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The Little Monoprice Graphics Tablet that Could

Monoprice makes graphics tablets? I thought they were just an outlet for cheap cables. It was news to me that they sell all sorts of audio, video, and computer accessories.

They have a reputation for making good stuff, cheap, including graphics tablets. But, on those, I never bit.

When reviewing the Yiynova Cintiq alternative, I researched all of Wacom’s competition, learning that those 1st gen Yiynovas used a Waltop digitizer (digitizers being the flat hardware panel that interprets pen movement and translates it onscreen). I decided to buy a Monoprice stylus to see if it would work on a Waltop digitizer. It didn’t. This roused my curiosity. If the Monoprice wasn’t a Waltop based tablet, what was it? The Monoprice tablets use UC Logic digitizers, a brand I hadn’t found during my prior research.

At the time of writing, less than $50 nets you a 6.25“x10” tablet and around $80 will get you a larger 9“x12”. With those prices, and my inclination to try any tools I can, I ordered the 6.25“x10” tablet with low expectations. Something so cheap can’t possibly be good, right?

After spending a week with the 6.25“x10” Monoprice, my Yiynova and Cintiq remain unplugged and I gave my Intuos away to a friend. The Monoprice tracks subtle pressure variances and small movements with less lag and more crisp fidelity than any of the others. It is, put crudely, fucking awesome, in both OSX Lion and Windows 7 x64.

It holds accuracy at obscenely small levels even when zoomed way out, which is where most tablets falter. The following screen recording in OSX shows how stable the Monoprice tablet is in both pressure variance and fine detail.

The Monoprice performed flawlessly in OSX. This is welcome news. With most tablets, Wacom included, OSX has long felt a second class citizen with slightly less accuracy and more lag present in the drivers.

I’ve found that some apps, in both Windows and OSX, enable tablet specific features only if they detect Wacom drivers present and running on a system. I recommend installing Wacom’s Intuos 3 drivers alongside the Monoprice ones. They do nothing for the tablet, but trick uncooperative apps into operating with the Monoprice.

Hardware-wise, the stylus is a bit shorter and narrower than Wacom’s and is about the same weight. It rests comfortably in my oversized meat-paw. The pen requires a battery, but has no on-off switch. It turns on when you use it and off when idle. The battery has lasted over a week with constant use and shows no signs of giving up. The battery slot inside of the pen feels a bit cheap, but is soon forgotten after closing the pen back up and represents the singular negative aspect of the hardware. An aftermarket stylus is available for around $8. I’ve tested a few aftermarket, UC Logic compatible styli, and like these (available from a vendor in Turkey) the most. Ten replacement nib packs are available for less than a dollar.

The tablet has a slightly textured surface and drawing feels tactile and a bit toothy. The hardware buttons worked fine and were fully customizable. Eight buttons is a lot to keep track of and I found myself using my keyboard more often than not when jamming on hot keys.

All the following images were drawn on the Monoprice in Manga Studio or Photoshop CS6. Included is a short video, sped up 2x, drawing in OSX with Manga Studio.

Drawing on the Monoprice leaves me feeling a bit punk rock. It’s better than it has any right to be – better than any of the other hardware I own. Its drivers outperform Wacom’s in OSX and I found myself making excuses to sit down and draw with it.

An off-brand graphics tablet by Monoprice out-performs tablets ten times more costly and replaced my Cintiq and Intuos tablets for daily use. Who would’a thunk it?

[Edit: Since this original post in April, I bought the 9“x12” and like it even more than the unit reviewed here. I sold my Cintiq and have done all my commercial work on either my 10“x6.25” or 12“x9” UC Logic tablets.]

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    This will hopefully be useful in the distant future.
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