Every page has to start somewhere, and a little upfront investment building a template page can save you hours of work in the future. You can scan art boards and use these ruled (measured and marked) pages to build a template (see Freddie Williams’ book, The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics). Pre-ruled digital templates are also available. This batch of tutorials will discuss building a template from scratch, but should be helpful even if you have a template provided to you.
It’s important to have an understanding of Bleed, Trim, and Live/Safe Areas before building your own templates. Here are a few resources that have already done a great job of explaining the basics, so please take a look if you’re not already familiar before continuing with this tutorial:
Also, PS is a program that produces raster images (i.e. – “pixel” based images). When dealing with pixels, resolution (density/number of pixels per inch) is important. Here are a couple primers on raster graphics and resolution:
The Printed Page
It’s extremely important to know what technical specs your book is going to need, as the specific measurements often will vary depending on printer, publisher, or other needs. This should always be the foundation for your template, as the finished product will need to be sent out in this format.
Your standard printed comic book page measures 6.625″x 10.25″, with a bleed of 6.875″ x 10.5″. A safe rule is to always use this bleed size as the basis for your template. By starting with your digital comic page at printed bleed size, and by keeping track of any resizing or other modifications you make, you can follow the same steps backwards to the proper specs when it comes time to ready your page for submission or printing.
Comic art has traditionally been drawn oversized so that when the art is reduced, small irregularities in the art will be less apparent. When working digitally, working large still has these same benefits – and in some cases may actually be necessary. I’ve found that my personal template needs have changed as my methods have evolved. Again, as long as you know what the page will need to look like in the end, you can plan how to set up your template any way you want and still end up with the proper format. When deciding your own template size, there are a few things to consider:
Page Dimensions (height and width): Working at a smaller size than the printed page is often problematic (see images and discussion below) You may want to work at a larger size, especially if you plan on printing your page for inking by hand on a traditional 11×17 page. If you change your dimensions, make sure you enlarge the page uniformly, without altering the proportions of height to width(make sure “constrain proportions” is checked).
Resolution (dpi/ppi): The common minimum resolution (density of pixels per inch) for a “quality” printed comic page is 300dpi(dots/pixels per inch), though you may want work larger than this.
There are a couple basic rules to remember regarding page dimensions, resolution and resizing:
(1) Enlarging causes problems. If you take a 300dpi image and blow it up to 60odpi, lines that appeared smooth will now appear blocky or fuzzy. Here, I’ve taken part of an illustration and increased its size/resolution, note the lower quality of the second image:
(2) When reducing resolution, you will likely lose some fine detail in the process (when reducing from 600dpi to 300dpi, you’ve greatly reduced the number of pixels being used to create your image, so less detail will be visible). HOWEVER, this can be used to your advantage, as small irregularities and errors that seem glaring and obvious at high resolutions will also be far less noticeable when the image has been reduced. (This is simply the reverse of the problem we saw in the images above – if you look at the second image, it’s very fuzzy/”noisy”, but reduce the resolution and look how nice and clean it looks!)
So, it’s much better to work large and lose some fine detail if necessary when reducing than to work small and enlarge (which nearly always looks bad). I’ll post later on more tips, tricks and traps related to resizing art.
(note: Though page dimensions and resolution are both valid ways of resizing your page, you may find it easier not to mess with page dimensions, but rather just increase or decrease resolution as you need. Less math that way )
Color Mode: For our purposes, only a few color modes really concern us: Color (RGB, CMYK) and B&W (Grayscale and Bitmap). Really, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to work in color or not, but if you are focusing on producing digital pencils or inks remember that color files are considerably larger than b&w. Whatever format you draw in, though, most printers/publishers will want the final art in bitmap mode, which is the smallest (and most lossy) format. Bear in mind that Bitmap is essentially just white and black pixels with no shades of gray, and often very fine lines will disappear if you’re not careful.
File Size: I’ll reiterate again that the larger any of the above criteria become, the larger the file size of your page. Even if you have a large storage device, the larger your file, the longer it will take to save, load and for photoshop to calculate changes. And, as you continue to work, one page will become ten, then dozens, and it really starts to add up.
File Type/Format: TIFFs/TIFs are the industry standard, most commonly with LZW compression. Feel free to save your pages-in-progress in whatever format you like, but TIFs are hard to beat.
Assuming you’re emulating a traditional process of drawing oversized original art before reducing down to print size (which I highly recommend), here is a basic set of specs you can use:
Working Size (“Original Art”)-
Page Dimensions: 9.75″ x 15″ (full bleed)
Resolution: 300 dpi (minimum!)
Color Mode: Greyscale
Print Size (Resized, Ready to Output for Press)-
Document Size : 6.825″ x 10.5″ (full bleed)
Resolution: 300-450 dpi
Color Mode: Bitmap
Bear in mind that every printer and publisher works differently, so these specifications are NOT catch-alls. But they do approximate the process of converting original, over-sized art for press.
Next time: Ruling your Template!
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