Saturday, June 23, 2018

Monthly Matinee June: So you Wanna Print a Comic? (Part One)

So, you've been working on your magnum opus for a while now. You've got some pages under your belt, and the response is good. Then comes the first well-meaning fan asking “So, will we ever see this in print?” Your head spins, thoughts of fame and glory as a published author flash through your mind. You dedicate yourself to the mission – printing your first comic.

Now what?

There's a lot of things to think about when considering printing a comic. From the layouts to the finish, to funding and distribution. I'm here to parse through some of the concerns of printing, and give advice to newbies and comic veterans alike!

For the first part of this we will talk about considerations for before you start writing and drawing

What? I have to start thinking about printing that early?! Well, it doesn't hurt! If you already have your art done, you should still review these suggestions, your work may already be following industry guidelines.

Size and bleed

This is the size you will be working at. Usually, it is informed by industry standards. American comics usually print at 6.63"x10.24  and it is common to draw them on 11”x17” boards. European Bande Dessinee are usually 8.4"x11.6" and made on slightly larger paper. Manga is often 5.04"x7.17" but sometimes larger... so many sizes to choose from!

In general, working to one of these common sizes makes printing cheaper, and gives you more options of printers. However, many printers can also trim to other sizes at no additional costs! I've seen great comics printed square, printed to the size of a 45” record, printed in long scrolls, and even printed on a large sheet and folded up into the finished size. Don't let yourself get too tied down!

The other consideration of size, is bleed. A lot of modern comics use bleed to make full use of the paper. I've attached a handful of good guideline templates, you will notice that many of them have two bleed marks - “safe area” and “full bleed”. When the printer is working there's an acceptable wiggle room in the registration, and each page may not be perfectly centered. Thus, the safe area is the space which will never get cut off. All your word bubbles and important action need to remain in that space! The full bleed is the area which needs to be colored in, so that while trimming there are no slivers of unprinted space.
That white strip at the top? In my first book I failed to account for bleed on the chapter covers.

To be clear – the bleed is ADDED to the page, the safe area is SMALLER than the page area. It's common to buy bond pages with bleed/safe guidelines printed on them in no-photo blue. If you are working entirely within the page, with gutters the whole way around, you only need to be concerned with safe areas. Even then, there should be plenty of margin to prevent anything that's within those panels getting cut off.

Layout for printing

(image of page plan)

You've got your page size decided, time to thumbnail! Whole articles would be written about thumb-nailing, but here's what's important for print.

You are looking at pages as two page spreads. Our eyes often take in the entire spread before focusing in on the upper left to begin to read. If you want to build suspense, or have an interesting reveal – make it on a page turn.
My thumbnails - two pages side by side, just like they will be in the book!

Also, if you are making a two page spread, with or without outer bleeds, you have to consider the inner bleed – the part of the page which descends into the fold of the paper. Just like outer bleeds, you will want to have the image reach all the way to the possible edge of the paper, and have important bits within the safe area. It's no good for people to be breaking the spine just the read that word bubble! When designing a two-page spread it's a good idea to have some repetitive boring business in the middle, just to fill it up.
This image from an InDesign file actually cuts the bleeds out of the middle, lots of extra room for safety!

Color processes

Doing black and white? Too bad! You still need to consider file types and color profiles!

Printing uses CMYK color. This is an additive color process, with the inks layering and mixing to achieve the correct colors. A CMYK file splits into four images, with the necessary amount of each color kept separate.

All screens use RBG color. It's subtractive color (kind of, there's some interesting physics going on which you can read more on HERE). It splits down into three parts.

Almost all digital artist will work in an RBG color file. It just makes sense. However, prior to printing it needs to be converted to CMYK. This is best done when individual pages are separate files, rather than converting an entire finished PDF. Mostly, to ensure the color is still as intended! For scanned files (colored analog, then digitized) there are rarely problems with this conversion. In fact, many scanners can scan in CMYK if the image is going to be sent directly to printing and not used online first.

BUT, for digital artist, that conversion can cause strange things to happen to the colors. There are certain parts of the spectrum that are unavailable in RBG, and others that are difficult to reproduce in CMYK. Obviously, reviewing it on a screen is imperfect, but it usually reveals color problems, and allows them to be fixed!
(This is from a great article!)

Even if you are working in black and white, you will still need files that are the correct output, and CMYK is fine.

Rich Blacks

It is not uncommon for people to convert the blacks of a comic to Rich Blacks for printing. This is particularly important for very dark comics! If a black is coded as just being the “K” part of CMYK, then it's actually only getting one layer of ink. If there's anything being printed underneath it, even just “artifacts” that are covered by it in the finished image, they may show through. Rich Black is the layering of all four colors of ink to make the darkest black (just like your art teacher made you do in 1020...)This is recommended for all lettering and bubbles, to make them very legible over the art.

(I'm not going to go over the technical details of doing this, but here's some tutorials!)

In Conclusion - taking a moment to consider printing guidelines before you even start writing, drawing, and producing your comic will save you a lot of trouble in the long run! 

In the next segment I'll talk about the language of printers, pricing your book, and funding. Stay tuned!

Note from the MC: this article is written courtesy of Pink Pitcher, Author of Root And Branch, which is currently on its third published volume. A tip of the hat to you Pink! 

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