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Save Hours with the Stroke of a Pen
Working with the Cintiq 21UX

Wacom 21UX Monitor TabletDespite doing everything humanly possible at the point of capture, there are simply some things that our cameras cannot do in a single click. Taking this knowledge further, there are many subjects and themes our minds can wrap around in the single blink of an eye that the camera doesn’t even come close to capturing in multiple captures. Taking our vision, imagination and passion and bringing it all together in a single image takes skill, passion and the right tools. Thank goodness technology has caught up with our communication quests so we can now with speed, flexibility and quality produce images that literally can take the viewers breath away!

The main tool permitting me to spend my time behind the camera and not the computer is Wacom’s Cintiq 21UX. My digital darkroom is a dual monitor computer system. This computer, our digital darkroom, is dedicated to one task, dealing with images. Be it from scans of our files of 320k conventional images or from our 1.4GB of original digital capture, this computers only task is image files and getting them to clients. It’s a lean, mean processing, money making machine. At the heart of it are the dual monitors in which the Cintiq 21UX is the main monitor (literally identity #1 in the Windows vernacular). The 2nd monitor is a Sony Artisan. These two monitors share one very BIG thing in common. They both can be color managed, calibrated, an essential ingredient well managed workflow.

Why is the 21UX Unique?
What makes the Cintiq unique is that it is a LCD-tablet monitor that can be truly calibrated. Unlike you basic LCD flat panel, the 21UX’s RGB gamma values in combination with its LUT achieves calibration like no other LCD (except the Eizo 220 which uses the same LCD panel). The 21UX also supports the Adobe RGB color space. (As a matter of fact, it’s the monitor I use to base all my color decisions.) If that isn’t enough, the 21UX’s 21.3” TFT active LCD monitor cranks out a beautiful 1600x1200 (UXGA) image making critical judgments and changes a snap. This is why the 21UX has become the heart of our digital workflow. It’s the bases for not only our love affair with it but how it makes us money by saving us time!

The Cintiq wouldn’t be worth the investment if we were just using it to view images, but since it is a tablet as well, it’s worth its weight in gold!
Yeah, there are many tablets on the market; some of the best are made by Wacom (I ALWAYS travel with their 12WX… always!). The one drawback to the regular tablet is the inability to directly put the Grip Pen point directly on the image; you’re dependant on eye-hand coordination. This is the not the case with the Cintiq where you literally “draw” right on the surface of the Cintiq (it’s so much bloody fun!). It all starts with the Grip Pen, what we affectionately call the Pixel Saber. Its pressure sensitive tip permits amazing accuracy of your moves permitting on the fly changes without having to go back to the menu or keyboard. In addition, the Grip Pen has a programmable toggle switch on its handle. This permits you to create a drop down menu so you can click on your favorite Photoshop options, actions and moves vastly speeding up your workflow.

The 21UX is the first Cintiq to incorporate ExpressKeys and Touch Strips. What are these? On the left and right side of the 21UX you’ll find four buttons and a long strip. You can program these for gazillion different functions. Programming them as keyboard keys or shortcuts that you use in Photoshop is the most common. The “out of the box” set up is Space Bar, Alt/Option, Cmd/Ctrl and Shift. The combination of the Grip Pen and its toggle switch permit me to finish images without the need to go to the keyboard. I can do it all with the Cintiq. This is a huge time saving! These are the basics of what makes the Cintiq 21UX a unique digital darkroom tool; let me tell you some of the basics of how it earns its keep in a stroke of the pen. (Note: The Cintiq works with ANY program, not just Photoshop.)

Putting the 21UX in First Gear
Time saved comes not only in big moves done in a heartbeat, but the minimizing of all the little things that has to be done to get the image finished and filed. The 21UX makes a difference in all of these procedures. It all starts with the initial image editing, deciding who stays and who is deleted. Calling up my favorite program, DigitalPro 4, I can make the critical decision on who lives on with confidence with the 21UX’s monitor. As fast as I can click, drag & drop, working through the images is a snap. With that accomplished, it’s time to go back to the favorite images and take them into the digital darkroom for finishing.

My Raw engine of preference is Nikon Capture, so it’s launched and the image is processed and saved as a 16bit TIFF. With that, we’re out of Nikon Capture and into Photoshop. Call up the image, tap the F key to go to fullscreen mode, Ctrl/Cmd 0 to fit image between palettes and we’re ready to go to work. The first thing I typically deal with is color cast since all the decisions are going to be based on what I see on the 21UX (refer to my article on color cast removal). Personally, I’m not into “global” corrections and that includes color cast removal. The photo of the Polar Bear is a good example of what I mean.

Shot at dusk, the color temperature of the light is way beyond what the camera can record accurately, so there is a blue color cast. While this works for the overall mode of the Arctic shot, it doesn’t work for the Polar Bear. By filing the Color Correction Adj Layer with Black, we can quickly paint with white with varying opacities to remove the blue color cast affecting the Polar Bear. Here’s where the Cintiq’s pen saves huge amounts of time. With the pen’s sensitive point, we can start with a large, 200pixel brush (softedge) and by simply pressing softly or harder with the pen, change the actual diameter of the brush on the fly. Working at 20% opacity, we can “paint” away the color cast on the bear so the image ends up matching what we saw that night. The total time to “finish” this image is less then a minute. Yeah, I clocked myself and by using the 21UX, it took less then a minute. Can you do accomplish the same thing with your current workflow in the same time?

The 21UX in High Gear
Yeah, you could do the basic digital darkroom moves using a mouse or tablet and get by just fine. But… what if your photograph of a forest has a real obnoxious bright spot grabbing the eye? Do you know how in this case to “fix” this problem? More to the point, can you do it in a heartbeat and not leave any footprints? With the Cintiq, it’s a sixty second repair.

Start by tapping the L key to select Lasso. With your pen tool select a portion, 50% larger then the hole you want to fill, of the canopy that looks perfect. Hold down Ctrl/Cmd and tap the J key, this just made a copy of your selection to its own layer. Tap the V key (Move tool), and then move the selection (it’s hiding above the actual area you selected) over to the hole you want to fill. Hold down the Alt/Opt key and click on the Add layer mask (Zen) icon which now made the selection you just moved disappear. Tap the B key (Brush Tool), make sure you foreground color is white, and simply paint in the selection in the hole until it’s gone. Try doing this with a mouse, this fast and with this accuracy. It’s painful at best.

A passion that has directly come to light because of the Cintiq is ultra wide panos. This is a technique where six individual images are taken with a PC lens and nodal plate and then brought into the digital darkroom and assembled to make a final image that duplicates our vision on the horizontal and vertical axis. This is not a technique I can simply paraphrase into one paragraph, it’s quite complicated (two part, 18pg PDF on the shooting and darkroom techniques). By using the Cintiq in assembling the six images, I can finish an ultra wide pano in about twenty minutes. In the beginning when using a mouse, it took normally three hours to complete one.

Do you do a lot of selecting using the Lasso Tool? Do you create a lot of Paths? Is the Clone Tool or Healing Brush your best friends? Just think how much faster and more precisely you can use these tools when you can do the actions right on top of the image? The possibilities, quality and speed are endless!

Do I really think this highly of the Cintiq 21UX? Do I truly believe that it saves me dramatically that much time? Right at this moment, my 2nd 21UX is on its way to me so I can run two side-by-side. The Artisan will be “retired” so I can work back and forth with the pen on two tablets. The capitol investment in the two 21UX units will pay back with more time to be behind the camera which is where I belong. By increasing the quality, flexibility and speed spent at a necessary pleasure, the Cintiq 21UX has become an essential too in our office. I just wish I could stream line all my tasks so I could save more hours with the stroke of a pen!

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