Illustration Software – Comparing Photoshop, Procreate, Clip Studio

What’s here:

  • Some background as an illustrator.
  • The final paragraph gives you my takeaways on the three programs.
  • I linked the best tutorial (Reuben Lara) to get you started in Clip Studio Paint.

My current big project is learning Clip Studio Paint (CSP). I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop for decades and Procreate for 3 years. I have worked on desktop, Wacom, and iPad. Until recently, I also maintained traditional illustration with fancy papers and a room filled with bags and boxes of instruments. My favorite medium was charcoal, but I’ve had experience with pen & ink, pencils, crayons, chalks, acrylics, and oils.

I never did a lot with color. I’m not sure if it was primarily because the materials were expensive or because I preferred grayscale. I grew up in a working class family in the 70s and 80s, and traditional instruments and papers were expensive. My favorite comic was Savage Sword of Conan, and I loved it mostly because it was only inked not colored. Maybe it’s a chicken or the egg situation.

A WIP illustration I’m working on in Clip Studio Paint. All this compressed onto a 12″ screen. Avestine from Darklord: Demonrise

When I have converted work to grayscale after hitting a dead end, I find new inspiration. I prefer working with tone. It makes sense to my hand. My hand just knows what to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t like color illustration. I follow some artists simply because they do such fantastic things with color. It’s just not something I do much with.

This post is a short comparison of my likes and dislikes among the various platforms I’ve used for digital illustration. But my recommendations may not be for you, depending on your situation. A few points that may make my priorities different from yours:

  1. I’m not illustrating for my day job. That means I’m not dealing with production volume. I’m also not doing commissions, so I’m not illustrating with deadlines. I work at my own pace.
  2. My interest is naturalistic fantasy illustrations from my own I worlds. I am foremost a story teller, and I want to tell my story, not someone else’s, so I don’t draw other creators’ characters or worlds. Doing others’ worlds is a great way to learn and develop style and ideas; I’m just done with that. I have many illustrations of Star Trek characters, for example. And Conan. And Tarzan. And others. I guess this means I can decide on color and detail through preference or due to program limitations.
  3. Detail is my favorite part of an image. The more detail I can include on the figure and background, the more I enjoy the process. I also want to be able to print my images, not just view them online. This means I need high-resolution, like 300dpi. This means my images have large file sizes, many layers, and lots of pixels.
  4. I worked for decades as a computer programmer. I now hate sitting at a desk, so I prefer using my iPhone and iPad for everything. That means I want a program that I can use with my iPad. Wacoms were just not for me. I went digital with one, then threw it out and went back to traditional and scanning until the era of the iPad. All three of the programs in this post are available for iPad.

Each of these programs — Photoshop, Procreate, CSP — provides the tools for illustrating detailed, layered, color or grayscale or B&W images. Each of them have their online communities with tutorials, help, brushes, and others accessories. You can use any of them for your art. Here’s my thoughts on their differences.

Photoshop

Photoshop on iPad does not have the burn/dodge tool. Call me irrational, but this made me angry. Adobe got competitive with illustration on the iPad, but it leaves out one thing it has that is so unique? It just replicates what the other guys are doing? I had to learn new programs on iPad, after all, because Photoshop was so behind the curve on new tech. Did Adobe really think we wouldn’t leave for the iPad? Sure, it gave us photo editing tools, as if no one used it for illustration? And even the photo editing tools, like PS Express, which I use on my iPhone, doesn’t have the dodge/burn tool. WTactualF.

Photoshop is complex enough that you will likely need a tutorial of several hours to get started even on the iPad. This program (like CSP) does a lot more than simply illustrate; it provides photo-editing and animation and batch processing. It’s highly customizable with regard to workspace layout, process, brushes, surfaces, and more. In other words, it’s overkill if all you want is to make a few beautiful pictures.

I haven’t used it much at all on iPad, so I have no doubt there are other fabulous things missing that are on the desktop version. Good luck.

Procreate

Procreate is optimized for illustration. It is almost like holding a piece of paper in your hand while you draw. Brushes are intuitive and customization is minimal. Finger motions on the screen can enlarge and turn the image as if it’s paper on a table. A short tutorial will unlock a few oddities for you, but you’ll be ready to go in an hour.

Procreate has a limit on layers that I can’t figure out. At first, I thought it was the iPad, but my CSP program currently has 50 layers on a 2000x3000px image and Procreate limited me to 8 for the same image.

I love Procreate’s custom brushes, and I have a lot of free and purchased ones. So I still import and export images from it for use in CSP. I create textures like leather and fur in Procreate and then import the images into my CSP project.

A WIP illustration I’m working on in CSP focusing on the textures. The mane, boots, cape, armor and belt textures come from brushes in Procreate then imported to CSP. Avestine from Darklord: Demonrise

The other FANTASTIC aspect of Procreate is drawing straight edges and circles. By holding the pen against the screen and not lifting after you draw, you can force the line to create a straight edge or a circular shape. I haven’t found a useful way to incorporate this into a process with CSP.

The other FANTASTIC tool in Procreate is the liquid tool. This is a tool that lets you shove a piece of your drawing. It’s not the finger tool, which smears as it moves in CSP and Photoshop. The liquid tool moves a piece — all pixels — and stretches whatever connects to it. I have used this to change proportions and poses. In CSP I’ve have to cut, mesh, rotate, and utilize layers to make these changes.

Clip Studio Paint

Clip Studio Paint (CSP) provides the production value of Photoshop on the desktop, but does it on the iPad, which has made Photoshop superfluous to me. That CSP is cheaper is another plus.

CSP is an enormously complex and customizable product. The tutorial by Reuben Lara (below) was perfect — got me up and running by telling me about the palettes and workspace, not stuff about doing art, which I already know.

Fantastic way to start with Clip Studio. I spent a few hours one morning stepping through this, and it was all I needed.

There is no dodge/burn tool to make tone/shade/highlights easy. For that I do more with layers.

You can create vector layers and use them right in the program alongside raster images. Having a vector layer in a raster project is a clever and useful thing! But managing layers is not convenient. I duplicate and select layers a lot in my process to get all that detail of environment, and I had to make shortcuts on my custom palette rather than having it right in the layers palette. I have to select a layer and travel across the screen to the Quick Access I customized for the “duplicate layer” or “create selection.” The good thing is, I can do it. The bad thing is I’m hunting for the buttons every time I do.

I love the charcoal brushes and like the gouash in grayscale for help with the grungy look I prefer. There are special brushes included that make things like snow and grass easier, not to mention the airbrush highlights that won’t overspray what’s on your layer. That’s because this program started life as a Manga tool. CSP does a lot with custom brushes, and making your own adjustments is fairly easy through subtools palettes.

Drawing straight edges and curves is a nightmare. This is really a problem for me. The program provides rulers, but they are awkward to use and really difficult to combine. I should be able to control the line WITH the line, not through a second tool. Procreate really got this right!

Shortcut keys that constrain the line or cut-and-paste would make things quicker, but you need a desktop for that, and I’m not going back to the desk.

I have an iPad Pro 12″ — the big one — and this program is so complex with so many palettes (you can see in the pics I post above), that the screen is filled with small writing. I miss-click things all the time. My palm accidentally hides or deletes layers while I’m drawing. Some of this is just my bumbling, but I don’t think that’s going entirely away no matter how much practice I get.

Summary

My current environment for illustration is CSP, using Procreate to create special textures and character design. I have pretty much abandoned Photoshop for illustration. When images require fast editing, I still use Photoshop on my desktop. I assume that’s because I’m familiar with it for this purpose, and I could probably use any of these programs on iPad, as well.

When I move to doing a comic book or animation, which I relish in my future, I may have use for Photoshop, but CSP seems like it has that covered, too.

A note about file storage. I use One Drive to store files. CSP makes the import/export process simpler than Procreate, but all the programs have this feature these days. There was a time when you were forced to work around a program’s preferred sources.

On CSP I miss the liquid tool, textures, and straight edges offered by Procreate. I don’t like the extra effort needed to manage the layers that Photoshop made easy. I also miss the dodge/burn tool from desktop Photoshop. I love how CSP deals with brushes and makes customizing easy. To create a series of consistently similar grayscale illustrations for my current book, Darklord, CSP is optimal, but I’ll continue with Procreate for color character designs that don’t require a lot of background or details, and thus, layers.