Clip Studio Paint – a true replacement for pen and paper?
Aug 24, 2020
Reading Time: 5 minutes
02 Dec 2023
I grew up in the world of pen on paper. Oldskool. And as I am sure anyone who’s done the same, or just prefers paper, there’s a feeling, a sensation that comes from the nib of a pen dragging across a sheet of paper. What’s more, different pens and different papers deliver different feedback loops, so over time you find a match that works for you. It’s that feedback loop, that analogue feeling, which becomes such a hindrance for many when it comes to making the step over to digital media.
I had made the commitment to start working digitally some years back. As much as I like pen and paper, having endless sketchbooks or loose sheets pile up, or worse, inadvertently end up in the bin, was a pain. To make matters worse, I love ink pens – fountain pens and old skool Rotting Isographs; the line quality just can’t be beaten. But they suck. Messy, temperamental and expensive, both in time and in money, to keep running. And then there’s scanning the work so I can colour, or whatever else, digitally. So going 100% digital seemed like a good choice, especially as we already had an iPad Pro in all its large glory.
Even in its large spectacularness, I found the screen too small. Paper is a one on one affair, work on A4, or A3, paper and it’s yay big, your brain need not think any further – it’s WYSIWYG. On the iPad though, you pinch, you zoom, it’s a pain and, call me old fashioned, the added step, it gets in the way. And while the Apple pen is good, very good actually, I found the feeling dead. Maybe that’s the wrong way to describe it… the nib just felt artificial. Where the feel of the pen is very important to the way I work, the iPad was not an option.
So I invested in a big arse 27” Wacom Cintiq.
My oh my.
I could now work 1: 1 and with the felt nib on the stylus… umm, ‘pen’, it physically felt 97% like paper – there was a grain, a drag that felt… right. My software of choice was Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro, the interface is so intuitive, so ‘easy’, that as far as a sketching experience goes it was, and still is, my benchmark for a no thought required UI (user interface) workflow. But it was still not right, I could just not gel with the setup. It was not the tablet, and not the pen, it was the software. Eventhough compared to everything I had tried, SBP delivered the closest experience to drawing on paper, it was not drawing on paper… and Autodesk has seemingly all but given up supporting it.
So I gave up.
Well, not really. I flipped back and forth, between paper and my favourite do-all bit of software, Affinity Designer – I love mixing vector and bitmap workflows. And there I stayed until one day, as much as I love Designer, the minute stroke delay when working on a high resolution canvas just rubbed me the wrong way. Remember, there’s zero delay on paper, so even an infinitesimal delay is noticeable and you just loose that something in the process. And that’s OK, you can draw/sketch in Designer but, like Photoshop, it’s not a dedicated drawing application thus will never bridge that gap 100%. So after a bit of searching one Sunday morning, I came across Clip Studio Paint. It’s not the first time I’d seen it, just previously it was yet another application, and as I already had my hands full, I didn’t need something else to learn. This time though, I decided to give it a go.
I was sold. In fifteen minutes.
If you’ve never heard of it, the Japanese based Clip Paint Studio (yes, dumb name) was previously called Manga Studio. No? Well, how about – it’s a big deal in the Japanese Manga industry and is rapidly gaining ground in the Western comics game as well? And it’s that last sentence that should tell you everything – CSP is an application designed for people who draw. Comics. Professionally. It’s not something being shoehorned to be a drawing application, or a lightweight ‘fun’ tool, it’s an application designed purely for drawing and illustration.
Within sixteen minutes I was convinced I had found a true replacement for paper.
With the default tools and settings, the responsiveness, sensitivity and overall quality of line rendered by CSP is 99% that of pen on paper. To me, that’s everything you need to know right there if you are looking for a true paper replacement. But wait there’s more…
So, so much more.
I’m just scratching the surface of what is a massive application, so this by no means is meant as a blow by blow review; there are plenty of those around already. But as you can imagine, a tool designed for professional manga/comic illustrators, there’s pretty much everything you can expect – amazing features such as multi page layouts, letting you effectively use CSP as a sketchbook, a full suite of very good painting tools, vector tools, plus (depending on which version you opt for) a full 2D animation system, live 3D posing figure and object integration and even an entire ecosystem available through CSP’s own marketplace ‘Clip Studio’, which comes as it’s own application and ties, so far, seamlessly into the actual CSP application. Like I said, CSP is a massive application.
Don’t let this scare you off though. Yes, you will need to learn your way around (I managed to get the hang of it in a few hours of use), but the mark of a truly professional application is that it lets you tailor the UI to your working style, hence set it up to use just what you need and forget the rest, or even set up several different UI’s depending on what you are doing at the time; I’ve set CSP up to allow for both my being a south paw as well as working on the large 27” Cintiq.
So if you are starting to make the switch from paper to digital, or even if you have already, I highly suggest that you give Clip Studio Paint a go. Available on desktop and mobile, you can try it free for 30 days and see what you think but I am pretty sure you will not be let down. I’ve spent several years looking for a real replacement for paper, so I do not say it lightly when I say Clip Studio Paint makes me think twice when I now pick up an ink pen!
Images: Clip Paint Studio. Copyright to respective artists.