Review of the Month; Huion GT-220 v2 pen display

When I was initially writing this review last month, I came to a point where all I could say If you’re looking into moving digital drawing and painting, Huion GT-220 v2 fills that want with third the price of Wacom’s similar sized product. That’s the whole review in a nutshell, and expanding on that is slightly difficult. The reason for this not because Huion is worse product than its competitor, no. The reason for this that a pen display is only one-third of the equation. The second third is the software/s you’ll be using with the pen display, which doesn’t only impact what sort of lines you’ll be using, but also the digital tools you have in your use but also what you are able to do. Using Adobe Photoshop is a different thing from Paint Shop Pro or SAI. The last third is experience. You have may skill, which is easy to transition to digital realm in an extent, but you will always lack experience with any new given tool. If you’ve accustomed to work in a certain way with specific set of tools, changing to new ones will screw you up for a time, if not completely in certain situations. This applies to pen tablets doubly, as brands have fine but significant differences to them. We can always argue which brand has the best functions and why, but that’s always up to opinion.

To continue setting up personal point of comparison between tablets, my first proper drawing tablet was a version of Cybertablet M14 from early 2000’s. Before that I had used random huge, almost toyetic, drawing tablets on and off whenever I had a chance at certain schools. During the last decade or so, I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with Wacom’s tablets and pen displays. None of these had been what I’d call productive, as I always found myself being extremely limited for not being able to see where I was drawing. The fact that my eye-hand coordination was extremely hard to break made me abandon digital drawing altogether and concentrating on ink. TL;DR, I couldn’t get handle of digital drawing because the tip of the pen didn’t produce the line, it was the pointer on the screen.

Due to all this, this review will be more personal take on the item than previous, more objectivity driven reviews I’ve done. May that be a bonus or a detractor to you.

That said, any pen display would solve my problem. The problem just was that picking up a 13″ display would be too small when you’ve accustomed working on A3 size, but Wacom’s 22″ pen displays cost far too much for someone who always has to question his income. Thus, alternatives would need further research.

You can read GT-220 V2’s parameters at Huion’s own site, so I’ll be concentrating on the user experience and overall design of the pen display itself.

It’s hard to take good photos when you have no proper light, indoors or outside. Autumn is such a drab

First things first, I have a screen protector on, hence some of the bubbles and very slight scratching from the usage appearing in the photo. The design is very conservative in many ways, with it being a simple screen with nothing else going on with it. That’s a strength to GT-220, as this means there’s less things to break down on the outside.

The rubber bottom that serves at the basis of the display is meant to prevent shocks and raise it higher for easier access of the buttons on the lower right, as well as keeping the cords from the back from bending straight. However, this allows the display to pivot left or right if one is to lean unto it when working. I’ve solved this problem momentarily with thick cardboard rolls. This is not a problem for those who work in off the paper with only the pen touching the screen. I’ve found that this almost painting-position causes less stress and strain. This, in effect, is the only objectively negative point in the design of the piece, the rest are more or less subjective.

The back has two vents on both sides and one long line running near the top, otherwise they’re just your normal everyday plastic with texture. However, it’s good to show all the three leads you’ll need to run this pen display; the USB, the power and the VGA/DVI/HDMI. Without the rubber bottom, these would have to experience unnecessary stress, though it has to be mentioned that the way the rubber bottom has been installed is clearly an afterthought. Huion is using the same housing as they did with GT-220, so taking that into consideration the solution is understandable, but not wholly satisfactory.

Software installation was easy and there was not problems when following the guide. The software Huion delivers is rather spartan in function, but is efficient and does what it needs to do.

Pen configuration, pressure sensitivity, monitor select, test, calibration, settings import and export options. You don’t really need anything more with this tablet. Everything is very to the point. I’ve seen some claiming that the program does not save settings, but all that really is dependent on your screen setup. The pen display is recognized as a screen as long as you have it plugged to your computer and/or to the wall, even when powered down.  My setup is so that I have three screens, one of which is not always powered and recognized at all. This is relevant to the settings, as when you Export your settings, those same settings are imported every time you boot up. If you don’t Export your specific settings, the program will load up the default one. Now, because the pen display is the third screen I have, and the mostl-of-the-time-unpowered one is second, this means I need to check out whether or not the program recognized the pen display as the second or third screen. This also means that I can use the GT-220 as a standard, non-display pen tablet whenever I’d like to and draw to any other two screens.

The pen itself has lots of levels of pressure, which are all good and dandy. The tablet may not recognize angle of the pen, but that’s largely unnecessary. It’s a nice bonus to have, but this is one of the things you can work without just fine. You don’t miss what you don’t have. The pen’s light, and while others regard this a bonus, I would like to have slightly more heft to it. It feels just as cheap as any other pen I’ve used, but then again I would like everything to be made of steel. The pen display came with two pens and a USB charge cable (and a glove!) all of which is nice. The base contains a tool to pry a used tip off, with space for spare tips. Buttons are nice and clicky, just as you’d want them. The battery inside seems to have power for about three weeks worth of juice in it, but as usual with modern batteries, I’d recommend charging it after each use. During charging, a red light can be seen through the buttons.

The pointer does float somewhat off the pen’s tips, but this is not as straightforward as people tend to make it. There are three factors that affect how far your pointer is from the pen; thickness of the glass, the angle you are at and the calibration. You can muck around in the calibration and set your pointer into widely different positions from the tip, or spend a day like me and optimise the distance, only to change your posture and see the tip veering off a bit. How much the pointer lags behind the tip is within standard deviation compared to other tablets, and partially based on your hardware setup. The GT-220 doesn’t have any computing in it, so everything has to be done in your PC.

Speaking of buttons, the pen display lacks any of them outside Menu and settings. No shortcut keys to you. Whether or not you want them is up to you, but the lack of them is a plus to yours truly. Never cared for those anyway. The way I solved the lack of Ctrl+Z in one key press was to use a separate keypad and configuring that to host wide variety of macros, though I still tend to rush back and forth in Paint Shop Pro and using its on-screen buttons. Because how I’ve learned to utilise the pen as a tool in general, I have no need for a touch screen or quick macros, though I should get a better keypad with in-built macro modifier, like in Logitech G13. The total price would still be lower to Wacom’s 22″ displays, and you can use that keypad for variety of games, and with different settings, for variety of programs to boot.

The way the display reads the pen is really what you’d expect. The best way to showcase some of it is through it’s own Pressure Test tool.

Scribbles, always with the scribbles…

While not a draw tool in itself (hence the angles rather than smooth lines), the Pressure Test shows that with the above settings, the pen can do wide variety of thicknesses from the get go. While some prefer a heavy handed  approach to achieve thickness, I’ve set it one notch below middle way, meaning all I need is a light touch. The lines the display gives is very good, very standard, nothing to scoff at. A better example might something very quick, like a Pikachu done in Microsoft Paint.

Well that’s a piece of shit

Paint is something everyone on Windows can start up and make a comparison to. Paint limits the way line thickness works, but the that’s slightly beside the point. Here you can see that it does not do angles, unless I decide to do so. Pretty much everybody use a stablisation program anyway, but I’ve had a hard time getting my head around getting used to any I’ve tried out, be it Lazy Nezumi or something else. If you want something more wholesome, roll into Twitter. I do scribbles from time to time. Now that I think of it, in the previous transforming mecha design post I already used this pen display to quickly draw the examples. Nothing terribly exciting or decent, but showcases things a bit more.

This might be a good spot to say that a pen display does not make you better. It certainly give you better tools, depending on the software, but it’s up you just take up the pen and draw all day long, every day. Practice makes perfect, and perfection can’t be achieved.

The screen itself is nice. It’s bright enough to blind the ever living shit out of me, and the colours are satisfactory enough, hard to say how off they are without external equipment. I didn’t see any colour popping too much on top of another.

Part of the experience is, of course, with the screen itself. Huion uses a glass display, which is very sleek and very friction-less. It’s not like drawing on paper, but drawing with a tablet never is. Wacom advertises itself with its surfaces that have slight paper-like grit to them. Whether or not you value this is up to you, and you can pick up screen protectors with different grit to them. Again, to what you’re used to plays a big part. Once you learn to paint on glass, moving up to this kind of pen display is easy.

Huion GT-220 v2 might lack some of the capabilities its three times more expensive Wacom equivalent costs, I really have to question how much there is need for a touch screen function, macro keys on the display itself and angle recognition. Again, it’s all about how you’re used to work and what’s most efficient way for you to work rather than what’s available to you. Sometimes too many options and tools hampers the progress, and the core tools and the mastery over them is often more than enough.

At the moment, Huion is selling these pen displays on Amazon for some 510€. At this price, the GT-220 v2 is extremely good for starting to draw with a pen display or tablet in general. All that it lacks is luxury after all that only add to the price. Wacom enthusiasts will scoff at it, but Huion as a Chinese manufacturer has been catching their missteps along the way, and GT-220 v2 is their best piece thus far.

While I don’t have enough time to properly practice, for the last three months I’ve done all my drawing wants and need on the pen display. I’ve been happy that it works as expected, and the only thing that keeps things from being better is me myself.

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