• Price: EX version $279.99 (around £190) . Upgrade from v5 $99.99 (£64), Upgrade from v3/4 $149.99 (£95) . Standard version $79.99 (£50) . Upgrade to standard version $49.99 (£30)

  • Company: SmithMicro

  • Pros: Excellent performance; updated brush engine; layer modes; multiple file handling; custom brush creation; new user interface; EX4 page and story file importing.

  • Cons: Only two features difference between cheap standard version and expensive EX version.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

Smith Micro has released Manga Studio 5 EX, the pro version of its popular comics creation app, Manga Studio. But is this pricey pro edition worth an upgrade from the affordable starter edition?

With the introduction of the starter edition of Manga Studio 5, Smith Micro took an already excellent digital comics creation tool and made it better by building it again from the ground up. And don’t let the word ‘Manga’ in the title deceive you. Manga Studio 5 is a powerful,  worthy alternative to Photoshop for narrative- and character-led illustrations. Over the years it has become an application not just for creating Comics, but also full-colour professional digital paintings.

In Manga Studio 5 EX, not only are the inking and coloring brush engines better, but the entire user interface feels smoother and easier to grasp. Colouring in 4 EX was a bit tough because of missing features such as layer blending modes – and creating layers was confusing at times.

All of these issues and more have been addressed in version 5 for a more refined user experience.

Over all, Manga Studio 5 EX is an awesome comic- creation app made better. Which means EX5 should have twice as many features as the starter version right? Well, no, not really – at least not yet.

Wolfman: copyright Eric Merced

Anyone who used the EX version of Manga Studio 4 over the starter ‘Debut’ edition got their hands on a great many additions such as more Computones, Vector layers, and the ability to create Story projects with multiple pages, just to name a few.

Not so with the two versions of Manga Studio 5. Most of what made Manga Studio 4 EX better than the standard version has been added to the standard version of Manga Studio 5. As it stands, the only things that makes Manga Studio 5 EX different from the standard version is the ability to create multi-page Story projects – and to open Story projects from version 4 EX.

Smith Micro is planning updates to add more features to differentiate the two versions. A we-assume-free update at some point in the future will add support for 2DLT and 3DLT rendering – bringing in photos or 3D objects and then rendering them out as line-art, so you can quickly create backgrounds or props. This was in Manga Studio 4 EX, so it seems weird that it’s not there.

So right now, when you buy Manga Studio 5, you're buying the pro EX version, with those two features locked. How much you will need those features will factor greatly in your decision to upgrade or not.

If, like me, you depend on creating comics longer then a single page, then you will need the EX version. You can get by without it – especially if you want to create manga-style artworks or illustrations rather than full-spec comics – but the whole experience of having the full version makes for a far better and easier workflow.

EX5 brings back EX4’s Story File feature with a vengeance.

For starters, you can keep all of your comic pages in one single file. This not only helps you keep your pages organized in one single area, it also aids in finding pages for reference or correction much easier.

Without the Story file system, in order to take a look at page 25 of your comic, for example, you'd have to find the file and double click on it to open it. With the EX version's Story file feature, you can easily browse through all of your pages  and have a quick glance at them in the Story Editor window

Zoom into any page in the Story Editor window to see a full-size view for easier referencing of multiple pages.

Not only can you browse, view and find your comic pages much easier with EX5's Story Editor, you can also set a defined template to use with all of your pages, as well as automatically number each one, and add story information like the name of the author, artist, comic and issue number.

You can even choose to have this information appear on the page away from the live area. Another key advantage to having the ability to create Story files is batch exporting. Once done with all of your comic pages, you can quickly and easily export all of, or specific defined, pages in the format of your choosing from .jpeg or .PSD.

Exporting multiple pages in EX5 is made quick and simple with Batch Export or Batch Processing.

The second feature which sets EX5 apart from Version 5 is the ability to open EX4 story files. In Version 5, you have the ability to open individual EX4 page files. But again, if like me, you've been using EX4 for a long time and have created comics more then 1 page long using the Story file feature, you will want the option to open those files in Version 5.

It may seem like Smith Micro’s decision to charge a lot more money for two features – but it’s a split based on the standard version being aimed a wide range of artists and the EX version being for comic creators. The former will appreciate the standard version’s low price if they intend to use it alongside other tools – where as comic creators who use it day-in, day-out won’t mind the higher cost for such a core tool.

Whether you opt for Manga Studio 5 or EX5, you're getting a worthy upgrade to EX4 that isn't just a powerful tool for creating comic book art – but, as many artists are proving, is powerful for creating amazing digital art in general.