To tell you the truth edit images on Photoshop using a mouse is a hassle nobody deserves, luckily today we have lots of options on the market to substitute a mouse and start using something better, like a graphic or display tablet and today we gonna talk about the new XP-PEN Innovator 16.
We also are going to talk a little bit about displays and graphic tablets in general and how you can use them to step up your editing game. So if you use LIghtroom or Photoshop you will see the power and versatility of editing drawing directly into your screen using a display tablet.
I am a fan of pen tablets to edit my images, and once I got used to it and have it tied to my workflow inside Photoshop I never looked back and tried a mouse for this purpose again. I have more than one pen tablet, a big one that uses in my office and a small one that is always with me on the road, so all my bases are covered.
For retouching images I can’t live without a tablet, every time I open Photoshop without one of my tablets hook up to my workstation I feel naked, serious, It is one of the most important tools in my workflow.
But what is a pen tablet?
Some photographer still use a mouse today to edit their photos, and when we talk about editing inside Adobe Lightroom there’s no problem it still works, but if you use Photoshop I have to say you have a better option.
On the market, we have two types of tablets that can be used to edit or retouching photos. We have pen tablets and also the display tablets.
Pen or graphic tablets are nothing more than a big touchpad that can be used with a pen to control your mouse pointer and translate your actions to the computer. This interface can be used on a great variety of softwares to interact more precisely with the tools inside the software. A display tablet is a pen tablet but is also a screen, therefore you can draw or interact with your computer using a pen direct into a screen.
For me, it looks much more natural using the pen directly on the screen instead of drawing at one place and looking to another way, like a graphic tablet, but is totally doable once you get used to.
Why do I use a display or graphic tablet?
For all my retouching jobs I like to have some kind of tablet around to make the edit that I need or intend to do. And there is a great reason for me to use a display tablet or a graphic tablet, the reason is control.
Have the control over almost all aspects of my brushes strokes with a tablet helps me to control opacity, flow, and size of my brushes inside Photoshop, it is a must for me. This way I can precisely address these brush functions just by pressing more or less the pen against the display and the results are much more natural than when I’m using just a mouse. You can see just a glimpse of the video below (no sound).
For sure you can use just a mouse to edit your photos, but you will have to constantly control the flow, opacity, and size of your brushes using the sliders which will hurt you edit timewise.
Today we gonna dissect one display tablet the XP-PEN Innovator 16 and see how this kind of product can be applied to your photography, and make you give up from using a mouse or your laptop trackpad. So buckle up.
XP-PEN Innovator 16 review
The Innovator 16 is the new release of displays tablets from XP-PEN and is designed to work for all creatives around. You can use it to draw, to retouch your photos, for photo manipulation and the list goes on. Every time you need a different way to interact with your computer and a tool like this can help you.
Out of the box
The first thing you gonna notice is how thin this tablet is. This is nice because it differs from other displays tablets that usually are bulky and cumbersome to deal with. If you are always on the road and need something lightweight you can use the Innovator 16 on the road without any problem, because been so thin and light it is easy to take it along with your laptop.
On the box you gonna find all you need. The tablet, the cables, power supply with an adapter for most of the outlets, a pen, a glove, a cleaning cloth, and the stand for using the product on an angle. Super simple box but very well thought.
Some products surprises us in a bad way while other exceed our expectation, and the later is the case of the XP-PEN Innovator 16. The tablet is thin lightweight and with a simple design. It feels sturdy and can handle your arm or hands with no problems. The screen doesn’t have much give so you can put pressure without fear. The buttons and wheels are good to work smoothly, the only thing I wish it had was backlit buttons to use it more comfortably on dark ambients, other than that no point to addressing.
The pen has a good shape and size with a pretty firm point and buttons that are easy to use and well placed. I wish the pen had a little more weight to it, but nothing that you can’t get used to.
Talking about the screen it has a wide aspect ratio with pretty large bezels, which can be a problem for some people, I can deal with the bezels if the unit is light and reliable. The image quality is great, pretty good contrast and color coverage, the blacks are black, whites are white and the neutral gray is pretty much spot on. The screen has a decent refresh rate and sharpness, and you can expect good color rendition from the Innovator 16 screen. I noticed just shift towards the cooler color than my monitor, but nothing that can’t be solved using the driver app. If I have to give a mark for the build quality I would say it is 9 out 10, pretty satisfied.
As for the support stand it work well, my only complain is the height, it would be great to use the table in a more steep angle, but nothing you can’t solve putting a book or anything else under the rear legs.
Innovator 16 in action
Installation and driver
The installation is pretty simple. Just like any other computer peripheral you have to plug some cables and install a driver. The Innovator 16 comes with a power supply and 2 more connection cables. Just plug then and install the driver and you are good to go.
I always praise computer accessories that is easy to install and use, and the XP-PEN passed this test without any problem. The driver installation was a breeze, literally 2 clicks and it was done, no conflicts, no shady questions or side installations.
After the installation, you will have a little program called Pentablet which will be used to configure all the options of XP-PEN Innovator 16 have.
Before you start messing with all the software configuration I would advise you to adjust the brightness using the controls below the power button, which process is very important for those who are going to use the XP-PEN Innovator 16 to photo editing. In my lighting situation in my office, I found the brightness set to 50% worked perfectly.
With 8 express keys, the Innovator 16 can do almost everything inside your edit program without you having to touch your keyboard for shortcuts, but this configuration will not be perfect out of the box because this process will vary from person to person. Gladly the Innovator 16 let you configure your own shortcuts on the express keys.
Don’t be intimidated by all the options this tablet has, you will find your way through then eventually. Look at the image below.
Pen pressure configuration, how hard or smooth you want you the pen action to be
Export or Import user settings for future use
Screen precision calibration, to avoid parallax effect
Express key menus and configuration
Pen button configuration
For Windows user option to use or not Windows Ink support (can affect pen pressure function)
On the top of the drivers window you will also see a list of softwares you use once you finished your configuration. Out of the box the driver comes with a configuration that will suit some people.
This is a very common asset that many graphics tablet and display tablet have and can be a time saver for some people. Some tablet has more addressable keys other have just one or two, anyway it is good to have 8 on the Innovator 16. And have the ability to create a set of configuration based on your prefered software is an awesome addition to your workflow.
On the express key menus, you can also create combination os keyboard strokes and put them on one of the express keys, you can even run a program just by clicking one button on your Innovator 16.
Also if you use more than one app on a daily basis you can define a custom express key for each app you use, super simple and useful, and without the need for the user changing any other configuration, just open the your programs and done the driver takes care of the rest.
In these functions you can address a Save command, and Undo or Redo, you name it. This is super useful when you are drawing or editing photos inside Photoshop. Along with the keys we have 2 control wheels that can be configured to act like zoom in and out, scroll up and down, or change the brush size of your program, neat.
On the Pen you have 2 buttons that also can be configured as your liking, and the pen pressure can be addressed on the tablet driver, so all your bases are covered.
I would suggest one change on the driver app tough, let us address more custom functions on the pen buttons just like on the express key, I could find a way to address an Alt + Right click, which is the shortcut that use on Photoshop (Windows) to change bush sizes and flow on the fly. Other than that hands down.
Once you know where everything is you will have to think of how you like to use your software and make the configs and shortcuts you most use, this way you can “forget” your keyboard shortcut.
Innovator 16 and Photoshop usage
For my Photoshop use, I configured the Innovator 16 so I can use minimal keyboard shortcuts, this way I can pay much more attention to my work. The wheels control the zoom in and out and the brush sizes. My settings on the Innovator 16 express keys are:
This way my workflow is settled, almost all I need to photo retouching is on the tip of my fingers. I still have to use some keyboards shortcuts, like choose brushes, clone stamp, and healing brush but my left hand is used to go to these shortcuts all the time I am happy with this setup.
When doing my retouching I pretty much choose the tool and start to work with it on the display tablet. Thinks like removing blemishes and unwanted hair is super simple to do using a tablet, the best part is having the pressure sensitivity helping to do a better job because the tools will react on how I press the pen on the screen thus giving me a much more natural approach to the job I am doing.
When doing dodging and burn I also give my brush the ability to vary in size, putting this together with opacity and flow control, I can do a very subtle work. This is only possible because of the pen pressure. If you are using just the mouse to do this you will have to move back and forward with the bush settings to achieve the same effect, and this will take a lot of time, so the investment in any pen pressure tablet will help you with your photo retouching.
Using the XP-PEN Innovator 16 to edit some photos was pure joy, no problems at all. What I really liked about the product was the total immersion that a display tablet gives us as a photographer on our images. The pen pressure after adjusted to my liking worked really well and beyond the expected.
On the picture below you can see a before and after of a 20-minute edit that I did for this article, just a simple skin retouching some colors and erasing some flyaways.
Check the video below to see the all the edit process (no sound)
As you can see this level of detail and subtlety is impossible to achieve using a mouse, at least in a 20-minute time frame. And if you image manipulation, composites, or any kind of artistic works inside Photoshop I would suggest you get a graphic/display tablet and make your life easier.
As you can create different profiles depending on the software you are using I also created a profile for my needs inside LIghtroom. On Lightroom we have more than one tab for working with our photos, so you will have to define which is the tab that you will spend more time on and make your tablet configuration based on that, since the shortcuts are different for the Lightroom tabs.
In my case is the Develop module. My configuration for the control wheels my configuration is the same as on Photoshop, zoom, and brush size. But the similarities end here because the express keys are completely different.
Working with the Innovator 16 on Lightroom is no mystery, just like Photoshop it works well, and if you use a program designed to the work as a DAM and a RAW edit software you gonna feel at home if you already use it with a mouse, the only big change will be the pen pressure when using the Lightroom Brushes.
Yes my friend we can use the XP-PEN Innovator outside of the realm of Lightroom and Photoshop. The main use I want to highlight is using it as a second display inside of Adobe Premiere as an example. You can organize your windows to split the job of showing some parts of the program on the Innovator 16 and other parts on your main screen. You will still have the option to use the pen to interact with Premiere and do your edits.
And this works for most of the software that needs a second screen, just configure your OS for using dual monitors and you are good to go.
This display tablet is great in this regard, with a lot of customization options, and a super user-friendly interface I can say it is very versatile. Using it to edit photos on Photoshop or Lightroom is a good experience and you will feel immersed in your photos.
Being a display tablet you can also use it as a second screen which gives you the ability to extend your workspace and double your screen real estate, this helps a lot on software with a cluttered interface.
The pen pressure is a huge advantage for any photographer when editing photos and this tablet is very good in this regard.
Any kind of pen tablet is a tool that many professional photographers can’t live without. Having the option to control various aspects of your brushes just with a pen push on the screen is a gift for making photo retouching.
Some specs of this product impressed me. How thin and light is on the top of my list. But the pen pressure, tilt support, and display resolution are the main features that sold me on this tablet. Here is a full list with all specifications:
Item Size (Inch)
17.45 X 10.09 X 0.35
Working Area (Inch)
13.54 x 7.62
8 + 2 * Roller wheel
1920 x 1080 pixels
92% Adobe® RGB, 88% NTSC, 125% sRGB
≥ 220 RPS
✓ ( 60 degrees )
Power Supply Input
Power Supply Output
Power ON Mode (max)
Power Sleep Mode
Power OFF Mode
Windows® 10/8/7, Mac OS X® 10.10 (and higher)
As for price, this is not a cheap toy, but you don’t have to think about it as an expense you have to think about it as an investment in your work. Every penny you put toward the quality of your work is worthy. The Innovator 16 is $499.99 (USD) which is much less than other brands for a product that gives us the same quality. When you put it into perspective it is a steal.
If you find yourself searching for a display tablet you can give the Innovator 16 a try using this link here and buy direct from the XP-PEN store. For those with more money to spend on a display tablet, you can try the Artist 24 Pro, or if still unsure if a display tablet is for you try the Artist Display 12 Pro.
Final thoughts on the XP-PEN Innovator 16
The Innovator 16 will change the way you edit your photos for sure, I can’t recommend enough to anyone any kind of tablet to do photo editing, It can be just a pen tablet or a display tablet, you choose. If you are in the market for buying a display tablet, I would highly consider the Innovator 16 for the job. It has a good price, a good size to be in your desk office, or even if you want to travel with it is not impossible. I will still keep my small pen tablet on my backpack, but for now on the Innovator 16 will live at my office where I have the space and need for more precise edits. As I said there only one or two points that I would suggest a change but overall it is a very good product and a well invested money. The Innovator 16 was sent to me by XP-PEN for this review and all written in here is my experience and thoughts about the product.
If you want more information about thee XP-PEN tablet and display tablets please check these links: