Over the years, I've featured several XP-PEN products such as the Star 06 wireless tablet, the 10s, 16 and the 22HD. They are all quite good and value for the money. It's good to see companies that keep making new products and improve.
The latest addition to XP-PEN's product line are the Artist 13.3 and Artist 15.6.
My review will cover my experience of using the pen display on both Windows and Mac.
The unit I'm working on is a review unit from XP-Pen so thanks again!
The packaging looks quite nice.
Here are the specifications:
- Product dimensions: 44.3 x 28 x 12.6cm
- Active area: 34.4 x 19.3 cm
- Screen: 15.6 inches with 1920 x 1080 resolution
- Panel type: IPS
- Colors: 16.7 million
- Input: USB-C
- Graphic ports supported: HDMI, miniDisplay
- Pen does not require battery
- Pressure sensitivity: 8,192 levels
There are some improvements made over the Artist 16.
First, the screen is now matte instead of glossy.
Second, the pen no longer uses battery, and does not require charging.
Third, the pressure sensitivity has increased to 8,192 levels
What's in the box
- HDMI/Power/USB all-in-one cable
- USB extension cable
- HDMI to miniDisplay adapter
- Pen and stand
- 8 replacement nibs
- Wall charger and various international plugs
- Manual, warranty card, cleaning cloth and glove
The most significant change here is the power brick is no longer needed. The new Artist 15.6 uses less power and can be powered from a powered USB port.
This is the HDMI head that goes to your computer. If your computer does not use a HDMI or miniDisplay port, then you will need to get an appropriate adapter. I'm glad they included the HDMI-miniDisplay adaptor because my Surface Pro uses the miniDisplay port.
These are the three heads from the HDMI cable. The red USB goes to the USB power outlet (you can use any existing ones you have, e.g. phone charger), the black USB goes to the computer so that the pen display can recognise the pen, and the USB type-C goes to the pen display.
Here are the wall charger and different plugs. You just have to slip on the appropriate plug to use.
Design and build quality
This is how the pen display looks like straight out of the box. Note the white label at the top left.
That white label is actually attached to the protective cover of the screen protector. You're supposed to remove the protective cover by pulling the white label, thereby revealing the matte screen protector beneath.
I prefer matte screens over glossy reflective screens anytime. They are just less distracting to look at because of the lack of reflections. Matte screen protectors do affect the sharpness of the actual screen though, but to me it's a worthwhile trade-off.
The matte surface also provides a really nice texture to draw on. When I move my palm across the screen, there's a somewhat a sandy sound. It has a very paper-like feel when drawing with the pen.
This pen display uses an IPS panel so colour reproduction is quite good, and viewing angles are great. You probably won't need to do any colour calibration out of the box. Since I use many displays, I need to calibrate each new one I use to make sure I get consistent colours, e.g. colours should appear exactly the way they should, e.g. white is white and not with any blue or yellow tint. I used a Spyder5pro for calibrating.
With the calibrator, I measured the brightness at 166cd/m2. This is not a particularly bright display but this is very usable brightness. The colour gamut is 78% sRGB, 57% NTSC and 60% Adobe RGB. When I compare it to the Artisul D16 which I reviewed recently, I can tell straightaway that the Artisul has better colour reproduction.
For an IPS panel, the colour gamut displayed here is acceptable although it can certainly do better.
These are the six physical shortcut buttons on the side. The buttons are firm and have audible clicks.
These are the only buttons and ports on the side. There's the power button (which is lit when powered), the brightness control (up and down) and the USB-C port for connecting to the HDMI/Power/Usb cable.
The overall design of the Artist 15.6 is more minimal than the Artist 16. There's also no more build-in stand, making the profile much slimmer, measuring only 1.26cm thick. Without the inclusion of the stand, it means you have to find your own way to prop up the pen display. My suggestion is to get the fantastic Artisul freestyle stand that you can use with any thin profile pen displays or tablets.
I highly recommend getting a stand or at least some sort of laptop stand or just something, e.g. thick books, to prop up the display. This really improves the ergonomics and helps with your posture, especially if you need to work on this for long periods of time.
The two large pieces of rubber beneath are great at preventing the display from slipping on the table.
The pen is quite light and feels alright to hold. This pen does not require any battery so you don't have to charge it. Great.
The weird thing about the stand is, the hole in the middle is too large and when you put the pen in, it wobbles and then tilts to the side. It's as if the stand was not designed for this specific pen. Yeah, you can have the pen stand straight up, but maybe it's better to just have it rest horizontally.
8 replacement nibs are included. The nib remover is built into the bottom of the pen stand.
It's best to download the latest driver from Artisul's website.
Remember to uninstall all previous tablet drivers if you have any. After the driver is installed, the driver will detect the pen display.
For the Mac driver...
These are the usual settings you have change for the pen. Pressure sensitivity, the mouse buttons.
This is where you can configure the shortcuts for the buttons. You can also input your own keyboard shortcuts.
The other setting that you need to change is the calibration. The surface of the screen is actually quite close to the actual pixels but there's still parallax. You need to calibrate the screen in order to reduce the parallax.
For the Windows driver...
Window driver settings look different.
Note the Windows Ink checkbox. With certain apps, you will need to checkbox that in order to get pressure working. And if there's something quirky about the graphic app functionality, it could be some Wintab issue but thankfully I've not experience any.
If you're using two displays at a time (AKA extended mode), you can set one of the buttons on the pen to Display Switch. When you click the button, the cursor will jump to the next screen. Nice.
Update on left-handed mode:
For left-handed users, you can set the pen display for left-hand use too.
With Windows, in the driver settings, you click on Display Settings, and rotate 180 degrees. With Mac, you can rotate it through XP-Pen's driver as well, under the Calibration tab. Or with certain Mac computers, e.g. Mac Mini and Mac Pro, you can rotate using the System Preferences.
Overall responsive is good, and there is minimal to no lag. The main issue that I face is dealing with the parallax. I mean you can calibrate to compensate for parallax but it's still there (same applies to other brands of pen displays too). When drawing, most apps will have that circular ring cursor and it really doesn't help much. It would have been better if there's some sort of point cursor, such as the the point cursor you get when you engage Capslock key in Photoshop. This is something you'll get used to after a while.
In summary, I have a much smoother and glitch-free experience with Windows compared to Mac apps.
Let's go through the Mac apps first, followed by Windows.
Photoshop (Mac) works well. There's pressure sensitivity and the lines are smooth without jitter or wobble. Sometimes if you feel that you see some jitter, you can zoom in to 200% and draw from there. I can notice slight jitter when drawing at 100% but again that happens to a lot of pen displays too. At 100% zoom, the smoothness is about 9/10. At 200% zoom, it's 10/10 score.
Here's another quick drawing drawn on Photoshop (Mac).
Krita (Mac) works fine.
Medibang Paint Pro (Mac) works fine. Oh, by the way, drawing slow diagonal lines have no jitter and when you draw a straight line, you get a straight line, and it does not apply only to this app. I need to mention this because no all pen displays are capable of that.
Illustrator (Mac) does not support pressure sensitivity by default. You have to install Wacom Intuos driver in order to turn on pressure sensitivity.
Clip Studio Paint Pro (Mac ver 1.7.1) has issues. There are blobs at the start of the ink pen brushes. Basically if you use those brushes, they are unusable. The problem is not so noticeable or non-existent with other brushes. But I did not try all the brushes though.
Mischief (Mac) works fine.
Let's talk about Windows apps
Photoshop (Win) works fine.
Illustrator (Win) support pressure sensitivity unlike the Mac version.
Clip Studio Paint Pro (Win) has non of the ink blob issues shown in the Mac version.
Krita (Win) works fine.
Leonard (Win) works fine.
Medibang Paint Pro (Win) works fine.
Sketchable needs that Windows Ink setting in the driver enabled in order to get the pressure sensitivity working.
I've also tested ArtRage and it supports pressure. But I wasn't able to use any keyboard shortcuts to move, pan and rotate the canvas. I could do that with finger gestures on the Surface Pro. But without the ability to do that with the keyboard, it makes that app unusable.
Overall, I'm quite satisfied with the performance of the XP-PEN Artist 15.6 considering the price at the time of this review is US $360 (latest price is in that little blurb on the side). I would say the closest competitor is the Artisul D16 which I've reviewed recently, but that's significantly more expensive at US $490 (at time of this review), although it's actually better in some aspect. So depending on what kind of features you're looking for, and the type of work you do, at least there are two different products at different price points to choose from, and it's great to have options.
In terms of drawing performance, most drawing apps on Windows work better than on the Mac. The only problems I have are with Clip Studio Paint Pro (Mac), Adobe Illustrator (Mac) and ArtRage (Windows).
The most important thing is the lines are predictable and come out just the way I want them to be. The pen is quite sensitive. I can get thin and thick lines easily and the transition is smooth.
After working for long period of time, the display will become slightly warm at the bottom middle section. But it's not terribly hot so you can definitely work on this for extended periods of time.
The drawing functionality gets two thumbs up from me.
Some downsides. The IPS panel has decent colour reproduction but it certainly can be better. But at this price point, I guess you cannot expect too much. At least the viewing angles are great and there are no colour shifting so that's a major plus. The other downside is no stand is included so this may affect your posture and comfort when drawing.
On the Mac, I've issues with double clicks behaving inconsistently. Inside Finder, when selecting files in the list mode, a single click will become a double click and open the folder. This makes selecting multiple files using Cmd+click impossible because each time you click to select, you're opening the folder instead. And when you click to select a file, you are opening the file. This glitch does not happen when the Finder is in Icon mode for some reason.
The same double click issue happens when I need to upload files. I hit the upload button, and the Finder window opens, I'm faced with the same problem again.
The problem is opposite when I'm using Adobe Lightroom. When I double click a photo to view it large, it does not do anything, as if I'm only using a single click.
None of these glitches above exists in Windows.
Another glitch that's happens on both Mac and Windows is sometimes the cursor can disappear and appear elsewhere on the screen. It happens rarely but when it does it's really irritating. For example. your cursor is near the top at the menu bars, then suddenly, the cursor appears at the bottom of the screen for no reason. So you have to lift the pen up and move down to get the cursor to show at the correct place on the screen. It's a problem that I can't reproduce but I experience it sometimes on both Mac and Windows. I don't usually have this problem surface while I'm drawing so thank goodness.
If you're using the XP-PEN Artist 16 and experiencing the same glitches, I would love to hear from your experience. Let me know in the comments section below. Who knows, maybe I am the only one with this problem.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Good build quality and design
+ Pen does not require battery
+ Pen is quite sensitive
+ 8 replacement tips included
+ 6 shortcut buttons are useful, but more would be great
+ Matte anti-glare screen does not have reflections
+ Nice texture on screen to draw on
+ 1080P resolution on the screen this size is sharp enough
+ Screen has decent colour accuracy and viewing angles
+ Does not heat up significantly. Can be used for long periods of time without discomfort
+ Drawing performance generally good but depends on the OS and app that you use
+ Lines have little to no wobble and jitter (mostly on Windows apps)
+ You can power this display from a single powered USB port if you want to
+ HDMI-miniDisplay port adaptor included
+ Price is very competitive for a screen of this size
- This IPS panel has decent colours but not as good as other IPS panels
- Matte screen protecter affects sharpness of the screen but a good tradeoff for the texture it provides
- Some issues with the specific drawing apps mentioned in the review
- Parallax exists, corrected by calibration
- Glitches of the cursor disappearing randomly
- Double click issue on the Mac with certain apps (thankfully not drawing apps)
- No stand included for the display
You can check out more reviews on Amazon too. Purchases through the links get me a commission at no extra cost to you, and helps me put out more reviews like this.
Oh, and special thanks to my Patreon supporters for their support which allowed me to have the funds to purchase some of the graphic apps (that I don't normally use) to test out. That's your contribution. You guys rock.