Product Review of the Week – Manga Studio EX 4!

I know, I know, I’m a little behind, what with Manga Studio 5.0 already out. But this is kind of a shout-out to anyone who is (like I was) on the fence about buying Manga Studio of any version. You may be saying to yourself (as I did) “I have Photoshop and know how to use it. It’s good enough. Why would I need a Photoshop clone?”

To this I say: if you’re happy with Photoshop for drawing, you have probably not tried other programs and are limiting yourself. I know I was.

Let’s start off with the argument that it might be a clone. “Ughhhh…” you are probably saying, “It has digital pencil types. It makes layers. You color what you want. I get it.” But take a moment to review Photoshop in those areas. Take your pencil/brush tool or whatever and draw a line. What does it look like? “Um… a line…” you’re probably saying. And you’re probably right. But look more closely. It’s a circle of pixels, right? Or maybe a square? Either way, it’s choppy and blunt and definitely has a “computer” look. That tends to result in pixel-y images.


This was my first full-body draft of Taya, as done on Photoshop. I mean, it looks okay. Photoshop does compensate for the shape of its pen strokes by shading the area around the strokes, making it look smoother. But it’s missing that special mmph power. Take a look at this:

Ignore that her ear is so bright. She's embarrassed that she went to the beach and forgot to put sun block any where other than her right ear.

Ignore that her ear is so bright. She’s embarrassed that she went to the beach and forgot to put sun block any where other than her right ear.

She’s cleaner, sharper, smoother, and more detailed. Her eyes are more precise. With the variety of pen styles available with MSEX4 (haha… sex…), I can make thin, wispy lines or thicker, more defined, more angle lines. Not to mention the auto-correct to assist with the wrist wiggle that is so common when using a drawing tablet (more on that on another post). With Manga Studio EX 4, I felt confident to add more detail, as you can see by her armor and the shading… which brings us to the next improvement.

The color blend tool on MSEX4 is far superior to Photoshop’s smudge, blur, or dodge/burn tools. I use it constantly to add shading or highlights. It’s great because you can use a warmer tone in certain areas, and then blend the two tones with a result that looks more natural.

This tool does claim one of my complaints about MSEX4, though. When you blend colors, they become somewhat transparent. Because you can’t remove the background from MSEX4 projects (another complaint), you would never notice this if you were using the program to make, say, a manga or a poster. But it does present its difficulties when using MSEX4 for game design.

When I finish with a project, for example, I need to remove the background so that when you see them in the game, they appear right in front of the scene you’re watching, as Justin demonstrated when he discussed our message boxes the other day. Because you can’t remove a background in MSEX4, though, I need to export the entire file as layers in a Photoshop project. This does compromise the lovely pen strokes that I’m so fond of, by the way, but still retains a much clearer look than if drawn entirely on Photoshop. Once on Photoshop, I simply crop it, remove the background and– holy crap! I can see through Taya! Taya, you’re not a ghost, right?!


(Above: Taya, above, drawn on Manga Studio, filtered through Photoshop to remove the background. She’s not happy because her outline is no longer as crisp and clear.)

Or, similarly, while drawing the project cover (still a work in progress), I drew and colored the three featured characters on different layers, then put them next to and on top of each other. The result?

Ahhh! AHHHHHH! THEY'RE ALL GHOSTS! AHHHHHHH!!! (Spoiler: that is not a plot twist in the game).

Ahhh! AHHHHHH! THEY’RE ALL GHOSTS! AHHHHHHH!!! (Spoiler: that is not a plot twist in the game).

I’ve found a solution that I’m sure many utilize: create a white background the exact shape of your character and add that as an under layer. It’s a solution that works well but can be annoying with the white backing just seems to keep poking out from behind, creating a white outline to boot.

Overall, I’m a thorough fan of Manga Studio EX 4, though it does have its limits. Still, when drawing, remember that Photoshop is developed to edit – not necessarily create. When it comes to straight up drawing, Manga Studio EX 4 is a clear victor. In fact, I even like it more than drawing on paper. (But don’t tell paper that. Paper will be sad.)

6 thoughts on “Product Review of the Week – Manga Studio EX 4!

  1. yes it’s funny because people think Photoshop is the be all and end all of Design but you get a glimpse in to the industry and it’s not even widely used because being a bitmap software, it’s very limited

  2. I saw this article the other day and it vanished like a Taya ghost. Sounds like a good program for drawing MSEXy characters.

  3. Pingback: Working With RPG Maker… | The Creation of a War

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