HOWTO: Wacom Cintiq on Linux

A stylus on screen is a wonderful design. It has all sorts of uses. My first experience with it was for teaching videos. With the stylus, I could clutter on the slides as I was speaking, in much the same way as I would with a pen on the old overhead slides of the last century. It is also handy to take notes on PDF papers while proof-reading or grading student work. It could even replace a common notebook.



First having learnt to apprecita the Wacom Cintiq 13 HD on a MacBook, it goes without saying that I wanted to have this wonderful device up and running on a decent, stable, operating system, such as linux. I am not a linux fan, but the serious competitors such as Sun and DEC seem to have priced themselves out of the market.

Generally, there is good support for Wacom devices, and a lot is written about debugging with different devices. Unfortunately little is written about the Wacom Cintiq 13 HD. It was not easy, but it can be done.

The good news is, in Debian jessie (testing) as of September 2013, the Cintiq works straight out of the box, mirroring the main screen. I tested the system on three different machines before reaching my final setup, so I dare say it was not pure luck.

The bad news is, not every distro is as helpful. I did quite a bit of research before I gave up on Ubuntu 13.04. Reportedly, Wacom support is not as good in 13.04 as it was in previous releases. I also tried it on the stable Debian release, wheezie, with no success, admittedly with less effort than I put into Ubuntu.

Let’s keep it simple and stick with Debian jessie. I, for one, found it easier to switch distro, than to make it work with the old one.

As far as linux is concerned, one Wacom Cintiq is two devices. It is a screen connected via HDMI and an input device connected via USB. Each one may require some tuning. Booting up the system and connecting the Cintiq, you should see the desktop on the screen and touching the screen with the stylus (pen), the mouse pointer should move, although not necessarily where you want it.

As a screen, the Cintiq is no different from any other. Presumably, you have installed appropriate drivers for your graphics card and are are connecting the Cintiq as a second screen. It can be set up either to mirror the main screen, or to extend it. If you run a desktop environment, it probably has a control panel to set up the screens. Even if you do not run Gnome (I don’t), it is possible to use its control panel, as follows:

gnome-settings-daemon &
gnome-control-centre &

Choose the display tool, and set it up as you want to. Placing the wacom in front of the main screen (as I have done in the picture above), one large desktop with the wacom under the main screen is logical.

Once you switch to a large desktop instead of mirror screens, you will probably see the mouse pointer moving far from the stylus, quite possibly on the other screen. By default, the working area of the stylus is the full desktop, even if it is larger than the wacom screen. Linux has no idea that the wacom input has any relation to the wacom screen. It could be traditional wacom device without a screen.

To fix the problem is a bit of manual fiddling, but not difficult. Firstly, we need to find the input devices, with the command:

xsetwacom --list

If the command is not found, install the package xserver-xorg-input-wacom. The output may look something like this:

Wacom Cintiq 13HD stylus         id: 9   type: STYLUS    
Wacom Cintiq 13HD eraser         id: 11  type: ERASER    
Wacom Cintiq 13HD pad            id: 12  type: PAD       

The interesting devices here are the stylus 9 (pen) and the eraser 11, which is the back of the stylus and recognised as an eraser by some software. To restrict the stylus to the screen, you do something like this:

xsetwacom --set "9" MapToOutput 1920x1080+0+1024
xsetwacom --set "11" MapToOutput 1920x1080+0+1024

Here 1920×1080 is the size of the Cintiq screen, and +0+1024 is its position relative to the full desktop. In this case it means that it is below the main screen, which has height 1024. You can find the screen sizes in your display configuration tool. If the Cintiq is above/left of the main screen +0+0 will do. If it is to the right, the first number is the width of the main screen, and the second is 0.

Once this step is complete, the pointer should be in the same ballpark as the stylus, but it may not track perfectly.

To get the pointer to follow the stylus exactly, it must be calibrated. Because of the glass between the screen image and the surface, there is parallaxis, and calibration must be done with respect to your working position and viewpoint. There are many ways to calibrate. In theory, it can be done on the command line, but I was not able to do it. On my best attempts, the pointer was 3mm off.


My solutions was again the Gnome Control Centre. Start it as discussed above,
and choose the `Wacom Cintiq Tablet’ tool to get the window shown in the
figure. When you click the `Calibrate’ button, the rest is self-instructive.

There is one limitation which I was never able to get across. The Gnome Control Panel depends on the randr extensions in the X11 server. The randr extensions are very useful, but they do not seem to work with multiple graphics cards.
All my attempts to get the Wacom Cintiq up and running on my regular
desktop with four screens and two graphics cards failed.
I ended up with a secondary box with only one regular screen up alongside
the Wacom Cintiq. Maybe I should look for a quad head graphics card?

I am very happy with the above approach, and the Wacom Cintiq quickly became an indispensable working tool. It is highly recommended.

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6 Responses to HOWTO: Wacom Cintiq on Linux

  1. crozz says:

    hi – getting the cintiq13hd to work on unbuntu, (linuxmint 14, 15- kde, xfce) has been a nightmare. i am new to the debian distro, is there an ISO link for getting it ? there website is a bit confusing

  2. Hans Georg Schaathun says:

    I am glad you found it, and I hope it works out alright.

    Personally, I got my install image from The filename is different from yours, but it may still be the same image.

  3. Ringo says:

    What about adjusting brightness and contrast of the screen on Linux. If I’ve understood other reviews of the Cintiq 13HD correctly, the screen settings are adjusted in software on Windows/Mac, rather than with buttons on the screen itself. How do you do this on Linux?

  4. neutro says:

    Thanx for this inspiring post! It helped me getting a cintiq 21ux to work… the thing that struck me was that if you don’t make use of the eraser tip you could abuse it to controll the other screen as if you had a separate tablet for it just by flipping the pen!

    So my mapping for a side by side setup of the cintiq and another tft is like so:

    xsetwacom --set "9" MapToOutput 1600x1200+0+0
    xsetwacom --set "10" MapToOutput 1600x1200+1600+0

  5. daffy_duck_nj says:

    I don’t own a Wacom tablet (yet), but I’d think this piece would go really well with the software that comes with Ubuntu Studio. I run that (13.10) on a PC with Debian Wheezy (current stable release 7.4 atm), and Windows 8.1.

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