Please note that this review will cover the PC versions of both Manga Studio 5 and Manga Studio 5 EX, as well as the respective digital versions of the product, Clip Studio Paint Pro and Clip Studio Paint EX. When the product diverges, I will note this.
For a while now, Celsys’ Manga Studio (published in North America by Smith Micro) has been the gold standard – the only standard – in a comics software field that has not seen too much action since the disappearance of Manga Studio’s only competitor in the US and Canada, Deleter’s ComicWorks. It would be easy to Celsys to rest on its laurels with the release of the new version, Manga Studio 5. But they did so? Read on and find out!
There are significant changes and upgrades from the previous versions in Manga Studio 5. Many of the bugs and issues which have plagued 4 and earlier versions have been resolved, such as the program’s frequent conflicts with rendering software such as DAZ Hexagon. Similarly, many new productivity features have been added. This latest version has also added to it some much-needed customisation, allowing individual users to tailor their workspace to their unique needs.
In the past, Photoshop and Illustrator were the “industry standard” for professional artists, widely taught (formal college courses, YouTube tutorials, etc) with an organized and customizable workspace and tools. However, the Adobe suite is expensive, in addition to being far from ideal for comics creation. With MS5, comic artists and illustrators will find a program comfortably similar to Photoshop in many ways but with expanded tools geared specifically towards comic creation and similar illustration, yet without the unnecessary bloat of unneeded functions. (For those who wish for tutorials specific to Manga Studio, Celsys features English language tutorials on their website.
By contrast to Adobe products, previous Manga Studio versions have been more affordable and more suitable for comic works, yet MS4 and earlier have been unwieldy and disorganised, with very limited customizable workspace and tools. Users of previous versions who upgrade to 5 may find it necessary to relearn and adjust to the new version, as many of the most often-used tools are more streamlined and have many more options than were previously available. Tools can be tricky to find at first due to the more compact, efficient workspace and the toolbar is now docked and collapsible when it is not needed. For those upgrading, it is also backwards compatible with files from earlier versions, even with an overhauled file system which takes up less than half the previous about of drive space for a single story. Lastly, shortcuts are now Windows standard for the Windows version.
How much of a difference exists between 4 and 5?
Manga Studio 4 is better-suited for comics illustration than Photoshop, but aside from it being unwieldy in terms of the multiple windows which are necessary to close out in order to have an unobstructed view, many of the tools are not very intuitive and many features require workarounds in order to achieve a smoother workflow. Floating, always-on-top windows are often an obstruction unless they are closed, and having to go to the drop down menu to open them again compromises workflow. The lack of Windows-standard keybinds (e.g., Ctrl+Z to undo) was frustrating for many PC users, but perhaps the most widely-made criticism was the lack of a truly customisable workspace and no way to save it. What you saw was essentially what you got.
As seen in the preview, windows can be docked and collapsed until they are needed without the necessity of closing them. Panels rulers are dedicated folders with masks (with customisable colour) by default now, eliminating the need to convert to a rather messy system of folders which must constantly be renamed (by default, they used a somewhat archaic Japanese system). The panels ruler still retains the rasterize function, but it is much smoother. Pen tools are even further customisable with even more correction options for tablet users. Above all else, 5 is a truly DIY version for artists who desire a customized workspace suited to their own individual needs and workflow.
A note on Pro versus EX: there are some key differences between Manga Studio 5 (Clip Studio Paint Pro) and Manga Studio 5 EX (Clip Studio Paint EX), most notably, the story creator. Illustrators might not necessarily need this option, but comics creators most likely will. The best way to tell the two apart is to think of it this way: 5 is the illustrator version while 5 EX is the comic creator version.
This is not a complete list of all changes from 4 to 5, which can be found on Smith Micro’s site. (http://manga.smithmicro.com/mangastudio5/#compare) However, I have compiled a short outline for an idea as to the improvements which have been made.
- Docked windows which do not interfere with workspace and can be collapsed for wider workspace
- Customizable workspace with built-in settings for illustration or manga (comics) and a save feature (“Register Workspace” from the Window drop-down menu)
- Illustration is setting optimised for coloured cover pages
- Manga is setting optimised for comics
- New files system, backward compatible with previous versions
- .cst files are now .cmc, pages files are a single .lip file
- Standard Windows key functions for Windows version
- e.g., Ctrl+Z to undo.Ctrl+Y to redo
- Some differences from Photoshop: mouse scroll button zooms in/out rather than scroll
- Expanded Preferences options, e.g. set default frame width preferences
New page/story menu (EX)
- Presets for individual pages at different sizes and resolutions with adjustable settings for custom pages
- Story creator settings added into creation options instead of separate menu
- Ability to choose a folder to save work to and title for story folder or number chapters
- Files now in compressed files rather than unwieldy folders and layers files
- More options for layer types
- Raster and vector layers selectable from the Layers drop down menu
- New Paper (background) layer with selectable colour, transparent inking layers above
- Set Reference and Draft layers from popup window
- Overhauled, more intuitive and easy-to-use Perspective ruler layer
- Overhauled Frame border layer (formerly Ruler layer)
- Now creates masking with changeable colour
- New options in Tool Property window to include shape of division and dividing method options
- Dedicated tools window for panel tools in Layer Property window
- Preset frame-drawing tools in Sub Tool window to include options for irregular panel shapes
- Holding Ctrl key selects frame
- Stroke previews of industry-standard presets
- Opacity setting
- Expanded anti-alias capabilities
- “Correction” option is now “Stabilization”
- True pen sizes
- Brush size tab next to Tool property window with thumbnails and number sizes
- Tabbed preset options for Watercolour, Oil paint, and India ink
- Options for various stroke types and opacity
- Customisable properties such as brush size and paint density
- Stabilization option
- Preset options which can be customised in the Tool property window
- Combine mode with blending options such as linear burn
- Stabilization and Hardness slider
- Continuous spray option
Pattern Brush Tools
- Now listed as “Decoration”
- Viewable as strokes
- Opacity and Combine mode settings
- New menu below selection with selection launcher for customisable settings
Materials and tones
- Overhauled Materials system (replaced the previous Computones)
- Docked, collapsible window and toolbar
- Expanded options to include “Specify Overlay” type (sound effect, foreground, etc.)
- Searchable by keyword
In conclusion, Manga Studio 5 is the most optimized comics creation program on the market. Not only is it more affordable than Adobe products, but also tailored specifically to comics creation and illustration, with fully flexible tools while lacking the unnecessary bloat of Photoshop and Illustrator. Similarly, its customizable workspace, docked and collapsible windows, and improved tools make it superior to previous versions of Manga Studio. Comics creators and illustrators of every style will find Manga Studio 5 an invaluable working program.