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Review: Manga Studio EX4

Manga Studio EX4 is not an animation program. However it is a drawing, illustration and comic creation program that may be of use to the artists among you that want to draw with a professional, digital art package but don't need the photo processing power and cost of something like Photoshop.


If you're coming into animation from a cartooning background, like me, then Manga Studio EX 4 may be right up your alley. Don't stress that it says 'Manga' on the cover, this software can be used to create almost any style of illustration, comic or graphic novel. See the illustration I did on the right as a case in point.

What sets this apart from other art/illustration software is that I would describe it as a 'word processor' for graphic novelists/comic book writers. Not only can you create your art for every page of your book but the software will handle the page layout, right down to headers and footers, and it has special tools to make creating dynamic panel layouts far beyond simply putting every image into a square or rectangular box.

Everything is geared towards publishing your comics either as an online or physical printed publication. It's particularly adept at applying halftones to your image. Something those of you wishing to publish printed works in black and white will really appreciate.

Other dedicated comic book features include fully editable text and speech balloons. A full range of speech balloon styles, all of which you can customize completely to suit your needs.

Personally I bought Manga Studio EX4 as an illustration tool for use with my Wacom Tablet. Plus, as I mentioned, all the dedicated features for drawing cartoons was also a draw card.

Although Manga Studio EX4 does support tablet drawing, including pressure sensitivity, it doesn't appear to support the programmable buttons or control wheel of my tablet in any useful or logical way. For example using the wheel to zoom in and out and to rotate the page (like other illustration software I own does).

Fortunately this problem can be overcome by using the page navigation window which allows you to move around the page quickly using the tablet's pen.

Manga Studio EX4 - The Page Navigation window
on the top right is easy to use.
One nice feature for newer tablet users is the stroke correction box which, if checked, can smooth out those shaky curved lines, often drawn because you haven't quite got the hang of drawing curves with confidence.

I should mention that Manga Studio EX4 is a rastor based drawing program - that is it works with pixels to create your art like most photo processing software. However it also does support vector drawing found in many illustration software tools. Potentially useful if you'll be printing/exporting your art at many different scales. Note that you can't actually export to vector files though, so if you need your art exported as a vector file this isn't the software for you.

If vector art isn't important may even like to consider buying the cheaper version of this software, Manga Studio Debut 4, which has no support for vector drawing at all and is one sixth of the price.

Back to Manga Studio EX4.

I've yet to get through all of the features myself given that I purchased this as an illustration tool and am still learning the software. Some of those features include:
  • Rulers - you can make a ruler out of just about anything and have the lines you draw snap to the ruler.
     
  • 2D Image rendering - take any photographic image and instantly turn it into line art and screen tones for inclusion in your drawings.
     
  • 3D Objects - a library of over 550 3D objects are included which you can import into your drawing position as part of your backgrounds and then turn into line art. You can even import your own 3D objects.
     
  • Filters - included are a whole range of customizeable filters for creating many effects, quite a few specific to cartooning such as adding speed or exclamation lines.
     
  • Color - yes the program can work in full color too.
One thing I will say is that whilst I've been able to learn the basics fairly quickly it's no thanks to the manual and some pretty lame screen grab, annotated tutorials. If you do buy this software go to the tutorials page and skip immediately to the video tutorials by Doug Hill (which begin under the heading 'Manga Studio Debut 4 Tutorials - which you'll need to watch even if you've bought EX4).

The video below is Doug's overview for Debut and EX4. His style is easy to understand and you'll learn a lot very quickly.



There's probably a lot I've missed but overall I'm enjoying using the program for sketching and drawing final artwork with. Its fast and feels natural and responsive when used with my Wacom Tablet (despite the issue of not utilizing the tablet's buttons). It's the closest software I've found to making tablet drawing feel like pencil and paper.

I'd certainly give it my recommendation, especially if cartoons, comics and illustration are your thing.

The circular background motif is one of the
many included materials.

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