More rants about art programs

I’ve been trying to work on comics again, now that my pain is starting to subside. As part of that I’ve decided to try relearning how to draw comics, in some of the other art programs I’ve bought in an attempt to get myself off Photoshop.

It is not going well.

Clip Studio Paint

Yesterday’s comic was in Clip Studio Paint, which I bought the full version of because it was deeply discounted and a bunch of my friends use it for their illustration work. I really wanted to like it, but I don’t.

First, the nice things: The pen tool is very nice, it provides a very nice flat-fill workflow (way better than Photoshop’s, even!), and it has a bunch of handy stuff for making manga. Also the text tool is better than the last time I tried it out, and while it’s still not as powerful as Photoshop’s it’s at least good enough for comics, more or less. Also it has nested layer masks which is great for the way that I draw a bunch of stuff (plaids especially).

But there’s a lot of minus sides.

The user interface is excruciatingly fiddly. There’s no quick access keys for things like setting brush opacity. It doesn’t keep track of which variant of a tool you’re on when you use the keyboard shortcuts; pressing G always starts with gradient before going to flood fill, for example. A lot of stuff only works in very specific combinations but it’s not clear what those combinations are.

The speech bubble tool is pretty limited. You can only attach bubble shapes directly to text layers, and editing them is difficult (so if you need to edit your text, it’s a nightmare to resize/reshape the balloon as appropriate). I can’t figure out any way to remove a balloon from a text layer, either. I’m sure there is one but it sure isn’t easy to find! And, this is a fairly minor gripe but I couldn’t figure out how to add a drop shadow, or if it was even possible to do.

It distinguishes between “pen” brushes and “brush” brushes, which makes sense, but the brush brushes are really annoying to work with and seem to be an attempt at doing natural media, but their responsiveness makes no sense to me, at all. I couldn’t make heads or tails of how to use it for actually doing shading work or the like.

The vector tools are incredibly limited. On a vector layer, they can only do outlines, no fills. If you want to fill you have to put them on a raster layer, which means not being able to edit them afterwards. Granted, I used to always do my speech bubbles on raster layers so maybe I could go back to doing that, but ugh, that feels like such a step backwards. Especially since these days I like making my bubbles by deforming an ellipse, which I can find no way to do on a raster layer. So, I can’t use these as a workaround for the issues with the balloon tools, and plus a lot of the art I like to make is actually vector art from the beginning and that’s completely inaccessible in this program.

Also it feels like it’s stuck in a CMYK colorspace, which makes sense for doing print comics but I am not, in fact, doing print comics. But I can’t get the color to look consistent between in-editor and the web export, which makes it… not very useful for coloring stuff for the web.

Pixelmator Pro

The nice things: I actually like its vector tools, even better than Photoshop’s in some respects (the workflow’s a bit different but once you figure it out it’s a lot more efficient than Photoshop’s, especially for making speech bubbles).

Less-nice things:

The “pro” version of Pixelmator has a less-flexible interface than the base version. It’s full-screen single-window or nothing. Very annoying. I wish I could get the standard Pixelmator UI with the Pixelmator Pro functions; base Pixelmator is missing a lot of necessary things (like proper vector layers with outlines and so on).

The text tool is annoying to work with, although not too bad. It’s about as featureful as Clip Studio Paint’s. Neither is particularly great, but they’re good enough for basic comic dialog.

But what absolutely killed it for me: if you enable tablet pressure on brushes (which is hard to do as it’s buried deep in the brush editor for some reason), the start of a stroke always has a ridiculously long, non-configurable taper from 0 pixels. You can’t start out with a thick line, it’s always going to do this really asinine long taper. That cannot be disabled. I have never seen an art program do this.

Here are some typical brush strokes in Photoshop:

202007 stroke photoshop.jpg

Here are some similar strokes in plain Pixelmator:

202007 stroke pixelmator.jpg

Here is an attempt at doing the same in Pixelmator Pro:

202007 stroke pixelmator pro.jpg

To be clear, all of those strokes started out with me using a pen pressure other than whisper-soft. The bottom one I had the pen pressed down HARD the whole way through. And yet there’s still a long taper on the stroke! Why?! Who wants this? Why would anyone want this?! It’s like they’re filling in fake pressure based on a non-pressure-enabled tablet, except it’s clearly actually responding to pressure because if I draw a long line and vary the pressure the width adjusts throughout:

202007 stroke pixelmator pro 2.jpg

but what’s not obvious from that is that it seems to be slowly interpolating the brush pressure, smoothing it in a way that I do not want. Because along that line I’m pressing soft, then hard, then soft, then hard, but it’s smoothly filling in between the soft and hard parts. Which is, again, utterly useless and defeats the point to having tablet pressure. If the interpolation length were configurable that’d be fine but I cannot find any setting for this anywhere.

Anyway. I’d done most of a comic in Pixelmator Pro and then got fed up with this brush issue so I tried exporting it to Photoshop, but that was a very lossy export. So I’m probably going to have to do a lot more work and I’m out of spoons for today.


Amazing painting engine. Short on layer management features. Challenging UI. Completely unusable text tool. Same as it ever was.

Why I don’t want to keep on going with Photoshop

  • It costs around $120/year minimum (via the photography plan) for a thing I do for fun and don’t even use that often anymore
  • Can’t disable the goddamn constant cloud sync thing that’s constantly shitting on my network and chewing up system resources (I can only “pause” it and then it just magically springs back to life willy-nilly)
  • Adobe keeps on changing the UI in stupefying ways too
  • And it’s not even that good for drawing, it’s just good enough at a lot of things (its brushes suck by the way)

I’m just so fucking tired of this.

Pixelmator Pro update

Who wants this? Why would anyone want this?!

Turns out, they don’t either! I asked on the forum and they quickly got back to me. It’s a bug (presumably in the pressure smoothing algorithm) and they’re going to try to fix it soon.

Not sure how this got past their own testing, although it’s understandable on such a small team and at least they’ve acknowledged the problem and intend to fix it! The fact the Pixelmator folks respond so quickly and positively is a huge point in their favor. Maybe they’ll add a paletted interface at some point too.

I’d sure love to get off Photoshop and the pressure response issue was a pretty big impediment to that. Although not the only one – I’m finding that it’s not got a great flats coloring workflow either. But maybe they’ll be responsive to suggestions for that too. :)


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