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Windows 10 Update Disrupts Pen Input; Microsoft Offers Potentially Dangerous Fix

Posted by on April 16, 2018.

A recent Microsoft security update – according to Wacom’s support pages, the OS build 16299.334 – has had a rather unexpected side-effect. Many users of have been experiencing issues where drawing apps, such as Photoshop, no longer function correctly. For example, pressing the pen to the tablet device does not “draw” as it should, but instead scrolls the screen.

It turns out this is because Microsoft has been experimenting with new functionality for Windows Ink, a suite of basic software for devices compatible with pen input, which also permeates the operating system and is used by many third-party applications, such as Adobe’s creative apps, to read input from pen tablets like Wacom’s Intuos and Cintiq lines. Microsoft has been tinkering with Windows Ink since the Fall Creator’s Update, which itself caused quite some chaos for pen-input users when it was first released.

More surprising is that Microsoft is not only aware of this issue, but seems to have introduced the change deliberately. A post on the Windows Ink community Reddit by an MS representative states:

In response to overwhelming feedback from our Windows Insiders, the Windows 10 Fall Creator’s Update changed how the pen behaves when it isn’t doing its primary function of laying down ink […] there is a chance that one of your favorite applications wasn’t covered as part of our validation, relies on input conversion, and may not function as intended after this change.

Clearly Adobe’s products are among those not covered as part of their validation. This would be boneheaded enough given that their Creative Cloud suite is an industry standard in many fields, particularly digital illustration and design, and professionals’ livelihoods may hinge on being able to reliably use their drawing hardware without issue. What makes it even worse is Microsoft’s official workaround for this issue, posted by both their Reddit representative and on the official support pages of recent updates. Users are encouraged to edit their machine’s registry via an elevated command prompt to re-enable the previous way of handling pen input.

This puts less technologically savvy users between a rock and a hard place; the Windows Ink changes are bundled in with the security updates, so rolling back to an earlier version of Windows could leave them more vulnerable to security threats, as well as being subject to Windows 10’s incredibly aggressive approach to installing updates. On the other hand, even though Microsoft has made the instructions for changing the registry as clear-cut as they can, it’s widely known that making mistakes with any form of registry-editing can potentially cause irreparable harm to a machine. While many artists using Photoshop will be digital natives and have no trouble with this fix, not every digital artist will necessarily have deep computer knowledge, so some users may not know how to keep their machine safe while making this kind of modification.

Microsoft says it’s working on a better solution for the next Windows 10 build which will allow users to make this change via a UI, and it’s likely that Wacom and Adobe will update their products to improve compatibility with Microsoft’s erratic functionality updates. In the meantime, Photoshop users have a safer alternative than editing the registry or rolling back a security update, posted by several users in the Adobe community forums:

  1. Navigate to C:\Users\[your username]\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CC 2018\Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 Settings
  2. Create a blank text file and type the line UseSystemStylus 0
  3. Save the text file as PSUserConfig.txt (Both the file name and the line of text are case sensitive)
  4. Open the Wacom Tablet Properties app (if you don’t know where to find yours, the default installation directory is C:\Program Files\Tablet\Wacom, where you should find the executable Professional_CPL)
  5. Click the Calibrate tab (‘Mapping’ if no calibrate tab appears) and uncheck Use Windows Ink

It’s possible to fix the scrolling issue with only steps 4 and 5, but some users have reported that this results in a loss of pen-pressure functionality without the .txt file in place. Note that if the AppData folder isn’t visible, you will need to enable hidden folders by clicking the View tab in Windows Explorer and checking the Hidden Items box.

For users with non-Adobe apps who are facing this issue, there may not be any other option than the registry-altering command line, so the only thing to recommend is to follow Microsoft’s instructions, double- and triple-check the command line is reproduced exactly as shown, and not spend a second longer tweaking the registry than you absolutely have to. With a little luck, an update with a proper fix for this issue will roll out soon. With a lot more luck, Microsoft will stop breaking vital functionality that professionals may depend on, or at least provide less irresponsible and potentially dangerous workarounds.

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Submitted in: Josh Townsend, News |