No, I’m not Batman. I’m just a man involved in self-publishing, in the final stages of creating a 200 page trade paperback edition of Zombie Ranch after our successful Kickstarter, and man oh man am I sick of bleeding right now.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about — first off, I am not in danger of imminent exsanguination. Secondly, I am envious of your ignorance. Thirdly, let me explain, since if you plan to self-publish your comic using any method other than your own home printer, then sooner or later you are going to deal with this.
See, even if your pages are already friendly to, say, the standard comic book dimensions of 6.625 inches wide by 10.25 inches tall (and don’t ask me how those weird numbers ended up being the standard considering it’s a nice round 16.83 x 26.04 cm in metric terms), you can’t just slap your webcomic into a PDF of that size and send it off to Lulu or whatnot.
It’s bleed time. Here’s the wiki article if you want, but simply put, bleed is extra space you’re adding around the “canvas” of your comic above and beyond that 6.625 x 10.25, because part of the printing process is chopping a certain amount off the edges.
But wait, there’s more! Different printers require different bleeds, you see, so the files you formatted when you were printing individual issues with Company X are now going to need adjustment before printing the trade collection with Company Y. For that matter, if you then go to Company Z to print the second edition of that trade, you may very well once again have to meet their particular bleed requirements. You might even run into a situation where Company X got new printing equipment since the year before, so the same company now needs reformatted files.
This is why it’s really, really crucial to have a folder full of your originals at 300 DPI resolution, whether scanned or digitally created. Some printers might let you get away with just making your canvas a little bigger and adding say, a black border around your art. Others will reject you if there’s so much as a smidge of that kind of thing, because even if you don’t care if a bit of black might show up in the final printing due to machine inaccuracies, they won’t allow it. You either need to shrink your art down so that there’s a big enough border to meet their interior margin requirements, or blow up your art so that it extends to the edges of the new dimensions on all sides. This is also why it’s helpful in our case that the originals for our files are multi-layered Photoshop creations where, for instance, we can resize or reposition certain elements like word balloons and text if necessary. Otherwise sometimes you get situations where you need to make your art bigger to fill the bleed, but now some important parts are outside the safe areas and might cause your printer to balk all over again.
Oh yeah, there’s also safe areas to be cognizant of. I’ve become distressingly intimate with the guideline functions of Photoshop in the last few months just to keep all this straight. Some pages are easy. Some are torturous. Some, Dawn actually had to go back and draw extended art for in order to for the proportions to remain correct during resizing.
Now I do want to say that our Kickstarter printer, a small operation I can talk to readily and who understands our needs and wants, has been a joy to work with. But we’re also trying to get distribution through Amazon Create Space, who are both extremely picky and extremely unwilling to accommodate any deviations from their templates, and there is nothing more fun than combing back through 196 interior pages in order to nudge them a fraction of an inch to the left or right, then resubmitting only to have the bundle rejected again. I’m still going back and forth with them, even as our primary printer is already greenlit for the final run.
But I digress. This is just more or less the agonizing necessities of the business, and I guess bleed is there to join with our sweat and tears. Plus it could always be worse — we have our high-res, layered originals, they’re mostly proportioned well for standard print sizes… and most of all I’m really, really glad that I don’t have to deal with a two-page splash.