For many of us, getting a book printed is a mysterious process bringing us away from our laptops and into the world of phone calls, negotiations and the factory visits. While I know that everybody's situation and needs are different, I wanted to share my process here as a reference point for any other cartoonists looking to get their works printed.
0. My requirements
- 500 copies
- 40 pages/book
- Full color
- Custom size (I didn't follow conventional superhero comic or binded book sizes, though if need be I can adjust the white space so it fits)
- Convenience more important than price (as a single-person team, I want to free up more time for writing/drawing/marketing)
1. Get a referral
Whenever I can, I'll ask people where they get their books/publications printed. After doing this for a while, a friend of mine offered to let me tag along with her to her upcoming meeting with her printshop here in Hong Kong. That was how I met the team at Regal Printing Ltd, who are based in an industrial complex roughly 90 minutes from where I live.
Both my friend and contact in the publishing industry have vouched for Regal as the place they go for their high-quality printing needs. Yes, it may be significantly cheaper to print a book in China, but:
- Regal is not actually expensive by Western standards
- They have good customer support and quality control
- Visually-rich books are sometimes pirated and sold online in China
In my case, it helps that they are local so I can literally hop on a train to go there and talk to them with paper samples in hand.
Of course, I also did a bunch of desk research and found some online-ordering-friendly printshops commonly used by other cartoonists. (You can find a compilation of that research here.)
2. Get a quote + sample
When I was preparing my Kickstarter campaign, I emailed the team at Regal to ask about their price for the print run I was planning. In case my campaign blew up, I got quotes for both print runs of 500 and 1000. Luckily, they've worked on comics and graphic novels before, so I didn't have to know all of the print order details beforehand – I only had to specify whether the paper would be coated/uncoated, white/creamy and what the final size of the book was. With that I received some default, suggested parameters:
- TPSD: 163 mm (w) x 207 mm (h)
- Extent: text 36 pages (18 sheets) + 4 pages cover (total 40 pages)
- Stock & printing : text printed 4cx4c on 1) 100 gsm Print Speed uncoated 2) on 100 gsm IKPP uncoated. Cover printed 4cx4c on 210 gsm artcard plus one side pp gloss lam[inated]
- Binding : two wire saddle stitching
- Materials : all print ready PDF files supplied
These parameters also came with a price that varied depending on which paper I chose and how many copies I printed. What they quoted me was in the same ballpark as a few of the printing services that had public pricing info from my research earlier). (Update: Actually given that mine was offset printed, it ended up being roughly the same price but in a much higher quality. Granted, I didn't ask about bulk 500-at-a-time discount prices at the competitor services.)
I then verbally committed to using their service moving forward and asked for a print sample for my Kickstarter campaign. Luckily, they offered me two free samples and asked me to send them a high-res PDF of the comic. (Given that this takes substantial work on their part, I'm not 100% sure if I'd have gotten this if I hadn't come in through a friend referral.) Because Clip Studio Paint has poor CYMK support, I ended up just just sending them an RGB PDF and asking them nicely to convert it using their default settings. And viola, a week later, they emailed me to let me know my samples were ready for in-person pick up!
Here's me, nervously clutching one of them in their office lobby:
About two months later, I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to print at least 500 copies of the comic. It was a short, 10-day campaign with a modest goal of $1000 (USD). I received exactly 100 orders for the print edition of the comic and decided to put in an order for 500.
3. First meeting: samples & paper options
When I tagged along with my friend to her meeting with Regal many months ago, I learned two important things:
- Rather than taking a crash course on paper names and bookbinding methods, I was advised to come into a meeting with other books whose printing methods/quality I wanted to mimic.
- "FSC" is the keyword for environmentally-friendly paper stock.
At this point, I mostly just wanted 500 copies of the sample that I received before with only minor changes:
- I wanted a matte, non-glossy cover.
- Thicker cover and inside paper if possible.
- FSC paper please.
I emailed these requests to the team at Regal and set up an in-person meeting. For that, I brought along samples of other short comics (because mine is only 40 pages and is more zine than graphic novel) from Nobrow, Youth in Decline and Shortbox whose print quality I really admired.
At the meeting, we thumbed through some of the books I brought along, and they pulled out some other books and comics that they'd printed before. My printing needs were, after all, pretty simple, so it was a pretty straightforward meeting.
About a day later, they emailed me the updated price, which was bumped up slightly to account for thicker and more environmentally-friendly paper. Here's what the final order looked like:
- Title: Teacher’s Pet
- Trimmed page size: 163mm ( W ) x 207mm ( H )
- Extent: 36pp text + 4pp cover
- Stock & Printing:
-- Text: 36pp printed 4c x 4c process on 140 gsm Golden Sun woodfree (FSC certified)
-- Cover: 4pp printed 4c x 4c process on 300 gsm Golden Sun woodfree (FSC certified)
- Binding: two wire saddle stitching
Origination: CTP printing, 200 LPI, complete paged PDF files in high resolution on disc in CMYK format, all text embedded together with printout reference.
- Proofs: Regal to supply PDF file for approval
- Packing: Pack in export carton
- Delivery: One address in Hong Kong
4. Proofs, bluelines & colors
A week after confirming the details of my order, I received proofs and bluelines in the mail. As you can see above, proofs are for previewing color (though in this case they were not printed on the same paper type as the final one so it's only a rough approximation) and bluelines are for previewing placement/construction (aka ignore the janky colors).
After examining the proofs, I called up my the production supervisor who was in charge of my project to discuss whether it was possible to adjust the colors to match the earlier sample booklet. He said he'd look into it, and asked if I'd like to be on-site during the printing process for any last-minute adjustments.
Of course I did.
5. Real-time adjustments
Above: my mother, looking over some proofs of a comic about her, at the Regal Printing Ltd factory.
I arrived at the Regal Printing facilities blearly-eyed about a week later to be greeted with ready-made proofs from my book (see photo above). There I spoke to two technicians on the factory floor, who were separately responsible for the cover and inside pages. Looking over the stacks of printouts that they had, it turns out that they optimize for color by printing sample up sample (more blues, less blues, more reds, less reds, etc.) until they find the best one.
I double checked their recommended prints with the PDF on my laptop, and with the initial sample booklet. I then flipped through some of their other sample prints, to see if it looked better with more reds, blues, etc. While I was happy with their recommended print for the inside pages, I wasn't completely satisfied with how the deep purple was coming out on the cover. So I discussed it with the respective technician, bringing over the inside-page proof so we could match the colors, and ended up asking for more blue on the cover. Here's him adjusting that in real-time:
After that, they printed fresh sample for me to check, and I signed it with a pencil to mark that it was my final choice. Then we were done, and I was told it would be ready in a few days. As a parting gift, they let me take home a rolled-up proof (one table-top spread above) 😍❗️
Intermission II: Designer tips
On the way home, I stopped by one of my favorite cafe-bookstores and ran into one of the bookstore-owners and book design veteran Renatus Wu. Looking over the roll of paper I had with me, he gave me some tips about book printing:
- For digitally-colored artwork (aka flat colors), choose a paper with more texture so that the flat colors come out richer with texture.
- Given time, experiment with stippling/halftone for semi-transparent parts. This will yield a more color accurate (because color adjustments throw things off) and surprisingly beautiful effect.
- Double check the quality of the print by a) checking the crispness of the crosshairs on the white margins, and b) by matching the most-saturated 100% CYMK blocks/palettes on the white margins of the covers and pages.
- Beware to asking for too many color increases – if the colors are laid on too thick, they may rub off post-print.
- If the final books have a film of dust/thin powder on them, then that means the printer has added a powder to artificially dry them faster.
6. Boxes arrive
A week later, the boxes arrived at my apartment. Several things of note:
- 500 small comics takes up more space than I thought! I don't know why I'd imagined it fitting into two medium-sized boxes underneath my desk.
- The final printed comic is thicker and heavier (👍❗️) than I thought. I forgot to factor in that the sample booklet had thinner covers and pages.
- I got an extra pile of thirty or so books marked "SAMPLE", which I can only assume are discards from when the machines were warming up/winding down.
Drop by our book launch!
We're having a small party to celebrate the final print and release of the comic! It'll be a casual affair – part party, part pop-up store, here in Hong Kong on November 4. More details here.
If you can't make it, why not order a copy of the comic that I just printed from my online store?