Being that I am something of an ‘expert’ on Clip Studio Paint (Manga Studio 5) I get asked a LOT about how to put together a comic page. There are, of course, many ways to go about putting together a page, but for those of you who are struggling, here is my method! First the fun stuff though- a time lapse video of how I do the layout, lettering, and then my process of actually drawing and finishing a panel, in a time lapse video for you to enjoy. 🙂
Now for those of you who want a step by step, here’s the written out process!
I have a custom page size saved in CSP called “Adrastus” that is set up for the size my books are printed at. This includes the measurements for the ‘safe area’ as well. I’ve gone over how to create a custom page size with safe areas and bleed areas in an existing YouTube video over on my channel. The video is from 2014, when the software was still called Manga Studio 5, and a few of the terms have changed names slightly but the process is basically the same. I create a new CSP file and load this template, which even has my page count and cover page preferences saved in it, and make a new file.
Since I do a story comic instead of gag-a-day or a comic strip, having the multi page file option is essential, which is why I use Clip Studio Paint EX. I love being able to look at the entire chapter at one time. This also allows me to catch if any scenes need to be shifted to earlier or later in the chapter. If any do, I can simply click on those pages and drag them to their new position, which is really handy!
The next thing I do, as you can see in the beginning of the time lapse video, is go through with a blue pencil and roughly sketch out the frame layout (and usually the characters or other important things in the panels). I do this for every page in the chapter, following my script and double checking to make sure I don’t have too many repetitive elements throughout the chapter (i.e. five pages in a row with the same panel layout, too many splash pages, etc).
Once I have the rough layout of each page figured out I go through and cut in the panels accordingly. I start with one large panel and then use the “Divide Frame Folder” tool to break this large panel up in to smaller panels. Note: I do use the Material library panel templates as well when I can, to save time and because the Panel Templates automatically adjust to the size of your safe area when they’re pasted in to the page. No fussing over making sure the panel borders are where they need to be! And for panels that bleed off the edge of the page, the borders can be easily moved off the edge of the page to create space.
Next up is lettering!
I have a custom lettering subtool specifically for my comic. All I did to make it was make a copy of the “Text” subtool and then change the settings in the new tool to the font face, size, and line spacing I use for Adrastus. Then I go through and put any dialog and/or narration on each page, in the appropriate panel. There is a way in MS5/CSP to enter all your text in with a ‘word processor’ type format, but I don’t use it too often because every line of text then needs to be moved in to its corresponding panel and I’d rather just go through and click with the text tool and type it in. BUT the option is there to enter all text at once, under Story – Edit Text – Open Story Editor, if you want to try it out.
The reason I put the text in before I draw is so that I can check for any lines that need to be shortened or panels that need to be made larger. If the dialog takes up the entire panel and there’s no room for a character, then I have a big problem! This allows me to check for issues before I go putting hours and hours in to a page and then discover I haven’t left room for the text.
With the preliminary work done, it’s time to start drawing!
Usually all the upcoming steps I do for the entire page (or, in some cases, pages) at one time. The reason I’m not doing the entire page in the time lapse video at the beginning of this article is because the video was recorded back in January during my One Panel Per Day Challenge, and I’m using it because that page of the comic has been posted already. So it doesn’t have spoilers.
First I take the “Pencil – Layout Blue 2” subtool from Ray Frenden’s brushes and use it to rough out the characters and action on the page, giving a basic idea of expressions and body language in this step. I also rough in any environment shots as well. After these cleaned up roughs are completed then I go back with the Flyland Designs Rough Pencil and actually do my sketching.
My sketches are kind of notorious for being pretty messy, and the above example is actually quite clean for my pencil work. I leave my rough blue pencil layout layer visible under the cleaned up sketches so that I can reference them and reference the expressions and body positions. As an aside note, even when Andromeda is wearing her helmet I still do the rough sketch of her entire facial expression so I can make sure I get it right instead of just drawing her eyebrows and eyes. Unless, of course, the panel is an extreme close up of just her eyes and eyebrows. As you can see though from the above two screenshots, in the rough sketch stage I actually drew Andromeda’s entire face, including her mouth, before refining the expression and adding the helmet in the cleaned up pencils.
Inking is up next and it’s my favorite part!
After making sure I won’t ink on any of the sketch layers by accident, I start the inking process. For this I use the “Expressive” brush by Flyland Designs because I love the feel of it. It behaves a lot like a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, which is my favorite analog inking tool. For larger panels and objects in the foreground I make the Brush Size larger, and then make it smaller for smaller panels or objects further in to the background. You can see this best in the top left panel in the above screenshot, where the mountains and the robot are inked with thicker lines than the robot and horizon line behind them.
I also have a copy of the “Expressive” brush that has the stabilization turned way, way up. I use this copy of the brush for inking robots, or anything when my lines absolutely MUST be smooth and precise. I use CSP’s rulers as well for trickier tasks, like concentric circles and action lines, but I don’t like to set up an entire robot’s worth of rulers for every single line when I can just use the stabilization for 95% of them.
Also, in the screenshot above you may notice that the guy in the bottom right panel doesn’t have any lines on the inside of his hair. I typically fill his hair in with black or very dark gray, so I ink those lines from my sketch and then lock the layer transparency and go over the interior lines with white so they’ll be visible when I fill this area in later.
After inking I do the actual shading of the page. Sometimes I use the stock tones in CSP’s Materials Library (like the clouds tone in the second panel above), but mainly I put down solid gray tones on one layer, then create another layer above this one set to Multiply and do some shading. A third layer, set to Overlay, provides highlights. This is also when I do any special effects, like the slight glowing of the robot’s eyes in the first panel. With the shading done, there’s just a few finishing touches to add!
My last step before saving the comic page for the web is to do word balloons and sound effects. I do my word balloons last so that I can do all the art that will be behind the text, then I add the word balloons around the text from the layout stage and add the tails as well. Again, sometimes for special balloons I will use the Materials Library instead of the word balloon tools.
Once all the text and any last minute stuff is taken care of, I save the page in a low resolution JPG format and it’s ready for uploading to the website!
This is just one of many, many ways to do a comic page in Clip Studio Paint, but I hope that you picked up some tips you might be able to use anyway!
When Liz Staley isn’t writing books about Clip Studio Paint (formerly Manga Studio 5), or recording tutorial videos about Clip Studio Paint, then she can probably be found drawing something in Clip Studio Paint. A certified CSP junkie, she’s written two books about the software: “Mastering Manga Studio 5” and “The Manga Studio EX 5 Cookbook“, and created three video courses for the software in 2016.
Her current comic project is a love letter to 70’s and 80’s giant robot anime called “Adrastus“, which she has been working on since 2010.
And because every group needs a Weird Horse Girl, she fills that role as well.