We take a look at another Wacom Cintiq rival, the new and improved Artist 15.6 from XP-Pen...
XP-Pen has overhauled several of their pen display tablets in recent weeks. The Artist 15.6 now boasts 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity, an increased report rate of 266RPS for smoother, faster lines, 4K display support, and a matte anti-reflective screen protector.
Build quality is sound, and the tablet is ergonomic and sleek with rounded edges and a slim 11mm profile. At just £369 it may be targeted at artists on a budget, but appearances suggest otherwise. The 15.6” IPS screen offers an adequate working area. Colors are reproduced fairly accurately with a gamut of 75% Adobe RGB; not overly saturated. There is a matte anti-glare protector over the screen, with a slight paper-like texture and resistance, offering a more natural and glare-free experience. It enables your hand to move with ease across the surface too, especially in conjunction with the supplied drawing glove.
The Artist 15.6 is an ergonomic and practical addition to my workspace
There are six configurable Express keys down the side of the unit for keyboard shortcuts, and a 100-step brightness control button on the side of the tablet in between the USB-C port and power button, which assists with comfort and visibility when working in different lighting conditions.
The new 3-in-1 cable is a marked improvement over its predecessor, connecting to the tablet with just one cable via USB-C, allowing for a clutter-free workspace. This side of the cable would benefit from being somewhat longer, to cater for greater distances between working area and computer. The other ends of the cable connect to the HDMI output of your computer (or Thunderbolt/Mini Display Port via included adapter), and to a standard USB port. The tablet was powered sufficiently from my computer alone via USB 3.0. The supplied mains adapter connects onto the 3-in-1 cable, for those who need to power their tablet via mains supply, in the event of insufficient power allocated to USB ports within your computer.
Side profile showing power button, brightness control button and USB-C connection
There are two rubberized non-slip strips to the rear which keep the display firmly on the desk. I would have liked a stand to be included, though any built-in stand would add significant bulk to an otherwise sleek product. The AC18 stand is compatible and available from the XP-Pen shop. I am using a simple IKEA BRADA laptop support stand for now, and the unit sits sturdily on it, hanging off the edges by a centimeter each side, which is perfect for button/port accessibility.
The P03S Stylus and pen rest
The P03S stylus, which we have seen before on the Artist 10S 10.1” tablet, is lightweight and comfortable to use. The toggle button does feel a little flimsy so I have set both sides of the barrel button to ‘pen/erase'. The tablet's hardware has been upgraded from 2048 to 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity, matching that of the Wacom Cintiq, ensuring much greater accuracy than before. This is visually evident and pressure feels more natural, fluid, and manageable. There is much less of a significant step from light to heavy weight lines.
Pen pressure sensitivity displayed in Photoshop via Brush Dynamics such as Size, Opacity, Direction, and various parameters of Color Jitter
It's not strictly necessary to configure the tablet; it works straight out of the box, although performing the 5-point calibration via the installed driver is of course recommended. There is no noticeable lag from the tablet in Photoshop. The stylus also works particularly well together with the ‘Stabilize' function in Krita for first-time smoother lines.
An example of pen pressure sensitivity in Krita
The tablet is fun and intuitive to use, and pencil work feels convincing, especially with the texturized screen protector. I find it a lot easier to control lighter pen work with pressure alone thanks to the increased sensitivity range, without needing to tweak values in my Brushes menu.
Shape and color dynamics controlled by pressure sensitivity in Photoshop
I found no issues with driver stability, using the updated drivers from the XP-Pen website. I very rarely have to restart the tablet due to loss of pen connection. Within the Windows driver it is possible to alter the pen sensitivity response curve, to fine-tune the pressure range accessible by the pen. This is useful to prevent you needing to press super-hard on the screen for significantly heavier lines; an issue I didn't have on Mac.
Using Pen Pressure sensitivity to control different Brush parameters in Photoshop
The pen rest/nib holder is visually sleeker than its predecessor. The pen rests in the groove with ease and it sits sturdily on my monitor stand underneath the screen.
The pen rest swivels open to present 8 spare nibs. The underside features a built-in nib remover.
The screen can be rotated either 90- or 180-degrees via the driver software to assist with layout; useful for left-handed artists. However, it should be noted that the configuration of the assignable Express Keys will not be flipped accordingly to suit, so the order of your shortcuts will effectively be reversed, if temporarily using the display in 180-degree rotation. The display does not get particularly hot; just slightly warmer in the lower right hand side of the device after extensive use.
The dramatic increase in pressure sensitivity levels, along with full HD and 4K support, makes the Artist 15.6 a worthwhile upgrade from the Artist 10S, if you are looking for a larger display tablet for your desktop setup. While they would make handy companions for work and travel respectively, they operate from different drivers so switching between them on a single computer is not seamless, particularly as you must first uninstall one graphics tablet driver to prevent conflict with the other.
Could be better
It is difficult to navigate the computer's OS via a ‘pop-up dock/taskbar' on the edge of the screen, which I find easier to launch via mouse. While a tad inconvenient at times, it is preferable to the flip-side: accidental launching of the dock and/or applications when attempting to draw near the edge of the screen.
The matte anti-glare screen protector creates a slight blur that obstructs eye contact with the image off-axis that worsens as viewing angle is increased. It's not particularly distracting, nor an issue with straight-on viewing, though that is not always comfortable nor practical, especially as there is no stand included. Increasing the screen brightness can reduce the obscurity, but does not solve the issue completely. I suppose this is a small gripe as the screen protector is otherwise a welcome addition with regards to glare and texture. I find it does wear the nibs down a lot quicker than without, though it is removable, and can be replaced with any third-party display tablet screen protector, should you find it obtrusive.
I personally could make use of more Express Keys or, hardware-permitting, a ‘layer toggle' button, virtual or otherwise, as I still find myself frequently reaching for the keyboard to carry out additional Shortcuts. It is important to keep the relatively low price of the tablet in mind when considering improvements, and the value for money it already offers. Users would also benefit from the ability to store and recall presets for different applications, a feature which could be implemented in a future driver update.
Support and parts availability
The support team is on hand to assist you via the usual mediums as well as live chat, Facebook, Teamviewer, and Skype. They have a strong presence online, and proactive after-sales support is a good sign. Spare parts are reasonably priced in relation to competitors, and readily available via Amazon and the XP-Pen website shop.
The Artist 15.6 is a great upgrade from the entry-level Artist 10S for those who would trade the portability of the latter with the larger working area and Full HD display and 4K support of this pen display tablet. For just £369 this is a solid, value-for-money display tablet, and more comparable to the much more expensive Wacom Cintiq and its other rivals, in terms of spec. Artists coming from a simple graphics tablet would find it to be a definite hands-on upgrade.
Artist 15.6 Product Page
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