Manga Studio 5 EX – Review

I’m delighted to introduce below a post by T., a regular reader and commenter on this blog who also happens to be my girlfriend. 

I love my iMac. I love its bright colours and high definition. Try picturing the most gorgeous, detailed monitor display you can imagine, add another layer of pizazz, and then you will have something like my 5k retina display. It’s so beautiful that I don’t even mind that a good portion of video games, Japanese games in particular, aren’t playable without BootCamp. My boyfriend teases me that I never get any ‘use’ out of my computer because of the gaming aspect, but we both know that this is more than made up for by its other use.

No, its other other use. Manga Studio 5 EX.

It may share a lot in common with general-purpose graphics software like Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator and GIMP, but Manga Studio really is the final word in digital comic book illustration and creation. Paired with a good sized screen, some processing power, and a graphics tablet, you will have everything you need to churn out pages and pages of your blindingly good graphic novel. In theory.

To be clear, I only dipped my toes into digital art for the first time 2 years ago, so this is very much a beginner’s perspective. It all started with my first playthrough of Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition, after I discovered to my dismay that the game, unlike subsequent Bioware franchises, offered virtually no options to customize my hero’s appearance. This may sound petty, but given that creating characters is the only aspect of gaming in which I have skill, it was enough of a setback at the time to make me look for a way around this.

t2

Even the Fallout 3 sliders are powerless against my sorcery.

Yes, that was what made me investigate digital art to begin with: the need to create a really really ridiculously good looking player character. And then on a pilsner-fueled city break with my boyfriend in Bruges it finally struck me that I could set my sights on a much more ridiculous goal than a mere character portrait – I could illustrate a graphic novel! This was where Manga Studio came in.

Oh, Manga Studio! With one software installation, I could use project management facilities, vector lines, filters & masks, and experiment with unbelievable number of brushes and pens. Better still, the software supports 3d models, which one can create and import (or find online & import, in my case). Many times the Manga Studio 3d models saved a picture I had imagined in my head, but somehow could not translate onto the page.

I could write for pages and barely scratch the surface of Manga Studio, so rather than attempt a comprehensive review of all available features I have listed a few pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Materials.
    Materials can be anything from photographic references and overlay textures to 3d model poses of combat moves. The possibilities are endless, and I will warn you now: there can and will be times when you realise you just spent an entire afternoon designing a carpet.
t1

really nice carpet.

  • Panels.
    Very easy and quick to set up, even with complex page layouts. It did take me a hilariously long time to figure out how to turn off the ‘show ruler’ function to stop the border from appearing purple, though…
  • 3d models.
    As I already mentioned, these can be a godsend. By default, you will have a male and female model that can be fashioned into any dynamic pose, similar to how you’d use an artist’s wooden mannequin only much, much, better. You can also make custom body types, e.g. if you need a visual reference for two characters of substantially different height & weight, you can do that, and then save the custom body type settings under the relevant character names. Just be careful not to let the models become a crutch – it can be a slippery slope.
  • Rulers.
    I may not have learned how to make the best possible use of every ruler variation available, but I have certainly got use out of the perspective ruler. With the perspective ruler you can trivialize the layout of entire cityscapes just by adding a couple of vanishing points to the page, and best of all is that each line drawn will still retain a lifelike quality, unlike Shift+left click lines.
  • Reviewability.
    The options to tweak your drawings are excellent, especially if you ink your page using vector lines.

Cons:

  • The community.
    Please don’t get me wrong, I have the highest respect and gratitude for those willing to post helpful video demonstrations & forum tips. This is a more general point, but because the software is designed specifically for manga/comic book artists, there simply aren’t as many users, and therefore there are fewer handy guides online to be found. And of the guides that do exist many (quite reasonably) assume a level of experience that I simply do not have. For beginners I would highly recommend Doug Hills’ Smith Micro series, but when you need more specific advice (e.g. what is the best way to create a neon light effect? How do I get the perfect randomized sci fi texture?), you will often find yourself hunting down Photoshop videos and then having to work out how to do the same thing on MS5. This gets easier with time, but nonetheless adds an extra step to your process.
  • Lettering.
    Unfortunately there is no auto-correct function for text input, so you have to be absolutely SURE that there are no typos in your work. Typing your script into MS Word helps but does not eradicate the problem. There also aren’t any quick shortcuts for underlining/italicizing words, and you will need to hunt down your own fonts if you want to use anything other than Comic Sans, so this is an area I’d like to see developed in subsequent Manga Studio installments.
  • Detail.
    Boy oh boy is it easy to get caught up in details. While it is certainly handy to be able to zoom in and fill your 27” screen with a printed inch’s worth of pixels, it can also be a burden to realise how off some of your drawing is close-up. Beginners may want to consider doing the rough sketches on paper the first few times, and possibly the inking too.

And did I mention that you can get it for under £70? As a one-off payment and not monthly installments paid in perpetuity (I’m looking at you Adobe)? They also give a free trial period, so if you have a graphics tablet handy you should give it a go!

Oh, and I did eventually create a portrait for my Baldur’s Gate character. Her name is Aethel, she is an evil elf and the queen of backstabs.

t3

I have no regrets.

9/10

Sincere thanks to T. for this blog post. I hope there will be more contributions from her in future. 

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3 comments on “Manga Studio 5 EX – Review

  1. luke says:

    Hey
    I’ve been looking at the trial of this program on my 5k also. I love it so far, but have terrible resolution issues, both the UI and my work has so many jagged lines. Did you have to set up anything specific for it?

    Thanks
    Luke 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • T says:

      Hey Luke, I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying it!

      I originally had MS5 on a non-retina MacBook and managed to install it via the backup hard drive I was using, so it wasn’t a direct installation. But no, no special setup process I’m afraid.

      From a quick look online it seems like a known problem although people are getting mixed results. One thing to check is that you’re not opening in low resolution? Just right click the app and the check box should be there under the copyright line. Other than that… if you have bootcamp & Windows 10 I’d suggest you try installing it on that (you get 2 uses of the software anyway), otherwise it sounds like a question for Smith Micro support. Sorry not to be of more help!

      T

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luke says:

        Thanks…that’s actually a lot of help! I have boot camp so I think I’ll give that a go i think. Yeah a brief scan and it seems to be a common issue especially on the 5k iMac.

        Thanks for the suggestions though!
        Best
        Luke

        Like

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