Comic Book Printing
Publishing for comic authors today has become more achievable due to a wealth of publishing options. Webcomics, or digital publishing, is the most obvious and accessible choice for many who wish to publish or who are considering comic book printing. Print-on-demand (PoD) services, where books are printed on a per-order basis, allow any author the possibility to have physical books available for readers. Though there are limitations to quality and other hurdles, the possibility of printing beats no printing at all. Alternatively, copy centers offer a variety of means for industrious artists to print low volume runs at a modest cost and they give authors more overall control than PoD services in regards to service and materials. However, new web-centric developments like Kickstarter give aspiring publishers the chance to get high-quality offset printing via investor contributions. There are a number of details to know, including which to avoid, to achieve the best results possible when offset printing.
Given the finances needed for offset printing, storing, and stocking the books, some wonder about bothering with the process at all. Primarily, the quality is far superior to other options and if achieving an artful object to be preserved is the desired result, offset is the way to go. Second, authors get total control over the design, from paper type, color, size and weight, to special inks, inserts or aesthetic die-cuts. Lastly, it is a necessary process in order to get the work into a bookshop or retailer. Thus, if there is the slightest chance of pursuing offset printing, it is best to work towards that format from the onset. Listed below are items to keep at the top of the checklist for having the right building blocks to obtain maximum quality.
For best results, 300 dpi should be the lowest resolution setting used. While many recommend higher resolutions at 600 dpi, color comics will not benefit from this as printers tend to down-convert for color but black-and-white comics will achieve crisp detail. PoD accepts 150 dpi resolutions but this leads to a much poorer result in quality. Regardless, creators should do all work with the maximum resolution that the computer can handle and then lower the resolution for the particular print requirement. Taking smaller resolutions and making them bigger at print time will leave one with many unavoidable and unsightly artifacts.
Light-based color work needs a Red / Green / Blue workspace (RGB), whereas pigment-based color necessitates a Cyan /Magenta / Yellow / Black (CMYK) workspace. Given these differing schemes, there are two possible approaches:
One option is to work in CMYK from the start, which is fine if not intending to publish online. Some Photoshop filters and features will not be available in this mode, but with printed paper in mind this will not be problematic. However, if publishing online is an included goal, CMYK is not ideal as the on-screen quality will not be as high as the printed quality. Even after converting CMYK to RGB, imagery is left with a duller look and cannot compete with the clarity.
The other option is to work in RGB initially, which has multiple benefits when used in the digital realm. However, one must convert RGB to CMYK if page printing is on the menu and this conversion requires professional attention. Do-It-Yourself in this case is not wise. Since working with a printer anyway, send the flattened RGB file as a .psd file and let the professionals convert color configurations. They apply necessary color profiling and chroma adjustments to make the digital image and the resulting printed image nearly identical. Some printers charge for services like ?color correction? prior to printing, regardless of prior processing, so there is little benefit to the risk of undertaking the task oneself. Those brave enough to try are advised to leave text on a separate layer due to complicated color combinations versus true ?Black,?leading to visual anomalies.
If one must undertake this process, definitely get a color profile from the printer. Pages must be converted to that profile, not a standard CMYK profile, for the least possible loss of quality. This profile is a special format, commonly *.icc, and should be saved in an obvious place, then backed up for good measure. In Photoshop, open this file and use the Edit/Convert to Profile menu item to apply the .icc format profile. At this point, Photoshop asks whether to ?flatten? the image, which keeps any blend modes from getting out of line and creating errors. Save a copy with the Save As? item and review the result, checking for any re-saturation needs resulting from the transition between a light-sourced white to the white of the page. Furthemore, it is highly recommended to obtain high-resolution proofs for some defining pages of the book, like the cover, the darkest page, the lightest page, and perhaps one the author feels strongly about a particular color scheme. There may be additional charges for these, but the ability to see the end result on paper and catching any discrepancies before printing is a value that can hardly be beat.
Most comic artists working on paper draw at a larger size than the printed result. This is due to limitations of ink when drawing very fine definition and also because the scaling down process can eliminate small defects in line work as the image is compressed. The same technique works on the digital page, for working at 150-200% of the final size can truly sharpen the end result. An additional benefit of biggerart is having the ability to generate larger images later, like posters or exhibit pieces. Having larger original sources to work with offers a convenience of facility and visual tightening in more ways than one. Take care not to overdo it, though, as drawing too finely for the intended printing method can disturb the natural experience of the visuals. Humans see less detail in smaller things intrinsically, and when sharp detail appears in shrinking or distant images it disrupts our accustomed perception and detracts from the experience. The limits of fine drawing on paper are inherent to the printed medium but digitally, a visual balance requires a big-picture overview.
Of the many places where the publishing platform influences the writing of a comic, page position is an important one. In printed form, a page is never solitary but part of a spread, on either the right or the left. Online, of course, this is not relevant but when a webcomic transforms to a printed one positioning plays an important part of the story telling process and can strengthen when properly utilized or weaken when neglected. An example would be keeping cliffhangers at the bottom of the right-hand page, or recto page, which is odd-numbered, so that the discovery takes place after the page turn. Physically turning the pages is like cutting scenes together and, as a general rule, surprises and location changes should take place on left-hand page, or verso page, which is even-numbered. Likewise, some events are better kept within a spread and work stronger both visually and in story flow when kept in the same space. Intricate planning in the writing and sequencing stages should be undertaken as certain pages crucially need to be odd or even numbered. Authors may have to slightly extend or decrease sequences to accommodate for this. Sometimes, commercial comic publishers may insert ads if they are considering the layout. If transitioning a webcomic to print reveals some awkward page positioning, consider inserting some full page art or a pinup that does not interrupt the the flow of the story, i.e, during a location change.
Keeping these technical tidbits in mind from the initial stages will help all would-be comic book printers focus their energies to achieve the best product for their intended market, whether that is online, printed, or both. Factors like image resolution, color schemes, page size and page layout affect both digital and ?analog? comic book printing and can have strong positive or negative consequences depending on the circumstances.