When I was growing up, digital art software was not nearly as diverse as it was now, and up until the past few years, many artists were limited to Adobe products. Now don’t get me wrong, Adobe has a powerhouse of digital art software, but buggy updates and subscription pricing make it a bit inaccessible to a lot of artists. Not to mention, I never felt that something like Adobe Photoshop was the best for creating digital illustrations. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many tutorials I watched, no matter how many custom brushes I downloaded, illustrating in Adobe Photoshop was incomprehensible for me. It never felt right, and for a while, I thought I would never be able to work digitally because I was always left disappointed and frustrated.
Luckily, there are a lot more affordable and intuitive options on the market today.
One program that tops my list is Clip Studio Paint, and while it’s been more marketed towards manga or comic artists, I have to say it’s an incredibly well-rounded program. Mind you, I am in no way sponsored by or paid to say such things by Clip Studio Paint, Celsys, or any other entities associated with this digital art software. Rather, these words are entirely my own based off of exploration and self-teaching throughout the years.
I first began my digital art journey in 2010, when I was gifted my first drawing tablet. However, I faced one major problem- I always had a huge disconnect with the digital art software I was using. Aforementioned, I was using Adobe Photoshop to illustrate and I absolutely hated it. Photoshop is lovely for making quick graphics or photo manipulation, but in terms of digital illustration it never “clicked” with me.
As time passed and technology became more accessible, I tried software such as Inkscape, GIMP, Autodesk Sketchbook, Mischief, and for a while Paint Tool Sai. Now, these are all great programs, and I recommend that you try them out as well, but it wasn’t until I started becoming more active as an artist on Instagram that I stumbled upon Clip Studio Paint. Here’s why I have been using it since I first discovered it on social media back in 2017:
1. Pencil and pen customization
I know most digital art software offers some sort of customization and settings that can be manually changed, but Clip Studio Paint offers something a little more intuitive. Besides offering typical control options such as sizing, opacity, density, and more, Clip Studio Paint also has an auto pressure setting that can be used when you have a pencil or pen tool selected.
Once the auto pressure tool is enabled, Clip Studio Paint will record the strokes you’ve made and adjust the settings accordingly. You can still manually adjust your pressure curves, but if you’re struggling to properly adjust them as I did, use this before you begin to sketch or draw.
You’ll only need to set this up once too, so your settings will be saved every time you reopen the program.
Using a tablet over a real canvas can feel astronomically different, but having the pressure curves adjusted to how you naturally draw or sketch can help make using a drawing tablet feel more natural.
Once the pressure settings have been adjusted to your liking, I also highly recommend playing around with the stabilization and anti-aliasing settings in the pen and pencil tools in Clip Studio Paint. These settings can make your lines more loose or clean during the initial phases of sketching and inking. They can really help you define your digital art style in the long run, so don’t be afraid to play around!
2. Vector options
If you’re not familiar with what the term vector is, it’s important to know, especially if you’re new to digital art. Most digital art software traditionally uses what is called raster (or bitmap) formatting, and uses generated pixels to create images. Vector formatting, on the other hand, uses a series of lines and mathematical equations to create fluid shapes. Using vector over raster helps to create clean lines and reduces resolution loss when resizing, hence why it’s used in graphic design or printing production.
You can learn more about the differences between vector and raster formatting here:
What is so unique about Clip Studio Paint is that it allows you to work in both raster and vector formats. Typically, digital art software will only give you the option to work in one or the other, but having the option to use both is one of the reasons why I’ve stayed with Clip Studio Paint for so many years.
I personally only work in vector during the line art stages of illustration because it cuts down on time and creates very fluid, clean lines. Additionally, besides having cleaner lines, working in vector gives you numerous editing options you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Once you’ve created a line on a vector layer, you can resize your lines, edit the points, and use a tool called the vector eraser.
Once I discovered how to use this eraser, it became a huge time saver when cleaning up line work. This is because unlike a normal eraser it can erase larger sections of your work at once.
Now, working in vector can be great, but it can also make things look too perfect in illustration. To alleviate some of this problem, I overlap my lines and remove the excess using the vector eraser.
To try this out for yourself, click the new vector layer icon and select a brush of your choice. As you draw, overlap some of the lines and tap an area you want to be removed with the vector eraser. You won’t have to worry about erasing an entire area, and you’ll get more natural lines this way.
Of course, you don’t need to work in vector, especially if you prefer having a more sketchy piece or aren’t working on a large size canvas, but it’s there if you need it and I think it’s wonderful that Clip Studio Paint gives you the option to work in both formats.
3. The ruler tool
Most digital art software has rulers that allow you to create horizontal or vertical guides from. These guides are super helpful if you need to create a straight line or background plane. Clip Studio Paint offers these guides, but also provides a variety of rulers to choose from.
When any of these rulers are active on your canvas, your lines will adjust to that ruler, making it impossible to create a line that doesn’t follow the direction of said ruler unless it is hidden or deactivated using the snap to special ruler button in the top panel.
The two rulers that I commonly use are the symmetry and perspective rulers. The perspective ruler is perfect for creating backgrounds and really comes in handy with perspective or architectural design. This ruler also allows you to create 1, 2, or even 3 point perspective scenes with a vanishing point that you can adjust accordingly.
On the other hand, the symmetry ruler is great for making radial patterns or designs where the lines need to be perfect and well, symmetrical. In fact, I used that ruler to build the line work for one of my sticker designs.
The symmetrical ruler helps you save a lot of time because anything you sketch or ink on one side will match the other side accordingly.
Finally, if you’re a comic artist, I highly recommend giving the special ruler tool a try as it allows you to create multiple lines parallel to one ruler. This is perfect to help enhance a dramatic action scene.
4. The comic panel options
Speaking of comic artists, Clip Studio Paint also offers comic paneling tools if you’re looking to start your very own comic or manga. When you select the frame border tool, you can drag frames over your canvas and start making panels. Additionally, you can also use the cut frames tool to make panels with various sizes and angles within that frame.
Every time a new comic panel is made, Clip Studio Paint will create a new layer that allows you to only draw within the frame as seen in the video below:
There is a multitude of comic panel settings offered in this digital art software, so every frame in your comic or manga can have a unique and distinct style.
5. The 3D assets tool
Clip Studio Paint offers a 3D assets tool within the program. Now, it’s not 3D modeling software, but you can download 3D assets that you can you use and manipulate within the workspace. It’s a perfect option for hard to reference poses, backgrounds, and even lighting. If you’re struggling to find the perfect pose for a character, make sure you give this tool a try.
The 3D assets tool does take a bit of time to get used to but has definitely come in handy for my studies and understanding lighting. Unfortunately, some have seen this tool as a way for artists to cheat, but I find it’s there to really help you understand space and form within your work. Referencing is important in art, no matter what level of skill you currently have.
6. Automatic Colorization
Similar to the 3D modeling assets, Clip Studio Paint’s automatic colorization tool is a new feature that also has a bit of controversy surrounding it. Many have alluded that this tool can also be used as a way to skip the coloring process, and while I agree that some may, unfortunately, try to take advantage of it, this is still a great tool for an artist to have when used appropriately.
For example, comic or storyboard artists in a tight deadline can use this to save valuable time, while a beginner digital artist can use this to build out color palettes or as a guide for blending colors.
This tool shouldn’t be and wasn’t made to replace the actual coloring process, but can help any digital artist cut down their time efficiently. If you’re strapped for time or are intimidated about coloring, give this tool a try.
7. The fill tool
You’re probably reading this a going, “What the heck, all digital art software has some sort of fill tool”, and while you’re not wrong, Clip Studio Paint’s paint bucket tool has a very smart automated system in place. Instead of selecting shapes with the selection tool to fill in base colors, you can simply click the paint bucket tool on your finished line work and it will fill it in for you.
First, create a new layer and select the fill tool. Next, under the settings be sure that you have the “all layers” option selected. Finally, tap the different areas on your line work you’d like to fill and your base colors will all be in place.
If your line art has gaps or fragments, you can prevent overspill by selecting the close gap tool and turning the strength up.
To fill in spots that the fill tool may have missed (like smaller details), simply use the pen tool in that area.
8. Transparency layer lock options
I first discovered transparency layer lock options when I was using Paint Tool Sai, but didn’t really start using them until I moved over to Clip Studio Paint. The transparency layer lock option (found in your layers panel) basically makes the layer it’s active on have an invisible boundary around it.
For example, if you have a section of color on one layer, then turn the transparency layer lock option on and begin to color, only that layer will be affected by changes. It’s similar to masking, but without the extra steps.
You can also use the transparency lock option on your line art layer, as long as your line art is on a raster layer. If you’ve made your line art on a vector layer like I always do, you can convert it to a raster layer (just be sure to make a copy first) and put a transparency lock on it.
This way you won’t have to redraw your lines if you’d like them to be a different color.
9. Animation tools
Clip Studio Paint offers animation tools that allow you to turn your illustrations or comic panels into animated content. Like most animation software (at least from what I’ve used) Clip Studio Paint gives you a timeline to work on, a light table function, and onion skinning tools.
The animation tools are a bit limited in the PRO version, so if you’re looking to create a full-fledged animation I highly recommend spending the extra money to purchase the EX version instead.
10. Free cloud space
Something that I cannot stress enough as a digital artist is to save multiple versions of your art in multiple locations! Save your work to your main computer, save it on a portable drive, and on some sort of cloud. That way if something unfortunate happens, all will not be lost.
What I love about the cloud space offered through Clip Studio Paint is that it makes it easy to open and work on a file on a different machine (two devices per license). I use my main PC for all of my work, but in the event that I’m traveling or am away from home, I can save my current projects to the cloud and work on my Microsoft Surface Pro.
PC users are allowed 10GB of cloud space, while iPad users are allowed 100GB of cloud space.
Which version should you get?
Clip Studio Paint has two versions- the Pro and EX version. I personally own the Pro version, but the EX version may be a good option if you own some sort of comic or animation studio with other artists.
The Pro and EX versions are pretty much the same, except EX offers artists the ability to lay out your comic pages and offers more in-depth animation and 3D tools. It’s also going to cost you a lot more than the Pro version, but may be worth it if you need the extra tools and functionality.
There is also an app version available for iPad users, but you’ll have to pay a monthly (or yearly) fee to use it.
Your needs as a digital artist will vary from my own, so I suggest playing around with Clip Studio Paint before you make an initial purchase.
To get started, I recommend downloading the trial version and checking out any of the tutorials I’ve used below.
Happy creating everyone!