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Toonzone’s Holiday Gift Guide 2012 - Manga Studio EX 4

With the festive season upon us, we’ve decided to cover some gift ideas that might be great for you or someone you know. Today we’ll take a look at the comics and manga illustration software, Manga Studio EX 4.

Manga Studio EX 4 contains numerous time-saving features and provides you with the tools you need to, along with your own innate talent, produce professional quality comics. Updated video tutorials with narration are available on the Smith Micro website and will help you get started on fully utilizing the program.

I tested Manga Studio EX 4 using a Wacom Intuos Touch 5 tablet. While the software can be used exclusively with a mouse, you’re really missing out on taking full advantage of the software without using some sort of a tablet. I would recommend the Wacom Intuos series over the Wacom Bamboo as the Intuos has more levels of pressure sensitivity. If you’re an illustrator looking to get more serious about your craft, you’ll want as much control over your line weight as possible. It’s a justifiable investment in you and your future.

I’ve used the Manga Studio series of products for a couple of years now in my professional freelance illustration work . I’m quite happy with the quality of the work I’ve been able to produce with it.  The primary feature that sold me on the software was the control it offers over your line work. A very basic and important feature Manga Studio EX 4 offers is line correction. Some illustrators might consider that a cheat, but so is the ability to Undo. Line correction can be great for building confidence and it saves time. In my case, I take advantage of the line correction because of  a natural tremor in my hand. It helps me better capture the image I have in my head. Plus, I have deadlines to meet and I will use any time-saving tools available to help me accomplish that goal so long as they do not sacrifice quality. Settings can be changed to increase or decrease how much correction is done to your line. That along with the use of a tablet will allow you to draw natural feeling lines.

One of the new features available in Manga Studio EX 4 is inclusion of vector tools. This is important because vector graphics are resolution independent. You can size them up and down without loss in quality. If you’ve tried to size up a photo you’ve taken, you’ve worked with a rasterized format and you’ve seen the loss in quality that comes with resizing. The addition of vector features is fantastic if there’s any chance that you’ll need to size your work up for printing in a larger format later on. It also allows you finer control over your line by allowing you to select and manipulate the points by which your line is constructed. It should be noted you can only export your artwork to raster formats and not to vector formats for use in programs such as Illustrator.

Vector Tools in Action:
The list of time-saving tools is pretty extensive. Special and Symmetry Rulers will save time by allowing you to more quickly draw perspective, parallel lines, concentric circles and work with up to twelve points of symmetry. The software comes with over 3,000 screen tones. Special filters are available to help you quickly create and manipulate speed lines, focus lines and lightning flashes. 2DLT (2D Line & Tones) will allow you to take an image, such as a full color photo and convert it to a layer folder containing blacks and screen tones. 3DLT (3D Line & Tones) will allow you to import from a library of over 550 built-in 3D objects. You can rotate and position the object. Its settings can be altered to create a posterization effect or to adjust the outline so that the object may be used in your final product. If you decide that’s too much of a cheat or it’s inconsistent with the natural variance in your existing line weight, you can instead use the 3D object as a guide to help you get the image in your head onto the screen.

3DLT In Action:
One new feature I’d like to experiment with more is the Professional Color Set. It intends to increase Manga Studio EX 4‘s value to you by removing the need to switch over to other software to continue your coloring process. You now have millions of colors to select from. You can create your own color sets. Dodge, Burn and Color Blend tools are available. You can also create gradients. I have used these tools in a casual test, but not in a real world, nitty gritty deadline driven test. Next time I have to do some more advanced coloring, I’ll be working with this to see how it compares to my experiences with other software and will report back.

Here are a couple of  images that I illustrated using Manga Studio EX 4. The Iron Giant image was illustrated specifically for this review. The other I had done earlier in the year and picked because I had used the Focus Lines feature when creating it.


At a $299.00 USD price tag, Manga Studio EX might seem a bit high at first, but it’s a worthwhile investment.  Manga Studio EX 4 is much more featured-filled than it’s Debut counterpart and is an excellent purchase to make the moment you’re ready to get more serious about making your own comics or doing your own illustration or if you’re simply looking to save time on your existing professional work. A Debut vs. EX comparison chart is available on the Smith Micro website. Manga Studio EX 4 is available for purchase on the Smith Micro website. It is also currently on sale at amazon.com.

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