Manga Studio EX 4Manga Studio from Smith Micro is by far the best tool I’ve found for emulating actual inks with pens and brushes. But I was always frustrated by the pencil tool. Sometimes that pencil look is what you want for your final piece, and when you don’t know the trick, your pencils can end up looking very “un-pencilly.”

In fact, they end up covered in white dots and look like a badly printed bitmap image. This may have been cool in the mid-80s when I had my first Mac Plus, but it is no longer a desirable outcome.

After much messing about, I finally figured out the secret to getting good pencils in Manga Studio.

The Secret of Manga Studio Pencils

The secret to good-looking pencils in Manga Studio lies not in the pencil tool but in the layer settings.

Manga Studio New Layer screen
Settings for proper Manga Studio final pencils.

When you click to add a layer, you get the above New Layer box. Here’s what to do with it.

  • Layer Name it is optional. You can choose to stick with the name chosen for you.
  • Layer Type should be Raster Layer.
  • Resolution is up to you. I work in 600 or 1200, depending on the job. The program doesn’t bog down at these resolutions in the way other graphics programs will.
  • Color Model should be Gray (8 bits). Without this, your pencils won’t have the variable gray shades needed for the more realistic look.
  • Output Attributes should be Finish. You’re doing this because the pencils will be part of your finished art. Sketch layers are not printed by default.
  • Here is the essential step. Set Color Reduction Method to Do Not Reduce Color. This will prevent the program from changing the appearance of your lines as you work, especially if you move or resize part of your drawing. The default is Convert to Tone, which gives the pencils that halftone appearance.

Now grab the pencil tool and start drawing. I like to create multiple layers and do some shading with a lighter pencil. To do that, I just change the layer transparency to what looks good to me, often around 40%. Put that layer under your main pencil layer and shade away. You can easily change the transparency on a layer at any time to get things just right.

Manga Studio Pencil Comparison
Left: What Manga Studio does by default. Right: Much more realistic pencils.

Above, you can see a side-by-side comparison of identical pencils on layers with different settings. Both monkeys use the Gray (8 bits) Color Model. The left monkey is set to the default Convert to Tone and the right monkey is set to Do Not Reduce Color.

I’d love to see what other Manga Studio artists out there are doing with pencilled final art.