I had a friend ask me recently for advice on putting together a basic hardware and software setup for comics-making–with budget in mind. Here’s my response to her:
Manga Studio is a great program (and reasonably priced). There’s some sort of licensing weirdness going on with the parent company right now apparently, so you have to buy a physical box rather than a download. Manga Studio 5 is on sale right now for $50. It’s definitely a specialized program though, that’s entirely geared toward comics-making. You can draw, digitally ink, lay out pages/panels, letter, color, etc. all within it. It’s not, though, an image manipulation program like Photoshop and sometimes getting it to do simple things like resizing a single image can be maddeningly frustrating.
I currently have an older version of Photoshop, but I’m trying to wean myself of Adobe stuff because they’ve stopped selling their software the way they used to. You can only get their stuff now by having a monthly subscription, rather than just buying the software and upgrading every once in a while. It’s $50/month, which is too much for me. If you can get an older version of Photoshop somewhere, that’ll probably be sufficient for doing anything you need to do outside of Manga Studio, though.
There’s also a free image manipulation program called GIMP that you could look into. ( http://www.gimp.org/ ) Like a lot of open source stuff, the user interface isn’t anything to write home about, but it gets the job done–and it’s free. There’s also a version of GIMP that’s been tweaked to have as Photoshop-like an interface as possible, GIMPshop: http://www.gimpshop.com/ The only thing that I do regularly in Photoshop that I haven’t been able to figure out how to do in GIMP is photomerging–having the software assemble a page that’s had to be scanned in two or more pieces.
Scanners are a real problem. You can get an 8.5 x 11 scanner for dirt cheap, but if you want something larger, suddenly the price increases exponentially for some reason. I bought an ancient (1990s) Microtek 11×17 scanner with a SCSI connection for around $250 on ebay and have somehow gotten it to work via a crazy daisy chain of adapters and some software hacks. New large format scanners are super-pricey, though. I’d be cautious of Mustek scanners. Get the user manual from their site and make sure that whatever model you’re looking at scans at at least 600dpi–and make sure that it’s not listed as “interpolated” dpi/resolution. Basically, that means that it’s scanning at a lower resolution and then using some software shenanigans to make up the difference. I do know several people, though, who use and are happy with this almost reasonably priced Mustek large format scanner.
I’ve also seen people recommending large format combo printer/scanners. These two are the ones I bookmarked. A large format flat feed printer can be really useful as well: you can scan roughs, enlarge them, convert them to non-photo blue, and then print them out onto sheets of Bristol board.
All that said, you can get by with a regular old cheap 8.5 x 11 scanner. I did a 140 page graphic novel back when that’s all I had. You just have to scan every page of art three times and then put it back together in Photoshop or GIMP. It’s a pain in the ass and it takes a long time, but it can be done.
If you’re going to do anything with digital color, I really recommend getting a tablet. There are some really good low-priced alternatives out there to the standard super-expensive tablets. I know people who swear by this $60 Monoprice tablet.
So, the bottom line: if you can afford a $2200 Cintiq digitizing monitor and $50/month to Adobe, by all means do it, but you can also get by pretty well with Manga Studio, GIMP, a small scanner and a tablet–all for around $150 total.