Monoprice tablet (10x6.25” widescreen w/ hotkeys) REVIEW — with comparison to Wacom Intuos 3

DISCLAIMER: I was not paid to write this review.

Additional apologies for the size dimension mistake in the graphic above and below: it’s 10x6.25”, not 10x6.5”.

As many of you have seen the hype for the Monoprice tablets going around on Tumblr not too long ago, I was also extremely intrigued and purchased the widescreen 10x6.5” tablet with hotkeys for myself at an amazing price of $49.60 plus shipping. The tablet itself arrived within two days and I was eager to try it out. For reference, I run Windows 7 on a PC with Photoshop CS4 and occasionally work in Paint Tool SAI.

Even though I love my Intuos 3 dearly, the main reason I wanted to upgrade to a better tablet (or even the same quality tablet) was to be rid of the Intuos 3’s stupidest cord design ever. Wacom decided it would be nice to allow users to choose which side of the tablet the cord could come out of, but really it just becomes an amazingly effective choke point to start gnawing away at the wire and eventually cause malfunction. Fantastic!

I ordered the Monoprice tablet immediately because on their website, it looked like the cord might be disconnectable, like the Intuos 4 (which was the main reason I wanted to upgrade to Intuos 4 in the first place, just for the damn wire) so I was pretty disappointed to find out that it is a fixed wire. Nonetheless, it’s still less stupid than the Intuos 3 and as I am currently away from home, the Monoprice tablet is the one I brought along for travel.

First impressions of Monoprice tablet: it’s very light, thinner than my Intuos 3, and quite frankly, feels a little cheaply made. You’re getting the bare bones here in a tablet, which is all that I need. Box comes included with a small quickstart guide and a CD that includes the pen driver and a digital .PDF download of the full instruction booklet. The quickstart guide is also hilariously written in Engrish.

The pen for the Monoprice tablet does require a small AAA battery to power it, although it does not add any significant weight to the pen compared to the Wacom Intuos3. The Monoprice pen itself is very light (actually too light for me to draw with, if it was battery-free), so adding the weight of the battery makes it more comfortable. The width is about the same as a Wacom tablet pen as well. However the Monoprice pen does not include an eraser tip; the back end of the pen is just rounded off plastic. There is also no mouse included in the box, but since I neither use the eraser tip nor the mouse that comes bundled in Wacom tablets, this didn’t bother me at all.

On the Intuos 3, I always hit the hotkeys (especially the touchstrips) by accident and it makes my computer go haywire, so I would always have all the hotkeys disabled (until recently, when I hit a stroke of genius that accidentally hitting the hotkeys all the time makes a perfect Ctrl+S hotkey). The Monoprice hotkeys were actually much easier to avoid while drawing so I configured it very extensively and used little label stickers to cover up the default settings. HOWEVER, the hotkeys do experience some lag when I’m working in both Photoshop and SAI, so I ended up using the keyboard mostly anyways.

To install the Monoprice driver, I had to first uninstall the Wacom driver because they were conflicting. Driver installation was easy but it’s not as customizable as the pen curves for Wacom. The Monoprice tablet pen feels more spring-loaded than Wacom, which meant easy line variations. It felt kind of like the difference between using brush pens and nibs, minus the nice textures you get with brush pens, even though both tablets feature 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity. 

I worked exclusively using the Monoprice tablet for about 10 days before making any final impressions.

(click to enlarge)

I’m guessing the Monoprice driver needs an additional add-on for Photoshop, because I found that the lag in Photoshop while trying to sketch quickly was particularly bad with the Monoprice tablet, to the point that it wouldn’t register one out of every four or five lines I drew, but I had no such issue when I was sketching in SAI. The lines look gorgeous but I was not able to replicate the insane clean lines as featured in this article here. Maybe that’s one of MangaStudio’s rendering algorithms that’s doing the job, or maybe the MacOS driver is better than the Windows version.

I am so sorry I can’t share any of the work that I did with the Monoprice tablet, since they are all either covered under NDA or are secret projects I can’t talk about yet! 8(

The #1 thing I love most about this Monoprice tablet is the size. Widescreen tablet allowed me to map it 1:1 to my widescreen monitor, which was extremely comfortable and intuitive to use.  

I greatly enjoy the line variation and organic feel of the Monoprice tablet. However, this was the same reason I had some difficulty working with it: having to press rather hard to achieve 100% pressure sensitivity was extremely draining on my hand and I was cramping a lot while using the tablet pen. My boyfriend, who was around for much of the time I was painting, commented that it sounded like I was wailing on the thing and breaking it. Also for some reason, the pressure algorithm for the Monoprice tablet was great for solid lines, but it was not as sensitive for opacity sensitivity. When I tried to draw with opacity pressure on, I felt like I could only achieve 4-5 levels of opacity (roughly like 20, 250, 500, 800, and 1024 with very little inbetween), which made it difficult to make hand-drawn gradients and felt very similar to my Samsung Slate with Wacom digitizer technology, which only boasts 256 levels of pressure sensitivity. I thought this was very strange so I moved into SAI to test out the opacity sensitivity and it was the same issue. 

One other thing that bothered me about the Monoprice tablet pen was its auto-shutoff feature. The pen itself turns off automatically after about 30 seconds to 1 minute of non use, which saves the battery inside. This is great, but when it’s in this “standby” mode, the pen will no longer “hover” over the tablet to work on screen. The only way to “wake” it up is to press the tip to the tablet surface, which meant lots of strange dots on my paintings that I had to undo. It’s not a huge workaround, but it was often enough and irritating enough to point out.

In the end, I uninstalled the Monoprice drivers and reinstalled my Wacom Intuos 3. I still wish I could use the Monoprice instead, simply because the size and the thin profile design of the tablet is so amazing. Those 10 days working on a widescreen tablet with aspect ratio to my monitor made me unable to go back to the fitted proportions of my 8x6” Intuos, which meant I had to reset it to 1:1 so now my live area is only roughly 8x5”, which is a huge downgrade from 10x6.25”!! SO SAD.

Reasons I switched back: 

  • I do a decent amount of painting that requires the use of opacity pressure sensitivity. I also draw a lot of hand-painted gradients. While these effects are easily replicate-able on the Monoprice tablet with just a little more patience and time, I’m much too impatient for that when I have a suitable alternative.
  • While I love brush tip pens, my style is more crisp and exact, which lends itself better to the “nib” feel of the Wacom pen and pressure sensitivity. 
  • Hand cramping on the Monoprice tablet was more intense with my style of work than using my Wacom. I hold my pen pretty stupidly between my fingers and tend to press rather hard.

In closing! I think the Monoprice tablet is a very solid competitor with Wacom’s line of tablets, especially the Bamboo line and even up to par with the Intuos line in many respects. However, the scope of your work and your working style will determine which tablet is right for you.

If you are a beginner, I would highly highly recommend the Monoprice tablet simply because it’s super affordable with great quality! Since you probably won’t be using your tablet 8 hrs a day, every day, it’s a great tool to get started in digital artwork and painting. If your digital art consists of mostly linework, vector illustrations, or graphic design, I would also suggest the Monoprice because I found working with this tablet in those areas to be quite enjoyable. The Monoprice will also allow you to financially afford a larger tablet, which is seriously just so amazing. The driver is a little laggy in Photoshop but it’s totally functional, and will force you to slow down a little while sketching (bad habit of mine). No lag observed in Paint Tool SAI.

However, if you do a lot of full color painting or other high resolution work that will require long hours wielding the mighty tablet pen, or if you depend a lot on opacity pressure sensitivity, or don’t work with lots of varying line widths, I would try to save up your money and invest in a Wacom Intuos 4 (NOT 3, seriously this wire is really dumb). When my Intuos 3 finally kicks the bucket, I’ll most likely purchase an Intuos 4 to replace it.

But for now, I have a really great travel tablet that’s an amazing size (wish I could always work in this size!) with a wire that’s not quite as stupid as the Intuos 3 and is a solid working tablet. If I had to lug a tablet to and from work every day, I would definitely buy a Monoprice tablet to save me the hassle of lugging a tablet back and forth all the time.

TLDR; There are pros and cons! Which tablet you’d want to consider getting will depend on your budget, scope of work, and settings you’d like to utilize in your artistic work! 

Hope this insight was helpful! Feel free to use my askbox for any additional questions you have and I’ll try my best to respond. :)

88 notes
Posted on Wednesday, May 16
Tagged as: artist advice   intuos 3   monoprice   resource   review   tablet   text   wacom   technology  
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    mm! this is actually really helpful cuz i have a monoprice hotkey tablet and i’ve been wondering how it would compare to...
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  10. fntsycrystal reblogged this from finnichang and added:
    What a great, detailed review! Thank you, you’ve answered a lot of my questions about this tablet!! Sounds like I need...