Going to print

The topic of getting your comic printed has been covered to death online and probably in much better detail than I would cover it. But, this blog is supposed to be a record of the process of making On the Verge, so I’m going to write a post about printing anyway and hopefully someone finds it helpful and/or instructional.

Back before I ever started working on artwork for the story I began to explore different printing options. I know from my experience as a graphic designer that it’s much easier to start something with the correct specs and printing in mind than changing at a later stage. I’ve printed things on-demand with Blurb, Lulu and Cafepress with good results, so on-demand printing seemed like a good option due to my low print run (to be honest, I wasn’t sure how things were going to go and I figured that I wouldn’t be printing a ton of copies right off the bat, so print-on-demand was a great option).

I set about exploring a couple of on-demand options and joined in on some discussions over at Making Graphic Novels. Overall the opinion was that Ka-Boom was the best bet, so I downloaded their handy templates so that I could build my art to the correct specs. After looking at their specs I was pretty confident that if, down the road, I changed my mind and decided to use another printer (or a larger commercial printer, for example) they would be able to work with the specs that Ka-Boom provides.

So I got started… and months later, now that I’m done, I’ve decided to not use Ka-Blam and instead use a local commercial printer.

Printing locally
So why the change? Well a couple of reasons:

1. The printer that I’m going to be using for the initial print run is in the basement of my office building and we use them all the time for smaller print runs and their quality is comparable to some of the large commercial printers that we use for our annual reports and other publications. I’ve even used them for some of my freelance jobs and they’ve always done good work.

2. They’re in the basement of my office building! They’re really, really, really close. This means that I can drop by on a break or lunch and check in on stuff. I know them and we can work together to print something that will work for me.

3. I’m not doing a huge run by any means, but there’s no reason that I won’t be printing more if the demand is there. They can handle the small runs and if I need more it’s not a problem to get them to do it and picking them up is an elevator ride away. This will help keep the cost down.

Drawbacks
Since they’re not a huge commercial printer, I’m definitely limited in what I can and can’t do. I’ve basically got a couple of choices: black & white or colour, and glossy or matte stock. For binding I’ve got saddle stitch or nothing.

Dealing with a printer
So what do you do when you work with a printer? Well I’ve gained a lot of experience through working with our Production Specialist over the past 5 years and here’s what I did:

1. Go and talk to them in person. I gave the printer a call, then talked to someone in person (i.e. face-to-face) and told them what I wanted to do, called them back to follow-up and scheduled a meeting to discuss things further. A good printer will want to know what you’re doing and help you figure out how to get a good result. After all, most don’t want to provide something crappy at the end of the day.

2. Request samples. As I said above, I’m limited by my paper selections. But even if I was working with a printer that had a larger selection of paper, I’d still request samples so that I can see what the different papers look and feel like. A book is a bit of an intimate thing really, so you need to hold the paper in your hand and see what the experience is like.

3. Get a dummy. If you really want to see what the experience is like, get them to make you a dummy book – basically a blank book that’s the exact page count of your book, bound and trimmed. You’ll get a really good idea of how the whole thing will feel once it’s printed this way.

4. Request a quote. Ask them to put together a quote based on the stock (paper) that you choose, the binding that you choose, set up charges, trimming charges, etc. Talk to them and cover all your bases here. I wanted to have a good idea of what the cost per book would be so that I can figure out what to sell them for and if I’d make or lose money on the deal. Also think about getting them to quote for different amounts of printing. What’s the cost to print 25 vs. 50, 100 or even 1000? You could be surprised to find out that it might be more cost effective to print a lot instead of just a few (this usually isn’t the case with print-on-demand, but it never hurts to ask).

5. Get a proof. The beauty of going with digital printing is that you can print only one copy at a time if you want. So finish up the art and send the files to print. Once they print one copy you can see what the book actually looks like and adjust from there if necessary.

Printing for the most part is a bit of scary process the very first time – at least it was for me. The cost is incredibly high when you’re the one footing the bill. And the last thing you want is to screw it up. Over time though, I’ve gotten really used to working for print and I love the process. And despite the experience I’ve gained professionally, I still find that the finished piece is always a little bit different than you’d imagined and you can’t replicate the experience on screen no matter how much you try.

About jason

Illustrator and graphic designer. When not working full time as a Senior Graphic Designer, I am usually working on the graphic novel On the Verge: the Arrow of Time. Artist on Andrew Jackson in Space and The Sisters.

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