Review: Huion Kamvas 12 (2021) pen display (vs Kamvas 16)

The Huion Kamvas 12 (2021) pen display (US $219) was released together with the Huion Kamvas 16 (US $399) early 2021. And the Huion Kamvas 13 (US $239) was released in mid 2020.

Currently, Huion has the pro and non-pro series of tablets. The drawing performance for the pro and non-pro pen displays is quite similar. The pro series has touch slider control with ExpressKeys while the non-pro only has ExpressKeys. Pro series also has matte glass instead of matte screen protector. Price difference is quite significant so the non-pro series of pen displays are more worth the money.

By the way, the unit I'm reviewing was provided by Huion.


Things included are:

  • 3-to-1 cable
  • USB power extension cable
  • Micro-fiber cleaning cloth
  • Artist glove
  • Manual
  • Pen
  • Pen stand
  • 10 replacement nibs and nib remover

There is no USB-C to USB-C cable included.


This is the 3-to-1 cable. The three ports that go to the computer are full-size HDMI, USB-A (black) for data and power, and USB-A (red) for power.

If your computer's USB port can provide enough power, there's no need to use the red USB-A cable.


The Huion PW517 pen included supports tilt sensitivity and 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity. It's not powered by battery so no charging required.

The pen looks good, has solid build quality and the large rubber grip is comfortable to hold.


The two side buttons are customisable.

The pen tip is firm and has minimal movement. Any movement is lateral rather than the in-out movement.


The pen can be placed horizontally or vertical on the pen stand.


A nib remover and 10 replacement nibs are kept inside the pen stand.


Huion Kamvas 12 is available in two colours: Starfish Orange (above) and Cosmo Black.


There are two ports on the pen display: one for the 3-to-1 cable (right) and the other for USB-C to USB-C connection (left).

The USB-C port is designed in such a way that not all USB-C cables can fit.


My black USB-C cable can't fit because the grip area is too big. The white USB-C cable can fit but can't transmit video signal.

So if you want to use USB-C, it's probably better to buy the USB-C cable (US $20) from Huion. If you use a computer with USB-C, you can reduce cable clutter by using a USB-C cable rather than Huion's 3-to-1 cable.


The red sticker on the right shows what the ports are.


The red sticker on the left says there's already an anti-glare film (matte screen protector) applied.

Note that the red sticker was pasted on a glossy screen protector on top of the matte screen protector. Make sure not to peel off both the glossy screen protector and matte screen protector. The pen display should not have a glossy surface.


I measured colour support for 97% sRGB, 75% NTSC, 80% AdobeRGB, 83% P3 and a maximum brightness of 185 nits using a Spyder5Pro colour calibrator. Huion advertised 120% sRGB support but my colour calibrator can't measure beyond 100%.

So colour accuracy is pretty good. Colours out of the box look good so calibration is probably not needed.


The IPS LCD has good viewing angles. Colours don't shift much when viewed from angles but brightness does drop noticeably.


The matte screen protector provides a nice texture to draw on with the pen, but it introduces some visual noise so that will affect the image quality slightly. Overall, the display will look great when viewed mostly from the front.


Resolution is 1920 x 1080. Even on a smaller 11.6-inch display, pixelation is still noticeable.


Palettes from drawing apps will take up a good amount of space on the display.


Of course you can always choose to hide the palettes while drawing.


The display is laminated. The tiny gap between the pen tip and LCD is only noticeable if you view from the side. Parallax is not an issue here.


Stand is not included but available as an optional purchase (US $20) from Huion's website. The stand shown above is my own stand, the Parblo PR 100 (US $38).

I highly recommend getting a stand because using the pen display flat on the table is not good for your posture.

Huion Kamvas 12 vs Huion Kamvas 16


Huion Kamvas 16 is obviously larger. The other visible difference is there are 10 physical shortcut buttons (or ExpressKeys) on the Kamvas 16 vs the 8 on the Kamvas 12. Both pen displays have similar thickness.

Active area of the Kamvas 16 is 80% larger than the Kamvas 12. That's 344.16 x 193.59mm vs 256.32 x 144.18 mm.

Interestingly, Kamvas 16's price of US $399 is also around 80% more than Kamvas 12's price of US $219.


Kamvas 12 display is wider than A5 size. Kamvas 16 display is wider than A4 size but shorter.

If you have the budget, and table space, I do recommend getting the larger Kamvas 16 which will allow you to draw more freely. I just feel that drawing on the 11.6-inch pen display feels a bit restrictive. The larger pen display is better for working on for long periods of time since display is larger and more comfortable for the eyes.

Or just increase your budget by $20 to get the Huion Kamvas 13 which has a 13.3 inch display which will also provide a better drawing experience.

Driver

This whole section was copied from the Kamvas 16 review with some updates.

The Mac and Windows driver have rather similar functionality.


The two side buttons of the pen can be customised to mouse and keyboard shortcuts.

Pressure curve can be adjusted moving the dots manually. Windows driver has two dots which allows for finer adjustments while Mac driver only has one dot.

On Windows, there's this Windows Ink feature which you may have toggle on or off to troubleshoot when pressure sensitivity is not working as expected.


If the cursor does not appear directly beneath the pen tip, this is where you can do monitor calibration to correct that. If you're left handed, you can change the orientation to 180 degrees.


The 8 physical shortcut buttons can be customised here.


You can set specific keyboard shortcuts or mouse clicks. Display Switch allows you to switch the cursor, while in dual monitor mode, from one display to another. Brush Switch is a brush-eraser toggle. You can also have buttons launch apps.


This is the dialogue box you get when you click the gear settings icon at the top right. With the Windows driver, you can create groups of shortcuts specific to apps you use. For example, you can create a set of shortcuts for Photoshop, another set for Illustrator.


To get into the OSD menu to adjust display attributes, you have to press and hold the two buttons (4 & 5) in the middle.


Some of the settings you can change are

  • Brightness
  • Backlight
  • Contrast
  • Sharpness
  • Colour temperature
  • Gamma
  • Color effect (screen mode)
  • Hue
  • Saturation
  • sRGB, AdobeRGB, user display modes


Windows driver has the additional functionality that allows you to adjust brightness, contrast, colour temperature, RGB and has some scene modes. To access that, just click the little gear icon at the top right.

There are four scene modes: standard, moving, gaming, movie. Each scene mode has pre-configured brightness and contrast.

Drawing performance

Drawing performance is excellent.


The pen is accurate. Cursor is always directly beneath the pen tip. Even tracking at extreme edges is quite accurate.

The pen is sensitive. Initial activation force is minimal.


Lines taper nicely. Transition from thin to thick is smooth. Consistent pressure (and thickness) is easy to maintain. The lines always come out the way I expect them to.

Pen performance is consistent and predictable. This is the same performance I experienced with on MacOS and Windows with the following apps: Photoshop CC, Affinity Photo, Medibang Paint Pro, Krita and Clip Studio Paint


Clip Studio Paint (Mac)

Overall drawing experience is very satisfactory.


Pressure and tilt sensitivity work fine in Krita.

Android support


I don't recommend getting this pen display if your main purpose is to draw with Android.

Anyway, when I tested the Kamvas 16 with my Samsung Tab S7+, it caused the tablet to stop charging (which was solved by restarting). When I connect the Kamvas 12, there's still the sizzling sound when I plug in the USB-C cable which obviously can't be good.


So I did manage to get the Kamvas 12 to work with my Samsung tablet this time.

Few things to note:

  • Only Android devices that can output video signal will work. List of supported Android devices is available on Huion's website.
  • It's plug and play. Since there's no driver, you can't customised the ExpressKeys, pen buttons and pressure sensitivity*
  • You'll need a USB-C cable that can actually carry video signal, and a cable that actually fits the port on the Kamvas 12
  • Whether pressure sensitivity will work will depend on the app you use. Pressure does not work with Clip Studio Paint as of early March 2021
  • There is more input lag with Android drawing apps compared to desktop drawing apps
  • Finger gestures is only supported on the Android device, not on the pen display
  • Orientation of the Android device should be horizontal to match the horizontal orientation of the pen display

Those are just some issues I experienced. *Adjustments for pressure sensitivity may be provided through apps but not through Android OS.

Android support for pen displays and graphic tablets is just not good enough yet.

Conclusion


The Huion Kamvas 12 (2021) looks good and has great drawing performance. The Huion PW517 pen is accurate and sensitive, and just enjoyable to draw with on the matte surface.

The main downside here is the 11.6-inch diagonal drawing area which to me feels small. The small display makes UI elements like menus, text, icons look small too. I find myself having to look close sometimes to make sure I see that I'm clicking on the correct thing.

I highly recommend spending an extra $20 to get the Huion Kamvas 13 instead for the larger display.

Here are the pros and cons at a glance

Pros
+ Design looks good
+ Solid build quality
+ 1080P resolution is sufficient for a 11.6-inch screen
+ Colours look good
+ Matte drawing surface provides a tactile feel for drawing
+ 8 physical shortcut buttons
+ Battery free pen supports tilt and 8192 levels of pressure
+ 10 replacement tips included
+ Pen tip is firm and has minimal wobble
+ Drawing performance (line quality) is good
+ No glitches with various drawing apps tested
+ Lines have little to no wobble and jitter
+ Initial activation force is very minimal
+ Laminated display has minimal gap between the drawing surface and actual LCD
+ Pen display can be powered by USB port
+ USB-C cable can be used for video, data and power to minimise cable clutter

Cons
- Stand ($20) sold separately
- USB-C cable ($20) sold separately
- USB-C port design makes it difficult to use other USB-C cables
- 11.6 inch display makes UI elements look small
- Small display feels restrictive (in terms of space) to draw on
- Matte screen protector introduce slight colour noise
- Aggressive anti-glare can cause white haze, affects contrast
- Maximum brightness measured at 185 nits
- Android support not that useful

Availability

Huion Kamvas 12 pen display can be bought from Huion online store and Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.fr | Amazon.es | Amazon.it

If you buy from Huion's website, you have the option to buy the USB-C cable, stand, additional warranty and other accessories.

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