Microsoft targets digital artists with substantial Surface Pen updates

The new Surface Pen update makes it faster and more pressure-sensitive than its predecessor. Microsoft

Just days ago, Microsoft announced an upgrade to its Surface Pro touchscreen computing device (Redmond hates when you call it a “tablet”). You might have missed it, because not much has changed. Surface Pro now features the latest 7th Gen Intel processors, extended battery life of up to 13.5 hours, and a sleek new keyboard covered in Alcantara, a material that looks a bit like suede but is made from polyester and polyurethane to make it durable. . What has changed significantly, however, is the Microsoft Surface Pen, and that could be a big step forward for Microsoft in its current efforts to woo the creative class.

The Surface Pen is no longer bundled with the Surface Pro, but it has gotten performance improvements in almost every column of its spec sheet.

One of the most notable improvements is the shortened latency of 21 milliseconds, which is twice as fast as the previous model. According to professional illustrator Clint Baker, responsiveness is key to being able to capture the nuance of an artist’s style. “I want drawing on a digital format to feel like drawing on paper or canvas,” he told me over email.

Illustration by Clint Baker
Illustrator Clint Baker created this work using a Wacom Cintiq 22, which is familiar equipment to many digital illustrators and is both slower and less sensitive than the updated Surface Pen. Clint Baker

Baker says he does about 70% of his illustration work digitally using a stylus. He currently uses a Wacom Cintiq, which is one of the standard setups in the illustrator profession. Large, pro-grade Cintiq displays keep the response rate at around 12 milliseconds, but Microsoft’s Surface Pen is actually faster than Wacom’s more portable Cintiq displays, which are more comparable in size and price and have a response rate of about 25 milliseconds. . Apple, unsurprisingly, does not disclose the latency of its Pencil.

Pressure sensitivity is another area where the Surface Pen has increased its performance. It now recognizes 4,096 different pressure levels, compared to 1,024 in the previous model. Baker says this is another important feature. “So much personality comes out of the quality of the line – and it has a lot to do with the pressure.” Even high-end Wacom Cintiq drawing displays only claim 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity.

Surface Pen now recognizes pen angle to control line shape and shading. This feature is popular in the Apple Pencil. Microsoft also claims to have reduced parallax performance, meaning the line you draw will appear closer to the pen tip the further you go. The screen glass can sometimes give you the impression of being separated from the drawing, which can be annoying.

Microsoft also announced updates to its pen-based software, such as a new Whiteboard app, which serves as a space for collaborative drawing and note-taking. The virtual “pencil case” can also now help shuttle brushes and pen settings with you between apps.

This is all great news if you’re an illustrator or photo retoucher, but Microsoft doesn’t want the upgrades to only bring net benefits to creative professionals. The stylus will play a bigger role across the Windows 10 line of touchscreen devices, which includes precision control in apps like PowerPoint. At the very least, your stick figure doodles and 3D cube drawings will feel more like they’re done on ink and paper than scraps and glass.

Marilyn M. Davis