Saturday, November 26, 2016

Surface Pro 3 for ZBrush

From the title of this post you're probably thinking "What?  Did this fall through a time vortex?  I thought we were up to Surface Pro 4?".

Well yes, that is all true but as of this post I am still using a Surface Pro 3.  When I save enough funds I will most likely upgrade to a Surface Book.  When I do I'm sure I'd like nothing more than to write about using ZBrush on it.  However I decided after a very long hiatus to jump back into this blog.

But for now I'm on my lowly Surface Pro 3 i5.  I am however up to the glorious ZBrush 4r7 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.  Both work very well overall.  I do notice that from time to time I could probably use an i7 vs and i5 when I push polygons past 4million but other than that I am happy.

The Drivers
  One of the big differences of course from the Surface Pro mentioned in earlier posts is the N-Trig digitizer instead of the Wacom.  It was a bit of a pain finding and installing the drivers but once that is done it all seems to work well.

Download Surface Pro 3 Drivers HERE (as of 11/26/2016)

The Experience
While the screen on the Surface Pro 3 is quite a bit larger than on my old Surface Pro, it is still a bit smaller than a desktop unless you want to display in a barely readable DPI.  The end result is that when the LightBox UI starts, you have to hide the right panel in order to even see the "hide" button.  Similar issues exist with Photoshop though I would say that both Photoshop and ZBrush have done a great job allowing their UI to work at a wide variety of screen sizes.  Both are very workable on the SP3.

The pen surface is still a bit slippery especially when compared to the SP4 (which I've drooled over in the local Microsoft Store).  You get used to it but it can still be a challenge.  Probably more so when trying to draw lines in Photoshop than anything that I do in ZBrush.

So far the only issue that I have is that when keeping ZBrush open for a long while between putting the tablet to sleep and waking it up is that the rendering becomes inverted.  What I mean by that is that if you're using a brush that is raising the surface of an object, it may look like it is subtracting from the surface.  I'm guessing that somehow the polygon normals get flipped when rendering.   The fix seems to be simply closing and restarting ZBrush

And in other news I also have an all electric 2016 Nissan Leaf.  The Surface Pro 3 is great for doing ZBrush while waiting for charging at one of the many free charging stations that I have available to me.

OK, so I realize this isn't ZBrush on the Surface Pro 3.  I'm actually using Unity 3D working on a game project.  All modeling was done in ZBrush though!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tips for using ZBrush on a Microsoft Surface Pro.

So,  I finally went out and bought my own Surface Pro.  First of all, I love it.  If you want to do ZBrush on the couch, in your car, at the park, etc.  Get one.  However, there were a few challenges on the way to getting things running smoothly and so I came up with this list to help other's benefit from my frustrations.

It is just a tad slower than my desktop i7, however it does not noticed in the routine sculpting workflow.  I only notice slowness when doing things like re-Dynamesh or Move Topology.  Projection can take a minute or two but sculpting is smooth and quick.  I commonly use Clay Tubes, Move, Smooth, Standard, Inflate and Form Soft.  All of the above work just as quickly as on the i7.  The Move Topology is the only brush so far with a noticeable lag.

Tips for using ZBrush on a Microsoft Surface Pro:

1. Install ZBrush LAST.

Chances are, when you first get your Surface Pro, you will want to install ZBrush right away to see if your $1000+ investment was worth it.  However, I advise you to exercise just a little patience and here's why. While installing other software and drivers, there is a chance that you may do something that will affect the touch or pen functioning.  If you get yourself into a system in which you have to do a rollback to a restore point and you already have ZBrush installed, it will nullify your activation and require you to ask Pixologic to deactivate your machine on their end and then get a new activation.  I did this 4x while dealing with a driver issue.

Get everything set up, do your updates and make sure the system is smooth and stable, then install and activate ZBrush LAST.

2. Install ArtDock.

You absolutely MUST install AutoHotkey and ArtDock.  These will allow you to use essential keys like Alt, Ctrl, Shift, Undo, Redo, Space, Tab etc. while using your pen.

  • Get AutoHotkey here.   Install it.
  • Get ArtDock here.  Downloading ArtDock is a little less smooth, but once you get it, unzip it into a folder and make a shortcut for it on your Desktop.  
  • Also, if you want/need to have the screen DPI set so that text is larger than normal (see below) then you must hack the ArtDock script like this:  Open the ArtDock.ahk file in Notepad and put in a line that reads "Gui -DPIScale".  But again, this is only if you don't set your text size to 100% which I highly recommend both for ZBrush and other apps like Sketchbook Pro.

3. Update Wacom driver

Go to Wacom and update the drivers for the tablet PC.  In theory this will come standard with Windows Update but on mine, I did not have pressure sensitivity in ZBrush or Sketchbook Pro until I installed this driver.

4. Set your screen size to 100%

Note: Earlier I had mentioned that Sketchbook Pro has some problems with DPI settings but these have been fixed in recent updates.  All features of Sketchbook Pro work perfectly on all DPI settings now.

The surface pro has a very high resolution, and to keep the average person happy with Desktop apps the Surface comes with the DPI adjusted so that text and other items on the Desktop will be 150% larger than normal.  If an app is aware of this, all is well, though even with ZBrush which handles the DPI perfectly, you lose some screen real-estate.  I can guarantee you that ArtDock does not handle the DPI change.    So, to save yourself some pain, just go to this Microsoft page to learn how to set things back to 100% and be happy.

If text is too small, I recommend getting some new glasses.  I actually did visit my eye dr the week of getting my Surface Pro.  I just got my new glasses from and can see my Surface Pro comfortably.

If you can't live with the settings at 100% then you must adjust the ArtDock script to turn off DPI calculations.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

After much more research, still settled on the Surface Pro for ZBrush!

So I kinda became obsessed with studying the new wave of tablets out there.  At first I got my hopes up about things like pressure sensitivity because of talk about using the Wacom Bamboo stylus.  However, those people weren't artists and didn't know the difference.

So I ruled out most of the larger tablets like the Dell XPS 18 and Sony Tap 20 because they have capacitive digitizers instead of active ones.   (Capacitive won't support pressure sensitivity).

The thing is though after a while of searching for info on tablets that did have active digitizers, none of that can guarantee that the drivers will be supported by ZBrush or Photoshop!

So after reading a really good thread over on ZBrush central (here), I'm convinced that unless you have $2K to spend on a Lenovo, that the Surface Pro is the way to go.

Here is my main reason: Community Support.  There are a lot of ZBrush artists using a Surface Pro.  It was evident from the fact that initially there was no support for pressure sensitivity in ZBrush to having full support a few months later that Microsoft/Wacom wants the Surface Pro to succeed for artists and is putting good work into driver support.  If there are problems, the community will shout and it looks like they will be heard.   Probably not so much luck on a less popular tablet.

Also, if you are having a problem, chances are that many others are as well and have found a solution.  Like the Art Dock software that adds button support (like Shift, Alt, Ctrl etc.) for art programs.  Though I understand that it works on many other tablets as well.

It has now been tried and proven to be a success.  Just watch this video:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Best So Far - Microsoft Surface Pro

Every so often in various forums people ask the question "What is the best tablet for ZBrush / Photoshop?"  This usually generates some good discussion but the problem is that the information gets stale quickly.  Most searches on this turn up information that is at least a year old.  

I decided to try to maintain this page with the latest information concerning tablets that are reasonably good at running ZBrush.  

So far, as of July, 2013 the best that I can find is the Microsoft Surface Pro Windows 8 Pro 128 Gb Tablet :

My information is based on this YouTube Video:  The video demonstrates that the Surface Pro allows pressure sensitivity support.

Common comments: runs ZBrush fairly well though it is tiny compared to a PC.  The text on the ZBrush UI can be difficult to read for some.

Other models that have been given a good mention around the internet are:
However, an up and coming contender is the Samsung ATIV Q (drool) which is not yet released.

See the preview video of the ATIV Q here

If anyone has any experience of new tablet hardware that works well with ZBrush please leave a comment and I will investigate.