Printing Comics: Setting Up For the Print Shop
(aka How Not to Make Your Printer Cry)
By Rosanne (aka Risu-chan)

Doing graphic design as well as assisting in the indy comic "Lucian Fallen" has taught me many things in the print industry. A great deal of what I've learned dealt with setting up one's artwork for print. Often people tend to submit work that is not set up properly. Having said that, I would like to share some things to consider before you start your work that will ultimately be sent to the printers. Please keep in mind that this is a general guide and does not necessarily reflect all setup requirements of all print shops. The safest bet is to call up your print shop prior to working on your project to ask them their specific requirements.

Before you start working on your file, ask your printer what software applications they use. This way, you don't start working on your file with software applications of which a printshop can't print off.

2. Resolution
All works should usually be at least 300dpi for the best results in print. Make sure that you set this up before you scan or work on your image. You cannot change the resolution from something lower to something higher afterwards and have the quality of your image improve. Files are usually saved in .tiff, .psd, and .bmp.

Correct: Scanning an image at 300dpi and then bringing it into Photoshop, keeping it at 300 dpi while you colour it.
Incorrect: Scanning your image at 72dpi and then bringing it into Photoshop, then changing the resolution to 300 dpi.

3. The Files
Depending on how you've made your file, you may have to include the fonts that go along with it. In a case where an application such as Photoshop is being used, it's often a good idea to flatten the layers in the file to reduce file size and not worry about certain effects going missing or having to include the fonts. HOWEVER, make sure you do keep a file UNFLATTENED for yourself, in case adjustments need to be made later.

4. Printing Borders
If your comic book is to be digitally printed, most likely, the printer/copier to be used will have some sort of printing border. It's often, around 1/8 of an inch to 1/4 of an inch. Keep your content away from this border unless you are planning to have your comic book trimmed, in which case you need to have a bleed...

5. Bleeds
Does the content on the page extend to the edge of the page? If so, you'll need a background content that can be chopped off to go over the intended dimension of your comic by a quarter inch to be safe. This way, when your book is trimmed to size, the content will extend to the edge, without any white gaps.

As for more important content that you really don't want accidentally chopped off, like text, it's usually safe to keep it away from the edge where you comic book is to be cut by about 1/4 inch.

6. Paper
Print shops have an large assortment of paper, in different weights, sizes, colours and textures. Make sure you discuss the paper you'd like to use prior to the print job as it may influence the printing process.

7. Digital Printing/Photocopying vs. Offset Printing
This depends on the quantity. Usually, for small runs, printing it out digitally (or with a photocopier) is more cost effective than the traditional press (aka offset printing). In this case, talk to your printer about the prices they charge for each method. In using the traditional press, film and plates for each page may have to be made to print your comic book, which is the costly part. If it is a high volume run, this is the way to go, however, keep in mind that, should you want to change content in your comic book, film and plates have to be re-made.

8. Colour Printing

CMYK Example Should you decide to print any of your comic book in colour (i.e. the cover page), it's recommended to keep the colours in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) as it represents the colour gamut that the cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks can reproduce. RGB (Red, Green, Blue) is best used if your pictures are meant to be displayed on a computer screen, let's say, and not printed as the Red, Green, Blue represents the colours of light. If, let's say, an RGB file is digitally printed, there is a possibility that the colours may change to accomodate for the inks available. I think that if you hand over an RGB file to have it printed using the offset method, the person working on your file will either convert it to CMYK for you or hand you back your file to fix it. Consult with your printer to see which method is best for your comic book.

Spot Colours
In traditional press, there are special inks that are not part of the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black mixes of colours such as the Pantone set of colours. These inks include fluorescent colours and metallic colours. This option is only available in offset printing and not digital press.

9. Binding
The typical way of binding a comic book is where the paper is folded in half with two staples in the middle, which is also known as "saddle stitching". In this case, to avoid blank pages, the amount of pages in your book should be in multiples of four. Why four? If you were to fold a piece of paper in half, you'll end up with 4 pages. If it's not in a multiple of four, extra blank pages will result.
Remember to keep your content away from where the comic book is to be folded by about 1/4 inch. Keep in mind the weight of the paper you have chosen to print on as, if the book gets too bulky when folded, it will become difficult to bind using this method. In such a case you may have to change the type of binding that is closer to what they would use with novels, called "perfect binding". This method is pricier than saddle stitching so it's advisable to keep the page count down.

10. Cutting
After binding your comic book, it may or may not have to be trimmed to size. Please keep in mind that, often, there is an extra charge for this.

Remember, making sure that your comic is properly set for print will avoid much grief later on. A person's artwork crumbles when it is poorly printed.

Additional Info:

Lucian Fallen
Synopsis: The world is about to change. Yet to army rises to do battle. No organizations seeks conquest and domination. The world is changing and it will start with one man who has no reason to live and every reason to kill.

Tutorial by Rosanne, aka Risu-chan. All rights reserved.