XP-Pen Innovator Display 16 drawing digitizer display review – Part 2

REVIEW – This is the second part of my review of the Innovator Display 16, a new display tablet from XP-Pen.  The first part of the review was technical and focused upon the tablet itself.  This part is more artistic and focuses on the reactions of three young artists who used the Innovator for the first time.  They are all students at Liberty University, and the images below were the results of the time they spent testing the Innovator.

Emilee

Emilee Garriss is a junior, majoring in Business Administration with a double minor in American Sign Language (ASL) and Creative Writing; she’s also my daughter.  For her, drawing and sketching is an occasional hobby, something that she does for fun; it’s not a profession.  She is planning to train seeing eye dogs to help people who are visually impaired.  Her preferred artistic medium is graphic on paper, and she likes to sketch characters and fantasy creatures.  Prior to testing the Innovator, the only experience that she had with digital tablets was her own iPad Pro.  It’s an older model, but she’s used an Apple Pencil and drawn with ProCreate.

Emilee helped me with the rather painful setup process of the Innovator, which we did on her MacBookPro, and then downloaded and installed Krita.  Despite having never used a display tablet or Krita, within 30 minutes of playing around she was able to sketch out this cute little dog.

Quick Sketch of a Little Dog

Emilee’s overall impression of the Innovator was that it’s fancy, very fancy.  It has a lot of functionality, probably more than she really needs as a hobbyist.  She found it wonderful to look at the screen and draw, much better than a digitizer tablet.  Not surprisingly, there were things that she liked and things that she didn’t.  She found the one-inch bezel around the display to be annoying; it made the Innovator to be unnecessarily large.  She loves the buttons, using undo, redo, and save the most, but she never really used all the buttons.  Perhaps she would learn to with more time and experience.  She also loves the buttons on the pen; she mapped one of them to right-click, and used it all the time.  She found the learning curve on the Innovator to be unnecessarily large, mostly because WP-Pen does not provide any training or tutorials.  In general, Emilee still prefers using the physical medium for black and white sketches, though she much prefers doing color on the Innovator for a couple reasons.  One, it’s so much easier to mix paints and combine color shades in the digital world.  Two, the ability to have an infinite number of “undos” allows her to draw a line or shade a color just right.

Cartoon of a Penguin

For Emilee, the best part of the Innovator was its form factor, which is sleek, slender, and way cool.  She found it easy to hold and work on.  The stand worked fine for her, though she prefers to draw with the tablet in her lap.  The worst part of the Innovator is that it’s not very portable.  WP-Pen’s cute marketing video makes it seem like it’s super easy to move around, but it’s really not.  Although it fits in her Tropos backpack, it’s too tall for her to zipper it all the way closed, which is a problem in a city like Lynchburg, where it always seems to be raining.  The box in which it came is way too clunky to use for transport.  Additionally, it’s pain to carry around the spaghetti mess of wires and setup everything each time she wants to use it.  She thinks that the Innovator would be better if she had a single place where she could set it up and leave it.

When I asked Emilee if using the Innovator made her want to own one, she surprisingly said probably not.  She would prefer to save up her money and purchase a newer iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, even though they would cost two to three times more.  As a hobbyist, it’s simply a lot more convenient to carry around and use an iPad than the Innovator.  Additionally, the iPad is not a one-trick pony; that is, in addition to sketching she can use it for taking notes in class, playing games, and connecting through social media.

Drawing of a Baby Dragon

Emilee’s final thoughts on the Innovator was that she really does like it and plans to keep on using it.  She would probably would use it a lot more, however, if she had a dedicated office or art studio.

Grace

Grace Gorry is a sophomore, majoring in Studio Art, a degree that provides training in a variety of artistic disciplines.  She’s not sure yet what she’ll be doing with her degree, but she’ll certainly have a lot of options to use her talents.  She’s loved drawing and painting her entire life, and art is very important to her.  Because of her love of art and as part of her degree, she draws or paints almost every day.  Before testing the Innovator, Grace had some exposure graphics tablets; she owns a small Wacom digitizer tablet, though she hasn’t used it much.  She also has experience with professional software like Photoshop and Illustrator.  Grace’s skill in painting is reflected in her picture.

A Beautiful Sunset

Grace’s overall impression of the Innovator was favorable.  She recognized that it had so many useful features that it could seem overwhelming to someone who hasn’t used a display tablet before, but she was confident that anyone could learn to use it with enough practice.

Grace was able to spend around three hours working with the Innovator.  At first, she thought it pretty complicated, but once she settled down to draw and began using the various functions, she felt like she understood much better how to use it.

For Grace, the best part of the Innovator is its ability map the buttons and wheels to the different tools; this provides a lot more functionality than what she was expecting in a graphics tablet and impressed her.  In art, variations in texture, opacity, and shading are extremely important in order to create detail in a piece, and it seems to her that the Innovator made it easy to access all of the tools she needs to do that.  The worst part was all the extra cords, which made it inconvenient to setup.  Additionally, she found that some of the controls on the tablet were finicky and sensitive; in particular, the physical scroll wheel tended to jump around, which made it difficult to make small adjustments.

When I asked Grace if using the Innovator made her want to own one, she gave a nuanced response.  If the tablet were more accessible and streamlined, then yes; otherwise, she would rather stick with something simpler.  A tablet that is easier to set up and use is more appealing than one that has more features but is a hassle to set up.

Ryan

Ryan Thompson Harmon is a junior, majoring in Studio Art with a double minor in Graphic Design and Creative Writing.  Ryan is working towards being a professional artist in the area of concept art—more on this in a moment.  Like Grace, Ryan likes to draws both personally and as part of his degree work.  His favorite mediums are drawing with a pen and painting, and he enjoys drawing portraits of people and animals (aka life drawings) as well as landscapes.  Prior to testing the Innovator, Ryan had very little experience with digital tablets.

Ryan’s overall impression of the Innovator was that it was workable but had some speedbumps.  He felt like he needed more time and help to learn how to configure everything, but once beyond that, he found it easy to use.  It definitely gets the job done and is a good tool for working on concept art.  Ryan loved the fact that he was looking at what he was drawing.  Ryan drew the two still life images, one of the most foundation types of art, while learning to use the Innovator.

Still Life of a Pepper

Although he liked that the Innovator was big, he felt that it was too big, at least for a college student.  Much like Emilee, he felt he would appreciate its size more if he had a room at home where he could set it up and use it.  He also thought it strange that there were so many cables.  Ryan never used the buttons on the tablet, preferring to use the pen to access the tools via the software’s built-in interface.  He thought that the glove was a nice touch, as it eliminated smudging on the display.  Ryan appreciated the Innovator’s pressure sensitivity and thought it was good, though he wanted a quick way to turn it off when using a few of the tools, like the eraser.  It’s possible that this could be done via one of the buttons on the tablet, but he was not able to verify this.

Still Life of a Pear

For Ryan, the best part of the Innovator was the pen.  It felt very natural to him, and he especially loved that it doesn’t need a battery.  The worst part was that the stand is not adjustable.  It’s totally at the wrong angle for painting (think easel).  He really wanted to adjust it to the angle in the picture below, but since he couldn’t, he either propped it up or just laid it flat on a table.

When I asked Ryan if using the Innovator made him want to own one, he replied that if money wasn’t an issue for a college student—and it is—then yes, he would like to own one.  Ryan thought that the Innovator was a better choice for a professional artist than a tablet like the iPad, simply because a computer-based tablet supports a much broader range of quality drawing software.

Concept Art of a Royal Hummingbird

Ryan was gracious enough to use the Innovator to create a piece of concept art.  For those who are not familiar, concept art is aptly named: it is coming up with a concept and conveying it via art.  This is part of the creative process for movies, TV shows, books and comic books, and so on, especially those that are fictional or fantasy in nature.  Ryan came up with a concept of what he called a Royal Hummingbird.  He began with a quick sketch of his initial idea, which you can see at the bottom, the red and blue bird.  He wanted it to have four wings instead of two, a crown of feathers, and a poisonous beak.  He then found a picture of a real hummingbird, which he pasted into the image and then quickly sketched out (the small blue drawing).  He then elaborated upon that in the larger purple drawing, adding in the extra wings and the flared tail feathers.  To explore the idea of the crown of feathers, he created multiple sketches of the head; some of his sketches drew inspiration from parrots, while the final one looks like a literal crown.  Overall, you can see that he’s using art in order to visualize his idea.  The Innovator was a great gadget for creating this piece, and it took Ryan about two hours to create this.

Summary

In summary, I think that these young artists validated many of the things that I brought out in my technical review.  The Innovator is an excellent tool for sketching, painting, and creating art, as can be seen in their work.  XP-Pen does, however, have room for improvement when it comes to the size of the Innovator’s bezel, its many cables, it’s inflexible stand, and the lack of training material.

Note:  All the images above were created using Krita.

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