• 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: Customisable colour painting tools. Library of posable 3D human models. Easier-to-navigate user interface.

  • Cons: EX version not out until the summer. Manga Studio 4 or earlier files are not compatible.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Manga Studio 5 has a bit of everything for digital artists who create narrative-driven illustration and comics. Featuring an overhauled user interface, including new brushes and tools, it's a good time to try out Manga Studio if you've not used it before – but current Manga Studio 4 may want to wait for file compatibility fixes – or the upgrade to the pro-level EX version due in the summer – before purchasing an upgrade.

Manga Studio 5 showcases new colouring tools. Similar to Photoshop, the layers panel comes with new options such as Clip Layer, Multiply, Quick Mask, and more. New brushes for watercolor, oil and pastel are familiar to Painter users. Artists can create custom brushes and share them. The airbrush tool creates multiple effects for painting.

Ink and pencil drawing tools have improved control options. For example, artists can vary anti-aliasing with the ink tool. For creating comics, vector snapping of panels, type and speech balloons helps to layout a comic page. Type and panels are editable on the fly. Manga Studio 5 comes loaded with zip tones and effects for comics which artists now can color for effect.

The 3D human models are a new and welcome reference. Artists can alter female and male models and then pose them using the built-in character rigging. Guidelines on these models assist in designing outfits. 3D models of manga girl and boy teens are clothed with swappable outfits, expressions, and head details. A variety of common poses and 3D hand gestures are included.

Under the File menu, you'll see a new item: Qumarion. Quma is a real-life model that's plugged in via USB. It's fully articulated, and the selected 3D model mimics movement in real time. Smith Micro has not yet decided whether it will distribute Quma to the US or European market.

In Manga Studio 5, most standard features from Manga Studio EX 4 are included. Others, like the multiple comic page layout and perspective rulers, are not present. The company is dropping the Debut naming convention for this new version. Manga Studio 5 is "Manga Studio 5 Debut" with the upcoming Manga Studio 5 Ex maintaining the use of "Ex" to distinguish it. Expanded 3D options and more features will arrive in Manga Studio 5 Ex, which is slated for a Summer 2013 release.

Currently, files created in Manga Studio 4 or earlier are not compatible with Manga Studio 5. The publisher is working on fixing this by the second quarter of this year, but if you're planning to work with your Manga Studio 4 files, it would be smart to wait until the functionality is solid.

If comics are your thing, Manga Studio 5 is great catch-all art program. New coloring tools with customization, layers, panel creation, responsive drawing tools and 3D models makes it ideal for creating illustrations and comics. Newcomers will discover that Manga Studio 5 is a versatile art program without breaking the wallet.