Review of Manga Studio EX

nickcharles · February 27, 2006 1:49 am

The program arrived as a huge download, over 1Gb. I installed it without any problems and opened it. The first time starting up MS will take a while, but after that it opens really fast.

My first impression was, "Okay...where to start?" The work layout is quite overwhelming. But, not to fret, a good beginners guide and user guide are just one (or two) mouse clicks away.

My first remark : Manga Studio is for traditional Black & White Manga. You can import your own colored artwork, but you cannot draw and color figures and items in MS.

MS has all the tools a Manga or b&w comic artist will need. Instead of using colors, MS uses tones to add shadow and color to your figures and items. These tones are like patterns and youve got lots and lots at your disposal.

Complete 3D scene (.obj) with 3DLT converted to line-tone art

When you begin your project, you have the choice of just creating a single page or a complete story with several pages. Once youre finished choosing, you can either start drawing right away or first set up a basic page layout. For this you can use panels. Panels are a defined area of the page in which you can draw, without having to worry that you get outside its boundaries.

You can also assign your own images made with other applications, or even complete 3D scenes to a panel. Pretty cool.

Once youve set up the page, you can start drawing. For this I do use a tablet, but a mouse can be used too. You can use different layers for different types of pens. You can start a rough sketch with a pencil on one layer, add some more details on another, ink it with a pen on the next one, add balloons on the following one, and so on. When drawing with a tablet, the pencils and pens are pressure sensitive.

Some of the filters and word-balloon.

Once finished with the basic drawing, you can add tones to your figures and other items. Just define the area you want to tone with one of the marquee tools and add a tone to it. Your drawings will suddenly start looking much more professional. There are hundreds of tones to choose from!

Also included are different filters to use in your artwork. Among these are the regular ones like wave, spiral, zigzag, adjust levels, dust cleaner, mosaic, blur, and so on. But there are also some Manga/comic related ones like speed lines (to bring movement perception), focus lines (to draw attention to a part of the drawing) and cloud patters (as cloudy backgrounds). Also you can choose from many Computones. These are predefined tones included to shade your figures clothes or buildings. But also, you can use them to accentuate certain part of the drawing, like explosions, expressions, power moves, and so on. You can scale these as desired: flip them, repeat them, and more.

Next there is the text option and balloons. Text is straight forward, but there is also a vertical text option. Just type the text in a dialog box, choose fonts, size, and so on. Balloons are very well designed. Different styles are included like regular, thinking, yelling, surprised, and so on. You can change the size, fill color, add a tail (which is very customizable!!), type text inside the balloon, and let the balloon auto-fit the text.

I guess this pretty much covers the regular features. There are more features like fill, polyline, airbrush, and pattern brush, but those you can discover for yourself.

Now onto the extras

Lets start with SHD. You can add enhanced smoothing to a low resolution, jaggy, image with the SHD (Super High Density) filter. This works great; basically its anti-aliasing.

2DLT. You can render imported images with the 2DLT function. Basically, it traces photos or images you would want to use inside of MS. Import photos & images and separate them into line drawings and tones. This is easier said then done. There are a lot of options in this rendering engine, which all give different results. If you succeed or not, depends on trial and error. You need to play a while with this feature to get decent results, but once you figure it out it works pretty good.

2DLT Conversion, original bottom - line & tone converted above.

You can also just import an image into MS, but whats the advantage of this feature? Besides the fact that once converted, it really looks like part of your work, blending in with the rest, but it treats the layer the converted image is in just like the rest you create in MS. You can bring it forward or backward, which you cannot do with a regular image, as its stuck on the bottom layer.

3DLT. This one is for the 3D freaks. This one is actually better then I thought it would be. You can import a 3D object or a complete scene, and transform it into a line and tone drawing, and it even works! Again if you succeed or not, depends on trial and error. This one can take some time to figure out, and it takes time to convert 3D to a line & tone image, but it is worth it! Poser users, please see the note ahead.

Another complete 3D scene (.obj) with 3DLT converted to line-tone art, different settings.

Both of these engines have one great feature: as long as you leave the original image or 3D object on you hard disk, you can always go back into the engine and change settings. If you dont leave the original data in place, you keep the results, but cannot change it afterwards anymore.

A combination of Manga Studio EX and Poser 6 ART MATERIALS Vol.1 : Cartoon Shaders.

Note for Poser users: Even though the 3DLT engine is awesome, I do recommend using Oliviers ART MATERIALS Vol.1 : Cartoon Shaderswhich is also available at Content Paradise. Im not claiming they are better then the 3DLT engine results at all, but they do have a few advantages:

1. They are much faster to use. 3DLT conversion takes time, especially when doing a complete scene. Its much faster to apply the shaders in Poser, render the image in Poser and import the image into MS, or convert it with 2DLT for further use.
2. Scene preservation. To import your Poser figure or scene into Manga Studio EX, you need to export your figure or scene as an .obj file. You lose your camera settings, scene rotation, and focus. Once imported into 3DLT, you need to set up all of this again to get the same view as in Poser. If you render your image in Poser with the ART MATERIALS Vol.1 : Cartoon Shaders, you do not need to go through this whole process again.

3. No extra hard-disk space is taken up. Rendered images do not take up much space, however exported .obj scenes do.

Final Conclusion

If youre into Manga or B&W comics or even use ART MATERIALS Vol.1 : Cartoon Shaders in Poser, then I really can recommend using Manga Studio EX. Its worth every penny/cent and has all the tools a Manga/comic artist can dream of. It packs so much power that at first it can be overwhelming, but there is a good beginners guide and an excellent user guide to help you get used to Manga Studio EX. Overall its easy to use and you can get results fast, it certainly helps to get a professional look to your artwork and speed up the workflow a lot.

If youre a wannabe Manga Artist, or would like to turn some of your existing artwork into Manga style, or even a 3D Artist that wants to turn his/her scenes into Manga or B&W Comics, then this tool is the way to go!

Verdict: 8/10

Strong points:
  • All the tools needed in one place.
  • Many, many tones to choose from.
  • Excellent Balloon feature.
  • Excellent set of filters.
  • Ability to use/convert hand-drawn and (rendered) images as well as photos.
  • Ability to use 3D objects and scenes.
  • Excellent effects.
  • Reasonable export and import features.
  • Fast application and once you get used to very easy to use.
  • One stop solution for creating Manga or B&W Comics
  • Good beginners guide and an excellent user guide.
  • Good support of Graphical Tablet. Features like pressure sensitivity and reduction of wobbliness are very welcome.

Weak points:
  • Overwhelming at first.
  • Somewhat cluttered display due to all the menus and tools. You can always switch them on and off, but that isnt really improving the workflow at all.

Missing Features:

  • No colors available. This may sound strange since Manga is only B&W. But.... Manga/Comic Covers are not in black and white, but color. Also to make Manga Studio accessible to even more users / comic artist, adding colors would be ground breaking, IMO.
  • No tiff import/export supported. Many printers do prefer the artwork to be delivered in this format for print.... at least in Europe that is the case.
  • No complete story export available and no pdf export support. Again more and more printers do prefer the printwork to be delivered as a complete work in at least PDF/X-1 format. This safeguards that the printing will be exactly as the artist wishes and would allow the export of complete books for online distribution and so on.

SPECIAL NOTE: When working with Manga Studio at first I was under the impression that Manga Studio EX couldn't create full color comics (only colored text and balloons), but that impression wasn't correct. Yes, Manga Studio EX can do colors also, please see the following link: Here's a quick comparison of the 2 products: ( For full comparison see: ) Major Differences between EX and Debut are the following: 1. EX supports Raster & Vector based drawings and conversions, Debut only supports Raster. 2. EX has over 3000 Screen Tones as bonus content, Debut has 1800 Screen Tones 3. EX supports 3D file formats and you can manipulate these files within EX, Debut does not support 3D files 4. EX has built in word ballon templates, and many other special effects templates, Debut does not. 5. EX is the ideal solution for the professional manga and comic artist. 6. Debut is a great tool and starting point for manga and comic hobbyists and aspiring artists.
All supporting images are copyright, and cannot be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission from Benjamin Aeilkema

Message2568124.jpgSpecial thanks to guest columnist Benjamin Aeilkema [aeilkema]. We invite you to visit:
February 27, 2006

Article Comments

Teyon ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 27 February 2006

We've Discovered that Manga Studio actually does do colors both as raster images and as vector images.

aeilkema ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 28 February 2006

You're correct about that, I didn't explore color in the original review. By now it's known that Manga Studio can do color too, which should allow even even more (comic) artists to use Manga Studio for their projects.

FantastArt ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 28 February 2006

I'm really confused. I thought the difference between Manga Studio Ex and the cheaper version is that Manga Studio Ex can do colors??? What exactly is the difference between both versions?

Teyon ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 28 February 2006

There's a list at E-Frontier's site but just for a quick rundown : EX has raster and vector layers, an autmoated balloon feature, about 2.5 times the amount of tones and a wider export range (there are other things too). Debut is more an entry level, hobbyist version while EX is the Pro version.

Vremont ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 02 March 2006

Aeilkema (& Teyon), thanks for the review (& subsequent clarifications). The e-frontier site was exceptionally confusing on whether color was part of the product. After all, half the images advertising it are in color! But it only mentions it (last I had checked was around 2/18 or so) as a b/w tool (oddly enough, it mentioend EX as a b/w tool and didn't address debut). I am much much much more likely to buy the product now that I've read your review and Teyon's additions, so thanks to you both!

Sardtok ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 02 March 2006

I've tested the COMIC STUDIO (which is the real name) demo, it's a pretty tiny download, but I've only found it in Japanese, and it's not Unicode, so it requires that you change the default non-Unicode language to Japanese, or else the installation will be corrupt... I haven't seen any signs of colour (and it is the EX version, which is the hyper power super version, even better than Pro, which isn't available in the western "Manga Studio" version)... More or less it's print-based, which is why it uses tones (you know those tiny dotted patterns you see in print)... It's really weird, to talk about turning artwork into Manga Style, as it really is just a tool for making comic books and graphic novels... The demo (Japanese) is available from the CelSys:

coocooFORcocoapuffs ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 10 August 2007

great review. i have the ex trial now. wish i new more if about it's export/import functions which are disabled. i need to go to photoshop anyway when the strip is done, as i already have my frames all set there, and then there is the PDF issue! But I thought with Acrobat professional you can print anything to way to test with the demo...i also dont see color support in the demo, unless the 16 color box that is disabled is that. this demo is just annoying.

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