Month: June 2018

Huion GT-191: first impressions

I’ve already detailed all the problems I’ve had with the latest offering from Wacom. That was frustrating, to be sure, but I still found myself in need of a tablet of some sort. An iPad Pro with ProCreate was nice, but the screen was small enough that it was irritating to work with Photoshop for long periods of time.

So I decided to give Huion a try. They’re a Chinese company based in Shenzhen, aka that place in China where all of your electronics are manufactured. They’ve been up and comers for a couple of years now making cheap Wacom alternatives. At first it seemed like their products were a crapshoot, but the longer they’ve been around the better those reviews get.

I picked up the Huion GT-191. It’s the latest version of their stuff and at 19″ it’s just a tad bit bigger than the Cintiq Pro 16 which comes in at 15.6″ diagonal. I looked at their GT-221 Pro, but I’ve had a Cintiq 22HD on my desk before and the thing was too big for my space. Not to mention I don’t use express keys so the GT-191 with its lack of keys was perfect.

I’m going to break this down into three parts. The good, the bad, and the mildly annoying. Is Huion the Wacom replacement they so desperately want to be? Read on and find out!

The good

Price¬†– There’s no arguing with the price. The Cintiq Pro 16 goes for $1500. Go back a generation for the nearest equivalent and the Cintiq 22HD retails for $1700. Compare that to the $500 for the GT-191 and you’ve got a hell of a deal! If you’re looking for an entry level pen screen then this is the way to go.

Looks – Right out of the box I was impressed with how sleek and nice the 191 looked. The first time I unboxed a Cintiq 22HD I was struck by how damn bulky the thing was. The Huion is still thicker than the new Cintiq Pro line, but it’s nowhere near as bulky as the last generation Cintiqs.

Connection – The GT-191 has connection options for VGA, DVI, and HDMI. After all the drama surrounding the breakout box for the Cintiq Pro 16, which only supports USB-C natively, it was nice to have something that would plug in directly to my mid-2015 MacBook Pro without any go between.

Screen resolution – The GT-191 is “only” 1080p, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At 19″ the screen looks very crisp sitting beneath my main monitor, and I have to get up close to the thing to see pixels. Compare that to the Cintiq Pro 16 which looked a little pixelated running at 2k through the breakout box. Not to mention at 4k everything was a little too small. 1080 on the 19″ monitor feels right.

Size – The size is just right for my desk. The Cintiq Pro 16 felt a little small and I didn’t want to use it as a second monitor. When I tried out at 22HD the thing was too big for my workspace. I could see it being a good primary monitor for someone who only used the Cintiq, but for my setup where I mostly write on another monitor it wasn’t ideal. Plus I felt that the 22HD screen looked a little pixelated. The 22″ size was just a little too big for 1080p viewed at close range. The GT-191 feels just right and is also a nice second monitor positioned just below my main monitor.

Pen response – Of course this is the main reason to buy the thing. The pen. I’m here to report that it works beautifully. I’ve been using Wacom products since the Intuos3 back in 2007 and this feels more or less like a Wacom pen. You can adjust the pressure curve if you want to, but I didn’t find that to be necessary. Note that the pen doesn’t have tilt support. That’s not something I’ve ever used in my work, but I want to put that out there if it is the sort of thing you use a lot and it’d b a dealbreaker if the pen doesn’t have it.

The stand – The stand is amazing. It bolts to the back of the tablet and it’s small and unobtrusive while also being large enough to comfortably hold the thing up. Adjustments are super easy as well. It’s easy for me to pull the monitor into an upright position to act as a second monitor and then pull it down if I need to do some work in Photoshop. It’s far less bulky than a Cintiq 22HD stand and fits nicely on my small workspace.

It’s also way better than the stand Wacom is providing with their new Cintiq Pro line. Anything is better than nothing, right? It’s also way better and more solid than the flimsy folding joke of a stand that came with the Cintiq 13HD.

The bad

Color accuracy – What you see on the screen isn’t necessarily all that accurate. Out of the box the colors were skewed a bit towards the red. I switched the monitor to using the User color profile on the monitor and set it up on an sRGB profile in MacOS and that got rid of that problem. The colors are still a little washed out and the whole monitor feels like it has a slight blue tint to it compared to my Asus 278Q which hovers above the Huion for a constant comparison. The whites are white on the Asus monitor and they seem slightly blueish on the Huion.

I’ve looked at videos of other people doing reviews and that seems to just be a thing with these monitors. Having said that, Cintiq monitors also appear “washed out” as well, so I’m not sure if going with the more expensive alternative is going to necessarily “fix” the issue.

Having said that, once I’ve been using the monitor for awhile my eyes adjust to the color oddness and it doesn’t seem so bad. I also have a second Photoshop window open on the Asus which I feel has more accurate color reproduction just to keep an eye on things. If you plan on using this as your only monitor for art it might be an issue, but even then I’d say that’s more a problem for professional artists and not people using this occasionally for work or as a hobbyist.

The mildly annoying

Lack of eraser – You can’t flip the stylus around and use the eraser functionality. I’m sure that’s an annoyance for some, but come on. This is a digital stylus. It’s easier to hit the keyboard shortcut for the eraser tool than it is to flip the damn pen around and erase, but I include this in my summary because I’m sure that’s a hill some people are willing to die on.

Charging a pen – This is another one that I don’t think is terribly annoying, but include it because I’m sure there are some people who will think it’s the end of the world. Yes, you have to charge the pen. I’ve gotten used to charging my Apple Pencil so it’s not a big deal, but it might annoy some. Thankfully Huion provides two pens with the tablet which means you can always have one charging while you use the other one. I think this is a non-issue, but include it here for the sake of being thorough.

Lack of express keys – Another non-issue for me that a lot of people might care about. For me the lack of express keys along the side was a feature and not a bug. When I’m in Photoshop I always have one hand on the stylus and the other hand on my keyboard. I’ve always felt that the keyboard or my Razer Tartarus were way better than express keys and was happy to see a cheaper model offered without the damn things.

Some people love their express keys though. Of note is that even Wacom has stopped including them on their device though. Now you get a nice upsell for a $100 bluetooth express key device. I think that $100 would be better spent on a bluetooth keyboard or a programmable gaming pad, but if you’re the kind of person who lives and dies by the express key then this tablet might not be for you.

Cables along the bottom – This is a very minor annoyance, but it is a thing. The cables stick out of the bottom of the thing which means if you’re constantly pulling it forward and pushing it back then you’re going to have to wrangle those. A plastic tie goes a long way towards taming this and it’s not entirely fair to complain about this since any drawing tablet is going to have cable management issues, but it is something that bugged me so I include it here.

Parallax at the edges – Yes, this table has some Parallax. I’d say it’s better than a Cintiq 22HD and worse than the new Cintiq Pro line which has mostly eliminated this by putting the pen right up against the monitor. The parallax effect gets worse as you get closer to the monitor’s edge which is also something that happened with the 22HD. It’s an annoyance, but it’s an annoyance that’s been with the Cintiqs up until the Pro line and something you can easily adjust to if you watch where the cursor is on the screen rather than where the pen tip is.

Wrapping up

Is the Huion GT-191 worth it? Honestly you’re going to have to read above and see what you think. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with all the good and bad that comes with the tablet. As with all drawing monitors you’ll have to decide if the good outweighs the bad.

Drawing monitors have never been perfect. Even with the super expensive Wacom stuff there have always been issues. Check out my thoughts on the Cintiq Pro 16 for a laundry list of issues that I feel shouldn’t come with a $1500 piece of kit.

That’s the thing. There are always going to be issues and tradeoffs with these tablets, but with the Huion you’re paying a fraction of what you would on a Wacom. If you’re a professional artist then maybe this isn’t the tablet for you. If, like me, you only use the tablet occasionally for Photoshop stuff related to work, or if you’re a hobbyist looking for a way to get away from your Intuos, then I think this is a great value for the price.

Wacom has issues. Huion has issues. Huion’s issues come at a far more reasonable price point, though, and that makes all the difference for me.

Huion “device disconnected” and a lesson in humility

After trying out and returning a parade of Cintiq Pro 16s I decided to give the much cheaper competition a try. I picked out an inexpensive Huion GT-191 which arrived today.

I loved the look of the thing from the moment I unboxed it. The 19″ monitor looked beautiful even before powering it on. I didn’t care about the lack of side keys because I always have a keyboard sitting beside me.

I wasted no time in setting the beauty up and powering it up. I installed the drivers. And no matter what I did the Huion software helpfully told me that the device was disconnected.

Huh.

I looked around on the Internet for a solution, but most of the solutions out there involved messing with stuff in Windows which wasn’t helpful to me since I’m on MacOS. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling drivers. I tried going with an older version of the driver. I restarted the computer several times. I did a complete power down and back up.

Nothing was working. I was ready to give up on the thing. I was angry. Clearly you got what you paid for, right?

Then I decided to do one final thing. It said the device was disconnected. So I flipped it over and double checked the USB connection on the back of the monitor.

Sure enough, I either hadn’t plugged the damn thing in all the way to begin with or it got jostled loose while I was putting the monitor in place. The software kept telling me the device was disconnected because the device was, quite literally, disconnected.

I sheepishly plugged it back in and so far the monitor has proved to be a lovely little Cintiq replacement. Only it’s not little since the thing is much larger at a fraction of the cost.

I’ll do a full writeup here in a day or two when I’ve had more time to play with the Huion, but so far I’m very happy with the thing. Especially for the price!

Finding a cover artist and covering your butt

Today I’m going to cover something that’s been on my mind because of a situation I’m dealing with: finding a cover artist.

There are a lot of resources out there for finding cover artists. A lot of author databases that you can go through and hope to find someone who’s good. I don’t bother with any of that stuff though. Not when I know of a great artist community that has a job board specifically designed for people seeking commissioned art.

That site? The Deviant Art jobs forum!

Finding an artist

This is the easy part. Create your own account on DeviantArt and post on the forum letting people know what you’re looking for. You’ll quickly be inundated with artists who are looking for work, and they’ll continue to stream in for a couple of days as people check the forum.

From there it’s a matter of sifting through the various offers you get. I maintain a note that I’m constantly updating when I find an author who looks promising. In that note I include the artist’s name, a link to their profile, and information about what they charge if they make that available.

You’re going to get some people who clearly aren’t up to the standard of what you need for your cover. You’re going to get people who are amazing and clearly out of your budget.

Here are a few things I look for when settling on an artist:

  1. What kind of styles do they work in? Is it cartoony? Full realistic renders? Realistic but with some exaggerations? Does their style fit what you’re looking for?
  2. Does the art flow? Are they able to do multiple poses and different scenarios? Is it stiff at all? Are they able to do men and women or is it clear that they’ve been drawing sexy ladies or sexy men since middle school and never bothered to learn how to draw anything else?
  3. Do they have a lot of work on display? I’m wary of artists who have newer profiles or don’t post all that much on their DA profile. Not all of them are scammers, but it is suspect.
  4. Do they have comments on their profile from people who’ve worked with them? Are those comments positive or are their complaints that they’re scammers?

Those are just a few things to consider. Look for an artist who has a varied portfolio and clearly is good at what they’re doing. Compare between several artists until you find one you like, and then start negotiating the price.

Settling on a price

Give serious thought to what your budget is for this project. I wouldn’t recommend including that budget in your initial post because that’s going to encourage people to come in at whatever price you offer even if they would’ve started lower. This is a negotiation even if you are going to pay the nice artist what they are worth.

We’re looking for a sweet spot. Someone who clearly has the ability to do what you need but comes in at a price you can afford. You need to go into this with the attitude that you’re paying a business associate for a service. You want to get paid for your writing, and you should be willing to pay a reasonable sum to an artist as well.

I can’t reiterate that enough. Good artists who are responsive and deliver good work in a timely manner? They’re unicorns, and you should treat them like the precious and valuable resource they are.

If someone is amazing but they’re a little out of their price range then don’t be afraid to ask them to come down just a little. This is a business transaction, after all. The worst they can say is no.

Don’t be afraid to work with someone from halfway around the world. If you’re in the U.S. or Europe then that exchange rate is pretty favorable if you’re working with an artist in, say, Asia or another place where USD or GBP or the Euro stretches pretty far.

If someone is coming in with a quote that seems too good to be true then that’s probably because it is. I’ve been burned a couple of times by artists who had amazing work but ghosted once they got their payment. Again you’re looking for a sweet spot, and someone who comes in too low is probably trying to lure you in.

Covering your ass

There’s no way to guarantee completely that you don’t get scammed, but there are some things you can do to protect yourself while searching for an artist.

Social proof¬†– A serious artist is going to have lots of happy comments from people who commissioned them. Look for these. Don’t be afraid to ask the artist for references. This is a business transaction, and if they aren’t willing to provide references then you should run for the hills.

Half and Half – Whenever I make a job offer I make it clear that I’m paying half up front and half upon delivery. This makes the cost of the commission hurt a little less, and it also is likely to scare off some scammers. Not all, but some.

Use protection – A lot of people will want you to pay with a PayPal money transfer. Don’t do this. There are no buyer protections built in with money transfers. What you’re going to insist on is that the artist invoices you via PayPal, and only then will you make your payment. This means you have PayPal’s buyer protection if they ghost you.

Other considerations

Contracts – You can do a contract if you want. There are indie author sites out there that offer boilerplate contracts. I tend not to mess with them. I have a paper trail of email conversations where expectations are clearly laid out and make sure the invoice include exactly what’s being bought and paid for. Including considerations like copyright transfer. If a contract makes you feel better then by all means go for it, but I’m not an IP lawyer so I’m not going to comment on them other than to say I don’t use them.

Copyright – One of the conditions of commissioning your work should be that all copyright to the work transfers to you. Full stop. I wouldn’t work with anyone who isn’t willing to do this. Some people will charge a little extra for this and some will throw it in. I’d recommend indicating you want the copyright transfer in your initial post and seeing what the artist says.

This is something that you need to have spelled out in your conversations with the artist and in the invoice so it’s clear on the off chance they try to come after you later. It’s also an area where it might be helpful to get a boilerplate contract from somewhere on the Internet, but again I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice.

Price Increases – I’ve heard a few horror stories over the years about artists who commissioned a cover, then when their book did very well the artist turned around and jacked up the price for future covers. This can lead to situations where book releases are delayed while things are renegotiated.

I’ve never had this happen to me before, but if it did then I would politely tell the artist to go and pound sand. I believe that artists deserve to be paid a fair amount for their work, but if someone raises the price by some exorbitant amount because they think an author can cover it they’re essentially trying to hold future releases hostage. That’s not someone I’d want to work with, and there are plenty of other artists out there who’d be able to do a new cover.

Having said that, there are instances of artists who raise their fee as they get more popular. That’s to be expected if they’re making a go of making a career as an artist. In that case you’ll have to decide whether or not the slowly increasing rate is worth it, but that’s a completely different scenario from someone trying to extort an author because of some success.

Lettering – Cover artists make cover art. Letterers do lettering. There are some people who have both skills, but not necessarily. Ask your cover person if they’re comfortable doing lettering, and if not then look for someone who can do this and expect to pay a little bit for it. Good typography on a cover is every bit as valuable as the art beneath it.

If the artist can do typography then be sure to get a copy of the art without all the lettering on it.

Timeliness – Figure out what your release schedule is going to look like. Then figure out whether or not your artist can keep up with that schedule. Art can take time to complete just like it takes time to write and edit a book, and if you have a release schedule that doesn’t match up with what your artist is able to do then it’s time to find someone else for your project.

Wrapping up

Finding an artist! There’s a lot of stuff to consider if you want to find someone who’s good, reasonably priced, able to complete their work in a timely manner, and isn’t out to scam you. The good news is that it’s not all that complicated so much as it’s time consuming. That’ll be time well spent when you get that perfect cover that drives the sales to you though!

Get Book Report

Are you an indie author? Primarily publishing your stuff through Amazon? Are you interested in up to date reporting on what you’re earning?

You need Book Report.

What is it?

Book Report is a third party reporting software that takes all the sales and page read data Amazon gives you and puts it in a readable format going back for as long as you’ve been at the self-publishing game. It looks a little something like this:

As you can see it gives you a nice daily readout of what you’ve earned that is way better than what Amazon offers. It also gives a dollar amount based on sales and page reads. The good people at Book Report update the page read amount very month to reflect last month’s number, or you can go in and custom define the page read payout amount based on what you think Amazon is going to do.

What does it do?

I remember the bad old days of trying to figure out my numbers. This was in the 1.0 days of Kindle Unlimited when there was a fixed amount paid per borrow. Back in the Wild West of KDP when erotica and short serials reigned supreme and authors of longer works griped mightily.

Every month when the sales numbers came out I’d go through my spreadsheet and then type in the amount I got into Google so it could do the conversion from all the various currencies into USD. Which was, understandably, very annoying and inconvenient.

Book Report eliminates the need for any of that. It allows for a ridiculous level of customization in reports. If you want to know what you earned daily, weekly, monthly, annually, or going back to when you started writing that information is all there based on existing Amazon reports. There are a large number of customization options beyond date ranges including by book and pen name. Mostly I just use it for the current or previous month, but there are times when it’s useful to go back and learn at earnings over all time or for a particular month and pen name.

What does it cost?

The great thing about Book Report is it’s free! Or at least it’s probably going to be free if you’re just starting out. Anyone who makes less than $1000 a month gets to use it free of charge, and if you make more than that then you’re charged the very reasonable $19 a month. That’s up from $10 a month that it was until June of 2018. Either way, it’s a steal for the reporting information you get.

I remember the bad old days when you had to dig through spreadsheets and do currency conversions yourself. The small cost of Book Report compared to the annoyance of having to do that mental conversion and never being quite sure exactly what I was making in a month is well worth it. If you’re at all interested in becoming a working indie author then you need Book Report.

So what are you waiting for? Get Book Report!

Note: I’m not being paid by the good people at Book Report. I’ve merely been using it since some of the early builds and find it to be an invaluable tool that everyone should be using. This is all a personal recommendation based on how much I love this thing.

A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking

There are times when I feel like I’m not giving Dragon Naturally Speaking a fair shake. I see so many people out there who swear by it. Who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

My experience with the software has never backed up those glowing recommendations, but I figured maybe I should give it a try. So I was going to do a new feature. A year of Dragon Naturally Speaking. A year where I used the software and really dedicated myself to getting the most I could out of the software. See if it made a difference in my productivity.

So with that in mind I busted out my recorder over the weekend and dictated some stuff. I did it in four minute increments which I’ve discovered yields about 500 words when I transcribe the file. I plugged those in and got to trying to correct them.

The only problem? Nothing was working correctly. I started correcting one four minute file and everything was fine. Then I did a second file and started working, but the whole thing froze. Dragon refused to respond for a couple of minutes. Everything else in Windows worked fine, and clicking out of Parallels showed that my Mac was working just fine as well. It was only Dragon that had completely shit the bed.

Finally it came back up and ran through all the commands I’d given it while it was frozen and I was trying to get things to work. Which resulted in a mangled mess. Dragon told me it had encountered a problem and I needed to restart.

No fucking shit.

So I restarted Dragon. I tried using it again. Only this time after doing some transcription I ran into an issue where I couldn’t correct anything. A weird error manifested that I’ve seen a couple of times now. The upshot is that I’ll tell Dragon to select text, but it selects the wrong text. It’s as though where Dragon thinks the dictated text is and where it actually is in Dragonpad gets out of sync because it always selects a part of the text that is the same distanced away from what I’m trying to select.

Needless to say this renders any corrections completely useless.

I figure maybe the problem is that I’m trying to do all of this in Parallels on my Mac. Maybe there’s something about the virtual machine that isn’t playing nice with Dragon. So I dust off my old Surface Pro and try to get it working, only to be confronted with the same out of sync text/dictation error I was getting on the Mac in Parallels.

Huh.

Finally, in desperation, I trued running Dragon for Mac. It gamely loaded up and then promptly crashed and asked if I’d like to send in an error log.

The one bit of text that I managed to go through and edit/correct using Dragon took me about twenty minutes to get through on top of the four minutes I spent dictating it into a recorder in the first place. I could’ve typed that out in twelve minutes. The errors and troubleshooting I went through trying to get Dragon to work correctly on my Mac and Surface ended up wasting a whole morning.

Needless to say my “year of Dragon Naturally Speaking” has ended before it could really get started.