In a previous blog post The Game Artist’s Arsenal, I covered our game artists’ most-used programs: Paint Tool SAI, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Animate (Flash.) Listed were each of the softwares’ pros and cons, along with general prices to help inform prospective artists. The feedback was largely positive and I gave myself a small pat on the back for a job well done. And then a comment came in on our LinkedIn page from one Kirk Wescom. He said:
“You should look into Clip Studio Paint (Manga Studio) by Smith Micro Software. The pressure response on a Cintiq is greatly superior to Photoshop and the cost is much better.”
Having grown up in the digital art scene, I had heard of what was known as solely Manga Studio back in the day. I only have a vague memory of hearing second-hand reports that it was a good inking program, but that was it. I’d had no personal experience with the tools or features. I figured I didn’t need it, I already had the biggest, most expensive art program out there (because when you’re sixteen-years-old, cost correlates directly to quality, apparently.)
To say the least, I was skeptical of Mr. Wescom’s recommendation, especially since I don’t even use a Cintiq. (All of our other game artists do, but I require the hand-eye disconnect.) However, any associate’s suggestion is worth looking into, so I decided to check it out.
First things first, how’s the price? Clip Studio Paint sells online for $50. Not bad, but so does Paint Tool SAI, give or take. My immediate assumption was that it is only $50 for a reason, something along the lines of SAI’s limited support or lack of Photoshop-like filters. Thus far, not particularly impressed. The free trial version of Clip Studio nearly equates to the fully licensed program without saving or loading, so I downloaded it. I imagined I would spend about an hour discovering how this program was inferior to both Photoshop and SAI, and be done with it.
I was so wrong.
I spent the first hour testing the brush library presets alone. Like SAI, it has multiple brush types (ink, watercolor, oil,) with different weights, opacities, blending capabilities, etc., all within their own subcategories. However, unlike SAI, it also has the customization capabilities of a Photoshop brush. A user can not only change the shape of the brush’s imprint, but also control the stroke’s direction, gap, scattering, density, anti-aliasing, and more, all of which can be found in the Sub Tool Detail view–accessible by clicking on the crescent wrench in the brush properties window.
Kirk: 1, Natasha: 0
I’ll admit, I was impressed. But that’s what Manga Studio was known for, wasn’t it? Just a bunch of glorified linework, right? 16-year-old me who couldn’t paint digitally would think so. But 27-year-old me, who can paint, spent the next hour painting the best landscapes of my life. Scenes, plural, in only one hour. I managed to more precisely control blending my strokes and textures than I could in SAI, while maintaining Photoshop’s deep level of brush customization for a greater variety of shapes and textures. Ring me up, because I’m sold.
But it doesn’t end there. Out of mere curiosity, I dug a little deeper to see what else Clip Studio had to offer. Brushwork was just the tip of the iceberg.
Clip Studio Paint contains 192 (yes, I counted them,) pre-rendered brush material images alone, ranging from natural-looking vegetation to a cute variety of cartoon hearts to telephone poles, which will snap to a straight line or logical perspective as best as any raster program can–nevermind the fact that I have never heard of another raster program that does that. I did not, however, take the time to count the number of pre-rendered textures, patterns, manga materials (comic frame layouts,) or posable dolls.
Yes, Clip Studio has 3D pre-rendered, weighted human figures–among other things–which you can rotate, scale, and adjust to your heart’s content. They are posable down to individual knuckles on the fingers, all with natural ranges of motion.
How is this program only $50? If you still can’t squeeze that into your budget, sign up for emails or keep an eye on the download page. Clip Studio Paint frequently goes on sale for as little as $20. You cannot find a better bang for your buck anywhere.
In summary, Clip Studio Paint is the ideal marriage of Adobe Photoshop and Paint Tool SAI. It has the best features from both programs for painters at the most affordable purchase price. Both Photoshop and SAI still have their own advantages respectfully. Photoshop’s popularity and standard as an entertainment industry mainstay makes its features easy to learn through countless company and user-generated resources. The smaller Paint Tool SAI is less overwhelming and a good beginner’s program for budding digital artists. But to all artists of any skill level looking to cap off their own arsenal, I say listen to Kirk: check out Clip Studio Paint.