Manga Studio 4

We interrupt the normally scheduled eBay auction blog, to bring you this special software review!

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Stepping back about six years or so, I came to a decision. Though I’ve always loved telling stories, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be writing stories as novels at that time. Drawing had entered my life and turned my storytelling world upside-down. It was then I decided to start telling my tales as graphic novels. At first, I started sketching by hand while I took a moment to learn what all went into making a comic. It didn’t take me long to discover the illustrating a comic was a lot of work.

Since I’ve always been one to work smarter, not harder, I hoped someone had some sort of comic book drawing software on the market. Why try to figure out how to do a comic on the computer if someone had already done the work for me? It didn’t take me long to find Manga Studios 3.

I bought the EX version (over the Debut which is significantly cheaper, but has fewer tools) even though I knew that for me it was probably overkill. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, there’s nothing more frustrating than knowing that you should be able to do something in a more simple fashion and you could do it if you had that one version higher.

I produced four graphic novel chapters with MS3. My only lament was that I wished it had color.

Now enters Manga Studios 4 and guess what? Yep, you can color pages with it. Back on January 2, 2010, I had a note in my blog post about MS4. Originally, I’d added an ending line of something to the effect that if I was supposed to have MS4, I’d be granted a way for it to happen. I deleted the line, but it was very much in my heart as I posted the blog. To my complete astonishment, the “way” knocked on my door and I now have MS4. To the Universe and all those involved in my opportunity, please let me once again say, “Thank you!”

So, what do I think of Manga Studio 4? How does it compare to MS3?

Does “WOW!!!” cover it?

Okay, I’ll be more specific. When I first started up MS4, I had an option to start up the Beginner’s Assistant. The Beginner’s Assistant is a sidebar tool that allows you to see tools and layers in a way that actually illustrates the difference between the tools. It also includes pop-up hints to guide you around. I’ve had to go back to the standard mode because I’m so use to finding my way around in MS3, but if I’d started out with this feature as a complete newbie to both comics and the software, this would’ve simplified my life and saved me lots of time with my learning curve. I have switched back to the Beginner’s Assistant if I’ve wanted to find out how to use a tool more in-depth or to play with a tool because of the visual nature of the Beginner’s Assistant.

The feel of the pencils has changed. When I sketch offline, I like to use a mechanical pencil. In MS3, the mechanical pencil tool never felt right. I can’t say it’s perfect in MS4, but it does have marked improvement. The Most Recently Used Files option on the File menu has also been moved up the list and I appreciate this change.

I love the new Story/Page tabs. I can move back and forth between pages in my story in a fraction of the time. There’s also a pullout menu on the left side of the screen that allows you to click on the Story tab when you’re in a page and you can view a page while not leaving the one you’re working in. This is great in keeping continuity in panels without interrupting workflow.

The new Story Editor allows dialogue to be written for several pages and it automatically places the dialogue on the page at the top left so you can distribute the text over the page as needed, but you can also see the text written as you’re sketching the page. Since I do everything for my webcomic, Weblinks, in Manga Studio, I’m always thinking several pages ahead and this feature will help me out greatly.

The way dialogue is added has been changed greatly. If you look at Weblinks, you’ll see that I have one font that I use for thoughts and another for when people are speaking. These are two different styles. In MS3 I had to always change the font style and settings for each line of the dialogue. Having both Weblinks and Sacred Knight comics, I had different styles I was always have to remembers which was which. Now, I can save the settings for each style so I can spend more time concentrating on the story and less time focusing on keeping the look uniform. There are also several more dialogue balloons to choose from. In fact, there are many more tones to chose from too. Tones are now listed under the materials palette — a change I’m having problems adjusting to, but it does make sense.

Let’s talk about the rulers for a moment. MS3 had very nice perspective rulers in it. I saw the potential, but I have to admit that perspective is still a weak area for me. I’ve been trying to improve. To do Sacred Knight efficiently, I’ll need to be good at perspective. Perspective rulers are a feature that make MS powerful. In MS4, a perspective grid has been added for making 3D objects. I can’t wait to sit down with my perspective books and these tools to figure out how to use them effectively. Symmetry rulers have been added too. These are way too cool. They start off as two point symmetry rulers, which are good for drawing eyes and making sure they are even and level, all the way up to 12 point symmetry. Need a round stained glass window? Just decide how many parts you want for your window and start drawing. Whatever you draw in one part is copied in the others. Below, I’ve put in a page from my Manga Studios digital sketchbook showing a quick doodle that I made with a 12 point symmetry ruler.

Manga Studios sketchbook page
© 2010 Dawn Blair


I used a 6 point symmetry ruler to quickly sketch a flower that I put into a character’s hair. There are so many possibilities for the symmetry rulers!

Another added tool that I find exciting is the Select Layer tool. This is one of those tools that is only available in the EX version. I’ve often needed to find what layer a line is on, usually because I’ve accidentally drawn something on the wrong layer and now I need to make a correction. Before, I’ve had to go back and click the eye icon on each layer to turn off the view until the lines I’m seeking vanish. Then I know I’ve found the layer. Now, I click the Select Layer tool, then click on the line I want to find. The layer I’m searching for is selected and all other layers are lightened into the background. I learned this trick on mangastudio.net. In playing with this, I found that a tone layer can mess up selection of a line, so if the Select Layer tool always selects a tone layer instead of the line, use the Eraser tool to erase the tone above the line. You can then select the line, make your changes, then fill the tone back in.

The preferences menu has changed and several new options have been added. In exploring around here, I discovered a place to change the look of the cursor for tools. This was available in MS3, but I wasn’t aware of it there. I like this because I’ve always been frustrated by the eraser tool and knowing what size it is and where exactly I’m erasing this. Now I’ve been able to change the cursor so now I can see the eraser’s boundary. I haven’t changed any other tool, but I’m glad I know I can.

Have I found anything I wish I could change? Yes. I wish I could set up tools a little more specifically than I can and rename them. Much like the styles in the dialogue, I have several different settings I use with different tools in both Weblinks and Sacred Knight. The one that really comes to mind is when I’m doing Caitlyn’s hair in Weblinks. I start by coloring in the section black. Then I come back with the G brush set at .3 and white “ink.” I scratch in a bunch of white lines, then I change it to black and scratch in more lines until I get her “salt and pepper” look. I’d really like to be able to set up a G brush specifically for Caitlyn’s hair and label it that way so it doesn’t take me so long. Right now, if I have one G brush set in my custom tools, I can’t have another with slightly different settings. Or at least I haven’t found the way yet. Overall, it keeps me from using the custom tools exclusively and sticking with old patterns instead of exploring new ways of doing things which in the end is probably a really good thing.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the coloring yet — the feature I was most excited about. Coloring is tricky and I haven’t figured it out completely, not with so many other great tools to explore as well. But don’t fear. After watching several tutorials and reading about the coloring process, I’ve seen what it’s capable of and I’m looking forward to using it to draw and color my children’s book later this year.

Is Manga Studio 4 worth the upgrade? Oh, yes! And stay tuned. In the next few months I’m planning tutorial videos showing my workflow process. You’ve heard me state before that I enjoy learning how other artists work and now it’s my turn to reciprocate. By then, I hope to have the coloring process down and I’ll do a tutorial on it as well. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get more tips and tricks posted on my blog. Okay, you know I will!

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Tomorrow, the normal eBay auction blog will be posted. Go now to see what’s still available!

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