Product Review: Page (1) of 1 - 03/01/06 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at page facebook


A Japanese Illustration Standard Ships in the U.S. By Ko Maruyama

Manga is known by many as a Japanese style of illustrating cartoons, both illustrated and animated. "Manga Studio 3.0" is the American release of the #1 manga-style illustration software. Previously known as Comic Studio, Manga Studio offers all of the tools needed to produce pages that are ready to go directly to the printer.

There are two versions of Manga Studio. The smaller version, Manga Studio 3.0 Debut is perfect for beginners. It's not loaded with as many "bells and whistles" as the larger package, but at a price tag under $50, even professional artists will want to load up some stations with the tool. The 'Debut' version will still allow you to sketch, ink and publish cartoons.

The larger version, Manga Studio 3.0 EX, not only allows for everything that Debut offers, but also contains over 3,000 screen tones to which you can add more. Additionally, in EX, you can import vector layers, 3D objects (lwo, obj, dxf, lws, stc), as well as Adobe Photoshop and Painter projects. 'EX' also supports Poser and Shade native file formats. EX can also export a layered Photoshop document, in case someone in your production pipeline prefers to work in that software. At just under $300, Manga Studio is also an affordable addition to any production studio.


Although I tested it on a PC, the Mac version is due out soon.

1. Start a New Page/Story

Setting up a project can be done for either a single page or in a multiple page layout. Remember that this software is designed primarily for creating printed comics, but you could use it to create imagery for video as well (remember it exports to just about every format, including Photoshop).

The layout includes all of the standard formatting tools that you'd expect from a story layout editor. There are also 80+ page templates, including varieties of paper sizes and bleeds. By editing these defaults, you can create your own custom layouts to be called up later.

Even after you have created a story full of pages, you can always decide to edit the numbering, or insert pages.

After you've set up the page layout, you can start to draw. Using a WACOM tablet, or other digital tablet is the best way. If you have some crazy mouse-drawing skills, you could use it, I suppose.

One of the nice features about drawing with a tablet is that it allows you to draw similarly to what you'd find on paper. However, one of the tools that is missing in Adobe Photoshop is the ability to turn the canvas. It's a little difficult to rotate a 9x12" Wacom tablet to access different angles of the image. In Manga Studio, the page editor in which you'll create your drawing, not only do you have the ability to angle the canvas by small degrees, you can click to rotate the image 90 degrees, and back to zero very easily. All of the necessary workspace navigation and ruler features are easily accessible at the top of the canvas window.

2.  Producing Line Art

I remind everyone that works with me to draw on layers. Manga Studio allows for multiple layers: take advantage of it. I have seen print and video designers create all of their art on a single layer. There is no reason to limit yourself or others by flattening your canvas space.

Not only is there a standard palette with an array of tools to create all kinds of line art, you can also create a custom palette with the tools that you commonly use, with definitions for various brushes already described in those preset tool buttons.

Of course there is a pencil that has a wide range of custom parameters, and an eraser function (generally tied to the opposite end of the wacom stylus). There are also several different types of pens that you can choose from. The G Pen is a generic pen that can be used for several styles. The Maru (round) pen creates fine lines. The Kabura (turnip) pen makes uniform lines. The School pen is similar to the Kabura pen, but with a finer stroke. The Grey pen is good for filling in wide areas. Finally is there is the Brush pen which will allow the artist to get a calligraphy look to their strokes.

Unless you are going to create a layout to draw into, you can simply create a layer to draw on. Similar to Adobe's After Effects or Corel Painter, it is important to keep layers named and discreetly separated. If you want, you can create folders to contain different subsets of layers to make your project better defined.

Sketch with a pencil to create original art, or import a scan if you'd like to digitally sketch over it.

On a separate layer, you can select from any of the pens to ink your work.

click image for larger view

3. Add Tone

The real beauty of this application become apparent when it's time to add all of those traditionally "manga" style digital tones, effect lines and balloons.

Tones are those areas that aren't necessarily the defined line art, but can describe luminance, texture, a sense of depth: tone.

Not only are digital cross hatches used for tones, but you can import photographs to use as backgrounds, which Manga Studio EX will automatically convert to screen tones. If you don't have imagery to use as tones, not to worry. Debut ($50) ships with 1,800 different tones. Studio EX comes with more than 3,000 (and a separate disk of computones which has hundreds of additional tones). Of course, you can mix, match and create your own new tones, building a massive library of tones.

4.Effect Lines

You can add speed lines, emphasis lines, radial lines and other mathematically derived strokes using Manga Studio's filter layers. To describe animation in a still image, the use of effect lines is sometimes a quick illustrative indication. In Manga Studio, you can create layers that have these lines with one click. In a dialogue box, you can modify the lines with customizations on a wide range of parameters.

There are so many small features in both Debut and Manga Studio EX, it would take volumes to describe them all in depth. Fortunately, a community of users, both pro and novice will be set up at the eFrontier site, with all kinds of tutorials for the various tools in the application. For most users, even those new to bitmap illustration on a computer, Manga Studio Debut is a breeze to pick up.

By clicking on the image below you can see a full screen capture of SOME of the options available in Manga Studio. One particularly nice feature in Manga Studio is the ability to use the "tab" key to conceal or reveal the windows (which can also be individually viewed with specific hotkeys). This tab-style window viewing allows you to use your entire screen to illustrate, calling up the individual tool windows only when you need them. Also, the hotkeys can be modified to fit your particular work style or keyboard habits.

Fortunately, there are over 400 pages of ready documentation for the software, with everything from simple tips and techniques to advanced Action scripting. At $50 Manga Studio Debut is an obvious "must buy" for anyone interested in manga-style computer illustration ($30 for students*). Weighing in at just under $300, Manga Studio EX may seem a bit pricey for the average hobbyist doodler, but for any studio who creates this type of artwork, EX narrows the work pipeline, eliminates unnecessary steps, and allows artists more time for choices and creativity, making it a "strong buy" recommendation.

Pricing of Manga Studio 3.0 is as follows: Manga Studio DEBUT: $49.99 (USD) Manga Studio EX: $299.99 (USD)

For a limited time, Manga Studio EX upgrades are available for $199.99 to existing users of Poser and Shade direct from e frontier.  Educational users can purchase Manga Studio EX for $99.99 and Manga Studio Debut for $29.99 thru authorized academic resellers.  Find out more at

For talk about Anime style illustrations and movies, be sure to check out Stephen Schleicher's postings : : Cowboy Bebop : Fullmetal Alchemist : Astroboy Complete

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Ko Maruyama is a freelance animator in Los Angeles.  In addition to working on film and broadcast animations, Ko teaches at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design - focusing on motion design.  When working, writing or testing software allows, you can find him lending a hand in the After Effects board and lurking among the Cinema4D, Visual Effects and Photoshop posts within the DMNForums.
Related Keywords:Manga studio, cartoonist, cartoon software, illustration software, ko maruyama, manga, drawing comics


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