I’m one of those tight son-of-a-guns that will milk practically anything and everything until it falls apart or becomes obsolete. If anyone remembers how long I’m willing to work a Mac until it burns out, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Another great example is my Wacom Intuos 2 graphics tablet. It’s currently obsolete by Wacom’s standards, but I’m still using it on my MacBook. (Ironically, the hard drive on the MacBook recently cr@pped out on me. Always backup your data people!) This brings me back to Amazon to hunt for a new graphic tablet. By this point, I’ve come to the realization that there are other companies that create useable graphics tablets and for much cheaper. After much research, I’ve settled on a XP-Pen Star 03 graphics tablet, which was also on sale at Amazon at the time.
Price Vs. Quality
Let’s face it, whenever someone looks at your digital work, you’re not going to hear, “Ah hah! You used a Huion KAMVAS GT-221!” There’s no real way to tell. You could had been using your mouse and on one would be the wiser. Unless you like paying for brand-names, you’ll be more focused on important features such size, levels of pressure, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, Wacom is a fine brand that’s been around for a good long while. Also from my experience, Wacom also produces quality graphics tablets. I’d even recommend a Wacom to any newbie because of the over-all experience. But you have to pay a premium to get in on that experience. If the overall experience is of importance, then you should swallow your pride and stick with Wacom. (I’m not trying to be mean, but Wacom will give you an easier experience.)
If you’re a more seasoned digital artist, you’ll be more likely to venture outside of your digital comfort zone. Speaking solely for myself, I’m more than willing to deal with any technical issues to achieve what I want. Therefore, features and compatibility take priority over the brand or popularity of the product.
After a ton of research, I settled on a XP-Pen Star 03 graphics tablet. It was compatible with both of my Macs and all of the software that I use. The Star 03 also had all of the features that I really needed. Plus the Star 03 was being sold at a much lower price point.
The First Impressions of XP-Pen Star 03
Opening the Boxes!
For the most part, my experience with the XP-Pen Star 03 graphics tablet has been pretty positive. It was delivered in a well-designed box. After ripping off the shrink-wrap, the box opens to reveal everything you need, the tablet, USB cable, CD with driver software, pen, pen stand, Quick Guide, manual, and an offer for an extra month of warranty.
Look & Feel of Star 03 Graphics Tablet
The XP-Pen Star 03 tablet feels pretty sturdy in my hands. The size isn’t too big or too small. The tablet feels about as thick as any Wacom tablet.
The drawing area is smooth, but not slick. It provides some resistance against the pen’s nib. (For a more natural feel, you may want to try taping a piece of paper over the Star 03’s drawing surface.) If you easily get anal over scratches, the drawing surface does get scratched up pretty easily.
It has a USB port on the left edge of the Star 03. This is great if the cable ever happens to be damaged. On the left-hand side are large buttons, known as Express Keys. They can be easily reached with the thumb. They protrude just enough to be sensed by touch. These buttons can be customized for your computer via the driver software. (We’ll get into the driver software in a little bit.)
The Graphics Tablet Pen and Stand
The battery-less graphics tablet pen is thinner than your average Wacom digitizer. It has a pair of buttons that are styled like a Wacom pen’s. The buttons are clicked by a single piece of plastic that rocks back and forth with the thumb. The Star 03 pen noticeably feels a lot lighter in comparison to a Wacom pen.
The pen stand is kind of nice. It splits into two pieces to reveal extra nibs and a nib remover. The pen stand can hold your graphics tablet pen horizontally or vertically. The stand is weighted at the bottom to keep it from being knocked over.
From the reviews on Amazon, the drivers seem to be a major source of trouble for a lot of users, especially on the Windows side. Before starting this review, I’ve only used the Star 03 within Mac OS in both Mavericks and Sierra. I haven’t had any major trouble.
But instead of using the install disk, I chose to download the latest drivers off of XP-Pen’s website. I also want to note that XP-Pen makes a big deal out of uninstalling all Wacom drivers. I’ve read that other users of Windows laptops with touch-screens have had to uninstall drivers for the touch screen.
Installing in Windows 10
Wow, what a pain in the @$$! (Thankfully Windows 10 was a fresh install.) Every time I seem to venture into the wonderful world of Windows, I run into needless issues. I had downloaded the latest drivers compatible with Windows 10 and I received the following error:
Also it looks as if some of the files were miss named. To make matters worse, I can’t even rename an of the files under Windows 10. I was thankfully running Windows 10 in Parallels, which allowed me to rename the files in the Finder in the Mac environment. If it weren’t for that, I likely would had lost my mind.
After a successful installation. Windows 10 had the icon for the driver software tucked away inside the System Tray. I had trouble recognizing it due to the icon using the same dark grey as the System Tray. The Star 03 functioned properly in Krita. I also played with Microsoft’s new 3D Paint program (which is a garbage program), which had no pressure sensitivity. Not a deal breaker in my book.
The driver software for the XP-Pen Star 03 has a lot of the features that you’d expect. There’s not much difference between Mac and Windows variants other than that good old Windows 95 look.
- You can choose which monitor to use.
- Adjust the pressure sensitivity of the pen.
- Customize the Express Keys using a preset or a custom preset.
- Adjust the monitor and drawing areas.
There’s also a setting that make the Star 03 compatible for left-handers. Unfortunately you can only make system-wide customizations for both the pen a tablet.
The Star 03 graphics tablet is compatible with every major piece of graphics software. The only caveat that I had run into has been with Adobe Illustrator CC on the Mac. In order to achieve pressure sensitivity with my Star 03 tablet in AI, I had to install Wacom drivers on my Mac. Somehow the Wacom drivers fool AI into accepting the pressure data coming from the Star 03. Doesn’t make much sense, I know. On the Windows side, AI didn’t have any trouble recognizing pressure sensitivity coming from my Star 03.
I have tried the XP-Pen Star 03 with every graphics program on my Mac. I’ve had success using it with PhotoShop, Krita, Corel Painter, ZBrush, Blender 3D, Inkscape, Mischief, and Rebelle.
Other Odds & Ends
So you may be asking yourself? What else could be missing that I’d find with a Wacom tablet? Tilt sensitivity. PhotoShop CC 2018 can sort of fake tilt with certain brushes. But that’s only because it rotates certain brushes based upon the direction that you move the stylus. As far as I know, You can’t have customized settings per pen with your XP-Pen Star 03 tablet. (That feature was kinda flaky with the Intuos 2. Sometimes it worked, and other times it forgot.) As mentioned earlier, you can’t create custom settings for each application.
On the plus side, the Star 03 has excellent pressure sensitivity with 2048 levels of pressure. It has a spacious working area of 10 x 6 inches (254 x 152.4mm) It’s also really affordable. Just over $41 USD. A comparable Wacom tablet would run around $300. Plus it comes in two colors, black or white.
The Bottom Line
I personally own a XP-Pen Star 03 graphics tablet and have almost no regrets. I’m willing to live without the frills of owning a Wacom tablet. Plus it gets the job done for me.
As for everyone else, I can say that the Star 03 tablet is a mixed bag. From my experience, installation on the Mac OS was a lot smoother than in a fresh copy of Windows 10. But that was due to XP-Pen misnaming a very important EXE file that the installation app needs to access. Once the driver is installed, you’re golden.
I would easily recommend the XP-Pen Star 03 graphics tablet for any digital artist that’s not afraid of doing some technical tweaking if needed. The price, features, and compatibility more than make up for any inconvenience. If you’re more of a newbie and have to call tech support instead of spending a little time researching with Google, You’ll be better served with any Wacom tablet. The overall experience will definitely outweigh the money that you’ll save on a Star 03 tablet. If you’re interested in purchasing a XP-Pen Star 03 Graphics Tablet [Amazon], they’re easily found on Amazon.com.