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XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 Review: Editing Photos on a 24-Inch Pen Display

There are two big leaps you can make in your photo editing workflow. The first is moving from a mouse-and-keyboard setup to a pen tablet like the Wacom Intuos Pro—almost everybody does that at some point. But if you really want to kick your experience up to another level, there’s one more step you can take: you can buy yourself a high-resolution pen display.

Today I’m looking at one of those displays, the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24: a 2K pen display that out-performs the $1,200 Wacom Cintiq 22 in just about every spec category, but costs only $675 (typically $900, on sale as of this writing).

This won’t be a highly technical side-by-side comparison with alternatives from Wacom or Huion. Instead, I want to share my hands-on experience with this full-featured-but-affordable graphics display and tell you why I think it’s worth upgrading to this kind of setup for photo editing.


Full disclosure: XP-Pen provided the unit used in this review. However, they had no input on the content of the review and are seeing it for the first time right now, just like everyone else.


What is a “Pen Display”

First, it’s important that you understand what I’m referring to when I say “graphics display” or “pen display.” In the most basic terms, a graphics display is a monitor you can draw on. You plug a graphics display into your existing computer just like you would any other monitor, but you get the added benefit of using the included pressure-sensitive pen as your mouse.

A large pen display like the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 (or the Wacom Cintiq 22, or the Huion Kamvas Pro 24) gives you all the benefits of a pen tablet and a high-end color-accurate monitor in a single package. The core functionality is no different from a pen tablet like the ones I wrote about here, except that you can edit directly on your photograph, making the entire experience much more engrossing and allowing for a higher level of precision.

And make no mistake: the main benefit of using a graphics display to edit your photos the experience, and how easy it is to get into an editing “flow.”

Hands On with the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24

Build and Ergonomics

Build quality is … plastic-y. Don’t get me wrong, the Artist Pro doesn’t seem at all fragile. I lugged the thing between the lab and my apartment a couple of times and I didn’t hold back when using it. There’s just no denying that it feels like a more “affordable” product than something very solid and premium feeling like the Wacom Cintiq Pro series.

The express keys are very clicky, both of the scroll wheels felt solid and gave a nice tactile response when using them, and the touch-sensitive buttons on top of the display, which are used to access things like the Menu and Power, never gave me any trouble. Overall build is good, just not “high-end.”

In terms of ergonomics, there is one big pro and one big con.

The pro is the fully adjustable stand that is included with the display and allows you to set the angle of your Artist Pro from almost fully flat to almost fully vertical without ever feeling unstable. You can really dial in your working angle for long editing sessions, which ends up being critical because of the one big con: ergonomics.

In most ways, using a graphics display is far more enjoyable than using a pen tablet: it’s faster, more intuitive, and there’s something really satisfying about drawing directly onto your image. However, putting in long sessions on a graphics display is either going to be a pain in the back or a pain in the shoulder because you’re either bent over the display (back pain) or you’re holding your arm up horizontally to maintain the best posture (shoulder pain).

This might seem like an odd thing to focus on, but it bears mentioning if you’re choosing between a pen tablet and a pen display. Something like the Wacom Intuos Pro or XP-Pen Deco Pro allows you to keep good ergonomic posture while editing for hours because you’re drawing on a flat surface on your desk while looking forward at your monitor. In contrast, even when it’s dialed in just right, there’s no way to keep perfect posture while using a drafting table-style graphics display like this.

Display

Right out of the box, the Artist Pro 24’s QHD/2K display looked great on my ASUS StudioBook 17 and needed only a small Gamma adjustment on my 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s not the most color-accurate display in the world—the much more expensive Cintiq Pro series or a photo editing monitor will out-perform it—but at 90% Adobe RGB coverage, it’s no slouch either.

The main feature of the display for drawing purposes is that it’s “laminated,” meaning that the display and the touch surface have been more tightly bonded together to minimize the distance between the two and decrease parallax. This is critical if you want your pen input to land exactly where you expect it to, and is usually reserved for more expensive options.

For example, Wacom’s more affordable Cintiq 22 does not feature a laminated display. In this size category, the feature is reserved for the $2,000 Cintiq Pro 24.

The only downside to the display is the brightness, which maxes out at 250 nits. This is typical of graphics displays, and in an appropriate studio setting this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s definitely noticeable. Set it next to a high-end HDR monitor like the Dell I’m using right now or most premium laptop displays and it will be noticeably dimmer.

Pen Performance

In terms of pen feel and performance Wacom is the gold standard, so the best compliment I can pay the XP-Pen Artist Pro is to say that there is no noticeable difference between my experience with XP-Pen and my experience with Wacom’s Pro Pen 2.

The two are identical on the spec sheet, but that’s not what I’m referring to. In years past, XP-Pen used battery-powered pens that suffered from problems like input lag and glitchy lines with a noticeable “wave” to then, even when using a ruler to draw perfectly straight. This is no longer a problem as far as I can tell.

Tens of hours of use later—including 6 uninterrupted hours hand-painting an electron micrograph, and a side-by-side pen-tool test with the Wacom Cintiq Pro 16—and I couldn’t notice an ounce of difference in performance.

Customization

In my opinion, the best-designed feature of the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 is the customization.

Both sides of the Artist Pro 24 include 10 customizable “express keys” and a very satisfying mechanical click wheel that can be toggled between four different functions.

My express keys were set to the most common macros and Photoshop tools that I find myself using, like Undo, Brush/Eraser toggle, Pen Tool, New Layer, Hand Tool, and a Click Wheel toggle. The click wheel was set to Brush Size by default, but a quick press on the toggle key would switch the function to Zoom, then Rotate, and then Layer select.

Taken together and properly customized to your particular workflow, this level of tactile customization allows you to ditch your keyboard entirely. And this applies whether you’re right- or left-handed since there are a click wheel and 10 express keys on both the left and right of the display.

Additional Features Worth Mentioning

There are two additional features worth mentioning, although they’re pretty minor

Firstly, the display features a USB hub with two USB-A ports for hooking up a mouse or hard drive or charging your phone while you edit. It’s a nice-to-have, but I didn’t find myself using it very much. Still, in this day and age where your laptop might only have one or two (or zero… looking at you Apple) USB Type-A ports, it comes in handy.

Secondly, the pen supports up to 60 degrees of tilt. This is useful for painting and drawing (think shading when sketching digitally) but it’s not particularly relevant for photographers/photo editing unless you come from an art background.

Missing Features

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what I see as three obvious omissions: touch-sensitivity, robust USB charging, and an SD card slot.

Touch Sensitivity: One of my favorite parts of using Wacom’s Cintiq Pro series is the touch sensitivity of the screen. You can turn it off if it’s causing problems, but when it’s on you can use your fingers to zoom and rotate the image just like on a smartphone or tablet.

Touchscreens are so ubiquitous in 2020 that I found myself repeatedly trying (and failing) to zoom or rotate my image using my hands while editing on the Artist Pro, and leaving smudges on the screen as a result. Eventually, I got used to this limitation and defaulted to the click-wheel, but it’s a noticeable omission.

Robust USB Charging: The Artist Pro 24’s USB hub does feature power delivery, but it’s really only enough to charge something like a smartphone. Despite the fact that you can use a single USB cable to connect most (but not all) USB-C equipped laptops to the display with full functionality, the paltry power output of the hub wasn’t even enough to keep my 13-inch MacBook Pro at baseline, much less charge it.

This basically eliminates the “one cable” benefit, since I had to plug my MacBook Pro into the wall to keep it from dying while I worked.

SD Card Slot: One feature I did find myself missing from the Cintiq Pro line is the built-in SD card slot. The XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 doesn’t have one, and I missed it any time I was using my MacBook since importing photos required yet another cable.

Now, all of the Windows laptops I own or am borrowing for review currently do have an SD card slot, so I don’t know if I should blame XP-Pen or Apple for my troubles, but it’s an easy feature to add and I hope the next generation Artist Pro series doesn’t leave it out.

Overall Editing Experience

All of the above comes together to create an editing experience that’s practically addicting. The best editing tools get out of your way and allow you to connect directly with the images you’re working on, and this is exactly what a large graphics display like the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 allows you to do.

It might sound like I’m gushing, but it’s made photo editing much more enjoyable for me. Never before could I put in a 6-hour editing session without getting worn out, and I found myself taking on more advanced edits than I would typically try.

Could certain things be improved? Sure! See the “Missing Features” section above or my gripes about ergonomics. But none of the cons outweighed the pros for me, and the biggest pro (as far as I’m concerned) was the ability to get into a state of “flow” while photo editing.

Conclusion

After several months of using the XP-Pen Artist Pro 24 consistently, I find myself more and more inclined to recommend it to friends who are in the market for a new graphics tablet/display. At just $675 on sale, it’s really hard to recommend anything else.

If a secondary editing monitor is in your future, it’s definitely worth considering a full-blown graphics display: especially when companies like XP-Pen are undercutting Wacom so drastically on price, without skimping on core features.

In summary:

Pros

  • Laminated 2K display
  • USB Hub
  • Fully-adjustable stand
  • Highly customizable
  • Top-tier pen performance
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Plastic-y build
  • No touch functionality
  • Weak USB charging
  • 250 nits max brightness
  • Ergonomics (applies to all graphics displays)

Whether or not a large graphics display is a good fit for you has everything to do with your workflow, your home studio setup, and how much time/energy you dedicate to photo editing. But if it sounds like the kind of product that could take your editing, your at least your experience, to the next level, I hope I’ve included enough technical details to allay any fears you might have.


P.S. If you have any additional questions, feel free to drop them in the comments or reach out on Twitter.


About the author: DL Cade is an art, science and technology writer, and the former Editor in Chief of PetaPixel. When he’s not writing op-eds or reviewing the latest tech for creatives, you’ll find him working in Vision Sciences at the University of Washington, publishing the weekly Triple Point newsletter, or sharing personal essays on Medium.

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REVIEW – Razer Core X Chroma

I like laptops.  I really do, but nothing drives me crazier than when editors are posting in Facebook Groups – Is this i5 laptop good enough to run Resolve….or Premiere….or Media Composer.  The short answer is yes, I’m sure it will run.  Will you be able to edit.  Sure.  Editing is nothing but cuts and dissolves.  The big question comes in “What else will this laptop (or even desktop computer for that matter) let me do?  You don’t need me to tell you that GPU power is as important, if not more important, than the CPU power itself.  You can deal with a bit of a slower CPU, because just like I said before, cuts are cuts, but when it comes to effects work, whether it’s in your NLE, or in After Effects or even DaVinci Resolve for that matter, GPU is king, and having a super strong GPU is exceptionally important.  But what do you do if you’re working with a bit of an aging laptop, OR, you’ve just purchased a laptop that doesn’t have the top of the line GPU in it or even a top of the line laptop GPU (you can only go so big in laptops, remember)?  Maybe it’s time to look at an eGPU, which is exactly what we’re going to do in this article.

So, let’s talk about the benefits of an eGPU.  The first major benefit is obviously the GPU boost, and the fact that your laptop won’t feel like it’s ready to burst into flames when using it.  Keep in mind that issues with your laptops GPU can cause application problems like Resolve crashing, locking up and even exporting issues.  With that said, overheating GPU’s can cause issues outside your applications like screen glitches, artifacts, or the fact that your fan seems ready to burst out of your laptop, like the Alien in the first Alien movie.  The other thing that is important to keep in mind if you’re going the Core X/Chroma route is that you’ll need to pick up a monitor when you pick up your Core X/Chroma, as your new GPU will need somewhere to output it’s signal to.  This will also give you the advantage, depending on your GPU of choice, to now have multiple monitors, as opposed to just the single display of your laptop.

MAC GPU vs PC GPU

This is always my favorite battle, as you have your hardcore fanboys on both sides of the argument.  Well, in this argument, you’re both on the same side for once.  Let’s be honest.  Laptop GPU’s can be powerful, but they also come at a significant cost.  There’s no point in talking about Mac/PC desktop, as the sky’s the limit when it comes to graphics cards (Well, at least for PC’s and Mac Pro users).  Mac users are limited to AMD graphics cards (for the new MacPro’s).  Looking at iMac Pro’s, you can at least max it out at 16G of GPU HBM2 memory for an additional $700 US.   Unfortunately, though, when it comes to Macbook Pro’s, you’re looking at spending the same ($700 US), to upgrade it to 8G of HBM2 memory.  Looking at PC laptops, you’re still looking at the equivalent max of 8G GPU memory, and looking to upgrade most laptops from 4G to 8G is still going to run you about $700 US as well.  Now, let’s talk about the bigger issue. I just built a new PC (yep, that’s right a PC) to edit with.  Media Composer, Adobe Suite, Scratch and Resolve, and my main feature of importance was not CPU, GPU or RAM (but yes, they were super important), it was actually ventilation.  Up until I started doing research for this article, I didn’t realize how important ventilation was, and that was really what started to kill my MacPro trashcan.  GPU overheat.  This is apparently a very common issue for PC (and even Mac) laptop gamers.  GPU’s overheating.  This is why you can actually purchase cooling pads/fans/trays to put under your laptop, to help cool your GPU down, so you can keep playing.  Have you ever tried applying OFX effects in Resolve?  SUPER GPU INTENSIVE.  I’m ready for my poor laptop to just explode when I start applying effects (joke).  But, that’s where an eGPU (external GPU)comes into play.

INTRODUCTION TO eGPU’s

The fact that Blackmagic Design offers an eGPU for purchase must tell you something.  Yes, Resolve is a GPU cruncher when it comes to effects work.  This is why I always tell people that if you’re planning on doing effects work in Resolve, GPU is almost more important than CPU.  I know you’ve all seen this window before…..

The Horror!

This is why choice is so very important and why, when researching this article, I decided that the BMD eGPU wasn’t what I wanted.  I understand that BMD is recommending what they think is best for GPU work in Resolve (BTW, this should also give you an idea of the minimum GPU requirements that Resolve needs to give you a smooth workflow – an AMD Radeon Pro 580).  Choice was what I wanted, and that’s why I went to probably the most trusted name in eGPU’s, RAZER, who makes eGPU’s for gaming.  Their eGPU’s give me flexibility and choice.  Now, what’s important to keep in mind is that for all my Mac friends out there, your choice is a little limited when it comes to choosing your GPU.  Mac users must stick with AMD graphics cards, as the AMD graphics drivers are downloaded automatically by Apple for you to work with.  Windows users (which I am one of in this article), can choose between AMD and nVidia, whichever floats your boat.  So, let’s now jump in and take a look at Razer and their options when it comes to their eGPU’s, and which one will be the right one for your workflow.

RAZER – THE CHOICE FOR eGPU’S

Razer offers two eGPU’s for you to choose from.  The Razer Core X and the Razer Core X Chroma.  The Core X has two models, the black and mercury, and how I choose between the two is whichever is in stock is the one I buy, as they are exactly the same, it’s just the color that’s different.  You might think that, on first glance, the difference between the Core X and the Core X Chroma is that Chroma has all kinds of cool lights inside, and the Core X doesn’t.  Well that is true, but it’s not the biggest difference between the two two units.  Let’s back up a second.  I’ll be honest here.  I’m pretty new to building a PC, but I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the beast that I built (more on that in an upcoming article).  There were only two things that I was adamant about.  One, major ventilation.  Check.  Two, Power.  I chose the Corsair RM1000x 1000w power supply.  What can I say, I need a lot of power, but more importantly, I found out when researching this article that not all GPU’s are the same, and some require more power than others.  That’s all fine and good when you’re dealing with a tower, but when you’re dealing with a laptop and an eGPU, this is one of the things that separates the Core X and the Core X Chroma.  The Core X has an ATX 650w power supply, and the Chroma has an ATX 700w power supply, and believe it or not, that 50w difference between the two can make a big difference when choosing your GPU.  The other main difference between the two is that the Chroma has 4xUSB ports and a Gig Ethernet port, as well as all the sexy colors you can have it change when using it (PC Only).  They both support up to a three card slot GPU, so you’re pretty much good to go, no matter which GPU you choose (minus the power issue I mentioned earlier).  One thing that is also super important for me to point out, and that is that the Core X and Chroma are both Thunderbolt 3 connections, so you’re going to need to make sure that your computer/laptop has one, before jumping in and getting started.  I am going to talk at the end of this article about how you can use one of these on an older Mac with Thunderbolt 2, so stick around for that.

WHAT COMES IN THE BOX?

These days, as tech gets better and better, and we cut down on bulky manuals for installation, etc, what comes in the box becomes less and less.  In the Core X Chroma box you get the Unit, power cable, thunderbolt cable and a mini manual with some stickers.  To be honest, the most important thing in the manual is where to find the serial number of your unit, so you can make sure you register it for support issues, should you need them.  Of the 14 installation steps, half of them are just about getting the GPU into the unit, so even if you have the most basic of computer experience (like me, just building my first PC), you’ll have it up and running in no time flat.

HOW IT WORKS

So, I’m going to assume that you have some basic computer knowledge for this part of the article.  First things first.  You’ll notice a “handle” on the back of the Core X Chroma.  It’s not a handle, so please don’t pick the unit up like it is a handle.  It’s actually the locking mechanism for the Core X Chroma shell.  Once you’ve lifted the locking bar into the “open” position, you can slide the tray right out.

Core X Chroma Release Bracket

Once you’ve unl0cked the sled, you can simply slide it out, and plug your new GPU into the unit.

Core X Chroma with Installed GPU

Once your GPU is good to go, simply plug in the power cables, and you’re all set to go internally with the unit.

Core X Chroma Power

This is where things get, well, easier.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked with an easier piece of hardware before.  When I fired up my PC and it was sitting on the desktop, I plugged the unit in via TB3 into my laptop, and the Core X Chroma took over from there.  Windows immediately detected the unit, and the Core X Chroma installed all the necessary drivers to get the unit up and running.

Core X Chroma Detection

Once there, it was a matter of downloading AMD Catalyst (as I’m working with the AMD Radeon Pro 9100X as my graphics card), and I was good to go.  Now, I say that I was good to go, but not quite, as even though you have the unit up and running, and your computer seeing the new GPU, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your applications will be using your new GPU power as it should.  For all you Mac users out there, your Mac should automatically download the correct AMD drivers (keep in mind that only AMD cards are supported on the Mac, not nVidia cards), and once downloaded you’re almost good to go.

ACCESSING THE eGPU ONCE IT’S INSTALLED

One thing that I love about these articles is that I always learn something.  Just because you’ve got your GPU in the Core X Chroma and can see it in your System Profiler or Device manager, doesn’t mean that your applications are taking advantage of it.  When talking about the Mac, and how it’s applications access the eGPU, it’s pretty simple.  Simple right click on the app and select “Get Info”.  You’ll notice a little check box that says “Prefer External GPU”.  Simple and straightforward.  Once you’ve checked it, the application will access the eGPU as long as it’s plugged in and powered on.

Mac eGPU

For Windows users, it’s a little bit different.  Here’s the process for getting Windows to utilize the eGPU based on the application you want to run it with.

First, head into your System settings (Start>Settings>System).  Once there, you’ll be on the Display settings, as they are the first to appear by default (if for some reason they don’t appear, just click on them on the left hand side of the window).  Now, scroll down until you see Graphics Settings.

Core X Chroma PC Display Settings

Once you click on Graphics Settings, you can now choose an (Classic) app to set preferences for.  Click Browse, and choose an application.  We’ll choose DaVinci Resolve as our app, as it’s a bit of a GPU hog.  Once selected, you’ll see that it now appears below the “Browse” button.  If you click on “Options”, you’ll now see that you can set your “Graphics Specifications” for the app.  You should notice that there are two GPU’s in there.  Your “built in” or system GPU, and the GPU that you have in the Core X Chroma.  You can set the app to High Performance, in this case the Radeon Pro WX 9100 (which is what I have in the Core X Chroma), and Resolve will use that GPU when running.  You can now tailor each app you want to utilize as you see fit.

Core X Chroma Graphics Performance

BELLS AND WHISTLES

Now, sadly for Mac users, other than the fact that you can use an external GPU to kick your GPU effects workflow into high gear, there are no additional bells and whistles.  The Core X Chroma will cycle through the available colors with no control support for you.  For PC users, you can install Razer Synapse.

Core X Chroma Synapse

What this basically is, is an interface between you and the “chrome” power of your Core X Chroma, as well as the capability of having the chroma capabilities of your different Razer devices synced to each other.  Remember, It’s called Chroma for a reason, and it’s not just because you get the extra USB power, and power boost.  You can basically adjust just about every color option of your Core X from the colors it will “output”, to the animations it works with.  For example, if you head to the eGPU tab of Synapse, you’ll notice in the lower right corner there’s a section called, appropriately enough “Effects”.

Core X Chroma Synapse eGPU

You can choose from Quick Effects to Advanced effects.  To be honest, I wouldn’t be picking this unit up for gaming, it’s going to serve a very specific purpose, so the Quick Effects is good for me.  I have the option of:

  • Audio Meter
  • Breathing
  • Fire
  • Spectrum Cycling
  • Starlight
  • Static
  • Wave

They are all pretty self explanatory when it comes to the type of color animation they have the unit produce.  To be honest, the entire time I was using the unit I left it on Breathing as I actually found it relaxing and somewhat calming, which can be helpful if you’ve been pulling your hair out with GPU issues, and you’ve just decided to purchase a new Core X Chroma.

THE DOWNSIDES

In short, there really aren’t any, but there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.  Is the unit a little on the big side?  Yes, but keep in mind that you have to fit a fairly large graphics card inside, as well as the power supply and fan, so it’s going to need to be at least as wide as a tower, to contain the hardware.  Is it expensive?  Not really.  The Core X Chroma is $499, and you’ll obviously need to choose the GPU that you’re going to want to put in it (which varies, obviously, based on personal choice.  But what does it give you?  Peace of mind that your overworked laptop won’t burst into flames when attempting to run all your GPU intensive effects.  Confidence that you’ll be able to work on the bigger projects on your laptop and not run into any issues, and the flexibility of being able to upgrade your GPU at any time, as it’s a simple swap out, and you’re back up and running in a matter of minutes.  Also keep in mind that since you’re now working with an external graphics card, you’ll need to purchase a monitor to check out your editing work on the big screen.  Again, you can go as small/cheap or as big/expensive as you want.  The Core X Chroma gives you that flexibility right out of the box.

SOMETHING FOR MAC USERS OUT THERE

So before I wrap up this article, I want to talk to Mac users out there, who are running Mac’s with Thunderbolt 2 connections.  Will the Core X Chroma work with your TB2 hardware.  For the most part, yes, it will, you just need to take a few things into consideration, before you get rolling.  First, you’ll need a TB2 to TB3 adapter from Apple.  Next, your system will need a little software modification to get rolling.

In researching this part of the article, I spent a lot of time over at egpu.io which is the best resource you will find on the internet for just about every eGPU and GPU combination out there on the market today.  You will need to modify your system using Purge Wrangler.  Why, you might ask, well keep in mind that using eGPU’s across TB2 (and even TB1) is not supported, so to get support, you’ll need to disable your Mac’s System Integrity Protection as well as well as disabling security for Secure Boot on T2.  Mac_Editor over in the egpu.io forums has come up with the “bible” of unsupported Mac configurations, that I’ve put a link to here.  I can confirm that the hack does work, as I had my MacPro Trashcan running the Razer Core X Chroma eGPU with a Radeon Pro WX 9100 graphics card.  It took a bit of finessing, but it worked.  Keep in mind that this is NOT supported so your mileage will vary.

CORE X CHROMA ALL THE WAY

Please, if you’re even considering buying one of the Core X units, it’s go big or go home.  It’s only a $100 price difference to get you the power supply to put almost whatever GPU you want in the unit, and not have to worry about power issues or running out of USB ports.  With all the being said, the Core X Chroma is a fantastic piece of hardware that if you’re a laptop user trying to push it’s little GPU as far as you can in an application like Resolve, and you find that it needs a little boost, the Core X Chroma is definitely something you should consider.  If you’re a Mac editor running a Thunderbolt 3 (or as you read before, even a TB2 device), and looking to pack more of a punch with your GPU power effects, this is definitely the way to go!  You can get more information, and order directly from the website at this link.

 

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