Prepress, Printing P.O.D

edited January 2013 in The Toolbox

I didn't see a thread on this topic, so thought I'd give starting one a try... I have Kevin Tinsley's book, DIGITAL PREPRESS for COMIC BOOKS, but with a few exception, it left me more confused than I had been about what you need to do, after all the story and at are complete, to get your comic ready for publication.  For those who have done this stuff, what have been your experiences?  What rules of thumb have been useful? 



  • edited January 2013
    Don't look for rules, or pre-sets, or templates. Ask whoever will be printing your material what they would like to receive in an ideal world and give them exactly that. If you don't understand what they're telling you, ask them to explain it again. They would rather explain it to you half-a-dozen times and then get trouble-free files than have to fix a fuck-up because you didn't quite get what they were asking.

    I worked in print design for over decade before I became a letterer, and I've been lettering professionally for the last five years and I still ask for a contact in the Production department every time I get a new client and go through their spec with a fine-tooth comb. Zenescope are different from Image; Image are different from Dark Horse who are different from Avatar… and I mean really different. I supply flattened TIFFs to Zenescope, a continuous PDF of the book to Image; Dark Horse want the lettering as individual EPS files with no artwork so their production guys can merge it with the art in-house; Avatar want live Illustrator documents…

    Find the person that will actually have to deal with your files and ask them what file format/specification would make their day.


  • edited January 2013
    And on the POD side, ComiXpress and Ka-Blam and CreateSpace and Lulu and etc. etc. etc. all have slightly different specs. And it's similar for the digital versions... they are all different. Every device is different even within the same format.

    The only real piece of advice that works for everyone is plan ahead. I love Ka-Blam because I can send them a Zip file full of TIFFs. But they want RGB if it's color, and most everyone else in the world wants CMYK. Most PODs have settled on 300dpi for everything, but some want 300dpi for color and greyscale, but higher for "pure" black and white. And the margins are slightly different for everyone depending on their equipment (same as non-POD on that). It's a pain because I can't just take the TIF files I give Ka-Blam for the singles and make a PDF for CreateSpace to print the collection (or do Kindle publishing) because the margins are different. I have to reformat everything. No way around it.

    So.. what Jim says: find a contact and get the specs for that company, whether it's a publisher or printer or digital distributor. And plan accordingly. 
  • I'm seriously considering CreateSpace for my graphic novel. The cover is color, but interiors are b&w and the lettering was paste-up on the boards, so no layered files (I'm not good at those, anyway).

    Every publisher I've worked with, in the past has asked for Tiffs, but even when I asked about formatting (margins, size specs, beyond the "at lest 300 dpi"), they've just said "don't worry about it", which makes it frustrating now that I'm trying DIY.

    I had some bad printing, with some (not all) bitmapped b&w Tiffs, from some publishers... stair stepping (probably opened and re-sized by the publisher).  I'd want to avoid that.
  • @Greg Carter - - What's the margin difference in CreateSpace?  I need to read up more from the CreateSpace site, but I've heard, as far as asking them specs, they pretty much leave you to your own devices?

    Any suggestions on cheaper alternatives to InDesign for PDFs?  Everything has to be done on the cheap, though if it must have expensive programs, or help, I guess a kickstarter campaign wouldn't be out of the question...
  • I do known some people who are wiling to lend a hand in formatting and the like, but I'd like to learn how to do it myself, so I won't forever be dependent upon favors... At the very least, I'd want to take it as far as I could, before having to ask for such favors, like having all individual page files ready, with pages in the right print-order (including double-page-spreads placed right, to work with the page count) and just have them use InDesign to generate the big PDF.
  • Oh - - and thank you, Jim, Greg and John, for the replies.
  • I haven't had a need for it myself (and also have access to an old educational copy of InDesign), but Scribus (an open-source substitute for InDesign) can export PDFs.
  • edited January 2013
    Ah good ol' CreateSpace. I don't know how much it's changed since I used it, but they are definitely more book and less comic centred. What I mean by that is when I was having problems uploading my artwork, they kept telling me to simply send them the word file I used and that they'd be happy to process any *.doc file I had.
    Having said that, the only problem I had was that I had sent the file to other printers and had to re-format everything to fit their requirements. Which, as Greg states, is par for the course.

    As for computer programs which platform are you running? Mac or PC? For either platform, you can generally find freeware that will do what you want. I saw on another thread that Adobe has released CS2 for free download, so that may also be an option for you.

    (edited to add) - I agree with Jim and Greg, get the specs, read them and then re-read them. Double check and make sure you are sending them what they are asking you to.
  • edited January 2013
    Thanks, Jason and Beth!

    Jason - - I have Scribus and Open Office (someone I met at a convention said they used that.)  

    Beth - - Createspace is book-centric, but some established comics folks use it, for tpbs (not sure if they'd want named - - they pay Creatspace a little to not have the Createspace logo, but instead their own company logo - - but the publisher is one that's been around for quite a while.  I saw the tpbs and the quality was great - - you'd never know it was from a POD).  They take PDF files.

    I'm on a PC.

    I can't us any cloudware, or big programs I can't download, then burn to disk at the library(which I did with Open Office and Scribus)...  I'm not on dial-up, anymore, but my Verizon MiFi has a low-ish data cap (and counts streaming and apps use the same as downloads) and overages get expensive, so free huge programs with cloud apps aren't much use to me.  I'm dreading the upload of the graphic novel, but if anything is worth a big one-time overage, that would be it... :)
  • I'm reading Createspace forums in another window, at this moment.  I can't find their specs spelled out anywhere, but there's some graphic novel talk in the forums.
  • edited January 2013
    CreateSpace is easier than it used to be. You can make a PDF with CUTEPDF or a handful of free programs. You don't get all the bells and whistles of InDesign, but I just get confused in that program anyway. I use Acrobat for making PDFs. 

    The CreateSpace specs are so confusing. What I ended up doing was uploading a PDF and looking at it in their viewer and re-doing it several times until it looked decent. Then ordered a proof so I could see what the printed version looked like versus the online viewer. Then re-did the files and re-uploaded a few more times. 

    Then just gave up because I could never get the screen tones not to moire and went with Ka-Blam since they print the comics beautifully even if more expensively. I need to go back and figure out what to do about the tones because I need to have my books on Amazon. 
  • Greg - - thanks!  I hadn't heard of "CUTEPDF".  

    I've read that moire patterns have to do with angle... that your tones are out the non-moire alignment - - I expect you already know this?  

    I don't use mechanical tones, myself (doesn't fit my style... I'd be more apt to do painted wash, or carbon pencil, if I want grey-tones) , so that won't be an issue, for me... a rare benefit of doing things "old-school".
  • Beth, since CreateSpace side-steps the challenge of paying for printing and distribution (and since money, these days is so hard to come by), the other challenges feel less daunting, if only by comparison :)

    Challenges aren't bad, if there is a workable solution. Only one way to find out how workable a solutions is... though hearing the experiences of others helps a lot.
  • The Photoshop add-on I was using a while back for tones screwed me. I'm re-doing them (100-ish pages) in Manga Studio and then CreateSpace should be a go. (The chapters I did in Manga Studio previously look fine.) I'm about to upload another book to see how it looks. No screen tones, so fingers crossed. CreateSpace is about one-half to one-third the cost per copy of Ka-Blam. 

    CUTEPDF got me through until I got the Adobe Cloud subscription. I made all my Graphicly uploads with it. 
  • Thanks Greg!  Good to know... and good luck with your latest book! 

    Are you doing normal comics dimensions, or manga dimensions?  I'm using the standard comics ratio, but would like to have my GN printed just a little bigger than a standard tpb (think Sandman: Endless Nights size).  

    I'm digging around the CreateSpace site, but I haven't found out about how much margin, or how to make sure a dps is printed right... Anyone know an online article, or a book on that?  

    I think I'll be avoiding double-page-spreads in the future...unless it proves easier than I worry...
  • I'm doing one of each - one is 7'x10', the other is 5.25'x8'.

    This page has margin info and a list of available templates for some common sizes: 
  • Thanks, Greg!  I downloaded "CUTEPFD", btw - - thanks for that info.  Maybe Scribus would have been good enough, but if you used CUTEPFD successfully... couldn't hurt.
  • edited January 2013
    Scribus is frowned upon by some printers, probably because a lot of people rely on it to get the colors right and it doesn't necessarily, at least not by default But I've had good experience with it. The trick is to get the right color profile (the Scribus wiki has some good pointers) and apply it - not in the pdf export, but in the document options. I've learned the hard way by trying different settings and uploading the results to Lulu - baecause Lulu, despite what it says in the FAQ, is very touchy about color profiles, but if their system gets it wrong, you can actually see that in the preview.

    And of course I forgot which one was the right profile, and Scribus seems to have lost it, too. Phew.
  • I ran my first book through CreateSpace in 2003 (back when it was BookSurge) and my biggest complaint was that the tones did not print right and ended up with dreaded moire patterns. I printed those in standard US comic dimensions and had to work with them to get that size.  Haven't worked with them recently, but I'm considering a short run to reprint one of my books to fill an inventory gap until I'm ready to do a collection.

    My experience with P.O.D. is that it's fine to get started with and test the waters, but don't expect an exceptional print job.  It will be good enough to be sellable, but is going look, well, P.O.D.  

    @mlpeters -  I'd have to dig up the old files, but I could get you the specs I used for the P.O.D. edition of my first book way back if you're going US comic size.
  • I've used Createspace for both black & white and color graphic novels in the last few years (their price on B&W is really hard to beat, actually), and I've been very happy with the printing. More than with any other POD vendor.

    That said, I'm curious what you folks would ideally like to see in a POD/short run printer that you're not getting from the existing options (Ka-Blam, Comixpress, RA Comics Direct, etc.). Aside from, obviously, more market-friendly pricing. I'm, er, asking for a friend.
  • Thanks, Max, Dirk and Pj!  
    I hope this thread can be a way for all of us thinking about self-publishing to share the ways and tools that work and help each other avoid pitfalls.

    Dirk - - I'm using regular comics dimensions (that's how I drew it, on 11 x 17 Bristol board, so...), but if I can, I'd like it printed just a little bigger, than standard comics (I liked the size of the Sandman: Endless Nights GN - - it was smaller than magazine size, but bigger dimensions than standard comics)... not sure if that's possible, and it's far from a deal breaker, with CresteSpace, for me.
  • I am looking at experimenting with Comixpress this year. I'm happy with Ka-Blam and their customer service has always been really good to me, but when I'm looking at distributing as well, I can't limit myself to one POD.
    I used CreateSpace because I wanted the recognition that comes with Amazon. The other thing I remember about CreateSpace is that they are really for publishing graphic novels rather than comics as they had a large minimum page count.
    I tried looking at distribution from a customer perspective, what companies would the average reader have heard of?
    Indyplanet is a great place, but how many readers will have heard of it?
    ComicsMonkey, also a great idea, but if retailers don't know about it, how do you expect them to use it? (These are the questions that keep me up at night)
  • People have asked me at cons why my POD books aren't more widely available. This is the main reason I'm now looking into Create Space myself. Can't beat Amazon for reach. Also, the pricing's pretty good.

    Since they don't offer comic book size, I've yet to reformat my comics to fit the 7x10'' format, which is a little wider than comic book size so I'll have to go back to the original files for more bleed. Which is the only reason I haven't done it yet. Well, that and the very complicated tax form I have to file as a non-American.
    That said, I'm curious what you folks would ideally like to see in a
    POD/short run printer that you're not getting from the existing options
    (Ka-Blam, Comixpress, RA Comics Direct, etc.). Aside from, obviously,
    more market-friendly pricing. I'm, er, asking for a friend.
    More paper stock options.

  • I ended up going the CreateSpace route... and did the 7 x 10 size.  I made my margins a little smaller than most comics, so the art prints at least as big as it would in a normal comic.  I had to extend my bleeds, adding to edges in PhotoShop - - a lot of work and most of that added art, trimmed off, but I'm happy with how the book looks.

    Sucks that my book won't be in shops, not without me contacting individual shop owners and giving them whatever the expected discount (I'll have to look into that) - - not sure with the discount and shipping if it would be worth it, from anything but a promotional perspective, but like Max said, Amazon can't be beat for reach.  There's not as much rush in figuring out strategy, since graphic novels aren't as much of a "on the shelves for a month, then a back-issue" sort of thing.

    I'm planning to offer signed and remarqued (a small sketch on the signature page - a blank page I put before the title page, for this purpose) copies, from my website.  Haven't decide on pricing for the sketched in copies, yet, or figured out shipping costs.
  • So, 

    Their full-color books look pretty great -- Rachel Deering did a run of ANATHEMA trades through them -- and with reasonable prices if you're willing to order in relatively high quantities. (I need about 300 copies of ORPHANS to fulfill my Kickstarter obligations, and I can get that quantity printed and delivered at around $5/book.)
  • BTW - - a friend who has better internet downloaded Adobe's InDesign CS2 for me, which Adobe had free on their site (maybe for a limited time?  If not, it's worth getting), and mailed it o me, on disc.  Worked great!  I ended up making my own templates and following CreateSpace instructions... having to fix things a few times (to get the bleeds right), but it all worked out.
  • I've been trying to make a Kindle version of my graphic novel, with the Kindle Comic Creator, but... no luck.  The files are either ridiculously HUGE (even stripping the source files wouldn't fix it), too low-res to be useful...  frustrating.  
    Does anyone have experience making a Kindle version?
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