I still prefer to work on my rough concept and thumbnail sketches traditionally, but for refined sketches and final linework I find myself using Manga Studio more and more frequently. I’ve made numerous attempts to switch to drawing digitally using Photoshop, but for me, the drawing tools in Photoshop just don’t feel as smooth as they do in Manga Studio. Drawing in Manga Studio feels very natural and as close to traditional methods as I’ve experienced. In addition, there are a few very good pen tool options that make the drawing experience that much better. I’m going to talk about some of those options here.
Just a quick note: For the purposes of this overview I’m working with Manga Studio 4, and only talking about the pen and some related tools. The newest version (Manga Studio 5) looks like it has quite a few interface improvements and other new features (Tracy Bishop did a great video overview of Manga Studio 5 on the site in May last year), but for the tools I will be talking about, I do not believe a whole lot has changed.
Okay, here is an overview of some of the features and the drawing tools that really sold me on using Manga Studio:
Pen Tool Options
My first impression when using the pen tool was how nice and smooth it felt. The pen is very responsive and I was impressed with the line quality you can achieve. There are also some very interesting options and settings available for the pen tools:
Stroke-in and Stroke-out
On the pen tool options palette there are check boxes for stroke-in and stroke-out. Turning these on will taper your line at the beginning or end (or both) of your stroke. You can also use these stroke-in and stroke-out options in conjunction with your pen speed.
This tapering of your line is applied in addition to the regular pen size tapering you would get with the reduced pen pressure as you finish or start a stroke, and will ensure your line starts and/or ends in a nice tapered point. The great thing is that you can turn this option on or off, and adjust the amount of tapering for either end of your stroke as needed when drawing.
Another great pen tool option is “Correction”. With this turned on, Manga Studio will smooth out your pen stroke after you draw it. You can set the level of correction, so you can apply a very subtle correction or a lot of correction, depending on what you need. This option can be really useful if you are drawing some large round shapes or arced lines and want them to have a nice smooth feel.
In my experience, I’ve found that the smooth feel of the pen tool, in combination with these two options above can really help you achieve some great looking line work.
The Layers Palette
If you’ve used Photoshop, the layers palette will feel quite familiar. In Manga Studio, you have a bunch of options when adding a new layer, and I want to point out two in particular:
Vector or Raster Layer
One of the really great options you have when adding a new layer is that you can choose whether the layer will be a raster or vector layer. (in the “Layer Type” option)
To have the option of creating your line work in vector is a huge plus - especially if you are working on any large format drawings, if you will need to scale up your artwork, or if you prefer working with vectors as part of your workflow. When drawing on a vector layer, the pen tool behaves almost exactly the same as if you were drawing on a regular raster layer - with the same natural flow, smoothness, and pressure sensitivity. The ability to make your drawing a vector while feeling like you are simply drawing normally is such a nice feature.
Assigning layer output
Another option you have when creating a new layer is the ability to make the layer a sketch or finish layer. What this means is - if you specify the layer as a sketch layer you can exclude this layer when you export your drawing. It’s nice to be able to keep your sketch layer, and not have to worry about deleting it before exporting.
This is not Manga Studio specific, but more in regards to drawing digitally in general - I’ve found it very nice to be able to continue drawing a pen stroke past the point of where you want it to stop, and then erase the overlap. I find this allows you to carry on drawing a nice fluid stroke without having to worry about slowing down and stopping it, which can sometimes make your line appear a bit more timid than if you just followed through on the stroke.
Also, if you’re drawing on a layer designated as a vector layer, one touch of the eraser tool on the stroke after the intersection will erase the whole overlap right back to the point of intersection. How awesome is that!
Other useful features
Two essential tools Photoshop users will be familiar with - rotate and flip canvas. These are present in Manga Studio as well. These features are very handy for checking your work from a fresh perspective to make sure everything is working (like when they taught us to hold our work up to a mirror in art school - before computers!)
I found the export image options to be very extensive. If you prefer to colour your artwork in another application, Manga Studio has a lot of options when you are exporting your images. You can export in a number of different image formats, including .PSD files. It will also allow you to export all your layers, or flatten your artwork if you like. You can also choose to include or exclude sketch layers and text layers.
There are certainly a lot of benefits to drawing digitally. It can be faster, you can resize/reposition parts of your drawing as you work, and you can instantly undo a pen stroke you don’t like. This also has the added benefit of giving you increased line confidence, knowing you can hit undo if a stroke goes bad.
I’ve only used Manga Studio for a little while and I haven’t explored all of it yet, but so far I am very impressed with the natural feel and smoothness of the drawing tools. It feels very close to traditional drawing, and that is what has me the most excited. Manga Studio also has a fairly low price point, so it’s not too large of an investment if you feel like giving it a try.
So far, the only drawback for me in drawing digitally is my impulse to hit ‘undo’ 20 times in a row until I get the exact stroke I want - If I can find a way to stop doing that, I’m sure I’ll be producing drawings faster in no time!