…I am Ed.
My name is Ed Adams, and I’m a designer, an illustrator, an artist, and if you want to play the title game - I’m an Art Director. I work in the NJ / NYC metro area and create things that people look at everyday; on the street and on the internet, I’ve worked on projects with the big budgets of fortune 500s to less lucrative jobs for bands and record labels. I thrive on both print and interactive; I’m able to handle everything from concept to flash development and I can act as a liaison between creative and technology with my working knowledge of both backend and frontend code [hopefully saving everyone a few years on their life expectancy]. I’m painfully organized, obsessed with “a christmas story”, and I can’t stand it when my glass coffee table has smudges. Ultimately, it all comes down to one thing: I love to make pictures.

If you’d like to talk about what kind of picture you need made [static or interactive], or you just want to talk about my typography, drop me a line at ed[at]flickertoflame.com and we can sit down, drink some tea, and have a chat.

Plus, you can always track my every move @ twitter (if I’m not being lazy) or head on over to LinkedIn for more professional info. Plus, you can always view the main purpose of flickertoflame.com: my portfolio.

intuos4_pen_tabletI like toys. So sue me. And since I like toys so much, I finally got my hands on an intuos4, even though the upgrade was seemingly frivolous and unnecessary. Let’s just say I didn’t have to invest much to experience the upgrade (and no, there aren’t any scratched off serial numbers in this story). As I posted back in March, my intuos3 had become a complete and utter addiction since I made the initial purchase – it had become an extension of my G5 – as necessary to my workflow as my monitors and my keyboard.  Like with any technology addict, I wasn’t in need of this new piece of hardware, but the “latest and greatest” got the best of me and ultimately caused the upgrade fever.  So now that I’ve gotten my hands on this fancy, shiny, incredibly well engineered piece of fun, I’m ready to deliver the good news and I’m sure Wacom fans will not be disappointed.

With the new intuos4, Wacom promised upgrades to existing functionality as well as innovative new features yet to be seen. New levels of sensitivity in the existing pen technology, a TouchRing (seemingly similar to Apple’s ClickWheel), an ambidextrous design, all new sizes, and the pièce de résistance: the illuminated display. So now my seemingly perfect tool had a bunch of brand new bells and whistles that quickly became a necessity in my mind. I’m ridiculous, but at least I can admit it to myself.

Upon unpacking the sleek matte-finished black box dripping in tantalizing, shadowy images of the intuos4, I’m greeted with the thinnest tablet I’ve seen yet. It’s no thicker than a CD case and its tapered edge allows the working surface to melt right into your desk.  Dropping the monochromatic grayscale scheme of the intuos3, the intuos4 is cloaked in a combination of black matte and gloss finishes – really making this item look like the high-end device that it is. Immediately alongside the tablet, the new, shorter pen sits with the same combination of finishes as the tablet.  intuos4_penholderOne of the best physical changes that Wacom made with the intuos4 is the addition of a small pen holder that also acts as a storage container for the assortment of nibs. By simply twisting it into two halves, each nib is revealed in its own vertically positioned spot. This simple addition was something which seemed so obvious, but was always lacking in the intuos3 – causing me to keep them in an old film canister in my desk.  Needless to say, I rarely pulled them out and made any nib switches – something which I feel like I should be doing in order to embrace the tactile qualities that Wacom has taken the time to implement. Now I know where they are, they remain right on my desk, and I’m much more likely to use them when the mood strikes or the project requires it.

The intuos4 installs easily through a single USB connection, and with the newly added ambidextrous design, both lefties and righties can live happily in the land of wacom. Sound magical, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.  The design is simple, elegant, and smart — with a simple flick of a switch on the underside of the tablet, the appropriate USB connection port is revealed, allowing the tablet to truly be positioned for any user without the cable interfering with the workspace — something that cannot be said for the intuos3. With a quick run of the install CD, all of the drivers are properly up to date and the tablet can easily be configured through the settings panel. Note: If you have an older tablet that you still may want to use, the new drivers are installed as a secondary tablet, so no need to worry about not being able to go back to your previous tablet.

As with the intuos3, the setup of the tablet is simple and intuitive through the OS X settings panel.  You can customize every button on the tablet and the pen with a logical user interface and minimal steps.  The pen has two button on a toggle switch that can be customized to do pretty much anything you want – I prefer to use them to launch exposé and now with OS X Leopard, Spaces.  This way, as I’m working on my dual monitor setup, I can easily reveal my excessive number of open applications and windows as I navigate between imaging and development. I don’t want to make this a review of the Spaces functionality, but I love the way using it with the pen switch makes it as intuitive as shifting papers around your desk.

1_expresskeys

All this customization brings me to one of my favorite functionalities of the intuos4: the illuminated display. Before I got my hands on the tablet, I wasn’t quite sure how customizable this was going to be, but let me say, you can make it do almost whatever you want.  With every customization in the settings panel, you can add your own copy and functionality/keystrokes/whatever to the tablet — and the results are immediate, so you’ll see the changes as they are taking place. Additionally, you can customize the brightness of the illumination – which is a must if you work in dimly lit rooms, like I prefer in my office. This is a huge step up from the intuos3 – when the keys were just there, and you always had to remember what you set them up to do. With unique settings on an app-by-app basis, these illuminated labels may initially seem over-the-top, but they quickly become a necessity. Update: I have quickly realized that setting keystrokes isn’t possible with everything. For example, I wanted to use a modifier key (ctrl) and add the space bar to it in order to launch Quicksilver, but it seemed to be a no-go. I’ll have to look into it more, but for now it seems as though I cannot add a unique modifier key + key combination.

In addition to the customization for the illuminated display, you can also add unique functionality to the four states of the center of the TouchRing.  2_touchringEach click highlights a corresponding light next to the TouchRing, allowing you change its functionality for zooming, scrolling, brush size, and possibly the most impressive – canvas rotation. I really wish I could review this functionality more thoroughly, but it’s apparently only available in CS4 – I’m behind the times and still using CS3, but this is the first time I’ve seen the need/desire to upgrade. We’ll see. In theory, using the TouchRing to be able to rotate the canvas could be a game changer – allowing an even more intuitive/tactile feel to the wacom tablet and allowing a natural manipulation of the artwork, as if working in a sketch pad or on a canvas. I’m giddy at the prospect of working like this – gone are the days of flying elbows or rotating the tablet when trying to trace that awkward angle.

OK, enough of drooling over functionality I don’t have. Let me get into one of my least favorite features so far: the Radial Menu Overlay.  After playing with this for a while in applications like Photoshop, Firefox, and even iTunes, I can’t really wrap my head around how it can improve my workflow/productivity.  I feel like it’s trying to optimize navigation for commonly used tasks, just like the ExpressKeys. To me, however, it just replaces clicks on the application’s interface or simple keystrokes with clicks on a small radial dialogue that appears at your cursor location once you click the appropriate ExpressKey. It almost seems to add a step to my process. The functions seem odd as well – a button for www, email, a submenu with standard copy/cut/paste/etc., and a submenu featuring navigation functions for media players and time-based applications. In comparison to a global launching application like Quicksilver (or even just your standard command+tab application chooser) this radial menu just falls short. I can’t see myself using this, but if you feel that I’m missing something, email me – I’d really like to be enlightened about this feature.

Finally, Wacom has introduced an even more intense Pen Tip Sensor than before, with 2048 levels of sensitivity – up from 1024, so things have the potential to be even more natural, but also very revealing to an unsteady hand.  Having only been using the tablet for about two weeks now, I haven’t really put this up to the most rigorous of tests, but I have played with it enough to get a feel for how the sensitivity has changed. Initially, I had planned on including images to document the differences in sensitivity, but I quickly realized that the variations in pen pressure are not quite as visible as I would have initially thought – it’s more of a ‘feel’ of sensitivity than an actual visual result. Wacom claims as little as 1 gram of pressure is registered on the pen, and I could easily believe it, considering I found that the lightest of lines were easily achieved from the weight of the pen alone. Of course, as always, the sensitivity and pressure required to make a line is easily adjusted, so if you have the touch of a brain surgeon or the manual grace of Andre the Giant, you’re good to go. The last thing I noticed about the new active area is the texture between the pen and the surface – it now has a much grittier quality, more like paper, whereas the intuos3 was silky smooth. I’m not sure which I prefer here because each is a strength in its own right – you’ll have to be the judge of that.

comparisonIn addition to an increase sensitivity, Wacom has rethought the dimensions of the intuos family of tablets.  The intuos4 is available in a small, medium, large, and XL — with active areas ranging from ~6″x4″ all the way to ~18″x12″. I personally own the Medium (~9″x5.5″) intuos4, and I still own the 6″x11″ version of the intuos3. At first, I was hesitant about the smaller size, but I quickly realized that the new dimension really opens up some desk space in front of me, and rarely leaves me in need of additional active pen area. I actually prefer the more compact tablet, since I never used the right side keys of the intuos3, which amounted to wasted space and more interference within the area that I like to keep my keyboard (right in front of me). Overall, I can’t imagine needing anything larger than the Medium for what I do, but I am sure there are some comic artists, illustrators, and retouchers out there that can’t live without the huge canvas space. Since I work on everything from Flash Development to Illustration and Print Design, the Medium intuos4 suits me well for anything the creative world can throw at me, but most importantly, anything I feel the need to challenge myself with.

workspaceSo, after two weeks of journeying through the land of the Wacom intuos4, I’ve arrived at the other side in tablet bliss.  It’s a sleek, compact, and low profile package that blends into your work environment and emphasizes the natural tactile feel that every digital artist should have.  Still an extension of the artists hand within the digital realm, it brings a few more ingenious features into an already invaluable tool.  From its newly introduced illuminated ExpressKeys, to it’s heightened sensitivity, the intuos4 is an impressive product that every designer, illustrator, photographer, and artist should explore.  Whether your a new buyer or a user looking to upgrade your current tablet, I think there are enough features here to warrant the purchase. It’s an expensive investment, yes, but if you use it the way I do, you’ll be lost without it.

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree