An Easy Guide to Printing Your Own Comics

If you want to print your comic book without being baffled by technical jargon, we can help. This guide provides clear explanations to help you understand every aspect of setting up your print file.

One of the reasons self publishers find it so hard to get to grips with the technical side of getting they’re comics ready to print is that printers have a vested interest in making it sound really complicated. As long as printers are the only ones who know how to prepare artwork for printing, they can retain complete control over the process and the prices.

But this is the 21st century and everything is online now, so there’s no need to be tied to the traditional method of printing. Adam from Mixam has put together this guide to take you through the entire process from start to finish to enable you to take control of your printing with confidence.

Index

  • Sizes
  • Print File Setup
  • Trim Line
  • Bleed Area
  • Quiet Area
  • CMYK Color
  • Image Resolution
  • PDFs
  • Paper
  • Finishes
  • Binding
  • Templates
  • Examples
  • Summary

Comic sizes

The first thing to decide is how big you want your comic to be. Obviously, this will have a big impact on your artwork, so it’s worth careful consideration to ensure that you’re happy with your choice. 

You may already be aware of the standard sizes for comics. US standard size is 6.7″ X 10.2″ and it is by far the most commonly used which means that most comic book stores and shops are set up to accommodate this size on their shelves. Choosing a size that is significantly larger than this could impact on your ability to get your comics into stores as they simply won’t be able to fit them on their shelves. 

There is also manga standard sizing which is slightly smaller than US standard at 5″ by 7.5″ and many Japanese comics come in smaller sizes.

If you have already started work on your designs without considering how big your finished comic will be, then you might need to discuss custom sizes with your printer. If you have not started yet then it’s worth considering a standard size to increase your potential market.

Print File Setup

If you have made a decision about the size of your comic then it’s worth bearing in mind how your print file setup will affect your artwork. Understanding the elements needed for your print file will help you to incorporate the most important elements as you go rather than trying to adjust your artwork at the end.

We’ll use a US standard size comic book which is staple bound (also known as saddle stitched) for this example as it is by far the most common combination on the market.

You will get a chance to learn about binding options later, but for now, let’s focus on trim lines, bleed and quiet areas. 

These areas are vital to your design to ensure that the printing process results in ‘ comic that looks exactly how you want it to. 

Printing has evolved and improved just like most other modern processes, but there are some aspects of it which do involve big machines which occasionally shift slightly resulting in minute movements of the paper which you need to account for in your design. 

Your print file is the perfect opportunity for you to set your expectations for your finished comic as well as providing detailed instructions to the printer setting it all up.

Trim Lines

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the trim lines are the lines on which your comic will be trimmed. For a US standard sized comic, the trim lines will bound an area measuring 6.7″ x 10.2″.

However, the manufacturing process is not completely fool-proof and sometimes the cutting blades will fall either just inside or just outside the trim lines by a few tenths of a millimetre or so, but don’t worry-  you will be well prepared for either eventuality.

The Bleed Area

The bleed is not as gory as it sounds – it is the 0.125 inches outside each trim line. The measurement is the same, regardless of the size of your paper, but some binding types will require a little more space so we will cover that when we get to it.

Your bleed area is what stands between you and a thin white border at the edge of your artwork should the cutting blades happen to fall outside the time lines. For this reason, you need to ensure that your design goes all the way to the edge of the bleed area.

Quiet Area

As the more soothing-sounding counterpart of the bleed area, the quiet area is the 0.25″ strip inside the trim lines on each edge. It is also known as the danger zone by those who enjoy the adrenaline of the bleed area, and the safe zone by those who don’t. Whatever you call it, you need to ensure that you do not include any important design elements in this area. 

The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, ensuring that there is nothing important in the quiet area means that if the cutting blades fall inside the trim lines, nothing important will end up being chopped off. Secondly, a clear space at the edge of each page makes it easier to focus on the important design elements and if your comic has a lot of pages you might struggle to see into the gutter as you flick through it.

No matter what size page you choose, your quiet area will be 0.25” on each side unless you choose a binding option which will require a greater quiet area, but we will expand on this later.

CMYK Colour

Your computer screen gives out colour produced by combining red, blue, and green light, known as RGB colour. CMYK colour comes from combining different colours of ink and so there are slight differences between each spectrum. 

If you have already completed your artwork in RGB, you will need to convert it to CMYK before printing in order to preserve the integrity of the colours. Some online printers offer this service as they have printers which can do the conversion automatically, but you can never be sure that they will come out exactly the same so it could be risky leaving it to chance.

Ideally, you would start working in CMYK from the get-go, using one of the CMYK settings in your design programme. If you have already started working in RGB and want to convert then you can do in most design programmes, but you might need to fine-tune the colours a little to get them true to the originals.

If you aren’t sure which CMYK setting to go for, we recommend  ISO coated V2, U.S. Coated SWOP v2 and GraCOL2006 which are available in most design programmes and give consistently good results.

Image Resolution

In order to avoid pixelation and blocky images, you will need to ensure that any you use are at least 300dpi to render properly in print. Any less than that and you will end up with a blurry mess that will not do your artwork any justice. 

That said, any images with a resolution higher than 400dpi will not look any better than those at 300dpi but will slow down the process with an information overload.

PDFs

Once you’re happy with your artwork, it’s time to save it. You should create a single PDF for this as, although some printers will accept individual files for each page, most prefer a single file with all the artwork in one place and in order from front cover to back.

You may work with a printer which accepts other types of file, but using alternatives can have unexpected results, leaving you with image resolution issues and technical problems. This is why most printers prefer PDFs and so do their customers when they see the results!

Paper

There are three main types of paper to choose from and each will have an effect on the way your artwork looks.

Satin is the industry default for printing as it gives accurate results at a reasonable cost. Gloss is popular for its shiny finish and the high contrast effect it gives to artwork. Uncoated paper is as it sounds – it has a tougher texture than the other two which gives a rustic look with slightly duller colours which is popular among comics with a vintage feel. 

For most comics, satin is the paper of choice for their work with some using gloss for their cover pages. A shiny cover is an eye-catching way to draw attention to your comic, but sticking with satin for the interior pages will give the most accurate reproduction of your work, so this is an option which appeals to many, although there are plenty of satin covered comics succeeding as well.

These papers are reliably great for comic printing, but if you want a sketch cover on your comic then you will need to choose uncoated paper as it’s really hard to draw on either satin or gloss.

Paper also comes in a choice of thicknesses, with interior pages tending to be between 70 and 100lb and cover pages from between 80 and 130lb. However, the lb scale for interior and cover pages are not the same – a 100lb interior page is half as thick as a 100lb cover page, so there is a noticeable difference between the two.

You may be tempted to choose thinner papers because they are often cheaper, but the quality of your comic book will be affected if you go too thin. It is also possible to go too thick. A comic book is hard to flip through if the pages are too thick, so consider what you like in a comic book when deciding on your paper thickness.

If you decide not to have a cover and to use your first page as your cover artwork, which will make it easier to flip through your comic, but will mean that you cannot have a laminated finish which does offer some degree of protection against damage. 

Finishes

Laminations or finishes are the coatings given to the paper which prevent them from getting scuffed or damaged and stops the ink from wearing off. 

The most common options are matte lamination, which is a smooth protective coating and gloss lamination which is a shinier coating and will give your artwork a more saturated look. 

You can use either of those finishes on satin or gloss paper but uncoated paper cannot be laminated as the surface does not hold the finish effectively. 

Lamination does incur an additional cost, but it’s not one to be cut if you can avoid it as it protects your comics from damage during the distribution process and will result in a better-looking comic.

Binding

Typically, comic books are bound in one of three ways:

Staple bound, or saddle stitched, is two staples through the centre of the pages and it’s the most commonly seen binding type in comic books.

Perfect bound is a premium option as it’s effectively a paperback book which makes it ideal for graphic novels, collections and more upmarket comics. The square-edged spine can be printed on so they can be stored like books, but you do need a minimum number of pages to be able to use perfect binding.

Casebound books are just hardcover books, which isn’t usually seen in the world of comic books unless it’s a collection or special edition. They are rarely seen, partly because of the high page count required to create a casebound book but also due to the high production costs which makes it prohibitively expensive for all but the most premium publications.

It’s important to choose your binding as early on in the process as possible as which one you choose may affect the layout of your pages when you’re setting up your print file.

Staple bound comics require a 0.125” bleed area and a 0.25” quiet area all round whereas a perfect bound comic will require a quiet area 0.4” wide on the binding edge to ensure nothing important gets lost in the fold between the pages. If you choose a binding with a spine, then you will need to supply text to be featured there. There are websites where you can calculate the width of your spine which makes designing it a lot easier.

Casebound books need the same thickness of pages as perfect bound ones, but the cover design is much more complicated as the bleed area needs to ‘wrap around’ and the quiet areas are larger. The templates below will give you some idea of what you would need to design a casebound cover.

Templates

  • Staple Bound Template (US Standard size)
  • Perfect Bound Template (US Standard size)
  • Casebound Cover Template (US Letter size)
  • Casebound Interior Template (US Letter size)

Examples

Now that you have read all about the various options available to you, here are some real-world examples of how to combine those elements in order to create the comic book that matches your vision. You will no doubt notice that the number of sides in each one is divisible by four, for obvious reasons.

  1. Comic Book
  • US Standard size 6.7” x 11.2”
  • 40 sides
  • Staple bound
  • 80 lbs satin paper for the interior pages
  • 80 lbs satin paper for the cover 
  • No laminate
  • 0.125” bleed area on every side
  • 0.25” quiet area on every side

These specifications are a classic comic combination and the results will be predictably high quality.

  1. Graphic Novel
  • US Standard size 6.7” x 11.2”
  • 180 sides
  • Perfect bound
  • 80 lbs satin paper for the interior pages
  • 130 lbs gloss paper for the cover
  • Gloss laminate throughout
  • 0.125” bleed area on every side
  • 0.25” quiet area on every side
  • Additional quiet area on the spine side of every page (including cover) for a total of 0.4” 
  • Spine design file required

Graphic novels tend to be perfect bound which works with the higher page count that you would usually expect from one. The high gloss paper combined with gloss lamination sets them apart from regular comics and gives them a quality look and feel. Perfect binding is more expensive than staple binding and requires a thickness of at least 40 sides to be an option.

  1. Hardcase Collected Volume
  • US Letter size 8.5” x 11”
  • 200 sides
  • Casebound
  • 80 lbs satin paper for the interior pages
  • Satin paper for the cover (board)
  • Matte laminate throughout
  • 0.125” bleed area on every side for the interior pages
  • 0.25” quiet area on every side for the interior pages
  • Additional quiet area on the spine side of every page (including cover) for a total of 0.4” 
  • Cover pages – see template
  • Spine design file required

This premium combination is just what you need when you want to set your comic collection apart from the crowd.

Summary

That’s it – you know enough about everything to get started on your own comic with the knowledge that you can set up your print file, choose suitable paper, lamination and binding and understand the terminology involved.

The most important things to remember are:

  • You will always need a bleed area so add 0.125” to all your artwork
  • CMYK is the way, so set your colours up before you start
  • All images should be between 300 and 400 dpi
  • Always submit your designs as PDFs

This means that you are now in control of the printing process and no longer have to rely on someone else doing the technical stuff for you. This gives you way more options for printing and you can get way more for your money when you aren’t reliant on someone else to set up your print file.

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Adam Smith is the Marketing Manager at Mixam – a new comic book printer that’s disrupting the industry through innovation with their Instant Price Calculator and online features to make print easy and accessible to everyone.

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