Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Wacom Bamboo Pad USB - Review of Mapping

Company: Wacom
Compatibility: Windows & OSX
Price: $39.95 (Out of Stock)

Mapping is generally an enjoyable pursuit. I enjoy the tangibility of sitting with a piece of paper and imagining various geographies, whether that is a town, a city, a dungeon or a continent. With a bit of spare birthday cash I purchased the Wacom Bamboo Pad, hoping to emulate this process in a digital format.

The Good
I opted for the USB version because I hate replacing batteries. I have a cordless optical mouse which depletes batteries rapaciously. Therefore something I could plug-and-play was desirable. Wacom does produce a wireless version of this product, so if you have the patience for rechargeable batteries that may be an attractive option for some. Luckily the Bamboo Pad enjoys compatibility with both PC and Mac. While initially my computer did not recognise the device it was very easy to find drivers. I'm running 'Mavericks' and thus far it has been working perfectly. I have only tried it with my MacBook Pro so cannot comment on whether there is much difference on my iMac.

Before getting into the meaty stuff let me first describe my typical mapping workflow, hopefully providing some context for this review. I typically begin with a blank piece of white paper. Preferring to work with pencil I generally sketch my maps, before scanning them as PDFs then editing them in either Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop (sometimes both). My purpose in purchasing the Bamboo was to eliminate two steps of this workflow - drafting straight into Photoshop before tidying up.

With that in mind I found there to be a slight learning curve with this tool. The pen itself is pleasing to touch and easy to grip, however the surface of the pad is rather sensitive. I'll discuss this more shortly. I was surprised how easy it was to pick up however, and after some initial trial and error, I really enjoyed messing around with different brush types. I could get a nice variation in effects, similar to watercolour, pencil or paint brush. For the price I feel like it provides a great tool in comparison to the sometimes cumbersome nature of a mouse. It successfully eliminated the two prior steps of my workflow so for that reason I was satisfied. 

The Bad
The sensitivity of the pad will be a deterrent to some. At times I accidentally bumped it, or produced a wild line or shape for seemingly no reason. Because the surface works like a touchpad I would sometimes flit between windows or minimise Photoshop when I didn't mean to. This could be frustrating and made me wonder whether a mouse could be faster for some things. Spending a reasonable amount of time getting used to its nuances should help, though I suspect this will be a recurrent complaint.

Final Thoughts
For the price point, and overall usability I feel like the Bamboo Pad is a worthwhile purchase. I would certainly recommend it as an alternate to a mouse, which can be infinitely infuriating for some specific mapping techniques. There are some general annoyances, though with a bit of patience I feel like it's a good alternative for sketched or illustrated pieces. In around an hour I produced the piece below. I'm considering including this in a mini adventure I'm in the process of writing.