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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.

The Little Monoprice Graphics Tablet that Could

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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.]

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.

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.”)

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The ‘W’ trailer is coming out soon, so I figured I would at least sketch a RWBY piece out. Not sure if/when I will finish it off. Liking it so far, so perhaps it will be my side project amidst con preparation.

(I would just die if there were diagrams on how that scythe folded itself. I would eat that up.)

(Frenden brush set has been WONDERFUL to play with.)

So I decided to make my own silverage comic universe. Step one.

Seriously, though, I love silverage costume design. These are just doodles focusing solely on costumes, but the costumes totally inform the characters’ personalities.

It’s more than an exercise in pure design. I didn’t know who the characters were at the start, but by the time I finished each of these sketches, I had a really good idea.