VFX

Clip Studio Paint EX, the app of choice for animators, manga artists and illustrators

Review of Clip Studio Paint EX

Clip Studio Paint EX is the most complete suite of drawing and painting tools available from Celsys in Japan. It’s perceived as the biggest competitor of Corel Painter. Both these apps were designed for creators who love to draw and paint with a brush feel that comes close to the real-world thing, but Clip Studio is also a complete comic strip and animation creations tool.

Clip Studio Paint EX is available for both Windows and Mac computers. I tested the Mac version. The Mac interface seems to be a direct port from Windows. There’s little in terms of integration with macOS or with any of Apple’s human interface guidelines. As a result, window controls, although located where you’d expect them, are not behaving as you’re used to, panels look odd, pop-up and drop-downs are all behind non-standard icons, etc.

And yet, Clip Studio Paint EX is very powerful and among its most powerful features is that you can effortlessly set up comic books and convert colour drawings to halftone dots in real-time. That’s important for the app’s manga support but handy in other environments too. The app even supports multi-page artwork for manga.

Experiences

I started my journey by immediately trying the perspective rulers. This involves setting one or more vanishing points. Once you’ve understood how it works, you’re on your way. However, as the app leaves you completely free to create them the way you want, you may occasionally create something that just doesn’t work visually. For those times, there’s an option to fix points or remove them altogether.

I found Clip Studio Paint’s implementation of perspective rulers the most flexible of all apps that have them; they can be manipulated in many different ways and yet don’t fence you in. In most other apps perspective rulers/guides disable freeform drawing on the perspective layer, forcing you to create a separate layer when you want to draw a vase or a plant or some other object that can’t be drawn with straight lines only. Not so with Clip Studio Paint EX.

The perspective rulers are part of a huge collection of rulers and guides that also include unique ones. The mirroring tool is unique in that you can create multiple kaleidoscopic effects from various, independently set up guides.

You’ll find rulers to create single-point exploding lines (like an explosion in a comic strip), swirling lines originating from a single point, curly lines that run parallel to curly guides, etc.

Unique features

Another unique feature is that you can have 3D models in the app that serve and act as a wooden manikin, but with the models segmented in smaller parts than a true wooden model. This is a fantastic feature for creating human and other figures that are complex to draw or paint from memory or even from live models. Those models and a whole plethora of other materials are downloaded from the Celsys servers when installing the app.

There’s even a 3D scanner system that requires you to upload an image to the Celsys network where it will be made in a usable model with the help of AI.

Clip Studio Paint EX comes with a lot of clever functionality, like the ability to create animation cells from your drawings right in the app. That feature was quite intuitive to use; it was one of the few that I didn’t have to think about before I got the hang of it.

Also unique is that you can create frames that automatically mask your drawings inside them — they’re the building blocks of a comic book and they are very easy to set up and use.

Brushes galore

Brushes are completely customisable, with a large number of parameters you can set. They are less esoteric than some you will find in Corel Painter. Clip Studio Paint EX doesn’t offer “real-world” brushes as Painter does. For example, you won’t find a “real-world watercolour” brush and that is actually a big plus for Celsys because “real-world” brush behaviour always somewhat disappoints.

If you want to paint with a real-world watercolour brush that really, really acts like the real thing, you’ll have to buy the real thing. Digital art is always going to look different from physical media, no matter how hard you throw AI at it. That already starts with some measure of unpredictability of the media – both the surface and the paint itself.

Why you may not have heard of Clip Studio Paint before

None of the features in Clip Studio Paint, however, have been given the love they deserve in terms of clear explanation. There’s no structured user guide. Instead, Celsys has an online help system that contains tips and online tutorials from users.

I wish I could say otherwise, but many of those don’t go into enough detail to be useful and some are written in poor English. As I’ve written in a piece earlier this year (on content marketing over at Medium, but the conclusion is the same), you drive away native English people if you make mistakes against their language in your texts (Research from 2013). Worse yet, some tutorials contain factual errors and leave out steps and details.

However, the company is working hard to fix this lack of user guidance which, I believe, is the only weak spot of the app; you’re currently pretty much on your own finding out how you can achieve what you want.

That’s a pity because it requires a good deal of non-productive time to familiarise yourself with what is a very powerful creative tool that can easily beat its closest competitor on the market.

Conclusion

Clip Studio Paint EX doesn’t look much like a native Mac app, but if you try it out for more than an hour, you’ll quickly realise it’s so flexible and powerful and feature-rich you’ll find the interface of only secondary importance.

Clip Studio Paint doesn’t emphasise the “real-worldliness” of its brushes and surfaces much. Instead, it focuses more on what you can do with it to create digital art — and that is, after all, what a digital paint annex drawing app is for.

The app lets you build manga strip books effortlessly but doesn’t stare itself blind on that single focus point. It’s just as powerful as an architect’s ‘artist impression’ painting app, an animator’s storyboard app, an animation artist’s production canvas, etc.

Clip Studio Paint EX, the full version I tested retails for 219.00 USD and is available from the web or in the Mac App Store.