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May 22, 2014

Surface Pro 3 Pen – Designed for Accuracy Across the Entire Canvas

Surface Pro 3 with Pen

For those of us who use the pen for creative pursuits there are a few traits of the Surface Pen that are critical – these are accuracy, minimal latency, and the ability to vary the line weight and opacity as we vary the level of pressure with which the pen touches the glass.

To ensure a great pen experience on Surface Pro 3, we focused on making sure that the new pen really delivered in each of these three areas:


Let’s look at accuracy first – ink needs to flow out of the tip of the pen exactly where it touches the screen. Stevie Bathiche is our Distinguished Engineer on the Applied Sciences team – he’s the man behind many of the innovations in Surface. He and Chris Whitman, our Program Manager for the Surface Pen, perform a simple test to validate their work in this area: a robot touches the display of Surface Pro 3 every 2 mm on a grid across and up/down the glass. They then track the level of accuracy as the cursor moves across the screen.

Surface Pro 3 Pen Accuracy Testing

The results for Surface Pro 3 show that we are within 0.5 millimeters 98% of the time. The impact of this is huge because it addresses something all of us have experienced but rarely know how to describe – the perceived parallax between pen tip and cursor.

Pixel Accuracy

The above picture represents accuracy at a per pixel basis. Compared to Surface Pro 2 we have 50% more pixel and 38% more screen real estate, yet 98% of the time we are within 0.5mm accuracy indicated by the blue pixels above. The red pixels represent 0.5mm to 1mm accuracy variations; I challenge you to find those. It was super important to us that this experience was consistent across the entire screen. We heard from many of you that you loved the pen experience on Surface Pro 2, but we got feedback that the accuracy of the pen wasn’t consistent, especially around the edges. Making this a better experience in Surface Pro 3 was a top priority for us. Some of the changes we have made in Surface Pro 3 allow us to track your pen inputs to the edges of the display, virtually remove parallax, and make Surface Pro 3 only 800 grams and 9.1mm thin.


Let’s look at latency because of those using the Surface Pen for extended amounts of time, especially for drawing and sketching this is the most noticeable of performance metrics. Latency basically describes the distance between where your pen tip drags across the screen and where the rendered line appears. On pen and paper latency is 0 and many of us experience latency for the first time when we use a stylus on a tablet. Because we are digitally rendering the ink on the display, the PC has to interpret a lot of different data in order to display the “ink” in just the right place with the right properties. Depending on the device and the application you are using latency can vary, but our team has optimized our inking experience on Surface Pro 3. Even with the bigger display we still have the same great experience as we had on Surface Pro 2. We know that there cannot be an accuracy-for-latency tradeoff. So the work that was done to match the great experience we had in Surface Pro 2 was really important to us.

Pressure Sensitivity

If you have ever made a drawing or sketch with pencil on paper you have probably used varying pressure to create thicker, bolder lines, or very soft and gentle lines. With an active pen like the Surface Pen in Surface Pro 3 we translate the force which you apply to the pen tip on the display into line weight and quality. Surface Pro 3 measures pressure on a spectrum of 256 different levels of pressure sensitivity. This gives you an incredible amount of control in your drawings and sketches. While each application will interpret the pressure curve differently, you can create beautiful strokes with subtle differences in line weight and opacity. We should note here that different applications rely on different driver sets to enable pressure sensitivity. Apps that you have downloaded from the Windows Store like Sketchbook Express, Sketchable, Fresh Paint, and even OneNote will give you subtle brush strokes out of the box, there is nothing you need to do to enable this.  Manga Studio also works great out of the box! Some programs require that you install the Wintab driver to get pressure sensitivity (more on these below). Adobe’s Creative Cloud programs, such as Photoshop and Illustrator still require the Wintab today, but in their next iteration will drop that requirement, so by the time you get your hands on Surface Pro 3 you’ll get an awesome penning experience right out of the box Our team has built a Wintab driver that will give you app compatibility and pressure sensitivity whether you are using programs that rely on the Windows Ink API or the Wintab driver set. That driver is available today and you can find it here. Look under Windows 8.1 64bit -> Microsoft Corporation -> Surface Pro 3.

[Correction – this post originally stated that Manga Studio required the Wintab driver to enable pressure sensitivity]

Personalize your Pressure Curve

We will also be releasing an update that adds a pressure calibration tool to the Control Panel in the coming months. This will allow you to customize the pressure curve and tip feel to get the most subtle and personalized brush strokes. We will keep you posted via the Surface Blog when this becomes available through Windows Update.

Customize your Pen Settings

I personally use all of the above programs to sketch or doodle and I recommend that as you get started you take a series of steps to calibrate your pen for the best experience. First up you should run a check for Windows Updates. There might be some updates available that will make your experience on Surface Pro 3 even better. Secondly, we all naturally will tilt the device to be comfortable in your hands while drawing. Every person will have a slightly different angle at which they sketch, hold the pen, and view the screen. By recalibrating your screen you can ensure that the tip of the pen truly matches up to where you expect it to be on the screen. Go to the control panel, open the Tablet PC Settings and calibrate your display using the Surface Pen.

Tablet Calibration
Surface Pro 3 Pen

It has been tremendously rewarding working with the many artists, architects, designers, and illustrators that use Surface Pro. I know I speak for everyone in the Surface team when I say that we love seeing what amazing works of art you are all creating with Surface. I am looking forward to seeing what you will create on Surface Pro 3 once you get your hands on it, hold it, and create with it!