Surface Pro May Support Stylus Pressure in Photoshop Soon

One of the first things I did after I bought a new Microsoft Surface Pro was to install the Adobe Creative Suite that I often use in other projects. I was very excited to test out the 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity in Photoshop. Unfortunately it turned out that Microsoft did not implement the standard Wintab API’s used by most high-end graphics applications to interpret pressure sensitivity from a stylus.  The Surface Pro does use Wacom hardware which is what the Wintab API’s were originally designed for.  We know this because other Wacom styli do function with the Surface Pro.  On other tablets, it was often possible to enable Wintab functionality and pressure sensitivity in Photoshop by installing a Wacom driver which could detect the Wacom hardware in the screen.  I was unable to find any existing Wacom drivers that were able to detect the Surface Pro’s current hardware, so that method was unsuccessful in enabling Photoshop’s pressure sensitivity.

A number of people were very disappointed to hear of this lack of pressure support on the Answer Forums since it’s kind of a deal breaker for many graphic artists and photographers for whom the Surface Pro would be a fantastic tool.  Luckily, Mary Jo Foley noticed our concerns and was able to get an answer about this from Microsoft today.

“Surface Pro uses Windows Inbox Drivers and APIs (application programming interfaces) for the Surface pen, which support advanced features such as pressure sensitivity and eraser functionality. There are a number of apps in the Store that leverage these new Windows APIs and can take advantage of all that the Surface pen has to offer. The Surface pen does work with Photoshop, which runs on Surface Pro, though advanced features such as pressure sensitivity and eraser functionality may not be available at this time. Microsoft is working with the necessary partners to make advanced features of the Surface pen available across a number of applications in the near future.”

It should be possible for either Microsoft or Wacom to build support for the Wintab API’s (which Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Painter, etc. all use) into their Surface Pro’s active digitizer drivers while also supporting their new tablet pressure sensitivity API’s in order to maintain compatibility with both new applications and existing ones.  Adobe has always used the Wintab API’s because they’ve been around the longest, and they also support a wider range of graphics tablet input functionality such as tilt sensitivity and multiple tools (airbrushes, mouse pucks, etc.) which I do not believe are supported by Microsoft’s new API’s.

Hopefully we’ll see a driver update soon so that digital artists and photo retouchers can really take advantage of the Surface Pro’s pressure sensitive active digitizer.  If you were really excited about the pressure sensitive support for Photoshop, right now the best you can do is tweet @panos_panay and @Surface to let them know that you’re looking forward to those Wintab driver updates.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!