I have lots of software I use for illustration: Photoshop, Corel Painter, Sketchbook Pro, and Adobe Illustrator – However, after finding Manga Studio, I now do the bulk of my work in Manga Studio and use the others less often. Don’t be fooled by the “Manga” name. If you are looking for drawing and painting software, Manga Studio fits the bill -whether you are into manga and comics or if you would rather create more traditional artwork (I do both types of work in Manga Studio). This is NOT a program to buy if you are looking for photo editing. Manga Studio is set up for artists and this is where it shines.
Before I go on, I want to explain that Manga Studio is also known as Clip Studio Paint Pro. If you’re confused, I was too, LOL. They are exactly the same applications. Clip Studio Paint is basically a Japanese program redistributed by Smith Micro as Manga Studio. I have Clip Studio because you can buy it as a download (instant gratification and all that). 😉 The Clip Studio program you can buy on Amazon is in English.
Manga Studio is the software I now open up first and use the most, and it’s surprisingly the least expensive of the bunch! Manga Studio is the best, in my opinion, when it comes to inking and hand-drawn work. The precision is unbeatable as well as the natural feel and expression of the brushes & tools. I use Manga Studio for illustration work (children’s books) so I didn’t need the more expensive EX program. Manga Studio 5 EX gives you the ability to create story projects with multiple pages. You can see at a glance an entire project and use a story creator with page spreads and so on. The regular Manga Studio program (featured on this page at Amazon) has all of the same functionality but without the multiple page spread capability. This is not an upgrade either! This is the full program with all the bells and whistles. All of the other drawing, painting and manipulation tools are otherwise exactly the same as the EX version. If you create comics, you’ll want the EX program. If you are looking to just draw and paint, this version (without the EX designation) is perfect.
I’ll go over some of the things I love about Manga Studio and how it’s improved my workflow:
IT’S FAST – WITH NO LAG
Manga Studio is blazing fast. Drawing and painting in Photoshop can be a real…draaaaaaaaaag. As in the brushes can be super slow to respond. My computer is a little older (but still has some pretty good specs) and when I use some of the Photoshop brushes, it shows. That right there is worth the admission price. If you do a lot of digital drawing and painting, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about. There is nothing worse than to be drawing and have your cursor lag behind your hand movements – having to wait for it to catch up. I have never had a brush lag in Manga Studio. Ever.
VERY NATURAL INKING & DRAWING
Manga Studio has unbeatable brushes for inking and drawing. Photoshop and even Corel Painter can be cludgy when it comes to drawing. The lines I create in those two programs aren’t as responsive as natural media when it comes to drawing. Manga Studio’s brushes feel more natural and the lines I create mimic the real thick to thin lines I’d make in “real” life with pens, pencils and markers. Get a set of Frenden’s inexpensive brushes and you will have lines that dance across the page. You can create soft or hard edges with ONE tool using the pressure from your stylus (I’ve used Manga Studio with a Cintiq and also a Wacom tablet) without having to use separate blenders. No more hopping from one program to another trying to get that right look. Manga Studio is the closest thing to drawing and inking right on real paper/canvas. I can draw the tiniest, most subtle real-looking and smooth lines with Manga Studio that I just can’t do in any other program except for Sketchbook Pro. Pressure sensitivity using Wacom tools is topnotch and super responsive.
Lines I made in Manga Studio using an inking pen:
The lines made with Manga Studio are just finer, smoother with a bit more variance. You can make Manga Studio lines that are almost “not there” because they are so fine. You can only step down so far with Painter and then the lines take on a yucky kind of look and don’t end as nicely. I like how my Manga Studio lines taper at the end and are more expressive.
Manga Studio also has a great feature – when you want to fill in line art with the bucket tool (kind of like dumping paint color into a single area similar to online color books), you have the option of having the program close those little gaps that would otherwise color your entire paper instead of the little area you wanted to fill.
This is another goodie I have fallen in love with. In Photoshop and Painter, every little wobble of your hand is magnified on the screen. Manga Studio has an adjustable brush stabilization so that every line you draw looks perfectly smooth and professional. You can adjust this and also turn it off. I’ve found that I like it set to just a “little bit” and my lines look exactly the way I want them to without any jitter. It’s easier to get what’s in my head down onto my digital canvas with less tweaking and work to refine my drawing.
Manga Studio has an awesome set of 3D tools so you can set up a 3D figure to pose and draw right over the top of! The model pictured above is posed like it is kicking a soccer ball. You can import 3D models (I like to import Sketch-up freebies) or use the models provided in Manga Studio so you can set up a scene, pose a figure and get everything just right from any perspective. This helps me out immensely since I draw a lot of people and need to get the proportions and poses just right. You pose your models just like little dolls (even down to the fingers) and then draw right over them on another layer. When you are done, just get rid of the reference layer your models were on and you are left with your “tracing” to work from.
A GREAT SET OF ILLUSTRATION & COLORING TOOLS
With Manga Studio, you have an entire box of art goodies on hand to play with. There are pens, markers, watercolor, oil paint, india ink, pencils, pastels, airbrushes and an arsenal of decorative brushes (hatching, patterns and so on) as well as the capability to create custom brushes with every sort of option to meddle with like brush tip, stroke, texture, shape, color mixing, effects, borders and much more.
Here is a tool palette that contains lots of decorative items that you can draw. Just pick what you want and start dragging your pen on the canvas. Each one of the “bricks” below (effect, pattern, hatching, etc.) has its own set of items. There are lots of brush categories too (not shown).
You also have a ton of pallets and other tools that do many different functions like regular Photoshop style tools (selection, eyedropper, eraser, fill, gradient, etc.) as well as several different blend tools (one of my favorite parts of the program for when I paint and color – Photoshop’s blend doesn’t even come close in capability). There are also rulers that can help guide your drawing lines and even do things like help you make perfect concentric rings or stay in a certain perspective, etc. There are tools to make speech bubbles where you can create complex tails and shapes, tools that make comic book frames/panels, image materials, effect lines and lots more. You also have the run-of-the mill layer and layer tools & adjustments, some filters, the ability to use masks and so on. In the navigator you have the ability to easily turn your canvas with a slider.
Pallets are moveable and customizable with little arrow tabs that cause them to hide or appear like little drawers. You can also set your workspace color (file / preferences) and customize almost everything to your heart’s content. It’s also super easy to import Photoshop color sets. I’ve downloaded a Copic marker color set for Photoshop and all I had to do to get it into Manga Studio was drag and drop it into the color set area.
Take a look at the interface, which I’ve customized with big tablet style buttons (since I use the program mostly on my Cintiq, which is like a tablet to draw on). I’ve also moved palettes around to my liking and added the Copic marker colors featured on the left side of the canvas.
Manga Studio also lets you draw with vectors and very easily change and manipulate the lines you’ve drawn. Here’s an explanation of what vectors are. I love how I can just wave my cursor over a line and tell it to get thicker or thinner or I can pull it this way and that to get to adjust it and get it perfect. The vector drawing tools behave exactly like their non-vector counterparts (drawing tools NOT painting tools) except that you can edit them to your heart’s content without having to learn a complicated program like illustrator. Vectors are VERY intuitive in Manga Studio. You can use vectors and raster images on the same canvas.
REAL ARTISTS USE IT
I think the low price confuses people and makes them think this is just an introductory tool for beginning artists and teens who can’t afford the big boy toys. Manga Studio IS the real deal and is used by real professional artists like Tracy Bishop, Neill Cameron, Fiona Staples, Dave Gibbons and more. I’ve found it to be invaluable for my work. Give the free trial a shot (and see why artists are making the switch from Photoshop to Manga Studio, especially for their inking and drawing needs.
WORKS GREAT WITH WACOM
I’ve used Manga Studio with a Cintiq as well as a Wacom tablet. It works flawlessly with both. Pressure sensitivity is perfect (and also adjustable via the program for your own personal preference).
NOW FOR THE CONS:
Manga Studio is now the first tool I pull out of my software for my drawing, inking and BASIC painting. However, I still have to use my other programs for a variety of tasks – sometimes just simple edits that are just too difficult to accomplish in Manga Studio. It’s great for inking, but not so great for manipulating my images – like if I want to cut a section out, change the size, flip it, distort it and reinsert it – it’s just too complicated to accomplish in Manga Studio so I have to buzz over to Photoshop to make the changes. Some of that might be my lingering ignorance about parts of the Manga Studio program that I just haven’t learned yet as well as Manga’s clunky way of accomplishing those tasks.
Manga Studio does has a little bit of a learning curve. Photoshop users will find a lot of the same tools but Manga Studio has its own format and its own way of doing things. Watching the FREE video tutorials on the smithmicro website (and YouTube) will help you get things figured out quickly. I also found the tutorial videos by Tracy Bishop a big help in creating and using a custom painting brush. Still, I’ve been using this program for months and there are still some things I just don’t know my way around yet. It’s not as intuitive for me as some of my other programs (like Sketchbook Pro which is child’s play to figure out, comparatively).
I also find the help files nearly useless because of bad translation. Manga Studio is a Japanese program and sometimes you can tell that it’s first language is NOT English. It makes for a few minor annoyances at times, but is nothing that is insurmountable.
Another irritation – while Manga Studio will import and export PSD (Photoshop files), it will render imported Photoshop text as a (raster) graphic so you will NOT be able to edit text after importing. Text is also not as easy to manipulate as it is in Photoshop. I currently do all of my text work in PS.
Make sure no matter which version you get that you visit the Clipstudio site for the additional material downloads for lots of patterns, 3D items and more – 784 MB of freebies!! Click here for a 2nd link to some Clip Studio downloads. You can also see more of what the program does (visually) on the Clip Studio site instead of the Smithmicro site. Check it out and try the free trial if I still haven’t convinced you! 🙂
Despite a few annoyances, Manga Studio is one of the best drawing programs that currently exists due to its amazing ability to replicate natural media, especially drawing & inking. It’s one of my “can’t live without it” tools and I highly recommend it for anyone who is into digital drawing & painting, professional or not. Another plus for the program – I opened it up a couple of months ago and had a notice that there was a FREE update that added a ton of new capabilities and improvements. Since when do you have a serious tool like this give a FREE downloadable update (that isn’t a part of Adobe’s bottle sucking subscription model)? I’m more than pleased with my purchase of Manga Studio all the way around. This is a company that is working hard to provide a premier drawing and painting tool, blowing standbys like Photoshop out of the water in many capabilities. The price is absolutely amazing for what you get. I highly recommend it!
Before I end this review / post, here is a drawing I did almost entirely in Manga Studio. I used it in my newly published book The Science of Seasons!