Checking out the Competition: Clip Studio

So, last week I read a review in the German C’t magazine of Krita 4.4.0. It was all very complimentary, but the conclusion was:

Mit seinen Animations- und Vektorfähigkeiten hebt sich Krita von der Konkurrenz ab. Funktional bleibt das Programm allenfalls hinter dem japanischen Clip Studio Paint (ehemals Manga Studio) zurück.

Well! I mean to say, that’s not what we want to hear. I’ve played a bit with Clip Studio on iOS, but I never really dug into what made the application different from, say, Paint Tool Sai or Medibang.

So I got a trial license and gave it a try, first on my macbook pro (2015), then on Windows on my Thinkpad T470p. I recently got a new cintiq, a 24″ Cintiq Pro Touch, to replace the broken Cintiq Hybrid Companion and the even more broken Mobile Studio Pro. It’s conquered my painting table…

The first thing you notice when starting Clip Studio is the really busy opening screen, which is actually separate from the actual painting application. Just like Krita, it shows the latest news, but also featured images, new tutorials and so on. There is a row of options on the left side, some of which open a browser, some of which open a page in the right-hand panel and one of which starts the application.

Clip Studio's Starting Screen
Clip Studio’s Starting Screen

I kind of like the presentation of the news items, and the featured image on top.

Starting Clip Studio shows a rather traditional window. On macOS, you can only open Clip Studio on the primary display, you cannot move the application from, say, the monitor to the Cintiq without making the Cintiq the primary display. On Windows, that’s not a problem, but several of the dialogs will show up on the primary display, not the one where the Clip Studio window is placed. This even happens for the brush editor floating palette.

Clip Studio's main window
Clip Studio’s main window

Also on macOS, Clip Studio comes with its own titlebar and titlebar buttons which don’t work like the default ones on macOS do.

Then I loaded one of my old comic pages in PSD format, and started experimenting.

I found out, in the settings, that Clip Studio has the same problems with Wintab vs Windows Ink Krita has, which is kind of a relief. I also got the same problems with the rocker switch set to right-button, and with misplaced cursors if not all screens have the same display scaling. In general, the touch screen functionality of the Cintiq is quite bad…

Something that Krita has, that Photoshop doesn’t is group layers that are either pass-through (as in Photoshop) or have their own projection. Clip Studio has that, too, but it’s a global option in the preferences dialog, and cannot be set per group layer.

Another setting is between “default” and “high quality” canvas — that sounds a bit like Krita’s setting where you can choose between nearest neighbour, bilinear, trilinear and high-quality scaling mode. It suggests that Clip Studio is also using OpenGL for their canvas implementation, but… Their canvas is really smooth and responsive on macOS, where we are still struggling with OpenGL on macOS.

Their tool system is different: they have separate tools for pencil, pen, brush and eraser. Tools then have “sub tools” that you can select in the top-left second column panel, and then settings in a panel underneath. That works quite well, much better than Photoshop’s fold-out toolbar buttons where you long-click, then select a tool, and the others are hidden again.

The panels show text and icon for the currently selected tab, and icons for the unselected tabs. Those icons are, on Windows, a bit cut off, and hard to recognize. To me, it looked a bit like Hangul…

What I really appreciated is that the layer properties aren’t in a dialog, but in a panel, and this works really quite well. There are layer-style like things you can add to a layer, and mark a layer as “draft” — so for instance the fill tool doesn’t take that layer into account when using the composed image for filling, or as a “reference” layer. I want to convert Krita’s layer properties dialog to a panel, too!

There are two color modes: dark and light, and both lack contrast a bit. It doesn’t help that if you make the cintiq brighter than 50% a boeing 747 starts taking off in your work room, drowning out music and speech. Such fans…

Clip Studio Paint really is geared towards making manga, manhwa or manhua (even though it isn’t for sale in the PRC, only Taiwan). So there are lots of options for showing things like bleed margins, and I want that, too, for Krita. A new canvas decoration would be the best place to implement that.

Krita does have a comic book manager which handles pages and generating epubs, so we’re equal in that regard. What we’re missing is the number of templates and presets; what is also missing is the frame layer type, for comic book frames. And our text tool and balloon collection isn’t good, but I already knew that.

There are a bunch of other useful features, some of which already got discussed on, like an option to assign a color to a grayscale layer and use that color to render the pixels. That should be implementable, though, and the workarounds discussed in that thread shouldn’t be necessary.

There’s a filter that makes raster line-art fatter — not sure how useful that is.

There are two other big differences that I could see in one Sunday of playing around and following tutorials: materials and 3d models. Materials are things like patterns, but also models of buildings and other resources that you can use to, for instance, easily add a lace border to a dress. This is worth investigating. The inclusion of the 3D models is something we had tried to achieve in one or two Summer of Code projects, but it never got anywhere. Might be worth reviving as a project.

Another thing worth investigating is whether we shouldn’t create something like Blender Cloud or the Clip Studio community system, where people can take out a subscription and access and share resources, tutorials and so on.

Painting-wise, I think Clip Studio is doing fine, though our brush engines are more versatile, but their performance on macOS is much better.

In the end, I probably should go through all the menus and make a detailed feature comparison, and then we, Krita developers, could decide which features are neat enough to nick. I wonder when Adobe will then poach those new features for Photoshop…