Webcomics beget Webcomics!

Bleed Art Pages for Print - Part 1

Started by Rob, August 23, 2010, 02:50:13 AM

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A comic artists' guide to understanding proper
proportions of comic book art for print projects

by Kurt Hathaway

The mystery of the bleed vs. trim vs. live area of comic book artwork plagues the newbie and the pro artist alike. Too often, publishers are provided artwork that does not conform to proper bleed page dimensions. These pages create problems in the printing stage and the result is a sloppy-looking product.

Artists who want to control how their book looks when printed (and to keep editors and publishers from tearing their hair out) should learn the proper guidelines for composing a bleed page. Miscropped panels, heads chopped off, missing borders, out-of-whack composition -- these are all possible if artists don't learn the correct way to format pages.

My name is Kurt Hathaway and I started lettering comic books before the computer age -- on the actual art with pen and ink with a sore wrist. I've been using the computer to letter comics now for 17 years and I still see the same mistakes when it comes to bleed vs. live area. Clearly, there's lots of confusion still present. I'm sharing this information to help clear up the mystery and confusion.

The information here does not apply to webcomics, but only to traditional comic books and graphic novels printed to "hard-copies" and sold in comic shops or other retail outlets. The information here is to better prepare artists for the results that come from drawing 22 pages and a month or two later holding the actual comic book in your hand -- and being happy with the results, rather than wonder who "butchered" the art -- when it was most likely the artist himself.

Be smart and be professional sooner than later. Part of being a pro is knowing your job, and proper page format is the artist's job. Editors notice page formatting when a portfolio is presented for their review, so give them confidence in your work by understanding this material before you draw your next page.

Let's move on to a couple of much-needed definitions before we begin:

A Non-bleed page: a page that sits inset on the final printed page with a white border all around the art. All comics from the 30's to the 70's were printed in this manner. I call these pages "standard" pages, but others may refer to them simply as non-bleed pages. Some artists draw all non-bleed pages while others draw all bleed pages -- or a mix of each, depending on the story they're trying to tell.

As you can see in the photo below, the entire art image is centered on the page, surrounded by a white border (the white is actually the paper color) and no art bleeds off on any side. Just a regular, no-frills, nothing-fancy, standard, non-bleed page.

Somewhere along the way, another option was introduced.

A Bleed page: a page that is designed to be printed right up to the very edge of the printed paper (or to the staple and fold) in the final printed comic book... all covers in traditional American comics are bleed pages. Many interior pages are, too -- depending on the artist. A bleed page may bleed on all four sides (as in a typical splash page) -- while some pages may bleed on only 3, 2 or even 1 side, depending on layout and the composition of the panels.

Maybe only two panels bleed and the others do not -- maybe even only one. If even only one panel's edge bleeds off the page, the page is a bleed page and is no longer a non-bleed page. Consequently, pages with black or colored borders that bleed off the edges are also bleed pages.

Both pages below are bleed pages. It's not a two-page spread (we'll get to that another week) -- and both pages do not bleed on all sides.

Let's see: the left page first panel bleeds only at the top and sides -- to the cut edge of the comic -- and to the center where the fold and staples meet.

The right page first panel bleeds at the top, bottom, and left edge to the center fold/staple line.

The artist, at the art stage, planned the pages to print like you see them here.

Bleed pages should be drawn to different dimensions on the art board than non-bleed pages. Consequently, individual pages fall into one or the other category -- no page can be both a bleed page and a non-bleed page at the same time.

This is because composing and laying out a bleed page requires a different artistic approach than laying out and composing a non-bleed page. Before laying out each page, the artist must ask himself what type of page he's about to create -- and compose the page accordingly.

Next Monday in Part 2:

We'll look at more examples, why following proper bleed specs is in the artists' best interest -- and an explanation of the bleed line, trim line and live area on the original art board.

About the author:

Kurt Hathaway has been meeting deadlines for 25 years. His client list reads like a who's who of publishers: DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Eclipse, Malibu, and tons of others. He has thousands of lettering credits including two for Newsweek and Esquire magazines. A DC editor nicknamed him "The Comics Commando" for his timely delivery of deadline work.

In addition to lettering and logos, Kurt Hathaway's Cartoon Balloons Studio does custom font design, page/book/magazine design, pre-press (setting up press files for the printer), and animated motion graphics for video projects.

He can be reached at:    [email protected]


I met Kurt through some rather unusual circumstances. He kinda spammed me. LOL.

Call it targeted marketing. I had an ad up on a website (the one that got me the services of one Corey Kramer... current artist for Remedy and Wonder Weenies) and Kurt saw it. He sent me a form e-mail offering the services of his company Cartoon Balloon Studios.

Kurt's message was so well written and so persuasive that I decided I wanted to talk to him. So I got him on an instant messenger and three or so hours later of furious typing we've become the very definition of "E-Friends."

Kurt is an amazing guy with an impressive career and an even more impressive breadth of knowledge. What I found particularly interesting about him is that after all his years in comics he still wants to learn. He had all sorts of questions about this new "webcomics" thing and I was eager to fill in the blanks.

One of the assertions Kurt put's forth in this article is that it doesn't apply to webcomics. And technically he's right. But only technically.

If your only goal with your webcomic is to get it on the internet for people to see and you have firm plans to never use it any other medium then stick to your 72 DPI, don't worry about things like bleeds and just get your sizes right.

But if you, like me and like most creators are working in hopes of one day printing your work, be it in print or on t-shirts or what have you; you would do well to heed the advice of the Godfather of Webcomics, Lar deSouza and "Do it right the first time and you don't have to do it again."

I think a lot of you are aware that Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content is currently redrawing a substantial portion of his early comics because as he told me "the high res files are no longer exist."

The point being is that if you desire someday to print or even if you aren't sure and think you might want to print it is absolutely essential that you start off right. And that means learning the things that people like Lar and Kurt have to teach us about the complex, mysterious and often confounding world of print and the proper preparation for it.

Kurt's going to be doing articles for us for some time now and I'd like to thank him in advance for all the wonderful wisdom he will impart to us all. I for one can tell you right know what he has to say in this and upcoming articles has already helped me with my own work substantially. So thanks Kurt. Very much appreciated.


This is exactly what I was coming on to ask, so that's awesome! Thanks Kurt, thansk Rob!
I'm so optimistic, my blood type is 'B Positive'!


Good stuff!

We must always create our stuff with this valuable information in consideration!