Saturday, March 28, 2009

Manga Studio for Digital Inking, Review

So when it comes to inking... I kinda suck. But I'm aware in part it's because I don't dedicate nearly as much time to it as I should, if I'm to be in any position of "not sucking." I've become comfortable with basic methods with specific pens that get me by, but I know that one of the next evolutions of my traditional art will be to hunker down and start loving the brush. It's no small task! I've been privileged to know and work with some of the best inkers there are, and there is no doubt that it is an art form in itself. I have tremendous respect for inkers that ink and bring life to other people's work, and am further awed by artists whose own inking is a integral part of their repertoire. As the digital age transforms our workflow, inking by quill or by tablet seems to remain a discipline all it's own.

Speaking of the digital age, I've been experimenting with Manga Studio. While marketed as an all-inclusive drawing program, I would call out its more focused features as that of a digital inking program. So how will it fare in the hands of someone who is a little more software savvy than he is at the hand of black pens?

First off I need to mention that Manga Studio comes in two versions, a "Debut" and "EX." This is basically the casual and pro versions respectively. The casual Debut version is a mere $50, and from my view it seems to be mostly worth the price. The pro EX version is up a bit more at $300, and has a much more expanded feature set. But due to my issues with the Debut version, I'm not sure the upgrade is warranted if you are competent in other software. Here I discuss my experience with the Debut version on the Mac.

Manga Studio is not Photoshop. It takes a high degree of concentration to get the feel of how everything is laid out and works together. I'm afraid much of the features are not intuitive and you'll be scratching your head at alot of things wondering "why didn't they just do it this way?" And because I am a software designer by profession, there are commands and user interface decisions that make me furious. Still, even the Debut version has alot of potential to be a oft-used creative tool.

The one thing that thankfully has short learning curve is the pen tool, the basic tool used for inking. The main advantages it has over Photoshop are the ability to follow your stylus with pressure-sensitive auto-tapering. Similar settings can be created in Photoshop and especially Painter, but what puts Manga Studio above them is an auto-curve correction based on both the pressure and the speed in which you draw with the stylus. Honestly Photoshop's brush control is clunky and intrusive when quick adjustments are needed. Not that it can't be done, many do and do so well, I just find it even more frustrating than actual paper. Painter has better control and execution, but you really need to concentrate on making that one perfect brush amidst a slew of variables (to defend Painter, I know that artists who dedicate time to creating their favored brushes are decidedly rewarded in the long run). However at a significantly lower price point, Manga Studio's focus on the "ink" aspect has its value. A notable difference with Manga Studio it that it is designed to work in hi-res and has the ability to retain every brush stroke as a vector. I'm not going to go into the tech of that here, but it's no small feature.

You kind of need to see this in practice to get it, but the tapering and auto-correct really does create an authentic brushed line. Of course even with these features, at some level you will be restricted (or enhanced) by your artistic acumen. It took me about an hour to get the hang of it, just by playing around with random line work. Eventually I chose to tackle some actual inks based on my own pencils.

The software has a deep layering system (albeit an annoying one) that separates all the varied types of work you may be adding to your art. It's kinda like Photoshop, but not really. But basically here I've loaded in one of my scanned penciled pages, and begun work with the inks on a separate layer.

Traditionally I could not have achieved this type of inked/brush look so quickly without great effort and many mistakes. I don't have that level of control. But here in Manga Studio with the omnipresent Undo available, I got some really nice lines and tapers that made me think I could actually pull off something I'd be satisfied with. And at a working default of 600dpi, a test print looked pretty sharp.

Stay tuned as I take working with Manga Studio a bit farther.


Anonymous said...


You can download an updater for Manga Studio Debut 4 Mac on

The updater will replace the Japanese text in the Speed Lines Filter menu with English text.

Carlos said...

Thanks Edco,

I've only just been using Manga Studio 4 for the past 24 hrs, and already I'm blown away by its inking capabilites.

As someone who has also always struggled to ink with Photoshop and Painter, I can't believe that it took me this long to try this program out.