Review: Manga Studio 5 levels up with new tools and a fresh UI

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At a Glance
  • Smith Micro Manga Studio 5

Manga Studio 5 has a bit of everything for digital artists who create illustration and comics. Featuring an overhauled user interface, including new brushes and tools, it's a good time to start with Manga Studio ($80, buy-only). Current Manga Studio 4 may want to wait for file compatibility fixes before purchasing a $50 upgrade from Manga Studio 4 Debut or EX.

Desktop view of the new Manga Studio 5 user interface and panels with artwork by Karen Luk.

Manga Studio 5 showcases new coloring tools. Similar to Photoshop, the layers panel comes with new options such as Clip Layer, Multiply, Quick Mask, and more. New brushes for watercolor, oil and pastel are familiar to Painter users. Artists can create custom brushes and share them. The airbrush tool creates multiple effects for painting. Ink and pencil drawing tools have improved control options. For example, artists can vary anti-aliasing with the ink tool. For creating comics, vector snapping of panels, type and speech balloons helps to layout a comic page. Type and panels are editable on the fly. Manga Studio 5 comes loaded with zip tones and effects for comics which artists now can color for effect.

The 3D human models are a new and welcome reference. Artists can alter female and male models and then pose them using the built-in character rigging. Guidelines on these models assist in designing outfits. 3D models of manga girl and boy teens are clothed with swappable outfits, expressions, and head details. A variety of common poses and 3D hand gestures are included. Under the File menu, you'll see a new item: Qumarion. Quma is a real-life model that's plugged in via USB. It's fully articulated, and the selected 3D model mimics movement in real time. Smith Micro has not yet decided whether it will distribute Quma to the US or European market.

In Manga Studio 5, most standard features from Manga Studio EX 4 are included. Others, like the multiple comic page layout and perspective rulers, are not present. Smith Micro provides a full comparison of the Manga Studio family of products. The company is dropping the "Debut" naming convention for  this new version. Manga Studio 5 is "Manga Studio 5 Debut" with the upcoming Manga Studio 5 Ex maintaining the use of “Ex” to distinguish it. Expanded 3D options and more features will arrive in Manga Studio 5 Ex, which is slated for a Summer 2013 release.

Artists can pose 3D models like this manga teen girl and select different expressions, hairstyles and clothes.

Currently, files created in Manga Studio 4 or earlier are not compatible with Manga Studio 5. The publisher is working on fixing this by the second quarter of this year, but if you're planning to work with your Manga Studio 4 files, it would be smart to wait until the functionality is solid.

With a price point of $80, Manga Studio 5 is great catch-all art program. New coloring tools with customization, layers, panel creation, responsive drawing tools and 3D models makes it ideal for creating illustrations and comics. Newcomers will discover that Manga Studio 5 is a versatile art program without breaking the wallet.

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At a Glance
  • Manga Studio 5 is economically priced for new digital artists with a variety of art making tools, but previous users might wait for Manga Studio 5 Ex to upgrade.


    • Customizable color painting tools
    • Library of posable 3D human models
    • Easier to navigate user interface


    • Manga Studio 4 or earlier files are not compatible
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