The Pen Tablet industry has been dominated by Wacom for decades. And for good reason: their products are well made and appeal to professional artists. So, most of Wacom’s competition has focused on price as their way of challenging Wacom for a piece of the market. You can buy a pen tablet that will do the basics for around $40. But there’s that old adage that still rings true today: You get what you pay for. That $40 tablet will work fairly well until it stops suddenly because the build quality is cheap or the draw lines start looking jittery after a month. To put it bluntly: If you want a good pen tablet that will last you have to pay good money for it.
And that’s where Xencelab’s Pen Tablets make their entrance. Finally, we have a pen tablet maker that can challenge Wacom by making a competitive product both in its build quality, bundles, and, most importantly, drawing quality. This review will describe why the Xencelabs Pen Tablet is an excellent product for independent artists, art students and beginners.
"We promise that Xencelabs products will be easy to use, adaptable for every artist, and include useful and innovative features. These products will be reliable, properly tested, and developed with the input of professional creatives. Most importantly, our tablets will deliver a great drawing experience."
The Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small
Xencelabs sent me their new Pen Tablet Small version a few weeks ago. I was immediately impressed with both the contents of this entry-level pen tablet and the way it was packaged. Quality was the word that came to mind. Much like the way Apple packages their products, this Xencelabs Pen Tablet not only looked great with its flat-black theme, but everything was just so well laid out. I actually stopped unpacking just to admire the way everything fit together in the box. This indicates that the company attends to the details even down to how the product is packed and presented to the buyer/user.
I was even more taken with the contents of the package. Not only do you get an attractive, ergonomic tablet, but you get two pens (one wide-barreled with 3 programmable buttons and one thinner barrel pen), a half-glove for your drawing hand, an attractive storage case for the tablet, and plenty of replacement nibs inside (along with the pens) a beautiful flat-black storage box. You also get a USB cable if you want to connect directly to your computer, a dongle for wireless connectivity, and a simple USB-a to USB-c adapter.
The price for the Xencelabs Pen Tablet small is $199.
It took about 10 minutes to set up my pen on my Windows 10 workstation. In fact, I spent longer admiring the package than actually setting the pen up on my system. The single-page Quick Start Guide indicated that I should update my drivers, so I went to Xencelabs.com and downloaded the current drivers along with the Xencelabs software application, both of which were installed flawlessly. Overall, I had the tablet and the large-barreled pen set up in front of my keyboard in about 25 minutes.
Using the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small
The tablet itself is unique in its design in that the bottom slopes down to allow your arm to rest comfortably on the tablet. There is an easy-to-reach power switch along the top edge of the tablet which slides on or off. A three-button programmable button combo is at the top center of the tablet, which by the way conforms to a 16:9 aspect ratio with a live drawing area of 6.93 x 3.89 inches. It’s a nice touch that Xencelabs included lit area markers to orient you to the live drawing area. The tablet's overall size is 9.21 x 7.27 x 0.3 in. Pressure on both pens is 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity with 16 degrees of tilt. There are sturdy rubber buttons on the bottom of the tablet that is just the right size to keep the tablet from slipping, but not too large so that you can lay your tablet on top of a laptop keyboard without depressing the keys.
The default settings in the Xencelabs application were a little too strong for me, so I lowered the sensitivity a bit until I realized that I really needed to use the glove that Xencelabs provide with the tablet. The heel of my palm was causing slight interference with the tablet's tracking. Once I put on the glove (I have large hands) any interference stopped and I was able to start drawing and maneuvering within my drawing application.
Drawing with Xencelabs Pen Tablet
I’ve never been comfortable using a tablet where you couldn’t directly see and draw on the same screen. It wasn’t until I started using an Apple Ipad and Apple pencil that I finally relaxed and started drawing and designing naturally. The Xencelabs tablets are built so that you draw on the tablet while looking at the screen on your computer. Most general pen tablets adopt this type of technology. But it does take some getting used to as you have to develop the skill of knowing where your pen is on the screen in front of you.
I struggled initially, but not because of the Xencelabs tablet. It was because I was used to the Ipad. But after about an hour, I started feeling more comfortable. The Xencelabs tablet allowed for pressure-sensitive drawing strokes with easy erase. The ability to simply turn the pen around and use the head of the pen to erase is so great. Buttons are conveniently located and easy to use. Between the undo button and the eraser, I got a nice drawing flow going that let me forget about the pen. There were no jiggles or broken lines in any of my strokes.
Keeping in mind that I am not a great drawer, I sketched a portrait, inked it, and added color in about an hour inside of Adobe Photoshop CC. See the results below.
My drawing skills are poor, but the Xencelabs tablet made it easy (and fun) to draw
While it does take time to get used to not looking at your hands as you draw, it only takes practice and patience so that the process becomes second nature. This brings me to my first thumbs up for Xencelabs Pen Tablet: they make this learning process easier. By paying attention to detail Xencelabs stays out of your way as your use the tablet to draw. Sounds simple, but it’s not that easy to design and create hardware that is simple to use and adjusts to a variety of users' goals and lifestyles. And my second thumbs up is with Xencelabs drivers/software. They have created a simple user interface that, while not revolutionary, allows you to understand what’s presented and quickly make adjustments to pen pressure, controls, and more. You can even make separate pressure levels for each pen and the application remembers them which saves you time and effort. I’m also impressed with the extras they offer in their pen tablet package: two pens, a well-made carrying case, a glove, and USB/BlueTooth plugs. Another indication that Xencelabs is a detail-oriented company.
The space between Wacom tablets on the high end and the cheap tablets on the low end is not as great as you might think. Xencelabs have their job cut out for them to compete with companies that have had years of development not to mention a devoted userbase. But I’m very impressed with the Xencelabs Pen Tablet small. I wish I had this tablet when I started out years ago. Price-wise it’s right in between Wacom 4K and lower-end alternatives. Some have complained that the price ($199) is too high, but I believe that users will pay for quality. Look at Apple products: you can get a perfectly good Windows laptop for half the price of a Macbook Pro and yet users (especially artists) consistently choose Apple Macbooks. That’s because they want a simple, dependable, and quality piece of hardware that has an excellent build quality and performs at a high level. And that’s exactly what Xencelabs have created with their pen tablets.
So, who would benefit from a Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small? I believe independent artists, students and beginners to drawing would find the small tablet perfect for their needs. Professionals should probably look at the Xencelabs Medium Pen Tablet which has an additional controller and larger draw area. Check the links below to find out more.
I’d like to thank Xencelabs for sending me their tablet for review. My opinions are my own and I have received no compensation from the company.