Price When Reviewed: 34 . 205
Pros: Great natural art tools; improved lettering; very stable; huge range of materials and computones; runs well on low-specced machines.
Cons: Colour implementation weak; interface can be cluttered on lower resolution displays; steep learning curve at first.
With the growth of mass-market graphics tablets in recent years, it’s become possible to apply various digital sledgehammers to crack the comic-creating nut. Illustrator, Photoshop or even Flash can all do the job, but it often feels like employing a combine harvester as a family runaround.
It took the vast comics industry of Japan to produce ComicStudio (marketed in the West as Manga Studio). There was an audible sigh of relief upon the release of version 3, with its excellent natural drawing tools, bottomless pit of screen tones, and intuitive page and story layout – and now version 4 is here.
Manga Studio 4 EX features tweaks to existing tools, plus a raft of new features, including a suite of vector-graphics tools, enhancements to its 3D rendering capabilities (including a huge library of objects that, in all honesty, you probably shouldn’t use to fill up your backgrounds), new filters, colour palettes and much improved lettering facilities.
Everything about the bewildering array of tool palettes screams ‘power app’, so while the provision of a simplified beginner’s assistant is thoughtful, newcomers will have their heads in the almost 400-page manual for some time.
A more affordable ‘Debut’ version is also available; it’s missing the filters, 3D and vector features, perspective rulers, and features cut-down colouring tools. However, it retains the fantastic drawing tools, screentones, the layout functionality and the enhanced speech bubble tools, ultimately making it one of the most powerful graphics applications available at the price. Creatives thinking of trying comic creation for the first time – or just for a single project – may try it and find that it’s all they need.
The inclusion of 3D functionality in EX will make a huge difference for many artists. Objects can be placed, manipulated in 3D space and rendered in line and tone in such a way that almost nobody will be able to tell that you don’t actually know how to hand-draw an industrial design-standard picture of a scooter.
Even if you choose not to populate your comics this way (it’s called ‘cheating’), Manga Studio’s rulers are invaluable when constructing complicated perspective scenes. One of the greatest frustrations of working on paper is losing your drawing under a mess of construction lines; whether you choose to build up your artwork on layers or use the snap-to perspective guides, the days of searching while inking for a tiny window you dimly remember drawing are over.