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Otaku News Special: Manga Studio Review

Date: 2006 November 08 06:32

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We're aware that many of our readers will at some point try to create their own "manga" and now so are several software publishers who are eager to fill the the gap in the market for Manga creation software. In this review I look at Manga Studio 3.0 Debut and create my own page to see just how useful it actually is.

Full Story

Manga Studio is a software package designed for the creation of manga styled comics, and is based upon the Japanese Comic studio package. Manga Studio isn't the only manga software package to make it into English Deleter’s Comicworks has also been translated but with the English portion of Deleter's site having been offline for sometime it's been difficult for fans to get hold of, and at $160 it's a pricey investment especially when further development of the English software seems under question.

The How to Draw manga book series also has a series on Digital Toning which includes CDs with selections from the Computones range which fans might be familiar with as the tone series provided wirh How to Draw Manga's digital tone range, though I've yet to try importing any.

Now I suspect that the even the name of Manga Studio will no doubt cause some raising of eyebrows from fans debating the exact definition of manga considering it is an English language version aimed at the international market, for simple ease for this review I'll define manga as Japanese comics or those which are strongly influenced by Japanese manga techniques and styles.

E-frontier's Manga Studio 3.0 is far easier to get than Comicworks it can be ordered on CD from the website or major retailers such as Amazon as well as direct download versions. The Ex edition retails for $299 which is far more than ComicWorks, luckily Manga Studio also comes in a cut down Debut version which retails for a more reasonable $49.99. Whilst the Ex version seems aimed at professionals and is indeed endorsed and used by many of Tokyopop's artists, Debut offers the chance to get familiar with the software and aims to offer pretty much everything a small press/ indi manga artist could need.

For this review I am using a PC with an Intel Pentium 4 2.6 GHZ, 520 MB RAM, NVIDIA G-Force 420 graphics card running on Windows 2000 and to draw I'm using an old A5 serial based Wacom Graphire Tablet. Wacom do offer Manga Studio/tablet bundles for their newer USB tablets so it's worth keeping an eye out.

The CD version of the software comes in a nicely presented box and features the Assistant from Van Von Hunter on the cover, flip it open and there's an example manga with a run through of features. Inside you'll find the CD, a few flyers and little else; all the documentation comes on the CD in PDF form. Following the tutorials in the manual I was able to work some of the basics, but in places I was still a little confused and ended up shifting through e-frontier's forum and website for clarification. That isn't to say that MangaStudio is that hard to use, it just has it's little quirks which are easier to navigate once you get into it's mind set. At it's core MangaStudio is a tool for replicating traditional manga tools and equipment digitally, if you have that in mind it becomes much easier to use. My advice would be to jump in and try to create manga, like many complex software packages much can be learned by trail and error.

Story Management

Manga Studio 3: Pageoverview

Above here in the story manager, which provides an overview of how my manga is looking.

One of Manga Studio's most appealing features is it's ability to manage pages. When you launch a new project you can indicate how many pages you want and which direction they will flow (left to right or visa versa). This then generates a new folder with which to manage your project, and creates an interface for viewing an overview the manga pages, so you can easily leap between pages and asses how they work together, essential if you plan to get your work printed.

Getting Started
Manga studio has a wide range of preset pages preruled with standard manga measurements ( for guttering etc). Sizes include A4, A5 as well as sizes that are common in Japan such as B5. There are also a number of presets based on manga manuscript paper sizes.

Manga Studio 3: Import Sketch

The first stage of any manga is to sketch it out roughly, Manga studio does a great job of replicating various types of pencils which is great if you draw directly into the program with a graphics tablet. This time however I imported a number of hand drawn sketches for my 3 panel page of my manga. The layers system will be familiar for most of you that use digital art software, each layer is like a see through sheet of plastic which stacks up this analogy is especially true of manga studio and I'll talk more about that later. For now the most important thing is the division between sketch and finish layers. Sketch layers are used for planning, and when you export the manga you can tick a box that hides all the sketch layers. This means you can use as many as you like and when you are finished and want to save you don't have to manually delete or hide them. Handily Manga studio Debut (pc)will import BMP and JPG as well as scan using TWAIN based scanners, the mac supports a. few additional formats.


Manga Studio 3: Inking

There's a small icon in the layers palette that lets me change what colour a layer is displayed, this means I can quickly turn my rough line work blue so it's easier to 'ink' over. I create a new layer this time a 'finish' type and get started, the digital inking is one of the most important aspects of the software. It has a number of traditional manga pens (for those unfamiliar many manga artists use traditional nibbed pens which they dip into ink and which makes it easy to vary line weight) preset into it such as G pens, maru and brush. Having used the real deal I can testify that using their Manga Studio equivalent is fairly close and I found the lines far smoother than those I draw in Photoshop. I can also define the line thickness going in and out which means I can automatically ensure that my line have weight. Another great feature is line correction which ensures smooth lines. Pen correction should not be relied on however since there are times when you want to add more character to lines which the correction won't allow. Lines can seem a little pixely up close, but zoomed out or exported seem. Display can be improved slightly by altering the display settings in preferences but this will use a little more memory.

For this tutorial I choose the G-pen which is a favourite tool for shonen artists as I wanted clear bold lines.

Manga studio also has an airbrush tool which can be used for etching or splatter effects and a marker tool which can be used much like fineliners for constant lines. There's also a ruler tool for straight lines, this can also be set so that there's variation between 'in' and 'out' line thickness so that lines don't look to artificial.

Manga Studio 3: Panel A

Before I finalize the panels
Inking panels is simple as choosing the panel layer and then dragging a line across the page using the panel ruler tool,the panels are then generated automatically. Once I'm happy I rasterise ( finalize) the panels and Manga studio creates a layer with my panels drawn on it, any overflow I had is hidden under the panels.

Manga Studio 3: Panel B

After notice the overspill is gone, I didn't erase it it's just hidden!

The Panel Maker
The panel maker tool can be found next to the panel ruler and is not to be confused. The panel maker allows you to define a panel area and then work on in it as a separate file. This means you can give particular attention to a panel without it effecting the rest of the page directly,this is handy if you plan to use a lot of tone. You just have to make sure you remember to save otherwise you can loose all you all your work. Panels are saved in the story folder along with the rest of the files Manga Studio generates.

Manga Studio 3: Panel Tool

Effects and Tones
Here I've selected the snowboarder panel which I defined in the previous section. Tones are pretty simple to apply you just select an area:

Manga Studio 3: Tones and Effects

...then drag a tone in from the tone window. Manga Studio debut comes with 1800 tones.

Manga Studio 3: Tones and Effects

You'll notice here that I didn't fill in all the gaps in Manga studio this is no problem. When you drag a tone into a new area it creates a tone layer. Much like in real life when you apply too much you can easily get rid of the excess by erasing or cutting it out. What Manga studio also lets you do is add tone seamlessly. Rather than reselect missed areas I simply paint or fill with black ink on that layer and that tells Manga Studio I want tone there. Painting with the transparent ink ( box on the right) allows me to erase extra tone or if I use a tool like the airbrush create the effect of etching.

Manga Studio 3: Tones and Effects

Once I create a tone layer I can rotate it or change it's size to match it up with the picture. In this case I want the tone at an angle so it matches the arm of the snow boarder.

Manga Studio Debut comes with 3 filters for adding effects such as focus lines and speed lines automatically. I found them a bit fiddly to use and to achieve the effect I wanted, I finally settled on the speed lines to add a bit of motion to the boarder.

Manga Studio 3: Tones and Effects

There's no tool in Manga Studio Debut for creating word balloons although there is in EX. It took an online search before I discovered on how to create basic word balloons in Debut. Select an area with the Ellipse Marquee tool, if I want a tale to the balloon add it with the Polyline Marquee (look under lasso) fill with black, go to selection> reduce selection select line width then fill with white. It's also possible to include some speech effects using the included effects tones. Thankfully though there is a basic text tool so it was possible to letter the comic. It's probably worth noting it was during lettering that I noticed a slight slow down on my system, it wasn't too severe and was the only place I experienced it.
Manga Studio 3: Lettering

Hooray Comic is done! :

Manga Studio let's you export single pages or entire stories easily in JPG, PSD or BMP so with the included formats it's possible to configure the output for print or web I'd have like to have seen .tif or .gif also represented. You can export at up to 1200 DPI though if panels have been worked on in panel maker they only go up to 600DPI so there's little point saving higher, there don't seem to be any obvious options to control compression rates though you can change export size depending on what you require. The standard recommendation to tone at the size you wish to print at still applies. Whilst you're working you can save files into Manga studio, there are three Manga studio file types, panels, pages and stories which will save itself into a neat organized folder so that each are of your manga is easy to find and work with. My uncompressed two page manga (as featured in the screen shot for story mode) came in at 17 meg in manga studio format, whilst the snow boarding one featured in this tutorial was 6.2 meg with the jpeg exporting at 459k (419x 593 pixels).

Manga Studio 3: The Finished Product

Additional Features

Manga Studio 3: Colour Image

Another nice feature is the ability to rotate the page whilst inking or drawing. This doesn't rotate the page contents but rather your view so it's easier to ink those odd corners much like rotating paper in real life. Manga can also be colour as well as black or white so the software has limited colour support. The colour doesn't work like other software each layer has it's own colour which you set in layer options, so it's like colouring with layers of see through plastic. It's a little awkward but may prove helpful for laying in basic colours which you can then export for advanced colouring in software like Photoshop.

Colour Image

With the image above I sketched and inked in Manga Studio, then exported and coloured in Photoshop. The lines were extremely bold and smooth making coloring easy.

Manga Studio does a great job emulating basic manga art supplies, to use it properly you really need a tablet and some patience without a clear " how draw manga in manga studio" book I found myself struggling with the finer points of the PDF instructions especially since the only way I could find to navigate was by chapter head a standard index would have helped. It's one of those pieces of software which will require some time to learn properly and get the most out of. The inking, tone and paneling features all do their jobs superbly. That said most manga I've seen made with this software is identifiable as digitally produced and hasn't quite reached the stage where it can totally replicate a hand made page. But for the price Debut is well worth it, saving a keen amateur buying large amount of expensive art materials it's perfect for fans wanting to create a web comic or small press title. Having a particularly messy style of drawing I found it a great help in keeping my work tidy and bold, working digitally there's no ink to spill and I won't cut the paper toning. It is possible to reproduce many of the same effects in Photoshop but defiantly not as easily, and with the price so low in comparison Manga Studio 3.0 debut comes highly recommended. A free demo is available on their site and is well worth a try.


You can buy Manga Studio directly from the publisher Smith Micro, alternatively you can also get it from Amazon in the US and UK. Note that we've reviewed the Debut version, the EX version has more features.

Amazon US:
Manga Studio Debut 4.0
Manga Studio EX 4

Amazon UK:
Manga Studio Debut 4.0
Manga Studio EX 4

Source: Otaku News
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