Self-publishing graphic novels with CreateSpace — Part 1

CreateSpace is a free self-publishing print-on-demand service/platform. It’s also Amazon owned so the experience of making your book(s) available for sale worldwide through Amazon is effortless if you use it.

If you haven’t heard about CreateSpace, you can find out more here. Needless to say, being able to self-publish graphic novels, making the printed versions available worldwide is a game-changer for indie creators!

Having said all that, while it is a godsend for indie publishers, it does come with a learning curve as there’s not many guides to cover publishing of graphic novels.

But fear not, I’ll be writing articles covering everything I’ve learned about the subject in a series of posts! Starting with this one.

This part is about deciding on the print dimensions and preparing templates for artwork. This is important as you don’t want to get too far down the line of creating your artwork and finishing your lettering only to discover that you’ve used the wrong dimensions — I’ve made this mistake, and it’s painful...

Warning! If you decide to use this as a process, please bare in mind that everything I do is work in progress. These guidelines and templates are a good starting point, but test everything out yourself to make sure it works for you.

Artwork templates

A US comic book is 6.625 inches wide by 10.25 inches high. The closest equivalent size in CreateSpace is 7 inches by 10 inches.

When writing graphic novels, you could actually use any size you want, but I like sticking to standards where I can unless there’s a good reason not to.

Anyway, 7 inches by 10 inches seems close enough to the traditional size. But since graphic novels tend to have images bleeding to the edge of the page, we really need to make sure we’re clear what size we’re working to so that the artwork has enough bleed to fit and that we don’t lose too much artwork when the pages get trimmed.

In my case, it was important to find the right balance between the two formats so I could easily switch between the two without much pain.

My template

You can, of course, still use this template even if you’re not running automated scripts like myself.

My first assumption with this template is that all my projects will have images bleeding to the edge of the page. In reality, many books that I’ve published don’t need to go to the edges, but I find it easier to work on this assumption as it helps me create those aforementioned automation scripts. It also keeps things nice and easy for my production process.

As mentioned previously (but I wanted reiterate it here): the template I use is a mash up of both aforementioned sizes. So while I publish in CreateSpace now, I could in future decide to publish in the more “traditional” US format without much hassle.

Anyway, below is the template I’ve started using for all my artwork. This is the template I send to all artists I work with, so there are no “surprises” when I get pages back for the production process.

Comic artwork template

Don’t worry if you’re lost, I’ll walk you through it from the centre out:

Live area

I usually have page counts up to 200 pages, and I found the live region in my template to be fine for my purposes.

Bleed

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the final book trim from CreateSpace will be consistent from book to book. Pages “slip” as they zoom through the printers. This means there is often a big difference in what ends up as the final page from book to book and page to page. So to reiterate this again, the crop would be somewhere in the bleed area but the blue borders is a very rough approximation.

If you include the thick blue lines at the top and bottom of the page as the bleed, you’ll get the US comic size so. As we’re interested in CreateSpace publishing, these two blue borders will be the first casualty as we‘ll be cropping those before sending the final PDF to the printing press.

Note: An artist should apply artwork over the entire page (yes, that includes over the blue bands at the top and bottom of the page). It’s good to keep yourself open to the US format should you choose it later.

How to use this template?

Here are the image size settings I use (In Photoshop: Image > Image Size):

Notice that I’ve oversized the image. It’s a good idea to do your artwork on an oversized canvas to retain as much quality as possible before you shrink it down. This is especially the case if you use this template as you might need to shrink the pages to slightly different dimensions.

If your computer is too slow to go to 14 inches wide, then go to at least 10 inches wide instead. But don’t work on the exact page size. Always go slightly larger — that’s my opinion anyway. Other views do exist.

Lettering and production

Side note: When resizing the image, remember to avoid the JPG format! It’s lossy, which means that each time you save, you lose valuable information from the image. This is bad and will cause you problems, especially if you want your comic published to ComiXology! I always remind my artists to avoid JPG at all stages of the artworking process unless it’s to send images to me to review.

Stick to TIFF format instead.

So you have an image that is sized to 7 inches x 10.565 inches, however as discussed earlier, that includes those blue areas on the top and bottom of the page. Since we’re publishing to CreateSpace, we don’t need those areas, meaning the final dimensions will be 7 inches x 10.25 inches.

There’s more to discuss on this subject, but I think I’ve covered what I wanted to in this part. In this article I wanted to outline the method I use to ensure my artwork is produced in the correct format and with the right dimensions with CreateSpace publishing in mind.

In the next part, I’ll describe how I resize the pages properly and ensure I have the right sizes with the correct amount of bleed. Getting this wrong means you’ll have your pages rejected by CreateSpace.

But while you’re here, if you found this useful, please consider following me on twitter or tumblr and drop me a message. If I’ve got anything wrong, or if you have a better alternative, then please also let me know!

I’m Iqbal Ali, I write comics among other things. You can check out my work on midlfrenzy.com. My Amazon page can be found here.

Experimentation consultant and trainer. Writer and comics creator.