips (two at the top, four at the bottom). The screen would look even better without these. That said, they are barely noticeable.
To hook the screen up, you need wires. The wiring loom is comparable to Wacom, which is to say: there is a lot of wire. It needs it’s own power supply and hooks up to your computer with a USB and display connection. The display/USB connection cannot be removed from the tablet, and I’ve read in other reviews that some people found the cord to be too short to connect to their PC. I had more than enough cord to hook it up to the laptop.
The stand of the screen is light and small, but feels sturdy. It’s very easy to tilt the screen in various positions. My preferred position is to have it as flat as it can go. The disadvantage of such a relatively small stand is that, if you draw in the extreme upper left or right corner of the screen (which I sometimes do), the screen will tip a little bit. A minor design flaw can be found with the on/off switch and screen setting buttons. These buttons are located on the backside of the tablet and are positioned at the bottom. Because the angle at which I use the tablet is almost flat, I can’t reach them easily to adjust the color, contrast or brightness in that position. It would have been better to locate these at the top of the screen so they could be reached regardless of the angle of the screen.
The Wacom Cintiq features a number of buttons next to the screen; you can preset these to correspond with the functions you use often in for instance Photoshop, like zooming in/out, undo or switching between brushes. The Yiynova does not have these buttons on the screen. Instead you get a remote with a number of buttons. This remote can be fixated anywhere on the screen with the help of six suction cups. I have never cared particularly for the buttons on the Wacom and prefer to use keyboard commands. I did try to use the remote with the Yiynova, but again found that I preferred the keyboard. I do like the idea behind the remote, but it does look and feel a bit cheap. Also, it tended to fall off fairly regularly.
You get a good amount of accessories with the Yiynova. Various cable extensions are included so you will be able to hook it up to a scart or Mac display port. Wacom does not provide any extension cords for hooking up to a Mac, you need to order these separately. Another accessory that’s not provided by Wacom but that is included with the Yiynova is a pair of artist gloves. These gloves ensure your hand glides smoothly over the screen and doesn’t stick. It’s also a convenient way to keep your screen clean while drawing. I didn’t use one with the 13HD (too cheap or lazy to buy them, I guess), but I must admit they are really helpful.
The biggest letdown of the Yiynova is probably the pen. Both the pen itself and the nib feel cheap in comparison to the Cintiq pen and it doesn’t come with a nice case like the one Wacom provides. Also, because of the technology Yiynova uses, the pen requires an AAA battery (which was not included). The Wacom pen functions without any battery. I have yet to see how long the battery will last (more than a month at least).
With Wacom you get a weighted pen stand. Yiynova provides you with a pen holder that clicks onto the back of the tablet. I’ve read other reviews that complained about the Yiynova pen clip; it’s too flimsy and liable to break. However, I really like it. I’ve never used the Wacom pen stand, as I’ve always felt it was just another item cluttering up my desk. In contrast, the pen clip allows you to store your pen conveniently attached to your tablet. It's a cheap solution, but it works for me.
I found setting up the screen and installing the appropriate driver easy. It can function both as an extended display (and additional screen) and as a mirrored display. I’ve been using it mostly as a mirrored display. Because of it’s screen size, I’ve even used it as my main monitor in it’s upright position.
I tended to use the Wacom 13HD as an extended display only and often got annoyed that pop-up screens in Photoshop (layer properties, image size etc.) popped up on my laptop screen instead of my tablet screen (I also use Photoshop without the tablet hooked up, and that caused Photoshop to revert to using the laptop screen as primary). So my workflow has been improved with the Yiynova. That might have more to do with my choice on the set-up than anything the Yiynova has to offer, although the fact that I can tilt the screen up and use it as a regular screen did influence the decision to go with mirrored displays.
I’ve had no driver glitches whatsoever during a month of use. In comparison, my experience with the Wacom is a bit worse. I did have some trouble setting that up (back in 2014) on an older Mac and had to run a driver from the Wacom Asia website because the one on offer from the European website would not work. The driver would also cut out sometimes (not very frequently, maybe once every two months) causing the pen to stop working. This was simply fixed by turning the tablet off and on, but still inconvenient.
I have used the Yiynova in combination with Photoshop CS5. I’m using this older version of Photoshop because this is the last version you could actually purchase, instead of being stuck with a monthly subscription as they offer now. The Yiynova is hooked up to an older MacBook Pro (from 2011) running OSX Yosemite (10.10.5).
In one month, I made 10 cartoons with the Yiynova, including one for CNN the day after the US election. Others have of course appeared on Cartoon Movement, and have been published by Courrier International, Politico Europe and Dutch news/opinion website Joop.
The screen resolution of the Yiynova is fine, but not great. It's definitely not retina quality and if you look closely, you can see the screen pixels. The resolution quality disappointed me when I first activated the tablet, but to my surprise it has not bothered me very much in using the tablet.
The screen colors are good, although the factory settings require some tweaking. Using the tablet as a mirror display allows me to easily compare the colors between two screens. The colors stay reasonably the same as you look at the tablet from different angles. Strangely, there seems to be more color variation when you look from side to side than there is from top to bottom.
My style does not rely heavily on pressure sensitivity. The brushes that I use to draw in Photoshop simulate fineliner pens and are set to give a consistent line width regardless of pressure. However, I do need pressure sensitivity for the sketching the roughs. For this I use brushes that simulate an HB and a 2B pencil. I also sometimes use pressure sensitive brushes to do soft shading. The technical specs of the Yiynova are great, and using it I could find no discernible difference between Yiynova or Wacom in terms of pressure sensitivity. Both deliver a good drawing experience.
I also could not find any difference in lag (the delay between the moment your nib touches the screen and the moment the pixels appear) between the two tablets. There is some lag both with the Yiyniova and with the Wacom, especially if you work on larger files, but once you get used to it, it’s barely noticeable. I could not say how much of the lag is caused by my outdated computer and CS5 and how much by the tablet software or hardware.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, perhaps the biggest difference between the tablets is the surface feel. It was also my biggest worry as I started using the Yiynova, Would it be too slippery, and would my pen just slide across making wobbly lines? I had this problem with the Wacom when I first started drawing completely digital in 2014. Wacom sells nibs that provide more friction to provide a more paper-like feeling. I considered buying these, but before I made my final decision I got used to the surface of the Wacom. Granted, the glass surface of the Yiynova is even more slippery, but it took me no time at all to get used to it. I do tend to rotate my canvas a lot as lines come out best if you draw them straight down. The glass surface also forces me at times to draw a line more quickly to prevent it from wobbling. But, for me, these are not really drawbacks, just specific things you need to get used to, as there always are when you use a new tool or material.
I was also worried of potential reflection working in a studio with fluorescent lights overhead, but this did not prove an issue. Probable because I like to draw with my eyes quite close to the screen, my head blocks out any annoying reflection.
An issue that is often talked about in reviews of drawing tablets is the parallax effect. This is the distance between the tip of the pen and the cursor doing the drawing. And to be honest, there is more distance with the Yiynova than there is with the Cintiq 13HD. You especially notice it if you hold your pen at an angle. At some angles, the line you draw appears in quite a different place than your pen is. This will be an issue for some and understandably so. I tend to use the pen as upright as possible (and rote the canvas more often to do so) and I’ve trained my eye to look at the cursor more than the pen.
I cannot yet determine how durable the Yiynova will be. I am not known for using products with extreme care. Tools are there to be used, in my opinion. As a result, my 13HD is fairly battered, with numerous scratches on the screen. In all fairness, this is probably mainly caused by me not changing out my nibs often enough. As they wear, the nibs get sharp edges and gouge the screen causing scratches. Glass should provide a more durable protection against scratches, but I did already notice two after one month of use. So we’ll see.
Making cartoons is not a good way to get rich and many of us have a tight budget for professional equipment. In that context, it’s great to see more choice in the field of drawing tablets. To be honest, when I was first looking at the website and ads of Yiynova, I was very doubtful if their products could even come close to Wacom (let’s just say Yiynova's website and promotional materials could benefit from a redesign). But contrary to expectations, I really like the Yiynova tablet. It offers a lot of value for its money. And although Wacom Cintiq products are undoubtedly superior, mostly in terms of parallax effect and screen feel, they are not as much superior as the considerable price difference would suggest. Given my budget, I would definitely be in the market for a Yiynova tablet. The luxury of have a bigger surface to draw on is absolutely worth the disadvantages, at least for the way I work.
Would I recommend the Yiynova to others? Yes, but… As I said, it is great value for money. But whether you like it or not will depend on the way you use it. The slippery surface and parallax effect do not bother me that much because I get used to them. I do think that my experience of drawing digitally for over two years helps considerably. I wonder how someone making the transition from paper to tablet for the first time would like the Yiynova. The Wacom offers an experience that is more akin to drawing on paper. So this is a choice every artist will have to make on their own. This review only attempts to list the pros and cons. It is also an inherently anecdotal review, as it’s based on the way I work with all my idiosyncrasies. That said, I do hope people considering to buy a tablet for drawing will find this helpful. If you have any thoughts or questions, please let me know in the comment section, or contact me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@Royaards).