Surface Pro Pen Pressure for All

We’re friends now.

They did it! After three months of no pen-pressure support in programs like Adobe Photoshop, Painter, and Paint Tool SAI, Microsoft and Wacom have worked out a driver for the Surface Pro that fixes it all. Head over here to snag it:

This is a great thing for a couple reasons.

Number one, it makes the Surface Pro a useful device no matter what creative programs you run. You can now get one with the confidence that pressure support will work as you’d expect across all your major programs.

Pressure support on Surface
Sweet thin-to-thick ACTION.

Number two, it works very well. Better, in fact, than previous Wacom pressure drivers I’ve used on tablet PC’s. Remember that Fujitsu T902? It, and other systems like it suffer from less-than ideal palm rejection (meaning every once in a while your canvas goes “SEE YA, I’m going over here now because you touched me with your hand before that pen tip, and that hurts me”). There’s also typically a weird bug where every fiftieth brush stroke or so, these systems randomly lose pressure support, leaving you with the burden of hitting ‘undo’ frequently. Granted, the driver’s only been out for a day, but so far I’ve experienced none of that with the new Wacom driver on the Surface. It works more like what I expect from Microsoft’s Ink API, where palm rejection and pen pressure are very consistent. This all makes me a happy nerd.

The New Hotness
The New Hotness

In other news, I’ve done another upgrade to my setup in the form of a different pen. This is the Wacom Bamboo Feel (I got the Carbon, because it’s more durable and has a nice weight in my hand). I find it to be more accurate than the stock Surface pen, and more similar to the calibration of the pen on my old Cintiq. Explanation:

GAH! Stop hiding!
GAH! Stop hiding!

With the stock Surface Pro pen, the little doohickey that says “Here I am” to your on-screen cursor is placed slightly back in the barrel of the pen, instead of the pen’s tip. This means that the cursor is usually hidden beneath the pen tip instead of being just in front of the pen tip, as you’d be used to if you use a Cintiq, or other tablet device.  This picture’s taken from the side, so you can actually see the cursor, but when viewed normally, facing the screen, you totally can’t see it. There are attempted calibration workarounds to this, and I tried them all and found them insufficient.



Switching to the Bamboo Feel, you can see the difference in registration: that cursor is right in front of the pen tip, where you expect it to be. This makes joining fine lines in a drawing and picking through tiny interface elements on the Surface’s hi-res screen MUCH easier, at least for me. Your mileage may vary, but I’d say give it a shot if you aren’t satisfied with the stock stylus’s accuracy.

Tech blogging complete. Moving back to pretty drawr-rings.


52 Replies to “Surface Pro Pen Pressure for All”

  1. I’ve been considering getting that Wacom Bamboo Feel pen, but I have a question: does it have any kind of side button? It looks like there may be some kind of notch on the side of that pen but I analyzed pics of it on Amazon’s site and couldn’t be sure. None of the reviews were conclusive either. The side button isn’t mandatory, but I’ve gotten quite used to using the Surface Pen’s side button for right clicking. I could (and probably will) work around it, but I’m just curious.

  2. Hey man, I just downloaded the new driver and now my stylus only responds to a small area in the top left hand corner. I know you’re not tech support hehe, but I was curious if you have any suggestions on how to fix this. Also I tried to go through the pen calibration settings and it just isn’t happening, the pen doesn’t want to go anywhere beyond the same small area in the top left hand corner. Any suggestions would be awesome.

  3. Sorry you’re having trouble! It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve encountered. Maybe try Wacom or Microsoft’s tech support. Usually with driver issues I just try loading a restore point before I installed the driver and try installing it again. Weirdly, it sometimes works.

  4. The 1″ corner bug happened to me. Are you using a resolution less than the full 1080? Regardless, type Windows key + W to search settings, then type “Services”. “View local services” should highlight. Press enter to launch that. Then scroll the list until you see “Wacom ISD Service”. Select that and click the Action menu and then “Restart”.
    Also try setting your resolution to the native 1920×1080, reboot like that, and then after that I think you can go back to the resolution you prefer without having that 1″ square bug thing happening.

  5. Thank you for your posts on the Surface Pro. I intend to check out Manga Studio 5.
    I use a Samsung Slate 7 for cartooning and caricature. I also just got the Wacom carbon fiber Bamboo Feel stylus and it’s great.
    I don’t use a keyboard though for hotkeys. I have a Razer Nostromo programable gamepad where I program in my most used hotkeys. It sounds silly but I can velcro strap the gamepad to my left thigh while I draw caricatures with the Slate 7 propped up on a sturdy music stand.

  6. I’ve been debating between a 14″ screen and a 19″ screen. The smaller screen is portable and cheaper. How do you find working on the smaller screen of a Surface Pro? Your comics are fairly detailed (although I understand that you ink by hand after printing out the digtial blue pencils). Does the smaller screen make it difficult?

  7. Cool! Yeah, whatever works. I looked at the Nostromo for the same use. I do, however, enjoy being able to type and have the whole unit as one solid piece, as it turns out.

  8. If they made a larger size Surface, I’d be all over that, but I’ve grown accostomed to the size. It’s not the hindrance to getting work done I thought it would be. One of the things I dislike about a large screen is having to rest my whole arm on a hot slab of plastic/glass. But I do love the real estate.

  9. Can you confirm this is just as good as a cintiq 24HD? Pressure sensitivity wise? Or what do you say? I need the new 13HD or a surface pro… and I cannot test it in Denmark 🙁

  10. Pressure levels are the least of my concerns with these products, as they’re all good enough for what I do. I haven’t used the 24 HD. Comparing the 21ux to the Surface, for me the experience is nearly the same. The digitizer on the Surface is going to be less accurate in terms of cursor position at screen edges than a big Cintiq, but it’s about the same as the 12 inch Cintiq. The 13 inch one is probably more accurate.

  11. Thanks for the detailed review!
    Have you consider or ever tried the ativ pro 700t as well? Don’t know which one to choose for painting and graphic design.
    Also, is there an eraer for the bamboo pen?
    Thanks again, Any help will be much appreciated.

  12. Hi Tom- Accuracy degradation around the screen edges is an issue common to Wacom technology. They’re getting better at the pro grade, especially with larger screens. Their 12 inch cintiq has similar issues. That said, your screen shot looks a little more dramatic than I’ve encountered. If it’s impossible to click interface elements around the screen edges, something more drastic may be wrong. If it’s just a matter of your needing to compensate a little around the edges, that’s normal.

  13. I’m aware of the 700t. A lot of people like it! I played with the 500t a little. If i were to get a different machine, I’d look at the Helix. More ram, which is the major bottleneck on both the Surface and 700t.
    The bamboo pen does not have an eraser.

  14. I tried the surface pro at the Microsoft store, and found that the line that was being drawn was slightly below where the pen hit the screen. Is this the default behavior on the surface? If so this pen seems like a must.

  15. Pen offset toward edges is bit annoying in surface, other then that i quite like it. I have dpi scaling off to save real estate (i also have artdock installed and it does not work with dpi scaling) and its hard to hit items near edges / corners with 2-5 mm offset. Does the bamboo feel pen affect that in any way or does it only change the registration for pen tip?

    Anyway I also found this thread about more accurate/complex method for calibrating the pen with more then 4 points. I haven´t tried it myself yet though but it seems to fix the edge/corner accuracy to some extent.

  16. Jonathan,

    I’m curious what sort of calibration method you ended up using with the feel drivers and the bamboo feel pen.

    I’ve confirmed during my experimentation that the feel drivers are incompatible with the 100-237 point pen calibration utilities recommended by the xda folks, as installing the feel driver prevents you from defining pen calibration beyond the 4 standard points.

    Did you end up just using the stock calibration utility given by the feel drivers on your surface pro? I’m finding the four points of calibration to be fairly inaccurate for my purposes.

  17. Hey there- yeah, even prior to the Feel drivers, I tried that 100 point calibration tool dozens of times and different ways trying to get a better result, and never could. Now, I’m so used to the stock feel that going back to the 21 inch cintiq in my shared studio feels really inaccurate. For me, it’s mostly about getting used to the machine’s particulars.

  18. Jonathan,

    Thank you for the reply.

    I managed, with some experimentation, to actually get the 237-point calibration system working with the feel drivers, but it’s a one-way street: Once calibrated, for better or worse, no further calibrations can be performed on the device (short of a system restore).

    I think, at the end of the day, the key is consistency: If the digital brush consistently remains directly underneath the pen tip of the Bamboo Feel, and doesn’t drift to the sides (like it does on the current stylus), then calibration won’t be as important. Otherwise, I’ll bite the bullet and combine the two.

    Do you find that the Bamboo feel pen provides consistent behaviour in terms of where it assumes your brush is? I’m a pencil artist and the consistency of where the tablet assumes the tip is is very important to me.

    (Also, as an aside, what is the difference between the Bamboo feel and the bamboo carbon?)

  19. I do all my pencils on the Surface with the Feel Carbon, and find it works accurately, with the exception of the screen edges. The Carbon is just made of more durable material. As far as I know, it’s the same pen.

  20. Jonathan,

    I’ve ordered a Wacom bamboo Feel pen (non-carbon, as it is lighter and slightly smaller in diameter), and will experiment with it further once it arrives.

    Your help has proven most invaluable, and thank you for the excellent information.

  21. Aaaaaand I’m back. Your proposed use of the Wacom bamboo feel pen was excellent, and the inconsistent pen tip behaviour of the default stylus is pretty much missing from the Feel pen.

    What I find really odd is that the feel pen is actually optimised to work best with the calibration settings that come out-of-the-box with the surface pro, and recalibrating the screen tends to provide worse off effects than if I had left my default calibration settings alone. Has this been your experience as well? Or have you performed any recalibration using the 16 or 4 point mechanisms?

    Finally, Wacom just unveiled the Wacom Cintiq Companion and the Wacom Cintiq Companion Hybrid ( Do you have any plans to replace your surface pro with either of these devices?

  22. I leave all my calibration at the default setting. I find it works best.

    I really like the look of those Wacoms, yeah! I’m sorely tempted. There are things I really like about the Surface Pro form factor (after building my lap board for it) and I’m not sure how a similar system would work for the Companion. It might be pretty unweildy once you add a keyboard below its larger silhouette. Still, I may well jump on it for the 8GB of ram and increased working precision.

  23. Jonathan,

    Based on what we know, the recommended Wacom-brand keyboard paired to the Wacom Cintiq Companion isn’t physically connected to the device. The official website identifies it as a Bluetooth keyboard, and some of the images (including this one display the keyboard as a totally separate and asymmetric (size-wise) peripheral.

    This may be problems for portability purposes, as you’ll be essentially carrying two devices, not a single linked set, but you can always get around that with another “board” design, I would think.

    Granted, there may be a “flip-style” keyboard case third-party hybrid someday (like the apple iPad ones ), but given that the $2500 Companion will prove to be something of a niche device for professional artists, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    I guess at the end of the day, my biggest concern with the Wacom companion is price: I managed to snag a 750 dollar Surface Pro recently, and the Wacom Companion is a slightly more powerful variant for 3 times the price.

    But I suppose you get what you pay for.

  24. They are a chunk of change, but unfortunately they’re priced pretty comparably to other similar offerings. I’ve read others talking about how much less expensive the competitors are, but if you spec out a Sony Duo 13 or a ThinkPad Helix (which also uses the previous gen Intel chip), they’re both well north of 2 grand. Every manufacturer’s charging a premium for premium hardware.

    I had an episode last weekend where I was really struggling with the RAM limit on my Surface, to the point of losing a couple hours’ work. Long story short, it doesnt take too many moments like that to make me yearn for a higher spec machine, whether it’s coming from MS or Wacom.

  25. Jonathan,

    What resolution do you usually work in and (on average) how many layers do you use? I’m curious how large the dpi/layer numbers have to be before I start experiencing RAM slowdown from my Surface Pro.

    As something of a casual enthusiast, I tend to play with almost 20-30 layers at 300 dpi, so I’m hoping the RAM limit won’t affect me too much.

    Also, keyboard aside, I could definitely see a Wacom Cintiq being worth its weight in currency, especially for a professional comic artist like yourself.

  26. You’ll be fine. 300 dpi is no problem. I work at 600 dpi, sometimes 28×17 inches… that’s when things start to chug. I’ve done a few things at 300, and not had problems.

  27. I’m happy to report that my week of playing with the tablet in its optimal settings (with paint tool Sai, no less) have been fairly fruitful, though my lack of experience with digital lineart has been… telling. More practice will fix that, I bet.

    Because of your helpful information and the grand success that was the Wacom bamboo feel pen (+appropriate drivers from the wacom website), I’ve directed one of the managers of my local Microsoft store/kiosk to your blog. I actually showed him the pen yesterday and he was incredibly impressed by the accuracy improvement (to the point he wanted to stock it). So my thanks again for the excellent information!

    At the end of the day, even with professional competition like the Wacom Companion looming on the horizon, the Surface Pro will still find a niche as a portable budget Cintiq-esque tablet for artists on the move… at the very least, I can see why you and Mike Krahulik (of Penny Arcade fame) like the device so much.

  28. Thank you for your article, it helped me deciding for a purchase of a Surface Pro.
    I have a question: I bought the Wacom Feel Carbon too, and it is indeed a big improvement in accuracy, but I have some concerns about the pressure sensitivity. It looks to me that the Surface Pro pen is more accurate reproducing levels of pressure, or maybe it’s me that I don’t like the feeling of the Carbon tip. Did you noticed this too, or do you have any suggestion to improve it in any way?
    I’m also thinking about modifying the *right* button on the wacom pen in some way, it is just impossible to press it.

  29. Do you happen to know what the Pen and Erasure Pressure Levels are for the surface pro? I don’t know whether its okay to justify spending $$$ on a Wacom Cintiq over a Surface pro 2 for my Photography??? they are around the same price?

  30. Hi,

    I just downloaded the driver, but when I tried it on Paint Tool SAI, it did not work… (You did mention that was one of the programs, yes?) I’m sorry, I know your not tech support, but I don’t know what to do… Do you have any suggestions?

  31. All the art/illustration-related reviews I’ve read about the Surface Pro have made some mention of using a different pen than the one supplied. Am I definitely not going to be getting my money’s worth (Surface Pro + Manga Studio 5) if I don’t shell out for a different stylus, or it mostly a feel/weight/personal preference kind of issue?

    If I should definitely replace, are there any other worthwhile options besides Bamboo Feel?

  32. Just one question since Wacom’s official site does not give a hint or description:

    Is there one or two side barrel buttons?

    I am possibly inclined to get this, seeing how you have almost 90 degree tilt with no loss of tilt drift with the pen, but my current Lifebook pen has two side barrel buttons.

  33. Hi Jeff- My best recommendation is the Feel. You can get used to the stock one, but it’s both uncomfortable for long sessions and inaccurate. See my other posts for info on the differences.

  34. Hi, couple of questions if somebody could help me out:
    Is the standard (Black) model significantly less durable than the Carbon? I’m usually pretty careful with stuff, but it would be nice to be able to put something in my pocket with my keys and such and have it survive.
    Is there an eraser function on the feel styli?
    Does anybody have some recommendations for what to program into the side button?

  35. Hi, can the Bamboo Stylus Feel Carbon work in a touch pc dunno a HP maybe? or is it just for a Surface Pro ?

  36. Whenever I try to install the new driver, it tells me my Surface Pro 3 doesnt have anything compatible with this driver. Is there truly something I’m missing or doing wrong? I’ve been wanting to go back to Paint Tool Sai for ages, so this would really help me out.

  37. I just bought a Surface Pro 3 today. I’m overwhelmed with stress over the disappointing pressure sensitivity, or lack there of, in Paint Tool SAI, which is the whole reason I bought this thing– to draw on SAI. I immediately went to download this only to encounter the page saying it doesn’t work for Surface Pro 3’s, and indeed it didn’t. Please, please tell me there’s some way I can still get around this? Another drive, something?

  38. I’m sorry for your negative experience with the Pro 3- it’s one I share! I don’t recommend that model or version 4, because of the N-Trig digitizer (they changed the drawing technology after Surface Pro 2). I recommend returning the computer if you can and either getting Wacom’s portable solution, The Cintiq Companion, or an earlier model of the Surface Pro. Good luck!

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