Comic book production, the process of preparing your work to be seen by readers, is much less exciting than learning how to write and draw your comics, and it’s where a lot of self publishers run into a big roadblock.
They spend all their time on creative without thinking about what happens once the story has been written and the art has been created.
If readers can’t read your work, you’re done before you start. And unlike on the creative side, where there aren’t really any rules about how to tell your story, preparing your finished pages for print or digital production has prescribed methodologies.
Without a sound knowledge base and understanding of the technical aspects of production, all the hard work you’ve put into your comic can end up wasted.
- Your comic may reproduce too dark, masking the hours of work put into the artwork’s detail.
- Text is supposed to be only on the black plate, but if your file doesn’t separate properly, your letters may show up on all printing plates, and that makes the end product impossible to read.
- RGB color, which looks great on your computer, may look washed out and flat when it prints in CMYK color.
- Electronic versions of your comic book can appear to be low quality if the resolution isn’t right
When it comes to printing your comics, the techniques you use to process your work will depend on how you plan on presenting your comics to the public.
Whether to choose print, digital, or maybe even motion, is a huge topic in and of itself. This article won’t focus on that decision; instead, we’ll discuss what you need to know in order to publish.
Traditional Print Publishing
‘Traditional print publishing’ means publishing a comic book in the print form that has been the standard since the comic books of the 1930’s.
The earliest “four-color comics” of last century involved preparing negatives and metal plates in each of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black for each and every page.
This printing process used to be extremely labor-intensive and expensive. Self publishing was not an option, because only big companies with deep pockets could afford to print comic books.
Over the last decade, the options for getting your comic book from the spark of an idea into the hands of the public have broadened significantly.
Some printing methods still use plates, but the printing technology has advanced radically. Now, the process begins on a computer, even when the art is hand drawn.
Instead of making a plate from a negative, the image goes directly onto a plate to be used on a printing press, or there are no plates at all, because pages are printed directly from the computer to a full-color, digital printer.
If you’re the publisher, it’s important to have a conversation with your printer before preparing your files, in order to ensure your file preparation meets the standards of the production line.
So you’ll either learn how to do it yourself, or hire knowledgeable pre-press staff that understand:
- Scanning procedures for your art. This can vary depending on the type of artwork in your comic. B&W line art is scanned differently than full color, painted art. Your initial step establishing a scanning resolution alone can determine the final quality of your product. Even if every other step that follows is completed well, this, if this one is missed or poorly executed, it can affect your work negatively.
- Once your artwork has been scanned, you need to be able to correctly assess the best way to process your pages. Again, B&W line art is processed differently than grayscale (B&W w/tones or washes) which is processed much differently than full color art.
- Understanding the color processes, types and preferences are vital in determining how to color correct your pages and how they will look when printed.
- Choosing fonts that are legible and effective for your tales is an under-appreciated art in itself. Making sure that the typeface prints properly without pixelating is key for the lettering process.
- After each page is completed, it has to be processed to your printer’s specifications. Whether the pages need to be saved as PDF files, TIFFs, JPEGs or some other format, you’ll need to know the most effective settings for each type of file.
No longer are comics limited to the printed copies that occupy the shelves at your favorite comic book store. With the digital age fully upon us, comic book production doesn’t have to be inhibited by the cost restrictions of printing hard copies of your book.
If fully digital publishing is the way you choose to go, all of the steps mentioned above still have to be factored in. Proper scanning, lettering, and file formats are still in play.
You will also have to develop an understanding of how to balance file size and quality. The bigger the file, the more it costs in terms of storage and bandwidth. The smaller the file, the lower the quality. You need a procedure in place that finds the sweet spot of the best quality for the least size.
Flash and consumer animation software are making partially or fully animated comics more readily available. Adding this component to your presentation is something that might make your comic standout from the rest. Our focus is on comic book publishing and, as such, we will consider motion software that is specific to comic books.
Animation is an art form in itself and there are many great colleges and online schools that can get you started if you’d like to delve deeper into advanced studies.