#手寫招牌字，現在可以利用Expresii 軟件，直接在電腦裡寫了！我們示範給您看，如何寫字再利用Paint.Net 和 Inkscape 軟件加工出圖，發給製作單位製作，就可以得到自己的手寫招牌字 :
We show the process of making 'Characters for Signs' from calligraphy done in Expresii. Such signs with Eastern calligraphy are popular in East Asia.
#手寫招牌字，現在可以利用Expresii 軟件，直接在電腦裡寫了！我們示範給您看，如何寫字再利用Paint.Net 和 Inkscape 軟件加工出圖，發給製作單位製作，就可以得到自己的手寫招牌字 :
Today a lot of shop owners choose to use regular computer fonts to make their signs. We develop computer software tool for creating digital calligraphy hoping more people can make signs with personality.
Huion Hong Kong invited us to test their new Inspiroy Dial Pen Tablet Q620M. There're already many review video s on the Net but most of them don't show you much about using the dial. So, here we try to show you what they do not cover.
The Q620M sets itself apart from the rest of other graphics tablets by having a dial that supports the Surface Dial protocol. That means their dial can act like the original Surface Dial, except that their dial sits on the corner of the tablet and cannot be put on the screen.
Apart from Expresii, you can also find a collection of apps that support the Surface Dial at Microsoft's site:
The tilt range is not as large as Wacom's. In response to this, we updated Expresii to allow users to adjust the tilt reading amplification (see video below left). This is necessary for Huion's tablets because when tilted to like 40-60 degrees, it's much harder to press then Wacom's.
To our surprise, the tilt reading from Q620M is not as stable as their previous model H950P (see our review). The tilt sways from side to side as we draw a straight line across the tablet (see video below right). Therefore, we also added user-adjustable tilt stablization (see left) to alleviate the issue. Make sure you have the version 2019.12.31 or later as we pumped up the stabilization to suit Huion's Q620M.
At first, we suspect it might be the wireless module that interfered with their tilt reading, but then when we try to use wired connection, the Q620M still gives the same wobble. Anyway, we hope Huion's engineers get notice.
Wired & Wireless
We love the Q620M being a relatively cheap tablet that gives you wireless option. The wired connection now uses a USB type-C connector, so that you can flip the connector any way and it still plugs in. No more trial-&-error flipping to make it connect! _へ__(‾◡◝ )>
Before installing their driver, the Q620M can already function with pen pressure and tilt support via Windows Ink API on Windows 10. Their dial also functions as the Surface Dial out of the box. After installing the driver, by default their dial uses Huion's own dial menu, and if you prefer it to act like the Surface Dial, you need to explicitly check the 'Enable Windows Radial’ checkbox in their driver.
We found the work-area definition works as expected only after the first reboot. FYI, we did the work-area adjustment because it is usually easier to write Chinese characters nicely with smaller movement of the hand when using graphics tablets.
The Huion Q620M is a graphics tablet packed with features on a low price. While the original Surface Dial costs US$99, the same amount can get you a Huion Q620M, a pen tablet that includes a dial that can behave like a Surface Dial. Although we still prefer drawing with a Wacom because it's more sensitive and easier to get accurate strokes (especially so for calligraphy), we would say the Huion Q620M has a very high cost-to-performance ratio. Currently Huion's older model H950P gives much more stable tilt reading. We hope a later firmware or driver update can fix the issues with tilt reading in the Q620M. For now, at least our tilt stabilization and amplification help alleviate the issues. Note that the Q620M is quite a bit larger than the H950P, so if you prefer being able to easily slide the tablet into your bag, you may prefer the earlier H950P. Again, we strongly recommend you trying Huion's tablets in person if you have the chance so that you can see if you like their pressure profile or not.
All recent so-called Wacom-alternative tablets we have tested are of very nice build quality. Companies like Huion or XP-Pen are actively innovating in their designs like adding a dial or something. Wacom is of course also innovating, but now sometimes Huion & XP-Pen are ahead like for instance for the support for Android (yes, this Q620M also works with Android). I guess Wacom should be worried.
We thank Huion Hong Kong for providing the tested hardware.
So they claim to be more realistic/accurate
At Adobe Max 2019, Adobe claims Fresco's "Live Brushes" are more accurate and realistic than any other apps out there. This statement was made by Adobe's Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky. We feel compelled to compare their and our watercolor simulation:
We also beg to differ when they say the oil paint simulation in Fresco is more realistic. Our Computer Graphics Researcher & Developer Dr. Nelson Chu previously worked at Microsoft. His main contribution there is the oil and pastel model found in Project Gustav, which later is productized as Fresh Paint. His work addresses the problem of missing details in oil or pastel modelling found in many other paint apps. Look at how organic are the oil paint and pastel strokes in the following video:
And here's Fresco's oil paint:
Both shows ridges and color mixing, but which one you say is more organic or feel like real oil paint? If you ask me, I think Project Gustav / Fresh Paint is better in capturing the streak details and is closer to what real paint does.
Another aspect Adobe put effort into make digital paint more realistic is color mixing. Many paint programs simply use RGB color space (native to digital systems) and alpha blending in their tool. Some complain Blue and Yellow don't make Green but a muddy gray. (btw, it's actually cyan and yellow that make green and you can get a green if you mix cyan and blue in those digital systems).
Fresco's color blending is probably based on this research paper . You can easily get a nice green from blue and yellow, but that's applied on watercolor only. Yellow and blue oil still gives muddy gray:
For comparison, the app Artrage also addressed this issue since many yeas ago:
I find the green in Artrage a bit artificially too bright. So here I prefer the result from Adobe. However, in real world we often get a even darker green, like in the excerpt pic on the right (click to see the video on youtube). Only cyan+yellow would make such a bright green. The paint we get in the real world does not give a single wavelength - they probably have some sort of cyan in them so real-world blue+yellow do not give dark gray but a dark green. But on a computer, we can pick the exact blue and that's why in a subtractive system we get muddy gray.
Personally, I would say Fresco is definitely not the most realistic or accurate when it comes to simulating watercolor and oil all in all. Their color mixing is nice and that's the only part you can call it more realistic, if we consider it's blue + yellow (RYB model) instead of cyan+yellow (CMY model) giving green.
Please leave your comments below to let us know what you think.
Today many digital artists don't have a discrete graphics card in their computers , as they only use traditional paint programs that don't use GPU. Did you know that you can upgrade your PC with a sub $90 graphics card to use Expresii smoothly?
We recommend a GT 1030, currently the fastest low-profile single-slot card, because it fits most PC chassis that provide at least one half-height card slot and that it doesn't require much extra power (most cases you don't need to upgrade your power supply). There are many brands that make graphics cards with GT 1030 and they usually come with 2GB of video RAM. You can get one from Gigabyte for US$85 that is also Amazon's Choice . Those who can use Taobao can buy this GT 1030 card from Maxsun at only RMB439 = US$62 . We bought one when there's a discount at US60.
We use a PC enclosed by a REALAN e-mini E-I7 mini-ITX chassis to show you how the installation of the graphics card is like. The CPU in this PC is a modest Intel i3-6100. Yes, Expresii doesn't require a very fast CPU for smooth painting as most of the work is done on the GPU.
Here's a video showing the graphics card installation process:
Result: smooth painting in Expresii
The GT 1030 gives very good performance: 200+ FPS on Full-HD screen resolution. For comparison, an older GT 730 only gives ~120 FPS. 120 FPS is already rather good for casual painting. If you're on a really low budget, you can buy a used GT 730 for much less (~US$30).
The resolution of your monitor does affect the speed at which Expresii runs. At 4K screen resolution, the GT 1030 still runs at a usable ~70 FPS, while the GT 730 can only do 30 FPS, which is too slow. Notice, here the FPS is our simulation frame-rate instead of display frame-rate.
For comparison, another older low-profile single-slot card AMD Radeon 7730 (with 2GB video RAM) only gives 60 and 20 FPS for FHD and 4K respectively. We highly recommend you get the 1030 so that it is still fine if you use a 4K monitor to paint.
Conclusion: Truly amazing watercolor doesn't need super computer
If you don't want to be limited to 8k x 8k output size as in many of the iPad paint apps, you should consider painting on a 'real' computer. Expresii is capably of outputting to 32k x 32k (in the production version) if you use a good graphics card and 12k x 12k in the current public version.
The rendering in Expresii is unique - you won't see pixelated results like in most other painting apps (like shown on the right). Together with our organic paint simulation, this is truly amazing! Don't be fooled by Adobe calling their Live Brushes (oil & watercolor) in their new Adobe Fresco app ground-breaking . The fact is, we achieved much better results in Expresii years ahead (for oil, see this video for what our Dr. Nelson Chu did previously for Microsoft).
Let us know if you have more question about hardware requirement.
2019-10-22 Update: Slim desktop Dell Inspiron 660s
The slim Desktop Dell Inspiron 660s is from 2012. The Intel integrated GPU HD Graphics 2500 that came with the Inspiron 660s is not suitable for Expresii. We tried to upgrade another PC with GT 1030 too and see what performance we get.
6th-gen i3 vs 3rd-gen i5 - which is faster?
The Passmark CPU scores for i3-6100 and i5-3330S are 5483 & 5678 respectively, so looks like they would gives similar performance if paired with the same GT 1030. Experiment shows the newer 6th-gen i3 GPU gives much better performance than the now 7-year-old 3rd-gen i5 GPU. Specifically its 200+ vs 110+ FPS.
Current Expresii is single-threaded. So, we should really be looking at the single-thread performance. The passmark site says 2105 and 1652 for 6100 and 3330S respectively - this probably the main factor why we get lower performance in Expresii on the 3330S.
Earlier this month we were invited to visit NTU, Singapore. Our Dr. Nelson Chu gave a talk titled "The Quest for Digital Ink: developing tools for Painting, Calligraphy & Animation" (Abstract & Bio) on 20th Sept 2019, jointly organised by the School of Computer Science & Engineering, the Alibaba-NTU Joint Research Institute, and the NTU-UBC LILY Center. Dr. Chu shared his journey developing digital brush and paint dating back to 1999. We also met with folks from Cacani the animation system.
We also took the chance to visit the Singapore Zoo, and used Expresii on a 2017 Surface Pro to do some sketch there:
We miss the food there already. （*´▽｀*） We look forward to visiting Singapore again!
Where to buy?
There are tons of cheap Surface Pen alternatives out there available for purchase online. The cheapest usually marked as 1024 pressure-levels are around US$20. Newer models supporting tilt sensing are a bit pricier.
We acquired two Surface Pen alternatives from Taobao, namely the IQS Surface Pen 4096 and the WiWU P503 'Picasso' Active Stylus for testing. Both claim to support 4096 levels of pressure and tilt sensing. Tilt sensing seriously?! Normally a 2017 Surface Pen, which supports tilt, costs US$99, but these alternatives are only a fraction of this at around US$40. We bought them when there's discount so the final prices were around US$30 each.
If you can't use Taobao, there're online stores like Amazon that sell e.g. this VORCSBINE (looks exactly like the WiWU reviewed), this from Lengh (looks exactly like the IQS reviewed) , this Penoval, or this NewPower, which all at around US$40 and claim to support tilt. Those pens look very similar to those two we tested so we won't be surprised if they were actually the same pens just with different labels. We didn't found any review of these pens with tilt support so we will review a few for you.
Pen Tip Feel
The rubbery tip feels very good, just like using the original Surface Pen - not making any scratchy sound or friction being too large impeding your flow nor too small that it feels like skating on ice. I actually like such a rubbery tip, typically found in the Surface Pen or its alternatives, over the tips provided by Wacom. Recent default Wacom tips are quite easily worn out when stroking against their own drawing tablets like the Intuos Pro, while their felt tips are also easy to catch dirt (and get worn out too).
No Bluetooth, no Magnet
These Surface Pen alternatives don't have any Bluetooth module in them, so they can't perform top button shortcut clicks like the original Surface Pen. They also don't have magnets in them so you can't adhere them on the sides of the Surface devices, at least not securely when it's only the battery (enclosure made of metal) inside that provides a weak adhesion.
Pressure & Tilt Sensitivity
Testing shows these cheap pens perform quite well. The IQS seems to have a smaller activation force - I can press very lightly to get a very thin line with ease. The WiWU pen on the other hand needs more force to get registered and I do get some strokes not recognized or broken due to very light pressure being used.
The 2017 'new' Surface Pen doesn't sense tilt when we use its Eraser end to stroke. These alternative pens don't have an eraser end - instead they have two barrel buttons, one being used as the Eraser button. From our test, the WiWU doesn't sense tilt when the eraser button is pressed, while the IQS does sense tilt but with jitters when the eraser button is pressed.
Like the 2017 Surface Pen, these pen sense tilt only when it touches the screen. BTW, the pleasant surprise of Surface Go giving tilt reading even when hovering is gone after some Windows Update. :(
To our surprise, our Line Tests show the IQS pen is even more sensitive than the original 2017 Surface Pen! See the following video for comparison:
1024 vs 4096 Levels
Guys, I want to stress that it's not the pressure level, but the activation force and the pressure response curve that matter here - that which make you feel how sensitive the pens are. 1024 levels are actually very enough. Due to the API used, the pressure reading is actually converted to 1024 internally if you use the 'Windows Ink' option in Expresii. If you are using Wacom, by default Wacom's driver also converts the reading to 1024, no matter you're using a 4k or 8k-level pen (you can disable the 1024-level cap in Wacom's driver and see if you can tell the difference :-). Truth be told, those 4k or 8k numbers are purely for marketing purposes. However, you may ask, then why does the 2017 Surface Pen with 4k levels feel more responsive than its previous model with just 1024 levels. The answer is that they also improved the activation force and maybe also the pressure response curve . With smaller activation force , you don't have to push so hard for the stroke be get registered.
Center of gravity also affects how the pens feel in your hand. Both the IQS and WiWU have full-metal bodies, while the Surface Pen is metal except its top part being plastic. The Surface Pen has its center of gravity right at it's middle along its length (shifting balance is probably one reason why its not all metal). The IQS has its center of gravity quite shifted towards its top part, making it feel a little unbalanced when held in hand. The WiWU is only slightly shifted towards its top so it still feels fine. Our digital scale shows all three pens weight roughly the same at 18-19g.
These cheap pens are really great alternatives to the original Surface Pen with excellent price-performance ratio. In particular, the IQS pen is great for artists because it can sense small pressure well, beating even the original 2017 Surface Pen. I'd say the IQS pen's pressure sensitivity is on par with Wacom's. The only thing missing is the ability to sense tilt even during hover like an EMR Wacom pen does.
For those wanting to buy Surface Pen now, note that the next version of Surface Pen probably will have wireless charging. You might want to wait till Microsoft’s fall event on October 2nd.
We, of course, would still like to see digital writing hardware technology further advances - currently they are only mimicking pens with hard nibs. It'd be great if hardware makers can provide tools that simulate brushes well. Leave your comment on what else you would like to see in future digital writing instruments.
Since the WiWU pen claims to be an MMP (I believe it should it be MPP, standing for Microsoft Pen Protocol) Active Stylus supporting the devices listed below, we want to verify if it's really cross-device. We couldn't find the exact models today but we managed to try the pens on a Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 and a Lenovo IdeaPad C340. Unfortunately both the WiWU and the IQS don't work on either. FYI, the Lenovo active pen meant to go with the C340 does work on the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1.
Expresii version 2019.08.02 gets a face-lift! The Windows-7-styled frame of the Settings Window is now replaced with modern Windows 10 frame. Buttons on the Caption Bar now gives clearer clues on what options are there for the particular windows. We also jump onto the bandwagon of Windows 10 Fluent UI acrylic blur (shown in the Exit Prompt dialog):
However, we got rendering bug of only a portion of the window gets rendered (when DPI scaling is 200%) like this on Windows 10 ver 1803 Build 17134.885:
Updating to latest version 1903 Build 18362.267 fixed the rendering bug. So, be sure to update your Windows to enjoy our new UI facelift. And In case you don't like Arcylic blur, you can disable it in Expresii's System Setting Dialog:
The Acrylic Blur is applied on the exit prompt only at the moment and we plan to add the blur to where is appropriate. Let us know how you like the new design! ( •́ .̫ •̀ )
[Update 2019.08.24] Shifted UI
When using 'System Enhanced' mode override for high DPI, we notice shifted rendering of our UI.
We believe it's a Windows bug because when we don't use high DPI override, the UI rendering is correct. So, before Microsoft fixes this, please don't use override for high DPI.
Following our last blog entry, we continue to test Expresii on the Deskmini A300, this time with external graphics cards. We only bought two new items: 1. M.2 to PCI-E x4 Adapter Card (US$2; US$6 at Amazon), 2. PCI-E x1 to x16 ribbon cable (US$4; similar item $17 at Amazon) from taobao. This setup needs an external power supply and we simply use one from our other PC's.
We tried an nvidia GTX 1060 and two lower-end cards GT 640 and GTX 750 Ti. The M.2 adapter slot is not open-ended so in order to insert the graphics cards directly onto it, we need to first cut it open (reference).
1x versus 4x PCI-E
We get 180+ FPS on 4k with the 1060 connected at 4x PCI-E speed. When at 1x (via ribbon cable), we get only 80+ FPS. At Full-HD, we get 180+ FP with 4x; 150+ FPS, 1x. With lower-end cards, we basically only get around 30 FPS, which is even much lower then what we get with the integrated Radeon Vega 11 in the Ryzen 2400G (95+ FPS).
We ordered a 1x, instead of 4x, ribbon cable because we wanted to see how such low-cost setup performs. The 1x cable is actually thin enough to pass through the vents of the Deskmini case, meaning that we might be able to attach or detach the external graphics card from the Deskmini easily. However, after we ran the cable through the vent, we were unable to get the connection to work, probably due to the tiny space of the Deskmini enclosure forced the cable to bend causing e.g. the interface on the M.2 adapter to loosen a bit. FYI, even not physically restricted, the more interfaces you have, the more chance you get connection issues: we experienced e.g. a pink screen, or the card not being detected. We needed to resit the cards a few times before we get it to work.
With adapter and cable totaling a mere US$6, we are able to test out the external GPU setup with either 1x and 4x PCI-E speed. You probably want to use a US$89 riser (similar item US$43 at taobao) instead for easier setup with 4x speed for for proper performance. Or, at least this adapter+cable (US$17 at taobao) to minimize physical interfaces.
We're satisfied by the performance increase from Ryzen APU 2400G's Vega 11 GPU running at 95+ FPS on Full-HD to GTX 1060 running at 180+ FPS on 4k monitor.
See this youtube video for adapter & cable options.
We're often asked what PC would be good to run Expresii. In this blog entry we show you a few mini PC options. Note that if you don't need a PC such small, there're cheaper solutions if you build regular ITX PC's, which are a bit bigger.
Smooth painting at Full-HD ($350-$620)
For your reference, we tested a mini PC using the Asrock Deskmini A300. Specifically, we built a system with a AMD Ryzen 5 2400G CPU, 16 GB of DDR4 2666MHz RAM, and a 2.5" 256GB SSD hard drive. The Ryzen 2400G has an integrated GPU Radeon RX Vega 11, which performs much better than those integrated GPU's from Intel, is fast enough for running Expresii smoothly. Note that you can still go by with 8GB of RAM and just 128GB of storage space if you have a tighter budget.
The DeskMini PC box is only 15 x 15 x 8 cm, with the power brick 1/6 of the box size. Total hardware cost the main unit (i.e. excluding monitor, mouse and keyboard) is USD380. Depending on how you get a license for Windows OS, the final cost could be sub-$400. There are also ready-to-use pre-built units available at e.g. Amazon at around $620 (OS included) for those of you who don't want to build a PC yourselves.
I once had a Mac Mini but it died in just a few years - since the CPU is soldered onto the main board, I can not simply replace the faulty component like I can with a regular PC. What is great about this Deskmini is that you can still upgrade the various components like CPU, RAM, storage like you do with a regular PC. So I think the a mini PC with Ryzen 2400G & Asrock Deskmini A300 is a sweet spot on price, compactness & ability to change components.
Thanks to AMD for making great performing APU at affordable price, and Asrock for making such a compact box!
On such a system with Ryzen 2400G, we get 95 FPS when using a FHD (1920 x 1080) monitor. The mainboard allows a little overclocking of the RAM, and we get 100+ FPS if we overclock the RAM from 2666 to 3000 MHz.
The Deskmini also has an Intel version, but the supported Intel GPU's (e.g. HD 630) are much slower so we don't recommend the Intel variant.
Smooth painting at 4K+, as an upgrade (+$116 + Graphics card of your choice)
Fullscreen painting using a 4k monitor with the above A300 system with Vega 11 is a bit slow. One thing I like about these mini PC's is that they are equipped with NVMe M.2 slots, which can be used to connect to an external GPU to improve the graphics performance. That means you can upgrade your system if you need to (the setup is a bit geeky though). If you're a tinkerer, you can check out this video with an actual A300 (left) and another (right) showing using an eGPU kit with a similar mini PC:
The m2 eGPU kit with power supply mentioned in the 2nd video costs $116 from Ali Express (get the same thing + power supply for $50 from taobao if you can read Chinese and get them ship to your region). A used GTX 1060 with 6GB RAM could be as low as $135 on eBay. So, with a few hundreds of dollars you can add a powerful graphics card with when you need it. For even cheaper solution, look at this guide and buy the NGFF version (i.e. for M.2) dock. More reference here.
Smooth Painting At 4K+, Compact, ready-to-use ($1150-$1300)
If you have some more money to spare, and don't want to mess around with PC building, we recommend the Intel Hades Canyon NUC:
The Intel Hades Canyon NUC (Vega M GH, 16Gb RAM, 256 GB SSD at $1300) is even smaller than the Asrock DeskMini A300 yet much more powerful. Its Radeon RX Vega M GH GPU, which is much faster than the Vega 11 in the Deskmini, allows you to run Expresii on a 4k monitor smoothly. If the 1k+ price tag is a litte too high, thre's also a version with a slower GPU Vega M GL. Also, look at eBay and sometimes there're offers in the $500-600 range as a barebone (i.e. you add your own RAM and storage).
Other ready-to-use mini PC's with Radeon RX Vega M GH GPU (but not as tiny as the Intel NUC) include this Beelink Kaby G7 (with 16GB RAM + 256 GB SSD at $1150) and the HiGame from Chuwi at $1300.
Conclusion? You don't need a huge PC to run Expresii fast! ╭( ･ㅂ･)و ̑̑
We use the Quarter Mode of Expresii to create the ambigram《瑞豬 己亥迎春》. This mode shows the reflected images as you paint.
Note that the strokes produced by Expresii are highly detailed and nature-looking, thanks to its true-to-life brush simulation and superior rendering method.
We export the ambigram from Expresii as a snapshot, which we then import into Inkscape for further manipulation. After some arrangement, we print the design onto paper to make a paper cut. We even pair the ambigram with a double-sided QR code, which we wrote a program to generate with reference to Aleksey Tikhonov's article.
Flipping the ambigram and testing double-side QR code:
Here's the final product. Check out our previous blog entry to learn more:
And here's one video that shows the whole process: