How to Make a Graphic Novel/Comic Book – Part 4 (Pre-Press)


This is part 4 of a series I’m putting together for folks looking into creating a comic book or graphic novel from scratch, up to the printing process. In the last few installments, I covered brainstorming/writing/scripting, basic drawing mechanics, and laying out pages in a traditional book format.

Now we’ll tackle the most tedious part – PRE-PRESS.

Where do I start?

I’ll start with the basics first.

1. Colour or Black and White?

If you’re doing a webcomic that you want to turn into a printed comic/graphic novel, you have to take a few things into account. The first is colour. If you want to print in colour, know that your price will increase dramatically. This is due to the number of process inks (CMYKCyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key [which is Black] ) used to create the colours necessary for your printed work. Each colour requires its own plate, and based on the density of the dots on each plate, you will create your colours with each pass of ink – think of them as ‘layers.’

If you decide to print in black and white (with tones of grey, etc) you will only require one plate – Black. This reduces the amount of inks needed for printing and reduces costs significantly.

If your work is primarily shown on the web, chances are, your files are in RGB colour space. For print, you will require to convert them to CMYK in order to have the colours ready to separate into their CMYK mixes. You’ll notice that upon conversion, that some of your colours turn muddy or muted. That is due to a mix of colours that fall outside of the gamut of the CMYK spectrum.

Here’s a chart from the Createspace forums to explain visually:


The visible colour spectrum is the entire circle. This is what we can see with the naked eye.

The RGB gamut is the colour that is displayed on a monitor (using light)

The Pantone gamut are colours that can be achieved in print using specialized mixes of base colors from various pigments (Pantone formula)

The CMYK gamut are colours that can be achieved using a mix of process inks.

As you can see, the CMYK gamut is quite limited. But, you can achieve some very nice looking colour print jobs if you plan ahead. Pantone colours are specifically mixed colours used for printing to ensure a more accurate representation of a single colour. They are costly to use, and should only be used for limited colour applications.


2. Resolution

Each printer has their own specifications for resolution. When viewing things on screen, there is a good chance that your finished files are set to 72 dpi (dots per inch), which is the old standard for monitors and screens. (With Retina-capable displays and others, this benchmark has changed from 72 to 96-144dpi, but I digress)

For print, the minimum standard for resolution in full colour is 300dpi. For black line art, you can raise this to 600dpi.

Depending on the paper stock you are printing on, higher dpi isn’t necessarily better. A better quality paper with some gloss (like a magazine with large photos) may benefit from having a higher resolution, but if you are printing on bond or newsprint, you will oversaturate the page with ink. Or, you may have a lot of text and simple linework which does not require extremely high resolutions for crisp, clear printing.


From Guangdong XIRAN Printing.

Don’t worry though – a printer will always determine the best settings for printing during the pre-press phase, and most printers have representatives that are happy to answer any questions you may have about file setup. Give them the specifications of your work, and they will give you the best recommendation for your work.


3. Page size

When creating your finished work, make sure the pages have already been established at 100% of their size. In the layout portion of this series, we did everything in InDesign, and used vector artwork (which is scalable.) But many of you have Photoshop and Manga Studio files – therefore, it is important to create a properly sized template from the beginning, in the event you want to print your work.


From Ka-Blam Printing

Create a new document for the page size you wish to have, then increase the outer edges by at least 1/4 of an inch. This is to ensure that there is some extra ‘padding’ if you have images that bleed off the edges of your page. If you draw up to the edge of your finished size, and the printer cuts the pages incorrectly or off just slightly, you run the risk of getting an unsightly paper edge instead of a nice flowing image that runs off the edge of the page – as intended.


4. Number of Pages

Now that you have your colours established, page size and resolution for your files, you’ll need to make sure that you have a proper number of pages in mind. The standard is a multiple of 16.

If you want to visually see how the magic happens, grab a sheet of paper and turn it so the long side faces upwards. Then, draw a line across the middle to split the page in half horizontally. Draw another line to split it in half vertically, and draw two more vertical lines to split the page into 8 equal areas.

Do the same on the back side.

Now number them in the same manner as this diagram.


Now, with the BACK side facing you and with the long edge facing up, fold the page in half vertically (so that the number 2 touches the number 3). You should now have this:


Fold it in half horizontally, so the 8-9 is BEHIND the 16-1.
Then fold in half vertically one more time so the 16 is behind the 1.

Grab some scissors and trim the top and right hand sides. There’s your mini book.  Open each page and you’ll see them in their correct order. Now you understand how you see page 2 printed on the next page behind page 1, and so on. The magic happens in the placement or imposition of the pages prior to printing.

It also helps to understand why you need to have your end number of pages result in a multiple of 16. If you don’t you will pay extra for BLANK PAGES.

Plan ahead, and don’t waste space!


5. Type of paper.

We talked about this briefly when we discussed resolution and ink depth. But there’s much more to learn about the importance of paper during the print process.

Before you select a paper, you need to determine whether or not you are printing in full colour and if you are going to print a large volume (graphic novel) or a number of smaller issues (floppies.)

This will determine the size and thickness of your finished piece – and what type of paper you’ll want to consider. Generally, a graphic novel will use a thicker stock on the cover and a thinner stock on the interior. With a floppy, you may want to have a cover that is slightly thicker/glossier than your interior pages.


Here’s a few samples of typical paper weights for comics:

Cover (40lb to 80lb Text Stock, Glossy, Coated 2 sides)
Interior (40lb or 50lb Text Stock, Glossy Coated two sides or Matte paper)

Graphic Novel
Cover (60lb to 90lb Cover Stock, Glossy, Coated 2 sides)
Interior (40lb or 50lb Text Stock, Glossy Coated two sides or Matte paper)

The difference between Cover and Text stock is the weight of the ‘parent’ size of the paper. To avoid confusion, treat them as two separate weights – with the higher number being thicker for that style of paper (unless you’re REALLY interested in paper, don’t try wrapping your head around this just yet.)

Have an idea of the style of paper you’d like to print on and submit that information in your quote to the printer (we’ll talk about quoting in the next segment). You’ll see the difference in price from economy stock to premium stock, cover stocks, etc.

Some graphic novels have hard covers, but they are only available if you have a minimum amount of pages and bound a certain way. We’ll talk about this next…


6. Binding.

Now that you have all of these pages printed, there needs to be a way to have them stay together. This is called BINDING. The two most common forms of binding for Comics and Graphic Novels are Saddle Stitching and Perfect Binding.

This is Saddle Stitching. Staples in the center of the book to hold everything together.

From MGX Copy. Click the image link to learn more!

Note the staples in the middle. This type of binding is VERY common for books under 32 pages – like floppies. After 32 pages, you will need to move into binding that is a bit more robust.

This is Perfect Binding. Bundles of signatures which are glued together and cut (raked) to form a spine, which then have a cover glued to the spine to form a solid one piece book.


Perfect Binding is perfect (pun, pun) for comics larger than 32 pages for the increased stability and presentation. You don’t lose as much of the trimmed edges as well (which I’ll explain in a moment.) The drawback to perfect binding is its reliance on glue to hold everything together. Over time, the glue may deteriorate and crack allowing the pages to slip out or the cover to come loose and weaken the spine. You can pay extra for signature stitching to keep the book together, but it is a costly process. Temperatures may affect the glue also – make sure you find out the durability of the glue used in your Perfect Binding if you live in areas of extreme heat or cold.

Trimming is important in the binding process, as it will determine how your pages are set up before printing. For Saddle-Stitched floppies, you need to have generous margins on the left and right sides to accommodate for trimming.


When you assemble your folded pages to form a spine, but all of the pages are the same width you’ll end up with PAGE CREEP. This occurs when the interior pages stick out beyond the edge of the cover, due to the thickness of the paper. Having margins on the left and right sides of your pages will allow you to trim the pages to a neat edge without losing valuable imagery. For comics that have images that bleed off the edges of the page, you’ll have to make sure that nothing important is in this danger zone.

For Perfect Bound books, the page creep is much less, since the folded signature bundles are smaller (4-8 pages or so). It looks like this.


The Takeaway

I know this is a lot to digest, but if you understand the mechanics of HOW a book is put together from printing to assembly, you’ll be one step ahead when it comes time to telling the printer what you want and getting what you want after production.

In the next installment of the series, we’ll go over choosing a printer, and the quoting process. Then we’ll round out the series with examining your proofs and delivery: receiving/managing your inventory.

Robin had a wonderful article entitled: Where do you get your books printed? which covers a lot of the same things I’m going to talk about in my next part of the series. After you’ve checked this article out, take a look at Robin’s and compare notes (and expand your brains – there’s always more than one way to do things!)
Andrés ‘ Drezz ‘ Rodriguez is an illustrator, author, and podcast personality. In addition to creating the comic book series ‘El Cuervo – the Latin Assassin,’ he provides WA readers with periodic articles (like this one) to help improve their comic process and their production.

Feel free to follow him on Twitter, on Facebook or see the various projects he’s involved in at his hub site, drezzworks.

Posted in Featured News, Helpful Hints, Tutorials and tagged .


    • Thanks – there’s some good information out there which I wanted to encapsulate in a series of posts. This information has been brought up in numerous outlets, but not something we’ve fully tacked here.

      I hope it was useful.

  1. I think uniqueness is something very crucial for a webcomic. For that matter, colour, shape, size and written word reflects a form of communication..they have meaning which is important for the personality of a comic. Thanks for sharing wisdom through this amazing post, it was glad reading it.

  2. Drezz, this is great info. I have a exstensive history and experience in pre press, and you covered the basis very well. I also made some artist proof templates for Kablam, in Photoshop, MangaStudio, and Illustrator format. If you want I will email them to you to distribute. Or they will be available on my art portfolio website (when it gets posted some time next month).

    • Maybe you could do up a guest article explaining how you put them together (if you have the time) and we can tie it into this series?

      I’d love to see what you’ve done – it will be helpful for a lot of people!

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