Saturday, 3 May 2014

Cintiq 22HD Touch updates and Art Software Demos

Since purchasing the Cintiq 22HD touch and getting very comfortable with handling and operating the graphics tablet - see my initial report  - I have spent some time experimenting with different art programs.

But before looking at the programs, I wanted to mention the Ergotron LX Arm for the Cintiq. This articulated arm allows the tablet to be manoeuvered in three dimensions and even allows me to work standing upright. I bought it for £108 from an Ebay seller.

The Ergotron is very easy to install though it took me a few minutes to figure out why the uppermost component of the arm could not take the weight of the Cintiq and sink down whenever I raised it up. Turns out there is a screw that needs tightening in order to adjust the tension of the arm. Once done, it sits beautifully at any height up to its limit.

Sketchbook Pro
I actually have had SBP installed on my PC for a while now but never got round to using it - with the Cintiq however, it was an ideal opportunity to test the program's drawing capability. To do this, I used the mirror function and pencil tools to sketch out a crazy ladybird samurai mask / helmet idea I had. In this example, I was making up the drawing as I was going along. The greatest benefit to drawing digitally like this is I can make mistakes and just erase them or add a new layer.

SBP is super easy to use and very fast. I noticed a wee bit of lag when drawing lots of strokes in quick succession but not enough to make me pause. With the few tools I used, it does generate a pleasingly realistic analogue appearance to the drawing. The final version above was enhanced in Photoshop, where I added a starburst background and watermarks.

I just wanted to drop in a mention of this project. I used the brush tools in Photoshop to drawn the lines and when viewed 100% it was evident that PS picks up eveyr shaky movement of my hand strokes. It was very unforgiving in that respect so gave me a good reason to search for a better 'painting' program.

I suppose the shaky lines are rather quaint but not what I intended. Despite this, I continued with the project on PS and transfered it to AI in my usual way. More info in this design in a later post.

Corel Painter X3
I downloaded the trial version of Corel Painter X3. I have read lots of good things about this program and have been impressed with the many expert renderings from digital artists that use this program. The trial version limits the canvas size but apart from that, you get pretty much full functionality for 30 days. To test the crayon, chalk and pastel tools, I painted a tiger:

It didn't take long to get used to the layout...pretty much all graphics programs these days seem to follow the Adobe convention of palettes, layers and other functions. I'm not a painter at all so using the digital equivalents was just as much a novelty for me. The brief experience I have had so far indicates that I will need a lot more playing around and experimentation before I feel I can get the best out of Painter. It does seem very good for painting in digital form, but then as I have said, I'm not really a painter to I doubt spending £180 on the fully fledged program is a wise investment for my own style of illustration.

ArtRage 4.0
Artrage seems to tout itself as a cut-price Painter but with big paint functionality. It certainly is good and cheap...and offers what I can see as the same sort of basic art tools as Painter. In this example below, I used various colour pencil tools and chalks. As with the other programs above, the resulting image offers a very realistic analogue finish. The trial version limits canvas size and stamps a watermark but is virtually fully functional. I liked the simple layout and the 'just draw right away' approach.

As with Painter, I think this program is best utilised by someone seeking to create artwork with that real world look to it. At £35 it's a real bargain compared to Painter and something I would seriously consider using as a concept sketching program or just for fun doodling.

I like playing with paint programs but ultimately they are not going to be things I use for my day in day out projects where I need more precision yet can still add some artistic flair to the tools I use - a sort of hybrid between Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Maybe the next program can offer me something?...

Manga Studio 5
Downloading Manga Studio 5 is a bit odd, one part of the website seems to suggest you can only buy physical copies of the software, but a quick Google reveals another part of the Smith Micro website where you can download the trial edition.

Opening up the program reveals the same familiar basic tool palette layout. I'm not a manga artist and have no intention of being one. Obviously a number of the tools are aimed specifically at this market (half tone, speed lines and focus lines etc). Like the other programs, finding out how to draw stuff at a basic level was very intuitive and easy. As I delved in deeper I realised that you can assign each layer as either a vector layer or a raster layer. This gives this program that hybrid AI-PS feel I mentioned above. The thing that really sold me however was the basic pen drawing tool. I loved it! I was able to apply pen strokes smoothly and it really did act like a fine tipped inking pen that would apply fat or tapered strokes depending on the pressure I used. I dabbled with the other stuff, like paint, fills, speed lines and other stuff but that pen tool is so amazing it single handedly has made me decide to buy the full working version of this program!

UPDATE 6th May 2014
I decided to purchase MS5 but the SmithMicro website seems to only sell the boxed disc version. A bit of Googling led me towards something called ClipStudioPaint – which doesn’t sound very assuring as a pro-graphics software title but according to all information, it is one and the same thing as Manga Studio 5. Clip Studio Paint is the trading name for the digital download version of Manga Studio which, as far as I understand, is due to licensing agreements between the owners of the software and the company that licenses it outside of Japan (Smith Micro). For this and future reviews and reports, I will continue to use the Manga Studio nomenclature.

I have had a few more plays with the fully function program and I feel I made a great choice but I also realize I have barely touched the surface of what this program can do, such is its depth. One immediate thing that I did find out was that although MS can produce vector lines, those lines cannot be exported to Illustrator. If I wanted to vectorise a piece of art drawn in MS, I would need to Live Trace it.

Adobe Illustrator will still be my program of choice for most of my art projects. It simply can't be beaten for purity of vector lines. Photoshop is also still in my main stable of things I will use but with the addition of Manga Studio 5, I now have a highly capable drawing and painting program that suits my own drawing style. I can't wait to use it for my forthcoming designs.

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