InDesign 101: Part ONE

Even if we refer to our comic as a “WEBcomic”, one of our typical goals as a cartoonist/creator is to eventually collect our comics in book-form, to sell and actually earn some profit from our endless hard work and strict deadlines. While we may have mastered Adobe Photoshop, and possibly even tinkered with Illustrator enough to not be stricken with fear at the term “vector”, there is still another roadblock between a digital comic and the elusive print collection: Adobe InDesign. InDesign is a desktop publishing application, laid out much like the other Adobe programs, and it’s a great tool in collecting your, erm, collections! Much like Powerpoint will allow you to format a group of slides, InDesign will layout your book and allow you to export as a PDF- the standard file format used by many online print-on-demand publishers. If you need help deciding on WHICH P.O.D. printer to use for your book, reference THIS article first. It is highly recommended that you make this decision first- whom to print your books through, so you can then set up your book properly – specifically formatted for that particular printer. So, do your homework, gather quotes, know what you want. Here’s some decisions you need to make before you even touch InDesign:

  1. How many pages will your book be?
  2. What dimensions will your comic fit best into? A traditionally sized comic book, a thick square collection, or another unique size? Think of what is best for the reader.
  3. Do you absolutely need the interior to be in color? Can you get by with it being B&W or grayscale? (color severely cranks up the price- it may be hard to make much profit)
  4. Will your book have an ISBN on the back? (this may depend on which printer you end up using, as well. Createspace adds an ISBN)
  5. What are the bleeds required by your chosen printer? How about the spine width? Also find out how much space you have to leave around the edges of each page– the margins. Gather any and all requirements.

The next thing on the checklist, which can take a lot of time, is to ensure your comic pages/strips are set up correctly to A: place into InDesign, and B: for printing at a high quality. Here’s some more pointers for that:

  1. If printing in COLOR, use the CMYK color mode. If printing  in grayscale (black & white), the grayscale color mode is best.
  2. 300DPI (resolution) is the standard, for printing high quality images.
  3. Ensure your images are to scale, for how they will be printed. If you work a LOT bigger than the size it will be printed, it might be a good idea to save a copy closer to the actual size, to keep the final file size lower. The comic files CAN be bigger, but never smaller, but preferably the exact size they’ll be printed.
  4. InDesign will accept many file formats, but I would suggest .psd, .eps, or .ai (ONLY if the PDF compatible option is checked when saving the .ai). I work in Illustrator, so my files are vector-based, and I have found they printed cleanest in comparison to Photoshop files. If working in Photoshop, it’s extremely important the resolution is 300dpi or more, and you don’t try to blow up the size in any way (resolution, or measurements). Otherwise, your comic images will appear bitmapped and blurry in print.
  5. It’s probably best to save all the comic files to print in one easily accessible folder. InDesign will always need to find the “linked images”, so do not separate them from the book file itself. Even renaming the images folder will confuse InDesign’s linkage to them. However, if linked properly, it makes updating easy as once you save the revised comic file, it’s easy to update in InDesign. No need to delete and re-place the image.

 Step 1: Meet InDesign

Once you have all your printer info for your own self-published book, and you have saved your comic pages/strips accordingly,  it’s then time to crack open InDesign and met to know your surroundings. If you have used other Adobe programs, you should be in pretty familiar territory: recognizing some tools and palettes. Much is laid out the very same way, but InDesign will offer you some more features that will aid your desktop publishing needs. Here is a basic screen shot (with my first book interior file opened to use an example).

The tools and palettes called out here are ones you’ll be using quite often when laying out your book. While some may appear the same as in Photoshop or Illustrator, they may be used in a slightly different manner. We’ll get into the palette’s uses later, but for right now, here’s a quick breakdown of the tools:

  • Selection Tool: This tool selects the main items- the holding text BOX, the holding image BOX.
  • Direct Selection Tool: This tool selects the interior items- the text itself, the image itself. (and the cursor also turns into a hand, which can be confused with the hand TOOL- so be aware of that)
  • Type Tool: pretty much the same use as in other Adobe programs- use to initiate typing. Click and drag to make a type box.
  • Rectangle Frame Tool: Use this tool as a placement area for an image you intend to link (aka: “Place”)– ie: your comic pages.
  • Free Transform Tool: Use to adjust sizing of images and text itself. You’ll note that using the corners of the Selection Tool will only change the size of the holding box, not the actual item.
  • Hand Tool: Use to move the document as a whole, on your screen. Not be confused with the hand cursor, when using the Direct Selection Tool.

Step 2: Set Up Your Document

Using the information from the printer you already gathered, setting up your document should be a breeze. Really, what you have to worry about is your page size, bleed (if you even need it- my interior file had no bleed as the color at the edges of each page was white/blank), and margins. Open a new document, under FILE—> NEW–> Document.  Refer to the dialog boxes below:

“New Document” or “Document Setup” under FILE

“Margins and Columns” under LAYOUT

Yes, check “facing pages”, as it’s the best way to layout your book in a logical manner, and especially if you have images that will take up a full spread. (A spread, if you’re not sure, is how you refer to the right and left page, of an opened book, together as one)

The page count can simply be an approximate, you can always add or subtract pages as you go. As for the margins, typically printers will have a general setting (maybe a half inch) for the top, bottom and outside. The “inside” is sometimes determined by how many pages your book will contain; the more pages, the more space is needed on the inside of each page, to allow for the binding. For instance, Createspace gave me an exact number for my interior margins, as well as my book’s spine, as calculated by the page count.


Once these couple steps are set, they will be applied to each new page in your document. Further details can be added, like the placement of images (handy for the comic strip collections), or the page numbers… using the Pages Palette and the Master Page. InDesign is big on repetition and presets, to make laying out your book easier, so you don’t have to spend time layout out each and every page the same way. This is a lot to explain, and will be flushed out in PART TWO of this article series. Keep an eye out. Until then, you have a lot of homework to do, printers to decide on, and files to compile and save properly.


Dawn Griffin is a self-described “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her high school years either playing street ball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the syndication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and the illustrator of the Abby’s Adventures kids book series. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.


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  1. I’ll chime in with another brief note about page layout and printing.

    If you are going with an offset print run (must be nice, Mister Moneybags), often the printer will take care of the imposition (proper order of the pages) for you. But the easier you can make it on them for pre-press and production will mean less cost for set-up time, and a quicker turnaround time for delivery as your files are already set up.

    InDesign has ALL the tools you need to get your book print-ready, whether its through a single doc PDF or a batch of files with all the links and fonts.

    • good point Drezz… avoiding (or lessening) the set-up costs is another benefit of learning InDesign. And it’s a heckuva lot easier to pick up than what I was weaned on back in college- Quark Xpress (AACK.)

  2. Nice to see you guys take some time to help people out with this. I’ve been using InDesign for about 2 years now and I promise, once you get the hang of it, it’s a really simple product to use and it is invaluable for book layout. Make sure to include how to use the auto-pagination and how easy it is if you need to switch the order of your pages in your document. At first those were two things I did the hard way and REALLY kicked myself over once I learned the correct way. Kudos 🙂

  3. Well summarized! I’ve done a bit of webcomic print layout work for strip-oriented comics, but when I came to put together my own full-page ones, I really wished I had paid attention to my printing options so I had built my artwork with bleed. Lesson learned. -_- But yes, InDesign is a very handy program!

  4. woohoo! Now I’ll have a handy guide if and when I do a volume 2 or more. Seeing that I put out volume 1 in 2009, the rust has accumulated on my indesign skills. All I remember is recto/verso…not much else. Looking forward to part 2

  5. Dawn, this is super helpful. I really appreciate your doing a series on this, it’ll keep me from destroying your twitter with questions. 🙂

  6. Dawn, you should think about adding an update to this article that details the process of adding page numbers to each page. If memory serves, that’s a part of the Master Pages, is it not? I’ll have to look at my InDesign book files to see how I set that up…

    • well, as STATED in the article, Mr. Jump-The-Gun (*smirk*)…. there will be a part 2 in which I cover more details about the program. Part 1 is more about prepping to use InDesign and getting your document set up.

      • Ahhh well that explains it, then.

        Setting up Master Pages tends to be one of the first things I do – mainly because I can sometimes have a hate-hate relationship with Master pages and like to get them out of the way first before doing anything else. 🙂

  7. I have a question about importing images into an in design project.. Maybe a f there was a video that could show a step by step guide, that would be great. 🙂 from opening indesign to importing the fioe/images to then the file export

  8. Don’t mess with impositions!

    Done even slightly wrong it will seriously screw up your page order. Yes, I know it’s easy once you understand it. Yes you have the software to do it. Don’t. Do. It.

    The software the printers have now does it automatically for you and in the many catalogues I’ve been the production and coordinator for, I’ve never been charged for it by the printer. Seriously. Not. Worth. Messing. With.

    ­Rod Salm
    Death At Your Door, a weekly webcomic about Death trying to live a life.

  9. Pingback: Webcomic Alliance - InDesign 101: Part 2

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