Surface Pro is the number one Windows tablet for artists, but the user interfaces on most 3d graphics applications don't pass the touch (or pen) test.


In our popular "what runs, what doesn't" posts, you'll find a lot of applications like Adobe Photoshop CC that run well, but don't exactly shine on the Surface Pro.

The issue has nothing to do with either the Surface Pro 1 or 2's CPU, graphics or its small 10.6 inch display. Instead, the issue has everything to do with cluttered, crowded user interfaces with limited options to close unwanted tool and menu bars, move or resize icons and re-scale fonts.

As I've often noted, Celsys' Manga Studio / Clip Studio Paint is a model for tablet awareness that other developers should be scrambling to emulate. No one could accuse either program's interface of being simple or streamlined, but the UI tweaks introduced this year demonstrate that it's possible to offer alternative input methods, larger touch targets and bigger icons that make it very productive on even the smallest of screens.

There are no worse offenders in the crowded UI squad than 3d applications like 3DS Max, Maya and ZBrush.

It's easy for me to say that an application's UI is too small to be run effectively on the Surface Pro display, but it's much more difficult to demonstrate it here on the blog.

I can do 1920x1080 screen grabs of cluttered apps all day and night, but if you're opening them up on a 27-inch display, they'll look positively spacious.

Enter the foam finger

Because it's nearing the end of the college football season here in the U.S., I decided to employ the assistance of one of our favorite sports fan accessories: the foam finger.

Scaling the finger down to the approximate size of my own index finger and overlaying it over the screen grabs, you'll see how touch-hostile most of these interfaces can be.

Pen tapping will obviously be more accurate than a finger tap, but the type and icons on some interfaces even make that impossible.

Theoretically, most Windows developers are busy developing Windows Store versions of their applications for some near-future release. But between now and then, I hope this review will help you determine which graphics tools will require the least hand-eye coordination and cause the least eyestrain.