Saturday, April 16, 2011

Taking Inventory: Digital Tools

I took a little mental vacation for the past week. Very much deserved ^_^ Anyways, here's part two of taking inventory. These are the digital tools that I like to use. To make things more organized, I'm splitting them up into two categories: hardware and software.


Bamboo Tablet

I found it very helpful when I was doing artwork on my desktop computer, and for Manga Studio, having a graphics tablet is the best way to work with filling in tones, coloring, and doing minor corrections to line art. The hardest thing about a digital tablet is getting used to looking at the screen while drawing. It's kind of unnatural. When you draw on paper, you draw directly on the surface. So the desire for a more natural feel lead to the next thing on this list.

Gigabyte Netbook

This is my baby.

It has a convertible, swiveling screen.

At first, this was only going to be a secondary computer I was going to use along with my desktop computer, but it turned out to be almost a total desktop replacement. It's ultra portable, so I can take it anywhere. And...IT HAS A TOUCH SCREEN <3 So when I draw on it, it's like drawing on paper. Love it.

But it took a bit of extra work to make it into the ideal graphics machine.

First of all, system specs:
The Gigabyte Netbook comes with a 250GB hard drive, 1GB of memory, an Intel Atom processor, and of course, the screen is a touch screen. The 1GB of memory had to be upgraded to 2GB to have enough power to do what I wanted it to do.

This computer came with Windows 7 Starter installed.

A note about Windows 7 Starter: It is a waste of hard drive space. 

I did try working with Windows 7 Starter for a little bit. I installed Manga Studio on it, but using it to create art was a pain. Under Windows 7, the touch screen is meant to only click on icons and such. It's not designed for art. The biggest problem is that when drawing with it, there is a huge offset. The lines appear a distance away from where the stylus actually touches the screen. Even after collaborating the touch screen several times, the results weren't much more accurate.

So, I made a tough decision. I said goodbye to Windows. I totally wiped the hard drive, and installed Ubuntu.

What is Ubuntu? It's not Windows. Click here more info about Ubuntu. Here's what my desktop looks like. I use Ubuntu version 10.10.

With Ubuntu I have four different desktops which are also called "workspaces." This is my first desktop. I made it into a quick dashboard of things such as the weather, the time, and how much hard drive space I have left. This is another desktop:

It doesn't have much on it other than my dock, so I can open windows full screen and get some work done.

In the screen shots, my background pictures may be different because my backgrounds change automatically. Ubuntu and other Linux based systems have had this feature way before Windows 7. But enough of the geek speak. Here's what I like about Ubuntu and why I chose it.

  • No virus protection needed: Ubuntu doesn't get viruses.
  • It is an art machine: Many professional animation studios actually use Linux and Unix based systems (such as Ubuntu and it's higher priced cousin, the Mac OS)
  • It's fast. The quickest boot time I have EVER seen.
  • Native support for Wacom Tablets. Just plug in the tablet, and it works.
  • And it's stylish. The 3D desktop effects are beautiful.

I have to admit, when I first installed Ubuntu on my netbook, the touch screen did not work. So I had to do some research and write some hardware scripts to fix that. But what I love about Ubuntu is that once everything works, it's like magic. And after the touch screen was initialized, the drawing capabilities are a dream. Where I put the stylus is where it draws. It's just like working with pencil and paper.

A note about the touch screen: It is not very pressure sensitive. For me personally, I find pressure sensitivity annoying because I tend to press too hard, so having to set the brush size manually is ideal for me. But for other artists, especially those who use Photoshop, pressure sensitivity is important. So if pressure sensitivity is something you really have to have, using a graphics tablet would be better.

After getting all of this together, I had to take into consideration that I was working on Ubuntu, but I needed to run Manga Studio which is a Windows Only program. get that working I had to download VMware and create a virtual machine.

Windows XP on Ubuntu

I'm not going into what virtual machines are, but basically, it's like a “Windows App.” I can install Windows on Ubuntu, and from there I can install any Windows application I want on Ubuntu. However to do this, you must have at least 2GB of memory for best performance.

So basically, I have this awesome netbook with a touch screen that runs off of Ubuntu. With its capabilities, I really have no need to ink traditionally anymore. The only reason why I don't ink pages digitally is because speed is important. Not being used to inking digitally, it will take me longer starting out, and I don't have the time to train myself. So I will stick to what I know until I have the time to learn and switch over. 


Manga Studio Debut & EX

Manga Studio Debut is great and works very well, but when I upgraded to EX I found certain features that I could not live without. First of all is the wider selection of tones, and the ability to create and import more tones. So I will never run out of different tones I can work with. Also since I scan my pictures, the dust filter has been a huge help. It automatically removes all the little speckles that can appear during the scanning process. Overall, I really like using it for creating manga, and it has so many features, I think I'm always learning something new about it. 


Gimp has been a lifesaver. Sometimes I need to resize images, and I don't feel like going all into Manga Studio to do it. GIMP is quick and easy to use. GIMP has layer and brush support, so different brushes can be imported into it, kind of like Photoshop. I've only used GIMP for quick, on-the-go purposes, but some have actually created manga using it. There are tutorials floating around on the Internet about how to use GIMP to create and color manga. And, it's free.

My Paint and Inkscape

I would like to briefly mention these two programs. 

MyPaint is a coloring program designed for use with graphics tablets. I really like the huge selection of brushes it has. Many of the brushes work just like paint brushes and pens used in traditional art. But it's strictly a coloring program. It has no text support. And since I'm indecisive, I tend to want to change the colors after I've colored in an area already. With Manga Studio, I can just change the color of the layer, and that's it. But with MyPaint, I have to pick a different color, and then recolor that entire area again. Just like traditional art. It does support layers and transparency.

Inkscape is a program I used a long time ago, and it's great for those without a graphics tablet. Using its vector selection feature, it's very easy to select an area to color in by clicking. Also it supports text, so way back in the day, I would use it to create simple 8 page manga style comics. It also has a “selection to pattern” option which I used to make my own tones. And then I discovered Manga Studio Debut, because creating those tones was a lot of work!

By the way, these applications are free as well.

So these are all of the digital tools I've used, and if you're interested in any of them or in all the crazy stuff I did to turn my netbook into a graphics machine, here's a list of techie resources for you to explore.
For the daring: Instructions for installing touch screen and touchpad drivers for the Gigabyte Netbook 

If I find anything else interesting, I'll let you know :)