Tilt sensitivity and rotation in Stylus : Do you really need it

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tilt sensitivity and rotation in digital penEveryone agrees that pressure sensitivity is one of the most important features in drawing tablets. But what about tilt recognition and rotation. These new features showing up more and more in digital pens. Is tilt sensitivity and rotation really worth the extra money they add to the price of the device. Or they are just a gimmick, which most of the people will never use.

We are going to have an “inside look” at how these devices work, followed by whether you should get the stylus with these features or not.

Within the last few years, the tablet industry has almost perfected their recipe of making an accurate stylus with spot-on pressure sensitivity. Tilt and rotation were the next features they were aiming to master. Apple and Wacom were one of the first major brands to adopt tilt in their pen tablets.

What is Tilt?

Apple pencil tilt support
Apple pencil

Tilt sensitivity was introduced with an objective to make a digital stylus function as natural as a normal pencil. In these styluses, when you use them on a slant angle it changes the behavior of the strokes from a normal line to shaded ones – just like in a normal pencil. Artists like it to use it for sketching, shading as well as creating stylized paintings.

As per Wacom –

This feature, e.g. of the Airbrush tip and eraser, senses the amount of tilt between the tool and tablet. This creates a natural-looking pen, brush, and eraser strokes in applications that support tilt-sensitivity.”

How does tilt recognition works in stylus

Sensing tilt is a very tricky task for a device. There is a lot of complicated calculation which takes place in the background to give you the precise tilt measurement of the pen.

How tilt sensitivity works in stylus
How tilt sensitivity works in stylus

Most of the stylus has a copper coil near the tip of the pen. These coils produce electromagnetic waves (EM waves) when electricity passes through them. The actual tilt recognition action takes place in the tablet.

The tablet surface has a mesh of fine wires which detects the EM-waves produced by the pen. When the pen stands straight – the tablet detects a perfect circular wave pattern with no distortion. Due to the nature of the EM waves, the waves are dense in the middle and spreads out towards the ends.

When the stylus tilts the detected wave has a distorted shape. The waves are more concentrated on one edge of the than the other(pic below). Which helps the tablet to calculate the direction and angle of tilt.

Wave Pattern by different pen angles - pen tilt recognition

When the pen is slightly tilted – the wave is less spread out in comparison to when they are fully slanted.

Which stylus has the most stable tilt support

When tilt support became popular – many tablet brands such as Microsoft, Dell, Huion, Xp-Pen come with their own tilt supported stylus.

The first generation tilt supported stylus had many rudimentary issues. There were inconsistency issues where the pen failed to notice tilt until it was around 45° angle. In addition to that – many application were supporting tilt.

Since then things have improved at a rapid pace. There is stylus like Apple pencil which is better and more reliable than an actual pencil. Wacom is also very popular amongst the artist community for their excellent stylus and widely used in a wide variety of tasks.

Which apps support tilt

Almost all the popular drawing apps and software support tilt. Some of the most prominent ones are mentioned below

  • Photoshop
  • Affinity Photo
  • Procreate
  • Autodesk Sketchbook
  • Corel Painter
  • Sketchable
  • Krita
  • Sketchpad
  • Clip Studio
  • Art Rage
  • Affinity Designer
  • Linea, and many more…

How important is tilt sensitivity and rotation

Whether you need the tilt and rotation depends on your working style. If you learned to draw on a computer, the tilt is probably not going to be a big issue for you.

But if you learned to draw with pencil or graphite and you are used to angling for gentle shading and smudging then you will have to adapt if your pen doesn’t tilt.

People who like to do digital painting may also find tilt useful as the hairs of a brush can be simulated in programs like Corel Painter and Photoshop. Where the shape of the digital brush changes with the angle just like a real paint brush. Which spreads out when pushed into the canvas, or thin lines if gently brushed, or thick lines if tilted.

Here is what airbrush artist Kodack10 has to say –

I am an airbrush and pencil/charcoal person in real life and especially when doing digital airbrushing the tilt is important because many of the most basic airbrush strokes, dagger lines, etc all depend on the distance from the surface and the angle and direction the needle is pointing.

The airbrush techinique could never be reproduced digitally until tilt and rotation was added. I use my graphics tablet when I need those effects. Or I just fire up my air compressor.

Now, this feature is not for everyone and you can really get by fine with just a regular stylus.

*Passive stylus – Stylus which do not need their own battery and takes power from EM waves coming out of the tablet.

Want to get full nerdy? Watch these teardown and behind the tech video by Micah Elizabeth Scott

Video 01

Video 02

References :
Ifixit, Reddit/r/surface, Wikipedia, Microsoft MPP, Chipworks

Todd Davis

Contributor at Essentialpicks, Todd Davis likes all things tech. He has a master's degree in electronics and a deep understanding of underlying technologies used inside tech products. He likes to travel and fly his drone around. He can often be found on the trails of California.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Vickie Caluya

    You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me.

  2. Avatar

    would any monitor with digitizer support tilt feature or it requires a special digitizer beside the tilt pen ?

    1. Avatar
      Essential Picks

      No, The tilt supporting pen and monitor come together as a unit. You cannot use the stylus with other monitor – it wont work. For example you cannot use Samsung S Pen on iPads even though they both have tilt sensitivity.

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