Clip Studio Paint Pro started as a little-known favorite program of manga enthusiasts called Manga Studio. Now, it’s grown into a beast of a digital art software, combining aspects of Adobe Photoshop with those of popular sketching apps like Procreate.
This program combines raster and vector features, blends colors in real-time, and creates animation, all while syncing between desktop and mobile versions. Though it may look a little complex at first open, the features, once used, generally elicit the same response: “Why haven’t I heard about this before now?”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Clip Studio Paint Pro isn’t the end-all solution to every problem a digital artist might face. It is, however, a solid alternative to its competitors and a worthy companion to existing Adobe workflows looking for a more targeted drawing toolkit.
Plans and Install
Clip Studio Paint offers a flexible lineup of plans. What seems to be the most popular option, a one-time purchase of Clip Studio Paint Pro, will only set you back about $50. An upgrade to Clip Studio Paint EX after that is $169. There’s also a subscription option, which allows you to pay monthly or annually, with the price based on the number of devices you want to use on your plan.
The install is smooth, requiring 2GB of memory (but recommending 8GB or more) for macOS or Windows. You’ll need an internet connection to verify your license, as well as for some other functions within the program.
The trial period is generous, offering as many as three free months, depending on the plan you choose to trial. The shortest trial period at this time is 30 days, still very respectable. Make sure to register your trial so that you can save your test work!
The meat of the program (as with most software) lies in Clip Studio Paint Pro’s tools. But before we get into specifics, let’s talk about Clip Studio Assets. These materials include everything from brushes and gradients to 3D objects and workspaces. It’s a kind of open-source library of (largely) free content, accessible from right within the application. Some materials are better quality than others, but there’s a lot to draw from – no pun intended.
We’ll kick off with arguably the most important tool for a drawing app: the brush options. Clip Studio handles this a little differently than, say, Adobe Photoshop, where your brushes are mostly lumped together. Here, brushes are separated out by type. Dry media is separate from paints, and so on.
The real prize in this category is the Blend brush tool, which is a more painterly experience than Photoshop’s Mixer by far. Rather than having to select specific reservoir and pickup colors, this tool allows you to simply blend what’s already there, just like you would with physical media. It’s magical.
With any brush, use the shortcut C to paint transparency. This essentially turns every brush in your kit into an eraser (and back, when you press C again).
In your brush options, you are able to select a level of stabilization. This feature is a lifesaver for shaky hands, but like all stroke stabilizers, it’s best for inking and finalizing. Not so great for sketching, where little shakes and bumps come with the territory.
Another feature to keep your strokes in line is the customizable ruler. Clip Studio Paint Pro lets you create different types of rulers for perspective, symmetry, or shapes, which your drawing can “snap” to for accuracy.
Digital artists all know the frustration of applying a fill only to realize your lines didn’t quite meet at some obscure point. Suddenly, you’re filling an entire face instead of just the upper lip, all because of that minuscule gap in the shape.
Clip Studio Paint Pro solves this problem when you click the checkbox beside Close Gap in the Fill tool settings. You can choose a level of sensitivity to avoid going too far in the other direction and getting the dreaded white outline inside your shape. As with brushes, you can fill with transparency to erase if you aren’t happy with the first pass.
Clip Studio Paint Pro is unapologetically a raster program, but it offers a vector-like experience for path fans. Vector layers have their limitations within the program as far as filling and blending, but they come with perks, too.
The Vector Eraser tool gives you the flexibility to make quick changes by eliminating lines between points with one click, so you can “vector sketch”, in a sense, and remove the unwanted extra lines later.
It’s not an Adobe Illustrator substitute, since you can’t save in a vector file type from Clip Studio Paint Pro at this time, but the process is similar enough to creating “real” vector art that it may scratch the itch for some.
The Pro version only allows 24 frames of animation; for more, you will have to upgrade to Clip Studio Paint EX. It also lacks Photoshop’s built-in compatibility with industry-leading animation software. For dabblers and entry-level animators, though, there’s enough usability to get your feet wet.
For multi-device plans, syncing between iPad and desktop isn’t exactly seamless until you figure it out (you have to find the Clip Studio symbol in the Menu Bar across the top), but once you do, it’s easy enough. More importantly, the iPad experience is extremely similar to the desktop one, so you’re not having to learn two different versions of the same program.
Syncing between iPhone and desktop is, surprisingly, easier to master, but the sheer amount of features to navigate makes it challenging to get any real work done on that sized screen. (Although the view is very customizable, if you can get past that.)
High-resolution work should really be done on an iPad Pro sized 10.5 inches or larger, as opposed to other supported iPads like the iPad Air 2. This also allows you to get the full experience of the Apple Pencil with this program, which is a real treat. The pressure sensitivity and tilt support work great right out of the box.
The Wacom Bamboo Sketch and Wacom Bamboo Fineline 3 for iPad are both supported as well, or you could use Astropad or Sidecar to turn your iPad Pro into a drawing tablet and use the single-device version of the software with macOS. Word on the street is that Huion works just as well, though it’s not officially supported.
In testing, Clip Studio Paint Pro matched Adobe Photoshop in speed, although some report seeing a bit of lag with a very high amount of layers or large brushes. As always, your experience will depend heavily on your equipment, so check the recommended specs before downloading for macOS or Windows.
Shortcuts and gestures are intuitive, echoing the ones many digital artists are already familiar with from Photoshop or Procreate. The interface is familiar, as well, with the same box-in-the-middle, tools-framing-the-outside aesthetic seen in everything from Corel Painter Essentials to Affinity Photo.
Clip Studio Paint Pro vs. Clip Studio Paint EX
A decision plaguing new users is whether to start with Clip Studio Paint Pro or go straight for its big brother, Clip Studio Paint EX. While the Pro version is a remarkably balanced software with a strong library of features, there’s no denying that Clip Studio Paint EX is a more well-rounded experience for serious illustrators and animators. Here’s the breakdown:
|Clip Studio Paint Pro||Clip Studio Paint EX|
|Multi-page comics and manga||No||Yes|
|Customizable drawing tools||Yes||Yes|
Can Clip Studio Paint Pro Replace Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for Digital Art?
It can, and for many, it already has. Digital artists who prefer not to remain locked into a subscription model are very pleased with the lineup Clip Studio Paint Pro offers for their one-time purchase option.
However, there are some features missing, such as true vector support, 3D modeling, and animations longer than 24 frames. For some features, a simple upgrade to Clip Studio Paint EX will do the trick. For others, your only option at this time is to adjust your workflow.