UPDATE October 3:  ArtRage 4 was one of the very first graphics apps we purchased specifically for the Surface Pro. And it still holds up as one of the best and least expensive tablet graphics tools available for Windows.

Nearly a year ago, ArtRage user Stephen Berry decided to make the program even friendlier for tablet users by releasing the Pen-Only Toolbar.  

Now Berry is back with the official 1.0 release, along with a helpful YouTube video describing the improvements since the last release in March. 

This video provides a guide and demo for the newest version of the Artrage Pen-Only Toolbar. This toolbar is offered for free and can run in conjunction with Artrage to give you a host of really quick, dedicated buttons on screen.

Installation is still a little tricky: it involves running a tool called Auto Hotkey and using it to install the toolbar.  

The ArtRage Pen-Only Toolbar download, located here, includes Auto Hotkey and a PDF with installation instructions.

Give it a try and let us know if you think it enhances ArtRage's usefulness on the Surface Pro. 

Below is our original post from March 11. 

* * * 

While you're waiting for your bluetooth keyboard to arrive (see the previous Must-have Accessories post), an intrepid ArtRage user has developed a tool that eliminates the need for a keyboard while using that application. 

We haven't installed it yet but it looks like an elegant solution to a major issue facing anyone trying to use a desktop paint application on the Surface Pro with its keyboard detached.

For more information, follow the ArtRage community link here.

AuthorRick Rodriguez

UPDATE: This was one of our earliest posts, but the content still applies so we thought we'd move it up for the benefit of our newer readers. We would just add a low-cost external DVD drive and replacement stylus to the list of must-have accessories.

Besides 20-20 eyesight to be able to read the teeny text and icons in Photoshop or 3DS Max, there are a couple of must-haves that you'll definitely want in order to make the creative experience on your tablet as productive as possible.

Whether you bought the 64- or 128-GB Surface Pro, you'll soon be bumping up against a sad fact: graphics programs are huge. Minus any sample files or content, Windows 8 and the programs I've installed thus far (see What Runs and What Doesn't post for the list) are eating up 60 GB of storage space.

With its handy USB port, you can attach an external drive or flash drive to the Surface Pro, but having devices hung off of the tablet is rather awkward and potentially hazardous to your data. 

Therefore, your first must-have peripheral is a capacious microSDXC card on which to store your creations. MicroSDXC is the latest generation of the SD family of memory cards. They feature extended storage capacity of over 32GB up to 2 TB. The SanDisk Ultra 64 GB card is available at Amazon for just under $60. For more information on the care and use of a MicroSDXC, check out the SD Association's write-up.

The second must-have may not be so obvious when your first start using your Surface Pro or if you stick to Windows 8 Modern style apps. But if you want to do any serious work in desktop mode, you'll be howling for this peripheral right away.

In its infinite wisdom, Microsoft decided to ship both RT and Pro tablets without a keyboard cover, even though it could be argued that this is its single-most distinguishing feature. 

Now, I'm going to assume that you thought you had rectified the situation by buying either a touch- or type cover (Pretty much everyone recommends the latter; unfortunately I bought the former with my RT tablet. The touch cover requires a learning curve to use and I find I make a significant number of typing errors as I use it. But it gets the job done--eventually.) 

If you use your Surface Pro as a laptop with the keyboard cover attached, you may never notice the problem, although you will face a challenge using the pen for more than doodling.

Using the tablet as a sketchbook requires detaching the keyboard, but in desktop mode, Windows 8 doesn't automatically pop up a screen equivalent when you need it. You need to go down to your notifications to have the keyboard pop up and when it does it obscures half of your work area. 

Of the graphics tools available to date, only Sketchbook Pro and ArtRage 4 offer pen-friendly interfaces that require minimal use of pull-down menus and keyboard input. For everything else I've tried, not having a keyboard available has been an absolute productivity killer. 

Fortunately, the solution is simple and you may already own one. By pairing a wireless Bluetooth keyboard to your Surface Pro, you can cradle your tablet to your heart's content and keep your keyboard shortcuts easily within reach.

I have the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad and it works perfectly with the Surface Pro. It took a bit of effort to get the tablet's bluetooth chip into pairing mode, but once I did, there have been no further hiccups. For $30 less, Logitech sells the Tablet Keyboard for Win8/RT and Android. Neither device replaces the Surface's cover, but for as low as half the price, you'll be able to throw in a padded sleeve to protect your screen.


Don't know if this is a permanent price reduction or not, but Microsoft has just reduced the price of the Surface Pro by $100.  Check out the Microsoft Store link here.



This certainly makes our favorite Windows tablet more affordable for those of you sitting on the fence; although the drop in price may also signal that a hardware refresh is imminent. Caveat emptor! 


AuthorRick Rodriguez
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Microsoft just released its first system update for the Surface Pro. Unfortunately, the much-needed pen driver fix for pressure sensitivity in Adobe Photoshop is not included in this release.

From the official Microsoft site, today's update corrects the following:

  • Fixes to Wi-Fi reliability allowing for better roaming and improvements to "Limited" connectivity scenarios.
  • Windows To Go feature is enabled.
  • Improved onscreen keyboard detection synchronization when going in and out of sleep. 
  • The Windows to Go feature allows users to run a Windows 8 Enterprise image off of a flash drive. Learn more about the feature here.

    To install your March update, go to Settings, Change PC Settings, Windows Update. Assuming you haven't changed the defaults, the update should already be downloaded and awaiting a restart.

    AuthorRick Rodriguez
    It is definitely the best Windows 8 tablet on the market, but at this moment in history that is not saying a whole lot.
    — Olen Ronning, Artefact, 2/26/13

    It's difficult to argue with this clear-eyed assessment of the Surface Pro as a creative tool from Artefact reviewer Olen Ronning.

    Like him, I think that the device should be dramatically better given six months and meaningful third party development support. Given the slow rate of quality apps showing up in the Windows 8 store, though, the latter is not a guarantee.

    AuthorRick Rodriguez

    You may recall the kerfuffle when Oprah Winfrey tweeted that the Surface RT was one of her "favorite things"...from an iPad. Pretty embarrassing (and I hope Microsoft got its promotional dollars back).

    So it was with some trepidation that I decided to write this post using the iOS Squarespace app. Yes, the creation of this blog has been 100% Windows so far, but that doesn't mean I won't need to write something on the run in the future.

    And most importantly, we're fairly OS agnostic here. We'll use anything so long as it gets the job done. We fully intend to do head to head comparisons between the Surface Pro, iPad, Nexus 7 and any other device that might fit in a professional or hobbyist artist's toolkit.

    And to prove it, here's an oldie but goodie speed painting video from iPad artist David Jon Kassan, who works miracles with his finger tips. We're not worthy.

    Penny Arcade web comic artist Mike Krahulik (Gabe, @CWGabriel) recently got a chance to take the Surface Pro for a test drive and wrote this exhaustive post about his experiences.

    It's a great read and filled with useful nuggets for artists hoping to produce professional quality results with their new tablet.

    Check it out here. He also posted a YouTube clip demonstrating his inking with Sketchbook Pro.

    The artist's write-up is so good that it prompted Apple defender John Gruber at Daring Fireball to write the following: "How ironic would it be if the iPad becomes the dominant mass market computer and the Surface becomes the one for artists?"

    Ironic indeed!