Why I’m still using a 20-year-old art program (not exclusively, but still…a lot)

Three months after this post about getting a new computer, and things are going swimmingly. There was a building issue for a while with a Mysterious Hidden Process steadily filling up hard drive space, but this forum post had the fix, and poof, my free space went from 29 GB back to 129 GB.

I also did a writeup about Paint Shop Pro 7 back around that time, and figured it deserved its own post.

And hey, it pairs really well with this recording of the strip-creation process! Not quite start-to-finish, but most of the “cleanup-flats-shading-effects” process. (Light Quarantine Flashback spoilers.)

Programs you’ll see in use:

  • Legacy version of PSP: cropping, lineart cleanup, flats
  • Newest version Clip Studio Paint: tiled patterns, perspective effects, anything that uses nice brushes or complex assets
  • Either: shading, adjustment layers
  • Legacy (pre-subscription-model) version of Photoshop: files saved by Clip are just different enough to be unreadable to PSP, but re-saving them in PS fixes that

And here are the functions of PSP that make it extra-useful for basic comic-strip operations, i.e. the reasons I’ll keep using the program as long as it will run…

  • Opens real fast. Not as much of a bonus since I got the high-powered New Computer, which can even open Photoshop quickly, but still nice
  • Lets you paste on the layer you’re working on. I do a lot of “copy this bit of the lineart and paste it over that other part,” and if they generated a new layer every time, I’d be constantly stopping to merge them all
  • Same with adding text  — which I write in another program, so it can be insta-copied as text into a transcript (I fully expect Clip Studio to add an “export all text into a plaintext file” option one day, it’s such an accessibility gimme!, but we’re not there yet)
  • Lets you paste a selection with one color erased to transparency. Lots of white backgrounds I get to auto-erase
  • Color/pattern settings don’t have to be universal, they can be different for every tool. So there’s a lot less referring back to the palette — you can just pair 2 lineart colors with the pen, 2 flat colors with the bucket, 2 shading colors with the brush, and then one-click switch between all of them
  • Keyboard-shortcut instant toggle between layers. Based on their order, regardless of layer names (lowest is ctrl+1, next is ctrl+2, etc). Working on one layer when you notice something needs fixing on another — toggle over, fix it, toggle back, without your eyes/cursor/attention being pulled away to rifle through the layer window
  • Switching between “view all layers” and “view current layer” also has an instant shortcut. No matter how many layers you have, pick one and see it alone in a couple of clicks, no need to go through and individually hide all the rest
  • This one isn’t about PSP working better, since Clip and Photoshop both have much more powerful vector tools…but PSP draws 99.9% of the lines I need that for, and it’s the one I already know, which saves me the effort of getting used to a whole new “click these points and drag those handles to generate this curve you have in mind” system

I could make a whole list of features where Clip and/or Photoshop have a fancier version, which is useful when I need to get fancy, but for a lot of these average daily operations, it’s overkill.

So: Clip has all these sophisticated content-aware fills — great, but you don’t need any of them to handle black-and-white lineart. Photoshop will let you do all this precise warping and twisting of vector text — sure, but I don’t need Fisheye Perspective Skew for the “click” of a door opening, just a little tilt and it’s fine. Both of them have amazing brushes; I don’t need any of them for basic cel-shading, it’s all covered by “freehand selection” and “multiply fill.” And so on.

And listen, if you got your start in CSP or PS (or any of the freeware programs still being updated), and learned digital-art skills there from the ground up, your workflow probably developed to fit that program anyway. So maybe none of this sounds like a huge improvement on what you’re used to.

But if it might be valuable, or sounds intriguing, or you feel like trying something new, or you’re just really into retro programs by defunct companies that are so well-coded they still run after 20 years and 5 OS upgrades…I’m gonna leave this link here. Have at it.

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