EXAM – Let me say up front that I use an iPad Pro (2018 – due for an update) to watch videos and sketch ideas using the excellent Apple Pencil. It’s a dream tablet in many ways, except one. As good as the iPad is, it only uses its own apps, not the Mac graphic design apps I’ve used my entire career. So the iPad is a great, but limited, tool in my designer arsenal. I’m a Mac snob familiar with hardware and especially software. As an expert Photoshop user, I need a way to draw and edit using a pen (stylus) – and the iPad doesn’t meet my daily needs. Enter the XP-Pen Artist 13 (2nd Generation) display, a monitor you can draw on with a stylus. Can it replace the iPad or at best complement it?
What is that?
The XP-Pen Artist 13 Pen Display (2nd Generation) is a graphics tablet that you can draw on directly using a proprietary stylus instead of a mouse. It acts like a separate monitor because that’s exactly what it is. It connects to a laptop or desktop computer like any monitor would.
The Artist 13 Pen Display is the 2nd generation model of XP-Pen, with some improvements over the original Artist 13. It is a small tablet with a screen size similar to a 13-inch laptop.
Although you can draw on the Artist 13, it is not an iPad-like tablet. It needs to be connected to a host computer via a single USB-C cord or a more complicated 3-cord-in-one setup. More on that later.
The XP-Pen Artist 13 pen display uses a wireless pen that requires no charging – it works as soon as it is picked up. Driver software is required to run the XP-Pen tablet, which all tablets need to work. Once the software (Mac or Windows) is loaded and configured, the computer sees the tablet and thinks it is a monitor, which it is.
When using the Artist 13, the stylus can act like a mouse – open and close windows, select and drag objects – everything a mouse can do, except it’s held like a pen.
- Color Options: Black, Blue, Green, Pink
- Dimensions: 378 x 225 x 11.99mm
- 9 Shortcut keys
- Display resolution: 1920 x 1080
- Color gamut: 92% NTSC, 130% sRGB, 96% Adobe RGB
- Contrast: 1000:1
- Complete lamination
- Pen X3 Elite
- Pressure Levels: 8192
- Tilt: 60°
- Resolution: 5080 LPI
- 2 USB-C ports
Design and features
We are in the golden age of digital graphics with computers, portable devices and accessories, such as graphics tablets. These tablets have been out for a while and the selection is almost overwhelming. Sizes range from 6 to 32 inches, with prices to match! Wacom has always been king, but that’s changing fast. XP-Pen is a competitor that makes (I think) too many models of graphics tablets, both graphics (black slate for the desktop) and display (color screen).
XP-Pen prices range from ridiculously affordable to seriously pro territory. The XP-Pen Artist 13 (2nd Gen) pen display is in the affordable range for hobbyists, art students, or entry-level professionals on a budget. At $250, you might think, “I can get an iPad for that.” Yes you could, but it wouldn’t run any Mac/Windows graphics software. Since artist 13 The graphics tablet is a monitor, it displays all the software that your computer will run. This is the huge advantage of tablets over all standalone tablets.
Four colors are available: black, green, blue and pink. This review is the green model. If I had a choice, I would have chosen black or blue over green and pink, but at least there are choices. Regardless of the color of the tablet, the front screen and the beveled area remain black.
The XP-Pen Artist 13 pen display is a 2nd generation model. It features a slimmer profile, improved hotkey layout, better X3 chip stylus, and a fully laminated screen.
The XP-Pen Artist 13 pen display is small and light enough to fit in a backpack with a laptop. It can be fully powered by a single USB-C cord (if your laptop is a newer model with USB-C). Otherwise, the tablet requires a clumsy 3-cord setup: USB a (power), USB A for the connection, and HDMI for video. It’s a mess of strings. The single USB-C cord provides everything you need in one cord. The irony is that XP-Pen does not include any USB-C cable with the tablet! It must be purchased separately.
XP-Pen includes a neat row of easily accessible shortcut keys. These keys are ideal for different shortcuts that can be assigned per application. For example, a button might be set to zoom out in Photoshop, but have a completely different function in Adobe Illustrator. Key assignments are defined in the XP-Pen driver application and can be changed at any time. This is a great solution for time-saving shortcuts, except I disable them all. Years ago, I learned shortcuts on my trusty keyboard, and I’m too comfortable with this setup to change. Younger artists who aren’t so set in their ways may appreciate the buttons more than I do.
The X3 Chip Stylus (Pen) is the new XP-Pen stylus technology that gives the stylus over 8,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, the ability to draw any line thickness in a single stroke by applying pressure . The result is a smooth transition in line thickness that makes a drawing look more professional, “less digital.” It also has a 60° tilt and (according to XP-Pen) a more precise experience. As advanced as the X3 Chip stylus can be, I have another XP-Pen tablet without the X3 Chip stylus and it works great.
The pen is comfortable to use and light, a bit too light for my taste. I prefer a more weighted pen when drawing or retouching. I would pay extra for this option. The pen sports a few toggle hotkeys on the body. They are sometimes too easily pressed, which can lead to unintended shortcuts. Even so, the buttons on the barrel can be handy, but again, I don’t use them.
The The matte screen has an anti-reflective coating with a slightly roughened surface that reproduces a feeling of drawing on paper. The screen is fully laminated. This eliminates parallax, allowing the pen tip to align precisely with the screen cursor. Previously, full lamination only affected the most expensive tablets, but now it is becoming commonplace.
The matte display dulls the color of the screen a bit, but the trade-off for that papery feel is worth it. Few artists like to draw on glass. Otherwise, color accuracy is excellent for a tablet in this price range. The color gamut is 92% NTSC, 130% sRGB and 96% Adobe RGB, accurate enough for serious work. The screen resolution is only 1920 x 1080 pixels (HD). It’s not great, but since the screen is only 13.3 inches, this resolution is acceptable for this price. A a larger 1080p tablet would display pixels.
A missing element is a support. If you are using the Artist 13 on location with a laptop, a stand is not required. But for desktop use, you need a support to protect your posture. Fortunately, XP-Pen offers various optional supports, but not included with this tablet.
Note that the XP-Pen Artist 13 Pen Display (2nd Generation) tablet also works on Android in addition to Windows/Mac. I don’t use anything from Android (Apple snob) so can’t speak to how well it works. The XP-Pen website explains it better than me.
What I like
- Full lamination
- Portability (if that’s what you want)
What I would change
- Make the pen heavier
- Include a USB-C cable
- Include support
Daily use of the XP-Pen Artist 13 Pen Display (2nd Generation) tablet is quite pleasant. The screen is good, the stylus is comfortable (if too light), and the driver software works well on my Mac. My big issue with this graphics tablet is its size. I am not a portable digital artist. I prefer a desktop setup. 13 inches is too small for my needs. You can see a 27-inch XP-Pen display tablet on my desk. However, for students and professionals on a budget, the new Artist 13 pen display may be perfect for your needs. Don’t forget to buy this USB-C cable.