Translating an idea
from brain to screen
takes some remarkable
no small amount of
patience to click,
drag, and stroke one
of the tools known as
mice, and keyboards.
While the tools have
not changed much
over the years, the
good news is that
their performance has
improved, taking aim
directly at the Achilles
heal of digital design,
that sometimes awkward
zone where hand
meets machine. Here’s
an update on some of
the latest devices and
how they can change
the way you work.
GRAPHICS TABLETS: AN INTUITIVE
The graphics tablet is a must-have for serious designers.
If you spend a lot of time in Photoshop or
Illustrator, the graphics tablet is the one input device
sure to improve your style. Obviously, drawing with
a pen is more natural than with a mouse, but the
graphics tablet also lets you streamline repetitive
tasks with hot keys and extra buttons. Of course,
any time you want to switch over to mousing, you
need only put down your pen and grab your mouse.
It’s impossible to discuss graphics tablets with
designers without the name Wacom coming up;
many of those who use one will tell you Wacom
makes the best. Since introducing the world’s first
pressure-sensitive tablet in 1987, Wacom has been
the industry standard.
The Intuos3 is Wacom’s professional graphics
tablet, boasting a smooth 1,024 levels of sensitivity, a
comfortable cordless pen, and sized in five models to fit
most budgets. (The Intuos3 stands out in stark contrast
to Wacom’s lower-end Graphire tablet with only 512
levels of sensitivity and consequent jerky action.)
Included in all Intuos3 packages are a cordless,
battery-free grip pen that senses tip and eraser pressure
as well as tilt, and a five-button customizable
cordless scrolling mouse. The pen includes extra
standard and felt nibs for various “feels” to mimic
different media. Optional accessories include an
airbrush and extra pens—all of which shine with
Photoshop’s dynamic brushes, introduced with its
new paint engine in Photoshop 7. Four hot keys,
called ExpressKeys, on the tablet’s frame can be customized
for repetitive tasks.
System requirements: Power Mac G3 with Mac
OS 9.2.2 or higher; Mac 0S X (10.2 or higher); 1024
x 768 display; 24-bit color
Wacom has one other product sure to appeal to the
purist with unlimited resources. The Cintiq 21UX
($2,500 BHPhotoVideo.com) bundles a super-sharp,
21-inch, 1600 x 1200-pixel LCD monitor with a
dynamically adjustable stand to put a professional
graphics tablet right where you want it—on the
surface of your monitor! Tilt it any way you want
or pop it off its stand and put it in your lap. While
the Cintiq 21UX is not cordless (weighing in at a
hefty 18.7 pounds), it does come with an 8-foot
cable and is the closest you’ll come to working
directly on canvas. Essentially, the Cintiq 21UX is
a transparent 17 x 12¾-inch Intuos3 tablet married
to a high-quality LCD screen. The Cintiq 21UX
has the same Intuos3 1,024 levels of sensitivity
and customizable ExpressKeys on the frame and
includes the same battery-free cordless grip pen (but
does not include the Intuos3 bundled mouse). Be
aware, though, that Wacom also offers a number of
lower-priced Cintiq models similar to the 21UX but
without ExpressKeys … and hobbled by only 512
levels of sensitivity and lower quality monitor. Only
the Cintiq 21UX has the responsiveness, detail, and
color accuracy to digitally mimic the media and
techniques the masters understood.
System requirements: Mac OS X (10.2.6 or
higher), DVI or VGA video connector
Pro models from Genius
And if your budget doesn’t allow for the higher
priced items, other manufacturers offer full-featured
graphics tablets at affordable prices. Tablets in 6 x
8- and 9 x 12-inch sizes are available from Genius,
a relative newcomer to the North American market.
Both come with a scrolling three-button mouse.
Best of all, you won’t have to forego 1,024-level
functionality with these models.
System requirements: PC-only (Mac available
spring 2007), Pentium II 400 compatible or higher,
NULOOQ: A FRESH WAY TO WORK
In June, Logitech gave Adobe CS2 users an entirely
new kind of input device that enhances productivity
in most design environments. The NuLOOQ
Professional Series bundle is comprised of the
Navigator control pad that fits into your free hand
and its Tooldial software to customize the contextsensitive
menus that pop up on screen. With
NuLOOQ, your free hand takes over those distracting
tasks that constantly disrupt your work. Even
diehard keyboard shortcut junkies with fingers that
fly over the keys know the distraction of the occasional
glance down to change the attribute of a tool
or object. But NuLOOQ puts these tasks and more
into its fist-sized Navigator that bristles with clever
and ergonomically thoughtful input surfaces to take
on nearly any task you do.
With a twist of the Navigator’s outer rubberized
navring, zoom in and out of the page, or gently
nudge it to scroll to a new area. Swirl your fingertip
across the Navigator’s iPod-like top touchpad to
resize your brush on the go or tap one of five trigger
points to bring up the active tool’s options in a
context-sensitive toolset positioned under your cursor—
all without shifting your eyes from the screen.
And if a toolset’s eight cells aren’t enough, add up to
eight more shortcuts to each cell that appear in an
outer ring when you click and hold, for a total of 72
possible shortcuts for each toolset. Dozens of actions
that once disrupted your design flow are now literally
at the tips of your fingers.
Getting the hang of two-fisted production is
surprisingly easy. Setting up the device with your first
set of customized shortcuts may take opening the
manual, though. On the plus side, once this is done,
the NuLOOQ automatically senses which program is
active and seamlessly activates the proper toolset. But
before you get too excited, note that NuLOOQ has
some beefy system requirements.
NuLOOQ Tooldial system requirements: Macintosh
OS X (10.3 or greater), PowerPC G4 or greater.
NuLOOQ Navigator system requirements:
Macintosh OS X (10.4.4 or greater), PowerPC G5 or
greater; 1GB RAM or more.
BETTER THAN EVER: MICE & KEYBOARDS
Cordless keyboards and mice are in. Rubber-balled
mice are a bad memory, and new laser mice outperform
optical mice for accuracy—or so manufacturers
claim. Even Apple has broken with tradition in
this latest round of the mouse wars.
Saving the day: Apple’s Mighty Mouse
Apple has finally offered a mouse with more than
one button! The Apple Mighty Mouse comes
in two flavors, a corded optical mouse and now
a Bluetooth-enabled cordless laser mouse for
Notebooks, Mini, and iMac. At first glance the
Mighty Mouse looks like the earlier Apple Pro
Mouse except for the tiny gray scroll ball on top.
But looks can deceive, and the Mighty Mouse actually
sports two invisible touch-sensitive buttons on
top and a side mechanical button along its edge
for a total of four configurable buttons—that is, if
you’re running the latest Mac OS X (10.4.6 Tiger).
Otherwise, you’re stuck with the Mighty Mouse
default settings that open Exposé with the squeeze
button and turn your right click into the equivalent
of a Control-click to bring up a contextual menu.
The scroll ball scrolls vertically as well as horizontally
but must be customized in Tiger.
Minimum system requirements for full functionality:
Mac OS X (10.4.2 Tiger)
Cordless for Mac: Logitech Cordless
Desktop S 530 Laser
Logitech’s Cordless Desktop S 530 Laser includes
the S 530 ultra-slim cordless keyboard, the MX 600
cordless five-button mouse, and a USB mini-receiver
that plugs into an available port or into its provided
USB desk stand. The extended keyboard with
built-in palm rest includes configurable mini buttons
along its edge to instantly access applications.
Battery life for both the keyboard and mouse is
exceptional (Logitech claims up to six months), and
each device has a battery status light that flashes 10
days before it dies. Logitech also provides an on/off
switch on the laser mouse and lets users customize
the five buttons on the mouse or special keyboard
keys through its Control Center software.
System requirements: Mac OS X (10.2.8 or above)
Many designers don’t spend a lot of time on the keys,
but those who do can reap the benefits of an ergonomic
keyboard. These unusually shaped keyboards
are designed to minimize the hand and wrist contortions
that cause fatigue and contribute to carpal tunnel
syndrome and other physiological problems.
Kinesis Advantage USB
Taking up perhaps the most real estate of any keyboard,
the Kinesis Advantage incorporates a palm
rest into its wildly split layout. Bowl-shaped cavities
contain the split finger keys while the thumb keys
are angled into their natural position. A white version
is available for Mac enthusiasts.
System requirement: Mac OS 8.6 or higher
Goldtouch Apple Keyboard
The Goldtouch ergonomic keyboard splits to 30
degrees horizontally and tents up vertically to 30
degrees to fit any grasp in a natural way. The compressed
style permits the mouse to fall within the
ergonomic comfort zone. Noticeably missing are
the individual wrist cushions necessary to make the
package comfortable and complete.
System requirement: Mac OS X (10.4.2 Tiger)
Adesso Intellimedia MediaPro Flat Ergonomic
While simple in design, the Intellimedia incorporates
a sweeping layout that lets your hands fall
comfortably across the keys. The Intellimedia has 22
hot keys and includes two extra USB ports and builtin
palm rest. It has a noticeably soft action and is
extremely quiet. This is the lowest-priced ergonomic
Mac keyboard on the market.
System requirement: Mac OS 9.0 or newer.
Remember, an input device is essentially a simple
tool working at the boundary between hand and
computer application. The speed of your system
affects a tool’s performance as much as the skill
of the user. And the snappiest features in an input
device may be overshadowed by a slow machine’s
failure to process the stream of information
smoothly. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that today’s
most appealing tools require the newest operating
system running the latest application on a powerful
machine. For some, the cost of upgrading may prove
prohibitively high … but there are still plenty of
products around to improve the way you work.
And if you’re fortunate enough to pick up one
of those production-demon behemoth computers—
well, you may just find your groove and become the
next Ron Chan or Bert Monroy, released at last from