Surface Book: artist review part 1

Surface book Artist’s review part 1


It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on my Blog. I’ve been mostly posting on my instagram these days.

My instagram account can be found here.


There’s been a shift from in my life and it’s kept me away from fun art. Things are slowly settling and I thought I would post my thoughts on the surface book.


Back in Oct 2016 my asus slate b121 kicked the bucket. My thoughts were to either try to get it repaired (with very vague price quotes for repair) or to invest in a Cintiq hybrid or a Surface Book.

There’s very few post or reviews on any hardware in a digital artist perspective.
So I thought I would post my thoughts on the surface book.
Two Illustrator friends Charlene Chua and Huan Tran bought Surface Pro 4’s and made a recommendation to me. I almost went that direction as well, but decided on the surface book.
  1. For the extra processing power  
  2. For the extra battery life.
I’m not going to get into the technical details of it.
  1. There’s better people who can inform you about the information than I can.
  2. It’s BOOoooooOOooooringggg to write.
I decided on a Surface book 256 i5 8gb gpu. I needed something for my portable art needs and for teaching (I usually do art demos that get projected on screen).
My Asus slate b121 were ok for demos and remote freelance gigs for notes and sketches.
For final artwork or higher resolution, the machine chugged.
Some doodling at the Microsoft Store
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Now straight out of the box in October when I bought the Surface Book, the pen sucked so bad. Which was kind of odd compared to the experience with the surface pro 4 in the store. I had tried a few sketches and it worked out ok. So why would the Surface Book with its beefed up hardware be worse than the book.
Thankfully there were people who had similar experiences and shared their solutions
Thanks Future Light Studios! (some of these performance issues maybe resolved from all the recent updates the last couple of months from windows 10)
Once with the new settings It worked so much better. I was able to get a smoother drawing experience.
The pen has a nice weight to it. Your experience might differ, it is much heavier than a wacom pen. It has a metallic body, and eraser at the back (I really dislike pens without erasers on the back of the tablet pen. I’m sure you can just hit the shortcut for eraser. But I prefer the intuitive feeling of just spinning the pen towards the eraser end.
I have a old Cintiq at home and have worked on the new Cintiq HD 24 and 13 from teaching.
So I’ve had time to play with those hardware.
So you’re wondering how does the pen compare. Well it’s not as good.
Just from a pressure test. The wacom is way more sensitive. It can capture the lightest of touch.
The surface book. I noticed didn’t pick up the lightest of touch nor does it take “tilt capabilitiesâ€
But that shouldn’t stop you from having a fun experience.
It’s a good time for artist to get portable drawing hardware now. This was such a better experience than my asus slate.
I use Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects. I use these software almost exclusively, and I wanted hardware that allowed me to use it (sorry Ipad and apple pencil)
So far I’ve rendered a few pieces at max 8000 Pixels and the Surface Book held up just as well as my desktop. I actually use it more than my desktop now since I can watch my son play, and once in awhile slip in some work.
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For a portable all in one system, I’m enjoying the experience. I’ve been able to mark and draw on the go. Take notes from phone calls. 

Previously I had my asus slate b121

And before that I used to lug a laptop and a Intuos 2 ’13 around (back in the late 2000’s). So I’m sure for any digital artist, there is a quest for a more portable system.
This Image was one of the pieces I did entirely working in Surface book.
luigi2.jpg
Compared to another piece where I did part Cintiq HD 24/13 and part surface book
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There is also one drawback that the surface book has. The Spine of the Book can not tilt back further than 100 degrees. Which makes it quite awkward to draw on.
You could just detach the screen and draw on it normally like any other tablet, but the downside that you will be sacrificing the extra battery life and processing power from using the base.
My work around has been flipping the screen and attaching the base. Unfortunately this means that the screen now covers the keyboard. I’ve had to purchase a small foldable keyboard so I can still type/mark assignments, and get access to shortcut keys for photoshop.
Here’s pic of my class setup connected to a projector.
I’ve also put a UAG drop protector on my Surface ( Just in case, I have a 3 year old, and I’m clumsy as heck if I don’t have my coffee.)

Battery life isn’t bad, I want to say I can get a good 6-8 hr solid use of power before I get low battery warnings. Depending on how much resources I’m using.


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Earlier this month Microsoft announced a new Pen for the Surface Family.
It’s supposed to be 4 times as capable as the current model (you can read about it here)
With possibility of Tilt functionality coming later this year (on Surface Pro 4 and Book, so I’ve been told). It’s coming world wide June 15.
Which I’m planning to get.
On recommendation from my Illustrator friend Charlene Chua, she had mentioned that the 2h Pen nib gives a better experience. I didn’t get it right off the bat. It was more like a forced thing after I dropped my standard nib and broke it.
But the 2h Pen is great. I might have broken my eraser at some point between the time I replaced the nib.
Fortunately no question asked Microsoft replaced it, with no extra cost on the nib, or the pen.(get the extra warranty).
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Surface Dial
I’ve only played around with it in store. Do I plan to get it? Not sure, since Photoshop doesn’t support it yet, but I believe it’s coming soon. I’ll probably take my book one day and see if they’ll let play around with it. Unfortunately in the Toronto store, they don’t have the license to have Photoshop installed (which I think is a huge mistake!! Microsoft get on that, if you’re selling to creatives amateur or professional, it’s better to give them a true experience with tools most creatives use!)

Overall thoughts

So in the end, is it the greatest digital hardware that a artist can have? No.
But it is a step in the right direction for digital artist in the future (and so far I’m happy for what it is).
It has a good balance of portability, performance and battery life. Will it replace my desktop? Probably not, my desktop has a cintiq with a bigger screen and my desktop system performas faster in some areas).
I plan to do another update once the new pen is available later this month based on the pen and using “gaming mode” in the windows 10 creative update to improve performance in photoshop.

See full post here: The blog of Kidchuckle.com: Vince Chui2017-06-05.