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.
One minor shortcoming is the constant fight for screen real estate. Users of Wacom’s 12-inch Cintiq screen and tablet and the mean WXGA screens on the latest tablets PCs may come to rue the wide palettes if they’re constantly switching between tools as they draw. It’s an area where Smith Micro could take a hint from the likes of Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.
But talking of Sketchbook Pro, with Manga Studio’s new colour features and an improved range of export options, there’s now an argument to say that you don’t need both. MS4 Debut is nowhere near as slick, but it costs about half as much and packs additional features that Sketchbook doesn’t have.
Unsurprisingly, Manga Studio 4 succeeds best when it serves the needs of the manga market – there is no better way to produce tightly formatted black-and-white digital artwork. The implementation of tones will delight anyone who has spent hours fiddling fruitlessly with halftone settings in Photoshop. The vector tools don’t make it an Illustrator-killer, but they add useful functionality. And the much-improved text handling means you might never have to fire the old warhorse up to letter your comics.
At the most basic level, Manga Studio 4 gives western manga wannabes access to all the speed lines, sparkly eyes, jagged speech bubbles and exotic pen nibs they could desire.
Ultimately though, it’s the evolution of the natural drawing tools and the wealth of assistance to good art that will lure upgraders and new users alike.