Indie Comics Magazine’s Indie Advice: Preparing Your Comic for Quality Printing

Indie Advice: Preparing Your Comic for Quality Printing

Indie Advice: Preparing Your Comic for Quality Printing

Gary Scott Beatty had some more brilliant suggestions for indie creators that I could not help but post here:

Indie Advice: Preparing Your Comic for Quality Printing

Every book you publish is a legacy to your hard work, talents and life. You want a package with vibrant colors, crisp type, and solid inked lines — a professional package you’re proud to offer for sale. This is how the big publishing houses do it and, thanks to the computer age, this technology is available to you.

If you want to cut corners, use freeware, and listen to that guy over there, go right ahead. This isn’t a debate, it’s information you can use, or ignore.

If you are going to design graphic products for a living, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign are the tools to own; they are the industry standard.

Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign are expensive, but can be bought together at a discount at There are also student discounts. You are also going to need to update your software every few years. UPDATE: There is now something called Creative Cloud. I don’t need it, so I haven’t looked into it.

Not for you? I’ve been preparing publications for print for over 35 years. I’m affordable. Here’s what I can do for you:

Back to Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. Don’t be overwhelmed by all the menus and settings. I’ve worked with these software programs since 1987 and there are only a half dozen commands you are going to use all the time, another half dozen you will use occasionally, and the rest are just window dressing.


Your drawn and colored art becomes a high resolution Photoshop .tif file. You import this file into an Illustrator .ai file for lettering. The .tif is a raster file, consisting of pixels. The .ai is a vector file, consisting of points, lines and curves — it will keep your type sharp and readable (grayscale dots in lettering is so ’80s!). The .ai files are imported into Indesign to build the publication. PDFs are made from InDesign — low resolution for proofing, high resolution for printing.

Art — Photoshop

Resolution: 300 dpi (dots per inch). A scan at a lower resolution increased to 300 dpi in Photoshop will NOT increase the resolution — you can’t add it if it isn’t there in the first place. I scan at 450 dpi, in case the artwork ever needs to be blown up for posters or ads.

Scan in grayscale (or full color mode and convert to grayscale after scanning). If you scan in bitmap mode you won’t be able to adjust the grays to capture detail.

Adjustments / Levels: Set the black point to 100% black, and the white point to 0% black. Use the eyedrop tools or sliders (from the left and from the right, looking at the peaks) to make your blacks solid and remove pencils and unwanted smudges.

This is where you need to develop a skill level beyond the technology. Be careful thin lines, like crosshatching, don’t disappear or break up. Often, with dirty artwork, it’s necessary to go into white areas and carefully remove smudges by filling your selected area with white. It’s obviously easier to erase pencil and clean up your art boards prior to scanning!

Size your comic page, usually 6.625 inches wide x 10.25 inches high plus .0625 inch “bleeds” all around. Save as grayscale tifs in a folder named TIFS.

Coloring: Open each file in Photoshop, make sure your background is set to white, select the whole page and cut the grayscale art. Convert the file to CMYK. Paste the grayscale art in the K (black) channel and flatten. You can now see your black art in the K channel and nothing in the C, M and Y channels.

Duplicate the K channel so you have clean black art in case you mistakenly screw up the black channel when coloring.

You always color in the C, M and Y channels to keep the black line art crisp. If you are adding effects that disrupt the black art (Some filters only work in RGB mode), always color in CMY first and save a copy of this, in case your client has a change.

Lettering — Illustrator

Keep the lettering files in a folder called AI. I will describe how to set up Illustrator files for lettering — you will end up with one Comic Page file, one file, and a file for each page of your publication.

Set up a blank page in Illustrator to use for all your pages. The size should be the size of your publication, usually 6.625 inches wide x 10.25 inches high, plus, if the comic runs over the edges of the paper, .0625 inch “bleeds” all around.

View / Show Rulers. Pull “guides” from the rulers to indicate your bleeds, and a comfortable distance from the page edges for your lettering (I use .3125 inch). Art can be chopped off with the bleeds, but you want your lettering inside this safe area. View / Guides / Lock Guides so they don’t move.

Object / Transform / Scale. Under options, be sure “Scale Strokes and Effects” is NOT checked. This way your balloons will keep a consistent line weight.

Save the file as Comic Page

Build some balloons and balloon tails to use on all your projects on this page and “save as” Round balloons are fine, but balloons with rounded corners and rounded sides are more elegant and easier to work with. Tails featuring gentle curves are also more attractive (and more professional looking) than stark triangles.

On the file, set up your type format. Sizes and leading should remain consistent throughout your project; set it up once so you don’t have to spec your settings on every page. Use only readable fonts you own. If you or your client didn’t buy the font, you are stealing, and the evidence is right there on your project.

Copy your balloons, tails and a chunk of type. Paste these on Comic Page and move them to the side, off the page. Save.

You now have one Comic Page file and one file you can use for projects for years to come. Let’s build your publication.

File / Duplicate your Comic Page file. Rename the copy File / Duplicate this file for the number of pages in your comic. Rename files,, etc. Always name pages with the page numbers at the beginning — this streamlines the process all the way through.

Open Illustrator. Import the Photoshop art onto each Illustrator page (File / Place), size to fit and send to back (So the art is behind your type and balloons).

Letter your project. Save the sound effects you create on the file in case you need something similar in the future.

Your .ai files CAN be used by your printer, but there is a better way using InDesign, below.

If you ARE delivering .ai files to your printer, copy the entire AI folder, rename it AI Pathed, open all the .ai files inside that folder and path the type: Type / Create Outlines. Pathed type is no longer editable (That is why you copied the AI folder), so be sure this step is after all proofreading.

The Better Way in InDesign

File / New / Document. Check “Facing Pages.” Width 6.625 inches x height 10.25 inches (or your own project size). Bleed: .0625 inch top, bottom and outside. 0 inch inside (This is the part of the page that faces the fold, so it does not bleed). Click OK. File / Save As: Name of Project.indd.

Import each lettered .ai page into this InDesign document. Bleeds will be on the outsides. Crop the inside of the graphic to the inside margin. Save often.

Why is InDesign better than .ai files?

1. You can now File / Export to a PDF file that can be proofed with facing pages like a printed publication.

2. You can build covers, letters pages, etc. in InDesign.

3. Changes made to the .ai files will automatically update in the document (It’s your job to check to be sure).

4. When done, you can File / Preflight to find font and RGB color conflicts. You can then Package to pull all the elements in your document into one tidy folder for storage.

5. Best of all, you can send your printer clean, high resolution PDFs that are much smaller than your .ai files.

Save for Printer: File / Adobe PDF Presets / PDF/X-1a:2001 (YES, use THIS setting) / Save

PDF Settings:

General: Pages / One at a time

Do not check “Spreads”

Marks and Bleeds: NO printer marks

Check “Use Document Bleed Settings”

Output: Destination / Document CMYK — U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2

Advanced: Transparency Flattener / High Resolution

Save each PDF page as 01-NameofProject.pdf, 02-NameofProject.pdf, etc.

Name covers separately from inside pages. FrontCover-NameofProject.pdf, InsideFrontCover-NameofProject.pdf (01-NameofProject.pdf comes after this page), InsideBackCover-NameofProject.pdf, BackCover-NameofProject.pdf.

Don’t be overwhelmed, your printer will be able to talk you through your PDF settings or have instructions on their website. The ONLY exception I know of right now is Ka-Blam, who only accepts 300 dpi .tifs in RGB mode. No other printer in the world wants this.

Your best resource is your printer. They know what their presses need. I highly recommend working with one of the well known, reputable comic industry printers OR a local printer you can talk to face-to-face. Sending your project to Mongolia to save a few bucks may sound appealing, but walking into an office to work it out if something goes wrong becomes problematic.

You can also hire someone like me to color and letter your project. With over 35 years of experience preparing files for print, many say I’m worth it!

References: The publication production expert, typographer, writer, illustrator and comic book colorist’s website. A growing library of informative articles about how the comic book and related industries work. The magazine is 64 pages of the best story and art from today’s independent comic book creators. The website is a portal to these creators’ websites. Hours of free fun.

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