Review – Wacom Cintiq 16-inch Creative Pen Display

In this guest post, photographic retoucher and post-production artist Amber L. Kirlyak takes a serious look at the recently introduced Wacom Cintiq 16-inch Creative Pen Display. Billed by Wacom as “The Most Universal Tablet for your Budget,” it provides a suprisingly affordable entry into the line of Wacom Cintiq 16-inch Creative Pen Displays.

When it came to asking a guest reviewer to write an unflinching review of the new product, our publisher and former UArts professor, Harris Fogel writes that, “Amber was one of my star students at the University of the Arts. She is talented and capable, yet incapable of diplomacy if software or hardware didn’t meet her specifications or perform as advertised. Amber was never one to pull any punches. As a professional retoucher and post-production artist, who better than to take on this entry-level pen display, than a Photoshop badass like Amber?”

Wacom Cintiq 16-inch Creative Pen Display

“The Most Universal Tablet for your Budget

Amber writes: “As a professional photographic retoucher (post-production artist & assistant), I rely on essential hardware and software to help create seamless processed photographs in an efficient duration of time. My most-often used assets for completing a task are: having a reliable computer to handle the loads of RAM and processes of data my software consumes, a solid monitor with reliable color calibration abilities and a third-party mouse and keyboard. I previously owned a hand-me-down Wacom Intuos 2 Gray tablet and the Intuos 4 PTK-640 tablet and would use these solely on Photoshop-related projects. However, since replacing the Intuos4 PTK-640 tablet with the Wacom’s Cintiq 16, my workflow has opened new doors to creativity, efficiency and precision in my line of work. The studio I work for, Philip Gabriel Photography, specializes in weddings, portraits, food photography, and general commercial clients. Suffice it to say, I’ve retouched just about anything you can photograph!

Arrival & Unboxing

On arrival, my first impression of the box is that it’s reminiscent of purchasing a modern Apple i series product or iPhone. Similar to Apple’s packaging design in simplicity and sturdiness, the box was fairly easy to open with layers of packaging protecting the unit. The 16” display was wrapped in a cloth cover, similar to the cover Apple uses for their iMac series. This small cover is also a useful item to protect the unit from dust and scratches during transportation or storage. Underneath were the accessories to the Cintiq: AC adapter, power cable, 3-in-1 USB, HDMI, and power cable connection, Wacom Pro Pen 2, quick start instruction booklet for assembly and detachable pen holder with three replacement nibs.

The box itself had a sense of luxury as if the contents inside were of a high value for a designer but at a reasonable rate. Currently priced at $649.95 on the Wacom website, compared to the Cintiq Pro Model 16-inch equivalent at $1499.95, this tablet is ideal for designers, digital artists and retouchers of all levels of expertise, who are looking into a high quality entry-level tablet without sacrificing a large investment.


Following the assembly instructions was fairly simple. My original Intuos tablets only required a single USB connection. The inclusion of a cable for output to tablet screen, a cable for pen input functions and a power cable to support input and output, was an efficient decision to limit the amount of loose cables connected to two devices.

Connecting the Cintiq to my mid-2010 MacPro with High Sierra OS required me to purchase an additional accessory. My current graphics card does not support HDMI for screen output, however it does support Mini Display Port. The simple fix of purchasing an HDMI to Mini Display Port adapter did the trick and allowed the unit to spring to life. 

The major adjustment I had to make to my workflow was removing my secondary monitor and replacing it with the Cintiq, as my graphics card can only support two monitors at a time. 

This required a reconfiguration of how my workspace is arranged, and adjusting to looking up and down between two monitors versus left to right. Underneath the Cintiq are two built-in legs that extend outward left and right, allowing the ability to adjust the viewing angle to 20 degrees. This is useful for those who do not want to lean on their desks for long periods. Wacom does offer an optional adjustable stand for an additional cost that provides more versatile viewing angles between 19 and 68 degrees.


The Wacom Cintiq is a display that allows you to draw on a digital interactive surface, similar to pen and paper. The diagonal measure of the monitor is 15.6” with a resolution of 1920x1080 (FullHD) with an aspect ratio of 16:9. Compared to the Wacom Cintiq 16” Pro, 3840x2160 (UHD) at 16:9 aspect ratio, this entry model is one-quarter the size resolution of the pro model.

Compared to the Intuos 4 PTK-640, the edges of the tablet do not contain any customizable buttons. Instead, Wacom has incorporated on-screen controls that allow you to customize your own digital toolbox and shortcuts to fit your personal workflow. For users that are married to the interface of physical buttons, Wacom offers an Express Key Remote with 17 customizable buttons.

The physical surface of this Cintiq has a matte finish with a starting luminosity of 210 cd/m2. The color gamut of this entry model is 95% of sRGB. Using the Cintiq as a monitor for color critical processing images is not as large compared to the wider color gamut of the Cintiq Pro model or a professional wide gamut monitor like the NEC models that many professionals use. Wacom does have a Color Manager calibrator that allows for custom calibration of the tablet, however it is only compatible with the HD and the pro models. The useful amount of color gamut is in itself a hot topic, since so few reproduction mediums can event approach sRGB, so for many professionals, too much gamut isn't always desirable. 

Using NEC SpectraVision II software, I calibrated and profiled my NEC PA272W (Wide Gamut) monitor to 6500k @ 2.2 gamma, and 140 cd/m2 luminance. The calibrated and profiled Cintiq just about matched my NEC’s sRGB color space, and my own measurements matched the published 96% of sRGB. Wacom’s Color Manager Calibrator is essentially an OEM of the X-rite i1Display calibrator. X-rite informed me that when using their i1Profiler software, they are not responsible if the calibration is not perfectly accurate, as Wacom’s color management software is specific to their hardware. However, with a bit of patience and research, I was able to obtain accurate color and contrast, that allowed me to comfortably retouch images without having to second guess myself.

The Wacom Pro Pen 2

The most important accessory to this unit is the new Wacom Pro Pen 2. Not much has changed since the previous models. The battery-free pen offers two interactive ends, pen tip and eraser tip, and two thumb or pointer buttons that are customizable for the most-used shortcuts. The Pro Pen 2 offers a smaller nib (pen tip) compared to my KP501E2 Grip Pen. These nibs showed some significant wear after four to six weeks of use. I was originally disappointed that Wacom did not provide additional nibs, knowing that they can wear down from frequent use. One day at work, after thinking I accidentally broke off the pen holder on the side of the tablet, I found three complementary pen nib replacements. These nibs are much thinner and less durable in comparison to my Grip Pen, for which I only had to replace the nib once in favor of a spring cushion one.

Using the pen to interact with the display is as easy as using a pencil on a piece of paper. The tablet is responsive to 8192 levels of pen pressure and with the Wacom Desktop Center software, a user can calibrate pen/eraser pressure, sensitivity and their cursor alignment to individual personal preferences.

Drawing on a Photoshop canvas feels natural, reacting to every tilt and turn of a pen stroke. In the beginning, there was a learning period where I as a newer user was afraid of pushing too hard on the tablet’s matte surface screen. I have had to further adjust and experiment with customizing the pressure sensitivity to work around the learning curve.

Learning how to hold the Wacom Pro Pen 2 is also a learning curve to new users, and experienced users who are used to the bulkier buttons like the Grip Pen. It is relatively easy to accidentally push the pen buttons, and activate your custom actions. It does require some practice to adjust to holding the pen. For users that prefer to not have these buttons, they can be disabled in the Pen Settings. Back in the Intuos days, I would hear about users pulling off the pen buttons as a quick option to disable the feature. I do not recommend this as it could damage the pen or loosen the plastic buttons.

Left-handed users have an advantage over right-handed users regarding the interaction with the tablet. Being a left-handed writer/drawer and owning a computer mouse with customizable buttons, I am not limited to only two pointer/thumb buttons on the pen. It is a slight advantage over having one hand drawing with a pen and one handing a keyboard.

A big feature for Wacom users upgrading to the Cintiq is the compatibility with all Wacom pens that are offered. It is always recommended for legacy pens to check the compatibility first before using.


The Wacom Cintiq 16 is compatible with Microsoft Windows 7 or later and Mac OSX 10.12 or later. Internet access is required to download driver software to use the tablet. Driver software includes Wacom Desktop Center offering pen, display and on-screen control setting customizations. Access to tutorials, user manual and product information can be located here as well. It is recommended to periodically check the desktop software for driver updates to ensure the latest software is installed.

For a Professional Retoucher like me

I personally prefer using a Wacom unit over any mouse for retouching because of the need for precision. Drawing feels natural as it is one of the basic skills we all learn in our early development years. The ability to manipulate pixels on a screen with the stroke of a pen is the equivalent of a paintbrush on a canvas. Whether it is basic burning and dodging, cloning and healing, or creating layers of masks and adjustments, the Cintiq allows a more controlled interaction with the digital canvas. 

The 2k 1080p resolution of the Cintiq 16 is relatively low compared to 4k monitors, but it provides for a significant cost saving, and we didn’t actually find that big a difference in our work. With the “Fit to Screen” resizing option or 100% “actual pixel” resizing, there is little compromise making pen stroke adjustments. Because it’s light and compact, it’s also easy to travel with, something the larger pen displays aren’t easy to do. The Cintiq 16-inch Creative Pen Display weighs in at 4.18 lbs, so under 5 lbs, compared to the next step up, the Cintiq 22HD Creative Pen Display, which weighs in at 18.8 lbs with its stand. Quite a difference! So, it’s easy to take your laptop and the Cintiq 16-inch Creative Pen Display on the road, vacation, shoots, or to clients.

Being able to calibrate the screen with X-rite’s i1Display Pro was a huge benefit, as color calibration is an extremely important factor in color processing and color precision.

It is not just a reasonably priced tablet for a professional, it is the perfect entry-level pen display with customization capabilities friendly for most users who are looking to change their workflow, learn another skill, or are interested in investing in a Wacom Pro level product without feeling pressured to invest in a higher-end model. The Wacom Cintiq 16-inch Creative Pen Display comes highly recommended.

Amber L. Kirylak, with editorial assistance by Nancy Burlan and Harris Fogel, Posted 7/16/2019

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