Clip Studio Paint Review [2021]

Table of Contents

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Written by Juha

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Clip Studio Paint is an art software that is highly acclaimed by anime, manga, and comic style artists.

Clip Studio boasts a number of sophisticated tools, reclusive brushes, and other features aimed to give the anime artists a unique advantage in their work.

Clip Studio also offers animation capabilities, with features such as onion-skin view and a customizable camera.

But one of Clip Studio Paint’s most lucrative features is its 3D model, which relies on artificial intelligence to create dynamic and lifelike poses for reference.

With all of these spellbinding qualities, how does Clip Studio Paint measure up? Let’s explore it in an in-depth review of everything Clip Studio Paint has to offer.

Interface and Design

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Clip Studio Paint interface

Clip Studio has a fairly easy to navigate interface. One big plus is that the interface is essentially the same from desktop to tablet, which is helpful if you’ll be switching between a Wacom and an iPad, for example.

On your left-hand side, you have your essential toolbar, which gives access to brushes, the eraser, and other essential features. Clicking on any of these tools will open up a sub-menu to change the thickness, stabilization, etc.

The upper hand toolbar is your basic commands, including file, edit, layers, and more.

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

Clip Studio does allow you to move, minimize, and hide these toolbars when you’d like. You can also use shortcuts to quickly manipulate settings, such as brush size.

You can also change the color of the interface from dark to light and also the intensity of the darkness/lightness.

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You can also switch workspace order easily by dragging and dropping different elements to places and sides as you wish.

Creating a New Drawing or Animation

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Clip Studio has a number of fantastic tutorials on their site to help you get started with your first drawing or animation.

If you’re at all familiar with drawing software, though, there’s not much of a learning curve. For more unique features, such as 3D model posing and asset rendering, those tutorials will prove invaluable.

You can quickly create a new drawing by opening a file, which will be a preset canvas size.

You can change the canvas size or material at any time by selecting “Window” in the upper toolbar. To begin an animation, there’s an option for that in the upper toolbar where you can create your first animation layer.

Illustration

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

For basic illustrations, Clip Studio is exceptionally user friendly. You’ll spend the majority of your time in your left toolbar without delving into some of the more complicated settings.

Layers can be accessed from the upper toolbar or the lefthand toolbar, which is convenient.

The left toolbar is divided into two parts. The left side contains all your tools, and the right bar will contain tool-specific options, as well as quick access for color history, layers, and material import.

That material import option is how you can use assets, custom brushes, and the 3D pose tool. To save your illustration, click on ‘File’ in the upper left-hand corner.

Comic

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

Clip Studio is fantastic for comic and manga artists. By far, one of the most useful features in Clip Studio is the story manager, which streamlines the process of managing multiple pages and volumes (and switching between them).

Another useful tool to jump-start a comic is the layout tool on the left toolbar. You can pick from a number of preset layouts and windows or drag and drop to create your own.

Manga artists will appreciate the convenience of this, as well as the cohesiveness it gives to the artwork.

You can create a story (containing multiple boards or pages) from the upper toolbar and come back to it to add new pages frequently.

Animation

Clip Studio was built with animators in mind. Regardless of whether you’re starting an illustration, comic, or animation, you will have all these options available from the get-go by creating a new file.

Otherwise, you can select from the use of work options when creating a new file. These options include webtoons, comics, custom comics (if you’re using a particular layout), and animation.

You can also select options for title-safe areas and overflow frames. These areas are adjustable from file creation.

Other things you do from the file creation menu include the ability to add notes, specify what scene or shot number, and adjust the frame rate.

Brushes

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

For the price, Clip Studio comes with a fantastic number of brushes and textures to use for a variety of purposes. You can also purchase more brushes and assets from the assets store, created by other artists. 

Presets include pen, pencil, brush, airbrush, and more. There are also variations, including watercolor brushes, colored pencils, and more. 

What’s really impressive about Clip Studio’s brushes is how realistic they are.

You can preview some other artists’ work and see how true to life they are. Many comics and manga shared by creators look hand-drawn and hardly created by any software.

You’ll find a number of ways to get this same look, especially in the sub-options for the pencil tool. Clip Studio’s preset brushes demonstrate great pressure sensitivity as well when used with the Apple pencil.

If there’s one thing that Clip Studio Paint is a master at, it’s the brushes. Brushes are what makes this art software the best in the market for drawing.

I left Adobe Photoshop camp when I found Clip Studio Paint. The brushes are that good. I do, however, use Photoshop for other graphic related work, but when it comes to drawing, Clip Studio Paint is the best.

Pen

Sub-tools for the pen include G-pen, turnip pen, calligraphy, and mapping pen, among others. The other sub-tool set is for markers, which include felt, flat, as well as a fill-in-mono option.

Manga artists (or any artists, really) who are glued to their Copic markers will find that these options perform great and aren’t one-dimensional like some other software out there.

The marker options respond well to pressure and look lifelike. You can further play around with the blending anti-aliasing to fully adjust the style. 

Overall, the pen tool works great for outlining as well as color blocking without appearing too blunt.

Pencil

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

The pencil is used exclusively by many artists on Clip Studio, and its versatility is the reason why. Your sub-tool will contain many options, from hard and soft pencils to colored pencils and even mechanical pencils.

There’s a “real pencil” option that is true to its name and is great for sketching an outline or adding some details to your piece (you might have to increase the brush density, even if you have a pressure-sensitive stylist).

But all of the pencil options look quite realistic and have a convenient slider for hardness or stabilization.

I tend to use Pencils for rough sketches and find them to be invaluable. They deliver results like never before, it feels like you are drawing on a paper, and the results look like it.

Brush

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

The brush tool comes with four sub-tool options. These include watercolor, realistic watercolor, thick paint, and India ink.

Manga artists will appreciate an entire sub-tool dedicated to India ink, especially if you’re transitioning into digital art and are looking to mimic the traditional art process as closely as possible.

The watercolor brushes are stunning and work fantastic for color blocking or shading.

While some might prefer the “realistic” set, the normal set is just as beautiful and doesn’t naturally taper out of paint like the other brush.

The watercolor brush also is exceptionally conducive to pressure sensitivity, which made light shading and values a breeze.

Airbrush

The airbrush tool offers a variety of different ways to add texture to an area, in addition to its more common usages.

The airbrush tool was created with shading in mind, having both a highlight and shadow subtool. For texture, there’s tone scraping, running color spray, and droplet.

The highlight tool exceeded expectations. Many of Clip Studio’s tools are powered by AI, and it’s clear that there’s a level of sophistication that accompanies that.

The highlight tool is a choice for highlighting hair and is capable of both blunt and softer light reflections.

The shadow tool is equally as great, although you’ll find that many tools can be used to achieve the same purpose.

Brush Properties

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Let’s talk about all the sliders you can manipulate with your tools. The brush properties are essentially the same from tool to tool, with some tool-specific sliders.

The first two sliders are your brush size and opacity. For the brush tool, you can control the density and amount of paint to the same effect as opacity.

Other sliders include stabilization (with an option for adjusting by speed), texture (with several built-in options like paper or graphite), and anti-aliasing.

One unique feature was the ability to set texture density, which worked well for custom textures from the asset shop.

One thing that can be a bit confusing is the fact that you can customize every single brush with any property, which means that you can add any brush property to pencils, pens, brushes, etc.

Making the brush customization endless but also superbly detailed. Clip Studio Paint’s brush engine is a beast, to say the least.

Correct Line

The correct line tool is coupled with a dust removal tool (nifty for imported drawings).

As usual, you can adjust the curvature and angle of lines. One other thing you can do with the correct line tool on vector layers is widen or narrow an existing line.

You can adjust the pen pressure, which can give a completely different impression or a more realistic feel. The correct line tool is also located in your toolbar, and selection/deselection is in the upper toolbar.

The correct line tool is specifically designed to be used with vector layers. So do keep that in mind when selecting this tool for use.

Layers

With the PRO and EX versions of Clip Studio Paint, you’ll have access to unlimited layers, including both raster and vector as usual.

There’s the option to flatten layers, adjust the transparency (indicated by the “Normal” slider), lock, hide, and import files into the layers.

The layer tool is quite clean and nicely laid out, although some of the sprites for tools look a bit different from other applications.

The options for merge down one and merge down all (or merge one and flatten) aren’t exactly too different from each other, so be sure before you start clicking around.

Raster Layer

If you’re not familiar with the difference between raster layers and vector layers, it’s quite simple.

Raster layers are your typically pixel-based layer and the default layer that will spawn whenever you create one.

Because it’s pixel-based, you won’t be able to use the correct line tool on it.

However, you will be able to manipulate the look of the layer using layer modes, which create a “control layer” over your selected layer.

Vector Layer

Vector layers, on the other hand, are solely for vectors (of course) and is based on math.

With these kinds of layers, you’ll be able to use the correct line tool to adjust the curvature, angle, or thickness of existing lines.

This is useful for a number of options, including layouts and other elements of manga or comics.

If you’re working on a vector layer but have changed your mind (or need access to another feature), you can rasterize the layer–or, simply put, convert it to a raster layer.

You can also convert raster layers to vector layers by using the built-in command in Clip Studio.

Keep in mind, however, that that’s often easier said than done.

Especially intricate layers or layers with a large number of colors can convert incorrectly or not be able to at all, so try to pick one of the two and stick with it if at all possible (or work in multiple layers at a time to simplify the work).

The main feature of vector layers is that they do not break as you scale them up or down. They are based on math and so they follow calculations when it comes to arranging pixels, raster layers do not work like this.

Layer Modes

Layer mode options are easily accessible from the layer menus. Those modes include darken, multiply, color burn, as well as some options for linear light, vivid light, pin light, and more.

It’s important to note that at the end of the drop-down menu are options for hue, saturation, color, and brightness.

One thing to give Clip Studio props on is their outstanding guides on these blending modes and how they’ll manipulate their color palette.

It’s impossible to remember what each of the modes does (and it’s not always convenient to play around), so Clip Studio’s wealth of official guides and fan-created guides are enormously helpful.

Tools

The tools are by far the most enjoyable aspect of Clip Studio Paint. You’ll lose many hours experimenting with the decoration tool.

The AI aspect of this is so helpful. With the stroke of a brush, you can create a number of elements, including randomized buildings, trees, or even ginkgo leaves.

The effect sub-tool is especially dedicated to anime artists and features all the sparkles, stars, hearts, and bloodstains you could ever need (perfect for anime, right?).

In addition to the scores of preset natural tools, there’s also a sub-tool for clothing.

You can flawlessly create lace, chains, or pearls. There’s a number of tools for sale in the asset shop that can create zippers and other clothing aspects that are time-consuming to draw.

(kuva)

This, of course, doesn’t dive into the wonderful world of textures that are available to all users. How incredible is that! If you’re an anime artist, this software will be your playground.

Fill Tool

The fill tool is useful for blocking in areas with color quickly. Normally, the fill tool can be finicky depending on how well your outlines are enclosed. 

Clip Studio took this into account and created an entire sub-menu for options to control the gap, color margin, scaling, and more.

There’s also the option to refer to a single layer or multiple layers. Overall, the fill tool saves a lot of time for colorizing line art, especially if you’re working with multiple pages in a manga, per see.

I personally use the fill tool pretty much every time I draw, as it’s super convenient when doing cel shading and other coloring tasks.

Ruler

If you’re looking for precise lines, Clip Studio Paint has a few tricks up its sleeve. For starters, you can always enable the grid ruler by clicking on “View” and ruler.

Another option is to select the line tool, which allows you to create straight, curved, and polygonal lines. But if you’d prefer an actual ruler on the page, you can use the figure ruler or linear ruler.

A cool feature of the figure ruler is that you can create whatever shape you’d like for the ruler, which you can use to your advantage in more ways than one.

The line tool is also home to some incredible comic book and manga style lines, which you can create with ease–but more on that later.

Materials

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If there were a Hollywood award show for digital art software, Clip Studio Paint would get a legacy award for its materials alone.

The sheer number of materials and tools available (built-in, at that) makes the manga artist’s life oh-so-much easier. From effects to auto-layouts and speech bubble tools, you’ll be impressed by the ease in which you’ll be able to create some professional-looking storyboards.

What’s even cooler is the assets store, where you can buy thousands of ready-made assets created by other artists using gold coins.

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

Some of the most popular assets, however, are actually free, and you’ll find quite a bit of free content offered by artists who are looking to share the same tools they use in their professional work.

Let’s take a look at some of the coolest features you can take advantage of with Clip Studio.

Manga Material

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There are so many useful materials for manga artists to take advantage of, so let’s start with the built-in options available. The line tool enables the user to quickly create bursts, saturated lines, or stream lines.

These lines are indicators of motion or action, and if you play around with the tool, you’ll instantly recognize them.

Before, creating these bursts effects was time-consuming and resulted in the inevitable ruining of character art.

You can create these lines now with ease and edit them later in a vector layer should you need to make any substantial changes.

Overall, adding these effects is a great way in the post-phase to breathe life and dimension into your story art.

Directly below the line art tool is the frame tool, which you can use to create the borders for your manga.

If you don’t want to use an aspect-ratio tool to draw the boxes out, there’s also a special frame border pen.

That works well for call-outs or cutaways, or any other instances where you might need a more clearly defined frame.

Lastly, in this area of the toolbar, we have the balloon tool, which you can use to quickly create speech bubbles. There are multiple styles to choose from, and you can change the color, thickness, and other aspects to your liking.

Above the balloon tool is the text tool as well, so manga artists will be able to find all their most needed tools in proximity to each other.

3D Models And 3D Objects

And here, we’ve arrived at quite possibly, the best tool that Clip Studio Paint has to offer.

This tool alone receives high praise from both anime and traditional artists alike. The 3D model tool allows you to import a 3D model of a person into a layer, which you can then pose and bend just like an artist’s manikin.

In the assets store, you can find a variety of body types, heights, and preset poses to reference. Having a manikin like this with so many points of articulation and ranges of movement is, quite frankly, priceless.

A quick sketch in a separate layer will yield a highly accurate, impressive outline that you can build off.

Anime, manga, and comics are no strangers to some pretty difficult to master poses. This tool is a must-have for any artist looking to nail these poses.

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If that’s not convincing enough for you, consider this: even the fingers, fingertips, and knuckles have articulation.

Gone are the days of wonky hands. You can even load in 3D models of hands and feet alone if that’s an area of struggle for you.

There’s a slight learning curve for figuring out how to adjust the model and pose it the way you want. Look closely at the guidelines, and take advantage of the ability to rotate the scene as needed (the model will still remain in position).

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

Sometimes, you need to adjust the angle you’re viewing the model in order to better see the guides for a range of motion.

But if that proves too much hassle for you (and it won’t, you’ll lose hours doing this because it’s so fun), you can always buy pre-made poses from other artists on the assets store!

Monochromatic pattern

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The monochromatic pattern tool is another invaluable tool for manga artists. Halftones, gradients, and other textures are quick and easy ways to get that typical manga style.

In addition to these monochrome patterns, there’s also a binarization tool to turn any image into black and white, as well as some tools for creating backgrounds in a pinch.

Drawing Experience

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

There’s a lot to be said when it comes to actually drawing with Clip Studio Paint. Like I mentioned before, I used to use Photoshop for drawing; nowadays, I use it for graphic related work.

But, here’s the thing, when it comes to drawing, I always struggled to create precise lines, control the line art, and just draw line art confidently.

By switching the art software to Clip Studio Paint, I was finally able to draw line art the way I always wanted, but it didn’t end there. What I also found out was that the coloring experience and the speed of coloring also increased multifold.

The drawing experience with this art software is just insanely realistic. It produces insane results, the brushes, pens, pencils, and brush properties are the best in the industry.

Photoshop is good for sure, but Clip Studio Paint is the best. Drawing with this art software is a joy and the way it produces lines and the speed it produces the lines are the best in the industry. 

All in all, the drawing experience is the best I have experienced so far.

Clip Studio Paint PRO vs. EX

You really can’t go wrong with purchasing Clip Studio Paint. However, you might be torn on whether to choose from the PRO or EX versions. The PRO version is the more inexpensive option and is great for people just looking to test out the program or use it for basic illustration purposes.

If you already have the PRO version and like it, you can upgrade to EX for a discount!

The EX version offers a variety of additional features, such as animation, a page manager for comics, and some other handy tools for people creating professional work on the platform.

You can start out with a free trial, which gives you access to the EX version free for a month. If you’re not much of an animator or have a dedicated manga you’re working on, you can always switch to the PRO version.

However, even if you don’t do much animation, you’ll have a lot of fun exploring the features used by artists extraordinaire.

Extract Lines

If Clip Studio Paint gets a legacy award for its 3D models, then maybe it gets the Nobel Prize for this nifty feature. You can easily extract line art from images with a background with Clip Studio’s built-in function.

It’s as easy as clicking on your edit dropdown, selecting “convert brightness to opacity,” and voila–you have a perfectly extracted layer of line art.

From there, you can download it and use it wherever else. This feature is available only in the EX version, and if there’s any feature alone that could convince you to buy the EX version, I think this is it.

A Modern Software For The Modern Anime Artist

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Image courtesy of Clip Studio Paint

There is plenty of art software out there on the market, aiming to make its way into your portfolio. When it comes to Clip Studio Paint, however, it doesn’t need to do much convincing.

Simply listen to the scores of artists that have been using this software since launch, and make up the community today that keeps it alive with exclusive brushes, material, and more.

Clip Studio Paint is the premier software for anime and manga artists, although traditional artists flock to it as well. If you’re looking to take your anime art to a whole new level, this software is a lifeline.

It has been for me, at least.

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Table Of Contents

Hey! Don't Forget Your Guide!

When I was starting to draw digital art, everything was new to me. I didn’t know what to think about digital art or even how to draw. I kind of started from the beginning. I was scraping information through various sites, trying to get a complete picture, however, only ending up with a fractured picture of how to approach it all.

That was the reason why I collected 5 of the most important tips you should know as an aspiring digital artist. The guide also has a checklist for creating that professional line art. And to top it all, I’ve gathered 52 tips that every anime artist should know.

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