Coloring In Manga Studio

Many users of Manga Studio don’t even realize what a powerful coloring tool it can be. It is slightly different from PhotoShop or Corel Paint, but for comic strip artists, Manga Studio proves to be a worthy coloring tool.

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you the basic steps of coloring as I do it.  With any tutorial, there are many ways to skin a cat and this is my way of doing it.  So if you know of other tips or suggestions, leave them in the comments section for all to share.

Let’s get our crayons out and see if we can color in the lines!

Alrighty then… you’ve just finished inking your latest masterpiece and it needs some color, shading and highlights.  No problems.  On your Layers tool box, click on the New Layer button.   See the reference image below.

Click Image for Larger View

You will want to name your Layers as  you go along or else you’ll loose track of which layer is what color.  I am starting with Lorraine’s base flesh tone, so I name the layer Flesh as shown in the sample below.

Click Image for Larger View

Make sure this new Layer is *below* your inking layer, I will show you why in a bit.  See the sample below.

Click Image for Larger View

The trick is now you have to tell Manga Studio you want this new layer to be Color and not Grayscale which is used for inking or penciling.  Go to the task-bar and click on Window, the scroll down to Properties, if your Layer’s Properties window is not open.  You will see two radio buttons next to the title Display Color.  Click the radio button next to Color and now your Layer will display in color.   See the sample image below.

Click Image for Larger View

To set this Layer’s color, click the blue box labeled “Alternate color of black” and you will see a typical palette appear.  The nice thing about Manga Studio’s palette settings is you have the Basic Settings and a savable Color Set as well on the color picker.  Really handy if you have a color palette for your comic.  If you don’t, then this is a great time to make one!  See the sample image below.

Click Image for Larger View

Click Image for Larger View

So, where’s our crayon?  Welcome to the 21st Century Duck Dodgers!  It’s now called a Marker Tool. Click in your Tools bar and select the Magic Marker tool.  This works and feels like Magic Marker.  It flows very quickly and you can adjust the “tip” of your marker to be narrow, wide and even change the thickness.  What I like about the Manga Studio marker tool is once you finish an area and need to touch it up, it is not additive like in Photoshop so you do not get overlapping areas.  I know real markers do this, but I think this is a great feature and allows you to touch areas up without having to worry about changing the density of the color.

LET’S COLOR! As you’ll see in the sample image below, I’ve outlined an area I want to be filled in with the Flesh color.  Note I’ve left her eyes blank.  If you forget and color over something you’re not suppose to, don’t worry, Frankie Says Relax and simply use the Eraser Tool to get rid of any area you mistakenly colored in.  This is one of the many advantages to doing each color on it’s own layer.

Click Image for Larger View

Once you have the area outlined, grab the Fill Tool in the Tool bar and simply click inside the area you outlined.  Bingo! Her face is now filled in!  Easy as pie, and I can’t even cook!  See the sample image below.

Click Image for Larger View

Now here’s one of my tricks to coloring Manga Studio.  I use three shades in coloring.  The base color, a Shadow Color which is a darker version of the base and then a Highlight Color which is merely a lightened version of the base.  To get these colors quickly, simply *duplicate* the base color layer.  Once duplicated, select the entire layer and hit delete.  Now the layer is blank.  Go to this duplicate layer’s properties, click on the color (next to the words “Alternate color of black”) and use your color picker to darken the base shade.  The great thing is, since this color is on it’s own layer, you can come back at any time and adjust the color for the entire layer and it will change that quickly.  Very handy once you’re done and you suddenly think the shadows are too dark.  Easy.  (See the sample image below.)

Click Image for Larger View

Click Image for Larger View

Now, as before, grab your marker tool and start putting in your shadows.  Think of your image’s “light source” and where the light will be coming from (upper left or right, or from below, etc.) and draw your shadows on the opposite side.  In my drawing of Lorraine, the sun would be in the upper right of the drawing so the shadows will fall to the lower left, or Lorraine’s right.  See the sample image at left.  This gets easier as you practice it.  My years of doing lighting for photography, videos and stage presentations has given me a good eye at seeing where the shadows should fall.  Use your desk lamp on your hand if you can’t visualize where a shadow should go.

For Highlights, you would do the exact same steps as above except when you change the color, you would pick a significantly lighter shade of  the base color.

Click Image for Larger View

This final image shows how the layers stack up.  Your Ink Layer is on top, followed by the Highlights Layer, then the Shadow Layer, then finally the Base Color Layer.  It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of this procedure, it moves along quickly.  I sketched, inked and colored this image of Lorraine in a Saturday afternoon.  The only thing I did in PhotoShop was add in the clouds and vapors behind Lorraine.  I did this only because I know these techniques in Photoshop.  I’m sure in a year or so, I’ll be doing it all in Manga Studio EX as I learn more about the program.   I hope you enjoyed our little venture into basic comic coloring!  Until next time when I will share some more Manga Studio tips for you!

Posted in Drawing, Featured News, Tutorials and tagged , , .


  1. Thanks for the great info Byron. I’ve been looking at Manga Studio for a while now and am getting the urge again to give it a shot. It looks like a powerful tool indeed. thanks again for the glimpse into your process and the usefullness of Manga Studio.

    • No problem Barry! Manga Studio, like any software, requires some time and patience to learn. I didn’t learn Photoshop overnight, took me years to become good at it.

      So, if you give Manga Studio, or any software for that matter, the proper time to learn, then it’s well worth it.

      Also, many of the shortcuts in Photoshop work in Manga Studio as well, so that was handy!

  2. I love Manga Studio, but I do all my coloring in photoshop. I have been wanting to use a one-stop program, but just never got the hang of coloring in MS, mainly because you have to have a separate layer for each color. Do you find that awkward at all? How difficult was it to get used to doing that?

    • I’ll admit at first I was like “What the heck? Why can’t I do this all on one layer?” But as I experimented, the advantages of having it on different layers quickly became apparent. It is much easier to correct shading if you do it their own layers. Plus, if you want to adjust a shade, say I wanted to make Lorraine a blond, all I have to do is change that particular layer’s hue. Picking out one color in Photoshop, if on one layer, is not that easy to do.

      Once you get the hang of outlining an area and then using the bucket fill, it really doesn’t take all that much longer and the results are really significantly better, in my opinion. You just have to think “Okay, I’m doing the hair now… create that layer.” It’s actually intuitive after a bit.

      Now, compared to coping the ink layer and using the bucket fill tool in Photoshop, this does take a bit more time, but not significant. Also, the PS bucket fill tool leaves pixels unfilled sometimes that show up like sore thumbs on poster prints, etc. So, again, I think the MS method gives better results.

      It makes you think like a painter instead of just slapping in colors anywhere. As with anything, practice speeds you up.

  3. Great tutorial. Thanks for the tips.
    I too have been using MS for inking, but not color.

    Have you found a way to color match existing colors (like an eye-drop tool) ?
    I couldn’t find one (maybe not available on the non-pro version?), and
    didn’t want to visually recreate my entire pallete.

    If I just missed the tool, I might try coloring my next strip with MS.


    • For me, I had already created a color palette in PhotoShop. I opened both PhotoShop and Manga Studio and copied the R-G-B values from my PhotoShop file into Manga Studio. It didn’t take much time and I simply saved that “Color Set” in Manga Studio for my comic. Once this was done, I can recall this Color Set again and again.

      There is a method of coloring multiple colors on a single layer in Manga Studio EX, but for me, you lose the ability to easily change hues and shades for each color layer if you combine them all on one layer. You can also apply blurs to the highlights if you want, but again, they need to be on their own layer or else you blur your whole drawing.

      EX is worth the money and every so often Smith Micro has an upgrade special and you should look for that and get MS upgraded to EX. It is so worth it. Even if it’s not on sale it’s worth it, but if money is tight, then wait for the special.

      • Thanks! I hadn’t considered copying the values over in that manner. I’ll have to give it a try.

        I’ll also keep an eye open for an upgrade special, as you mentioned. Even if the coloring doesn’t work out for me, I do like the inking, so an upgrade should make this great program even better.

  4. Hey, just found a cheat that will save the outlining step (in EX, don’t know about Debut).

    This will let you use your fill bucket without having to outline each color, so long as your ink layer is showing.

    With the fill bucket selected:

    Window > Tool Options >Browse tab

    Select “Browse Several” (I have my sketch and text layers hidden, so I select “All Layers”.. which means all VISIBLE layers)

    Select “Close Gap” .. I have currently left this on the default setting. There’s always “undo” if I have a gap larger than the default.

    –Only just started playing with it, but it is potentially WAY better than outlining all the “flesh” areas then fill-bucketing in the color.

    (Note to JasonF: There is an eyedropper tool in EX.)

  5. Nice tutorial.

    I’ve been using Photoshop for my coloring. Tried to do my inking in several different programs: Photoshop, Manga Studio, SketchBook Pro, ArtRage… but nothing felt as easy as Photoshop. Manga Studio did feel more like drawing though.

    For coloring I’m still using Photoshop.

    And I wonder why I should switch to Manga Studio? You mentioned it took you a while to get used to how Manga Studio is set up. But why did you switch in the first place?

    • One, I never drew in Photoshop. I was never trained to draw in it and when I got my WACOM, I did not like the feel of the pencil tool in PS. So I tried a couple different programs and Manga Studio, to me, felt the best for penciling, which to me is the most important step in drawing.

      Now, for fast jobs, I will use Photoshop and the bucket fill tool and do a simple shading layer in Manga Studio. That’s quick and easy, but I have to try Samantha’s tip above to see if I can speed up that process in Manga Studio.

      So I switched to Manga Studio for the penciling and inking capabilities. I then found the lettering tool very handy as well as this coloring technique. I have watched several tutorials on flattening your comic in Photoshop and this tutorial seems very similar to that… outlining an area in Photoshop and then filling it in.

      I’d give it a try, I found the results much better than I can achieve in Photoshop. And I LOVE Photoshop… use it every day in my Web Design business.

    • Lots of questions… like what DPI are you drawing at? I draw at 600DPI to help with the resolution. Are you zoomed in or out when you see these squares? Are you coloring at 100% (not 75% opacity for example) as the opacity settings also effect the output.

      Lots of questions. If all else fails, try contacting Smith Micro’s Support folks. They are a nice set of folks and generally helpful.

  6. So? is thier an eyedrop tool in Manga studio Debut4? I have an image I worked on and want to extend an area of colour but don’t have it in my colour swatch, how can I replicate it? is there a way of reading the RGB setting from my drawing? Thanks

  7. I use the ‘sketch’ part of manga studio to colour in, i find it much more easier and works just as well o-o Is there any huge difference as to why I should do this whole layer property thing instead? xD

    • i thought the same thing at first, but layers are VERY important. skin layers clothes etc. are ment to help you. think of it this way: you do all of your coloring in just ONE layer. theres something you want to erase, do you go to the eraser tool. yuo erase, lets say an eye. the out line of the eye, and the color in the eye, are done with the same layer, and when you erase, it also erases the outline of the eye, something you didnt want to erase, and you have to perfect it all over again, but if you have a seprate layer, just for skin and other things, you wont erase of the outline!!
      have different layers for EVERYTHING!! it makes you life much easier, and save you a sore throat from yelling and wailing about how hard manga studio is, even it has the most obvious answer, beleive me, i know from experiance, because i started when i was just kid!! and i had it easier in a like a weeK! layers work dude, layers work.

  8. this is good, i think i learned something! but theres this littlw white bar below my color pallete in the “beginners assistant” box, and its for saving more colors then jsut three. how do i use? i drag it like im suppose to, but it doesnt work!! AHHHH! how do i save more colors in that white bar???

  9. I’ve had this weird bug in ms and I dont know if you know anything about it but when I use the marker tool and then go back to my pen tool the pen tool opacity gets all messed up. It says in the settings its at one hundred percent, but doesn’t perform that way and the color thumbnail shows that it is at about half opacity. Any help on the matter would be greatly appreciated! Thanks

  10. Hola:

    About the actress picture you used:

    Her hair is blonde, it’s not black.

    Raquel Welch
    Million Years BC


    • I did not mention that I used my character Lorraine, from my comic “1977 the Comic” instead of drawing Raquel Welch. And Lorraine’s hair is black.

      Thanks for reading.

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