(Full size image here)

Little piece of digital inking advice I’ve learned from years of doing this sort of thing for projects with strict style guides;

Okay, so, anyone who has experience with digital inking knows the temptation to zoom in and out constantly to tinker with all of your details at different levels. The problem is, this freedom to enhance all you like can get you lost in the rabbit hole of tweaking details at 300% that look aesthetically awful at regular web viewing and print size. It’s an easy way to lose track of the big picture.

When I was on Ugly Americans, one of our most tightly enforced rules on the show was a set zoom level. You had one brush size and one zoom level, and everything on screen had to have the same lineweight. As Aaron Augenblick told us “you can’t zoom in on paper.” This is a piece of advice I’ve carried with me to this day, because I realized even if you aren’t going for a stylistically intentional uniform lineweight, it really helps keep your art decluttered and create easy atmospheric perspective in your line work.

When I was doing the short Nicky Two-vests pitch comic it was really my first time working on a big, print-size 11x17 comic page. The first couple pages I did I couldn’t resist the temptation to go in and utilize the ridiculous resolution to add little finnicky details all over the place. The result was awful and basically had to be redone. That was when I decided to try out this technique, choosing a fixed brush size and fixed zoom level for different depth of field and sticking to that. It helps keep the important focus of the image big and bold, the background subdued

For my personal use, I ink with the Frenden Hairpin Sable in Manga Studio 5EX which readjusts to be the same size on screen as you zoom, but the same technique works in photoshop if you adjust the brush to approximately the same size on screen as you go.

Because I am madly in love with Manga Studio 5EX and want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy it, I feel I would be remiss not to point out that Smith Micro is currently having a sale and you can get it for a really great discount both on their site

And on Amazon

If you’re getting it new that’s $35 and $161.50 for MS5 or MS5EX respectively, down from the standard $80 and $300. If you got 4EX in last year’s crazy Black Friday sale the upgrade is only $105, or if you got MS5 a couple months ago when it was going for $30, you can boost it to 5EX for $70. Definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in digital drawing or comic-making. I seriously use this program for everything; storyboards, comics, doodles, painting, it’s really amazing.

And of course, it’s basically unilaterally agreed upon that Frenden’s MS5 brush set does nothing but enhance your experience using the program and is not a purchase you’ll ever regret.

It’s honestly the best-real-media-emulation/easiest-interface-to-learn-if-you’re-already-experienced-with-photoshop double-hitter I’ve ever used, I love it and cannot recommend the program enough.

The Little Monoprice Graphics Tablet that Could

Monoprice makes graphics tablets? I thought they were just an outlet for cheap cables. It was news to me that they sell all sorts of audio, video, and computer accessories.

They have a reputation for making good stuff, cheap, including graphics tablets. But, on those, I never bit.

When reviewing the Yiynova Cintiq alternative, I researched all of Wacom’s competition, learning that those 1st gen Yiynovas used a Waltop digitizer (digitizers being the flat hardware panel that interprets pen movement and translates it onscreen). I decided to buy a Monoprice stylus to see if it would work on a Waltop digitizer. It didn’t. This roused my curiosity. If the Monoprice wasn’t a Waltop based tablet, what was it? The Monoprice tablets use UC Logic digitizers, a brand I hadn’t found during my prior research.

At the time of writing, less than $50 nets you a 6.25“x10” tablet and around $80 will get you a larger 9“x12”. With those prices, and my inclination to try any tools I can, I ordered the 6.25“x10” tablet with low expectations. Something so cheap can’t possibly be good, right?

After spending a week with the 6.25“x10” Monoprice, my Yiynova and Cintiq remain unplugged and I gave my Intuos away to a friend. The Monoprice tracks subtle pressure variances and small movements with less lag and more crisp fidelity than any of the others. It is, put crudely, fucking awesome, in both OSX Lion and Windows 7 x64.

It holds accuracy at obscenely small levels even when zoomed way out, which is where most tablets falter. The following screen recording in OSX shows how stable the Monoprice tablet is in both pressure variance and fine detail.

The Monoprice performed flawlessly in OSX. This is welcome news. With most tablets, Wacom included, OSX has long felt a second class citizen with slightly less accuracy and more lag present in the drivers.

I’ve found that some apps, in both Windows and OSX, enable tablet specific features only if they detect Wacom drivers present and running on a system. I recommend installing Wacom’s Intuos 3 drivers alongside the Monoprice ones. They do nothing for the tablet, but trick uncooperative apps into operating with the Monoprice.

Hardware-wise, the stylus is a bit shorter and narrower than Wacom’s and is about the same weight. It rests comfortably in my oversized meat-paw. The pen requires a battery, but has no on-off switch. It turns on when you use it and off when idle. The battery has lasted over a week with constant use and shows no signs of giving up. The battery slot inside of the pen feels a bit cheap, but is soon forgotten after closing the pen back up and represents the singular negative aspect of the hardware. An aftermarket stylus is available for around $8. I’ve tested a few aftermarket, UC Logic compatible styli, and like these (available from a vendor in Turkey) the most. Ten replacement nib packs are available for less than a dollar.

The tablet has a slightly textured surface and drawing feels tactile and a bit toothy. The hardware buttons worked fine and were fully customizable. Eight buttons is a lot to keep track of and I found myself using my keyboard more often than not when jamming on hot keys.

All the following images were drawn on the Monoprice in Manga Studio or Photoshop CS6. Included is a short video, sped up 2x, drawing in OSX with Manga Studio.

Drawing on the Monoprice leaves me feeling a bit punk rock. It’s better than it has any right to be – better than any of the other hardware I own. Its drivers outperform Wacom’s in OSX and I found myself making excuses to sit down and draw with it.

An off-brand graphics tablet by Monoprice out-performs tablets ten times more costly and replaced my Cintiq and Intuos tablets for daily use. Who would’a thunk it?

[Edit: Since this original post in April, I bought the 9“x12” and like it even more than the unit reviewed here. I sold my Cintiq and have done all my commercial work on either my 10“x6.25” or 12“x9” UC Logic tablets.]

No Lady A warm-up sketch today, instead have my Inquisitor Cadash sketched with the pencil brushes in Frenden’s Pencilling, Inking, and Painting Brush Pack I just purchased.

What I love is that the pencils pretty much G L I D E like butter in MS5 and is a joy to doodle with the way I do in my analog sketchbooks. It harkens back to the same flexible feel I had digital doodling in Painter 6…before it became the sluggish behemoth that is Version 7 and onwards >_>

Custom Manga Studio 4 Inking & Natural Media Brushes

Download my brushes at a special introductory rate. Reblog for a chance at a free set!

The Brushes

I’ve been using Manga Studio for comic style work since the app was localized and brought to American audiences by SmithMicro in 2006. I’ve always pushed the boundaries of what was primarily an inking app, creating brushes that took the limitations of Manga Studio’s brush engine and smacked them against the wall. I like to make art apps bleed and Manga Studio has been my target of choice.

This set was created over seven years of obsessive iteration. Included are ten custom inking tools and seven natural media tools.

The Work

I’ve used the inking tools on work for clients like Nickelodeon, Burton, and Nike. My Photoshop and Manga Studio brushes are in use by industry professionals such as Dave Gibbons, Cameron Stewart, Bryan Lee O'Malley, and Mike “Gabe” Krahulik, and I suspect you’ll dig them too!

The below videos and accompanying images (and virtually all of the illustrations on my over 2,000 image deep Flickr account) were all created using my custom inking presets.

And the digital painting below was painted entirely in Manga Studio on a full color layer at 600 dpi using the natural media brushes in this set (The primary brushes used were the “Oil” and “Bristle” brush variants included in the download and the initial sketch was drawn with the “Sketching Pencil.”)

Mixed race married lesbian couple as the Doctor for Sam Luke (final seconds of the 4/5/2013 livestream.) Sophie Okonedo and Lucy Liu have Doctor Who connections, it could happen! They’ve just regenerated and are realizing they definitely aren’t sisters.

Drawn with these custom PS brushes - finally bought them yesterday and they’re worth every penny.

The DP10U - A Portable, Cheap Cintiq Alternative

The Yiynova DP10U is a 10" portable Cintiq alternative with 2048 levels of pressure sensitvity and a price on par with an Intuos 5 medium.

Does it live up to the high bar set by the 19" MSP19U?

The Story so Far

In the past, my first step in Wacom alternative art hardware reviews was to spew a preamble explaining what these devices were and what the history of their discovery was. After my Monoprice graphics tablet and three Yiynova tablet monitor reviews, knowledge of UC Logic digitizer based art devices has spread. I’m happy to say we’re nearing the day where future art hardware reviews needn’t focus solely on comparisons to Wacom tech or contain lengthy explanations about who these alternative manufacturers are.

Yiynova can’t keep the UC Logic powered MSP19U in stock. The product is good, the price is fair, and the demand is high. People get it. That device sets the stage for its smaller cousin, the DP10U.

Who’s the Market for the DP10U?

With the 19" MSP19U cheaper than the 12" Cintiq 12WX, let alone larger Wacom models, I see the DP10U catering more to those looking for a portable drawing solution than those who want a stationary tablet monitor for their studio. The budget conscious may still opt for the DP10U independent of its portability, but the leap between it and the MSP19U in price is relatively small. The leap in usability between the two is a wider gap.

With four Monoprice tablets, two Huion tablets, and a Yiynova MSP19U in my studio, I’m up to my ears in drawing devices even after selling my Intuoses and Cintiq 20WSX. Did I need another device? Where does it fit in? My hope for the the DP10U was to toss it into my laptop bag with my 13" Air for serious production work outside of my studio.

Hardware and Software

The DP10U is thin and light and weighs in at 1.49 lbs. To give you a sense of scale, an iPad weighs 1.44 lbs and the Cintiq 12WX weighs 4.4 lbs. The DP10U’s frame fits just inside of the silhouette of my 13" Macbook Air.

The DP10U has a battery powered stylus with 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The 12WX uses older Intuos 3 era technology with 1024 levels but requires no battery. Batteries lasted months in my other UC Logic styli and I expect the same to be true here.

The DP10U uses one USB connection for all its power and a second USB connection on its dual-ended cable for pushing video. The combined USB dongle on the unit is a mixed bag. On one hand, it represents the single biggest coup of the device. Video and power via USB means there’s no external power brick or plug to carry and no video adapters needed. By comparison, the Cintiq 12WX requires a video port, a USB port, and external power.

On the other hand, the DisplayLink tech which drives the USB monitor is the flakiest aspect of the device. The drivers performed inconsistently across my test hardware over the course of several weeks. On my Macbook Air, Mac Mini, and two iMacs running Mountain Lion with the latest Alpha drivers from DisplayLink, the unit never let me down. It acted as a perfect external monitor. On four different MacPros with older versions of the OS and multiple external monitors, results varied.

A MacPro running Snow Leopard and two other monitors would drop and redetect the DP10U’s third monitor leaving me to watch blinking, blank, blue screens as OS X would find and lose the device repeatedly. Another MacPro running Lion would work fine for a while, drop connection to the pen, and then start the same flickering dance. Unplugging the tablet wasn’t enough to get the pen back. I had to restart the machines. If you’re a MacPro owner, I recommend avoiding DisplayLink technology and getting yourself the MSP19U.

[Note, 3-30-2012: The latest DisplayLink drivers seemed to have solved all the problems I was having with Mac towers.]

Working with the Unit

I draw from my shoulder and elbow more than wrist, but the 10" screen didn’t feel too restrictive. In my experience, embracing the smallness of the screen and turning it into my primary monitor, graphics app palettes and all, provided the best workflow. The UC Logic drivers for the DP10U don’t provide the ability to toggle between which monitor is the active tablet on the fly, though there is a setting in the actual driver panel one can toggle manually.

In any case, drawing felt good, and was consistent with all the other UC Logic tech I’ve reviewed. In OS X, as was the case with the MSP19U, there is no pointer calibration option. Unlike my experience with the MPS19U, the cursor tracking felt a little off center depending on how extreme my viewing angle was. It took some getting used to. As is true with every tablet monitor I’ve owned, Cintiqs included, tracking worsens near the edges of the screen and introduces some jitter on the margins. I did not experience shaky lines anywhere else on the unit except when the DP10U’s dual USB cable was connected via hub to a single USB port. Given the amount of bandwidth the video is probably soaking up, this isn’t surprising. Expect to dedicate two USB ports to the device. If you’re using a Macbook Air like me, there are no two adjacent USB ports within reach of the dual ended cable and you’ll need to buy an extension cable. I have a 1.5’ extension cable and it’s the perfect length for my 13" Air.

In use, the hotkey for turning brightness down stuck once. I watched as the display got dimmer without my input. While I applaud any device that takes manual labor upon itself freeing me for other tasks, I was fine with one or two clicks worth of dimming. I told the DP10U to let me handle the button presses from there on out and, luckily, haven’t had that singular instance of key sticking reoccur.

The TFT LCD panel is the single weakest aspect of the hardware. Viewing angles are miniscule. You’ll need to operate within a few degrees of the optimal viewing angle before screen darkening and color washout creep in. You’ll fidget and fuss and find yourself hunching over the unit scrutinizing what the best compromise between color and clarity and usability is. Even when found, that optimal angle is still a compromise.

As if to affirm the validity of recreational choices made by the headless folks in Apple advertisements, an iPad in your lap on the couch viewing angle works well. Assigning four programmable hotkeys (of six total) to the zoom, rotate, pan, and color picker tools kept me from reaching for my laptop too often.

Closing thoughts

Though it’s not the unqualified hardware success of the MSP19U, there’s an easy argument in favor of the DP10U. It sports 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity with a price cheaper than Intuos tablets.

If you need a portable tablet monitor, the DP10U’s minimum system requirements of a single USB port for power and another USB port for video make it a better choice over the Cintiq 12WX for many users. If you’re looking for a permanent, stationary fixture to plop into your studio, for a few dollars more you can get the MSP19U.

What was my personal conclusion? I’ve opted to pack my Huion 10"x6" graphics tablet in my bag when working portably. It has the same 2048 levels of pressure, an aftermarket, rechargeable, lighter Li-ion stylus, a detachable mini-USB cable, and more hotkeys. I’m a bit of an anomaly, though. I’ve been using tablets for so long that the cognitive dissonance between drawing with my hand down on the tablet while my view is directed up towards a standard monitor doesn’t hamper my ability. I’ll be keeping my DP10U; there’s nothing wrong with the unit and I like drawing on it quite a lot. It’s just not the best fit for my use case.

A Note About Yiynova Products

Since posting my original MSP19U review, I’ve noticed two things which require addressing. One, the monitor is continually out of stock. As soon as a shipment arrives, it sells out. My Amazon referral link supports this conclusion (coincidentally, buying any of the tech I review with my referral ID is the easiest way to support my digital art hardware testing efforts). Two, some folks are accidentally buying the in-stock, non-U-designated MSP19 and DP10/DP10HD. Don’t do that. Those units aren’t any good. The Waltop digitizer they sport has such a low LPI and report rate that only the fastest of lines are rendered with any fidelity. If you make a steady, measured stroke, the line quality will shake like a Bumble Ball in a paint mixer. Look for the U.

Yeah! A little, at least. :)  I highly recommend the monoprice tablets, you just may take a little more fiddling to get them to be compatible (watch out with SAI) but almost all the tech support you’d need is here online posted by other monoprice tablet users.

Check out Monoprice here!

Here is a review by Frenden about the tablet I have.

And this amazing review of a cintiq alternative has me DYING, I want one so badly now!

Frenden has some really fantastic reviews and I recommend reading through all of them if you’re undecided about a tablet. The general consensus is, you can get an AMAZING tablet for under $80 and it doesn’t have to be wacom. :) 

Hope this helps!

(PS: here is a great journal with an FAQ on fixing some issues you may encounter when you start using your tablet.)

Made rebloggable at joasakura’s request! :D  Hope this helps!