23 June 2009

Examining Print on Demand Printers :Size, Paper and Pricing

I'm in search for a new Print-On-Demand printer as I've changed my business model a bit and I need a different printer. Looking at the projects that I'll be publishing over the next 2 years, they will all be square bound books of more than 70 pages and they all fall into 3 size ranges

LETTER : 8.5" x 11" & 134 pages
SQUARE : 8" x 8" & 84 pages
LANDSCAPE : 8" x 6" & 72 pages

I really only want to deal with one printer for all my projects, so I need a printer that will be able print all these sizes. After scrounging around, I managed to find 4 printers that met my need. These are the usually suspects (Lulu, Ka-Blam, and Comixpress) plus a new find that I came across from a webcomics.com post (360 Digital Books).

All the 4 were able to meet my size requirements within reason. Lulu's square size was 7.5" x 7.5" or 8.5" x 8.5" (for this I chose the 8.5" size) and Landspace is 9" x 7". ComixPress and Ka-Blam offer a maximum size of 8" x 10". 360 Digital was the only place that could match all the sizes as I desired.

Lulu uses 2 types of paper for interiors, publisher grade and standard. Publisher grade is a 50# white text stock. Standard varies based upon size and binding. For square (7.5"), it's 60# cream text stock and for 8.5" it's 60# white text. For Letter and landscape, it's 60# white text. The cream paper at 7.5" is why I opted to use the larger 8.5" square with Lulu. Covers are 100# laminated cardstock.

Ka-Blam uses 50# bright paper for interiors and 80# glossy cardstock cover.

ComixPress uses 50# paper for interiors and index stock.

360 Digital offers more variety in paper stocks for interior and covers. For my quotes, I chose 60# white interior and 12pt C1S. These are thicker than the stocks offered by the usual suspects, but these are my choices with given a preference.

With all this information, I began to price the different options. For pricing, I'm only interested in the unit cost. I figure the other costs as the cost of doing business. However, note that ComixPress and 360 Digital have additional one time set-up costs. Since I plan to keep these books in with the chosen printer, I amortize these additional costs across the entire print run.

With the letter size, 360 Digital had the best price at $4.89 followed by ComixPress ($5.53), Lulu (publisher grade) at $5.91 and Ka-Blam ($6.90).

With the landscape size, 360 Digital had the best price at $3.59 followed by ComixPress ($4.63),Ka-Blam ($5.34), and Lulu (8.5"x 8.5") at $7.18.

With the square size, 360 Digital had the best price at $3.27 followed by ComixPress ($4.42),Ka-Blam ($4.97), and Lulu (9"x 7") at $5.94.

Overall, the unit prices for ComixPress and 360 Digital are the best, however remember they have extra set-up fees. ComixPress fee starts at $25, so if your print run is ony 25 copies that adds and additional $1 to each unit. 360 Digital fees are much more starting at about $120.

For me, it's more about quality and service than price. I plan to sell these books myself, so any benefit of having that the usual suspects gain for having a storefront is lost on me. Time between order and shipping as well as customer service is important to me, so that really nixes ComixPress and Ka-Blam which I've had customer service problems with in the past.

Right now, even with the large fee, I'm leaning towards 360 Digital. These books are $10-$15 books, so selling out of an initial print run of 25 at full retail would pay for the entire printing costs (including fees).

I've seen sample printing from all the printers, except for 360 Digital, so as of right now, i'm waiting for printing samples for 360 Digital.

22 June 2009

Overnight Prints: Up to 30% off

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08 June 2009

Overnight Prints: 20% off 2000

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01 June 2009

Overnight Prints: 50% off postcards

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18 May 2009

Overnight Prints: 20% off

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28 September 2008

Ethics, Copyrights and Commissioned Works

At a recent convention, I found myself involved in a conversation about ethics, copyrights and commissioned work. Basically, Luis (an artist named changed to protect the innocence) does convention sketches for $20. He was approached by a con goer and asked to do 4 small sketches. Luis and the con goer agreed to a price and Luis began to work. While in the midst of the commission, the con goer mentioned that he planned to use the sketches for online banners for his web site which was withheld from the previous price bartering. Luis finished the commission, but the entire transaction left a bitter taste in his mouth. When speaking about this later, a would be self-publisher (let's call him Hap) didn't understand why Luis was upset. Hap has been going around having artists draw his character planning to use them as pin-ups in his book at a later date. Hap wanted to understand Luis's issue, so that Hap was not inadvertently angering artists.

Luis asked me for my opinion and this is the result.

The difference between commissioning an artist to draw something for publication versus drawing something to add to your original art collection is wholly a matter of copyright. When an artist (or anyone) draws something that drawing automatically becomes copyrighted by thing. No matter who owns the subject of the drawing, the copyright (and thus all print rights) belongs to the creator (the artist) unless otherwise negotiated. Ideally, these negotiations should take place before the image is created.

When you are approaching an artist at a con to do a sketch, you are commissioning them to produce a piece of art for your collection. There is no other negotiation and thus you walk away with an original piece of art and nothing else. You paid for a product (the original art) and thus the copyrights to the image still belong to the artist.

When you are approaching an artist to do a drawing for publication, you are paying them for the right to use the image for reproduction. What you are paying for is the copyrights of the image. Exactly what rights you receive should be negotiated up front, in writing and signed. This is a simple contract and should be kept in your records.

So how does this affect you as a self-publisher? Generally, you will find that artists do original art commissions for far less than they do work for publication (especially at conventions). This may seem like a great time to get a pin-up done, but you must realize that for publication you need copyrights, but at a convention you're only paying for the physical art. So instead of attempting to save a buck, be honest with the artist and give them the chance to charge you more for the physical art and the copyrights to the image. What you may find is that being honest, you may not spend any more money AND you will get exactly what you want without being sleezy.

A perfect example is the alternate cover to Warmageddon Illustrated #1. I was sitting next to Uko Smith at Wizard World Philly and he was doing 11x 17 pencil sketches for $25. During a slow period, I asked him if he'd be willing to do a sketch of Tiegre from Warmageddon and he agreed. What I paid him for was the original art and that's what I walked away with.

Later, when I was in the process of printing Warmageddon Illustrarted #1, my local comic book shop wanted an exclusive cover. I gave them a selection of art to choose from and they choose the Uko pencil sketch (which was later inked and colored). Now, I could have taken the money and never told Uko about it, but I think honesty is the best policy, so I contacted Uko. He had no problem with me using the piece as the cover, so we got the piece inked and colored and it was used. After all was said and done, I made sure the Uko, Ed Eargle (the inker), and Garry Henderson (the colorist) all received copies of this limited edition cover.

Should you find yourself in the position of having access to a piece of art that you don't own the copyrights to, then you should do the same. As a comic book self-publisher, you may not have an endless supply of money, but your greatest commodity is often your integrity. Be honest with your talent and build a relationship on trust and respect. That will still be intact after everything else is said and done.

05 August 2008

From the Forum: Creating PDFs

The Question:
I want to put my comic in a PDF. How do I make a reasonable sized PDF. I've tried, but the file size is too high or the image quality is poor.

My steps for making PDF includes 2 or 3 pieces of software.
- Adobe Photoshop and/or Illustrator
- PDF Split-Merge

Keep in mind that I use a PC.

If I'm starting from Illustrator, export the file as a high resolution TIFF (at least 300 DPI). Open the TIFF file in Photoshop, do any image manipulation required, and then flatten the image.

For online distribution, I suggest saving your PDF file at 100 DPI. This is enough to provide your users with a decent file for viewing and personal printing without giving them a print quality file that they can use to mass produce copies of your work. Be sure that black and white files are saved in grayscale mode and that color files are saved in RGB mode.

For your print needs, you want to save the PDF file at, at least, 300 DPI. (I use 450 DPI). Consult your printer for color mode requirements.

Save this file again as a TIFF (for storage) and then as a single file PDF. Repeat these steps for each one of the files for your project.

NOTE: Photoshop allows you to record actions, so that you can reduce repetitive steps down to a simple mouse click. As a comic book self-publisher you should become familiar with this aspect of Photoshop.

Once you have all your single image PDF files, it's now time to merge them into one single multi-page document. I do this via PDF Split-Merge. With PDF Split-Merge, it's a simple as selecting the PDF files you want to merge together, setting the order of the pages, naming the new file, and clicking RUN. This will create a single multi-page PDF file for you.

Black and white image should be more than 1-2MB per page. Color files can be 10 times that size.
With my sample book (Warmageddon), the final size for the 32 pages with full color exterior covers was around 50MB. That's 34 pages (32 pages plus the 2 interior covers) of black and white files and 2 pages of full color (the exterior covers).

28 July 2008

From the Forums: Preview Books and DPI

I spend a fair amount of toe on Digital Webbing answering questions, so every now and then, I'll run some of those answers here (when they relate to comic book self-publishing). Today, those questions involve preview book pricing and DPI.

Question #1
I'm heading to the convention. This will be my first show behind the table. I want to sell a 32-page preview book along with other stuff like posters. Ka-Blam charges about $1.98 per book with the Kablam ad inside the back cover. The book will have a color cover and B/W interiors.

My questions are :
How much should I charge for a 32-page comic book and 11x17 prints?
Does placing a Ka-Blam ad in the back cover of the book make it less professional?

My Forum Response
I charge between $3-5 for a comic book depending on the number of pages. I have a 32-paged black and white book that I sell for $2, but it's a sampler book used to encourage people to buy the more expensive $5 and $15 books. If it was my only book, I'd charge about $3-$4 for it.

11x17 prints, I sell for $10 or 3 for $20. These cost me about $1 each so they bring in a nice profit.

If placing the Ka-Blam ad is the difference between profit and loss, then place the ad. However, I would place it on the inside back cover (at best). You have time now, so take advantage of Ka-Blam's pricing break for slower shipping and drop the need for the ad. There are also other printers out there that may have better pricing without the need of ads.

The Long Answer
When pricing comic books, I look at what the market will bear and price according to my cost. Additionally, I keep an eye on being able to make money wholesaling the comics. With the standard 24-,28- or 32-paged comic, the most common prices are between $3.00-$4.00. This price is pretty standard for black and white or color. This means, I want to wholesale these books between $1.50-$2.00, so I want to keep my costs below that point. I sell most of my comics direct to the customer, so I don't worry about my wholesale costs covering anything more than my printing costs, so in this case, if I'm pricing at $3.00 then my want my print costs to be no more than $1.25.

Keep in mind, that your printer has a lot to do with your final price. Let's use Ka-Blam (since it was mentioned in the example). A 24-paged black and white book with 4:1 covers (that full color exterior and black and interiors) without an ad can be printed as low at $1.98 (with the back cover ad, it will be as slow as $1.40). Let's print 25 and ship via USPS flat Rate for $4.80. That brings our total price to $54.30 or about $2.17 each. Let's make 23¢ on wholesale (at 40% off cover), so the wholesale cost is $2.40 and the retail cost is $4.

I think that's a bit high for a 24-32 paged comic, so I would be looking for ways to reduce costs. I'm not a fan of the back cover Ka-Blam ad (although, I've used it myself). Not because they are unprofessional, but because I think you can get a better deal on advertising by contacting other businesses. However, let's do that math. [(25 x 1.40)+4.80]/25 = $1.60, so you save about 57¢, so wholesale at $2, retail at $3.50 and retailers get a 43% discount. Not bad, but it could be better, so keep looking for cheaper printing and maybe a better advertiser.

FYI: Another way to save on Ka-Blam printing is to link to them from your site. This will give you and additional 5% saving. So that drops the price about another 10¢ on the $1.98 price. That makes your unit cost around $2.07. You have to metion the link when you order to get the discount.

For prints, I'm happy with my current printer (www.catprint.bz). They allow you to mix and match prints and as long as you print around 50 prints, the price including shipping makes your unit cost for full color, full bleed prints around $1 each. These prints sell easily for $5-$10, so after you sell 5-10, the other 40-45 are pure profit.

Question #2
I have photoshop 7 and I need to resize files. Can you change the DPI via photoshop? If so, how? Additionally, I have theA3 1200pro scanner from Mustek, the resolution says normal, fine, and super fine. Is there any way to know how much dpi each one is?

My Forum Response
Lucky for you I know exactly where it is in PS 7 as that's what I use.

When resizing, the most important thing to remember is that you want the number of pixels to be EQUAL TO or LESS THAN what you began with.

I'm not familiar with a Mustek, but the best way to figure it out is to scan something small at each setting and open it in PS, to see the resulting DPI and/or pixel size.

Follow Questions to #2
Q: What happens if I scan it in 300 dpi at 11 by 17. Change it to 500 dpi, save it, and then downsize to 7 by 10.5. That way the final is 7 x 10.5 and 500dpi. Will it come out messed up?

A: 300 dpi at 11 x 17 produces a file that's 3300 pixels x 5100. At 500 dpi that file should be no larger than 3300/500 x 5100/500 or 6.6 x 10.2. 7 x 10.5 is close enough that you will not see a huge difference in quality, but in an ideal world you'd start with a higher DPI scan. Going forward, you need at least 3500 pixels x 5250, for a 7x10.5 file at 500DPI. So you're looking at scanning a little over 300 DPI (318DPI to be exact). I would suggest scanning even higher at 450 or 600 (if your scanner allows) because you never know when you need higher DPI images.

How many pixels are there in 300 DPI. Does DPI mean dot per inch?

A: 300 dpi is simply dots per inch and is the same thing as pixels per inch. 300 dpi means 300 pixels will be in every inch. 1 inch is 300 pixels. 2 inches is 600 pixels. 2.5 inches is 750 pixels.

Q: If the image is 11 x 17, how do you figure about the pixels at 300 DPI?

width in inches x DPI = pixels for width
height in inches x DPI = pixels for height

Using that at 300 DPI, 11 x 17 is :
11 x 300 = 3300
17 x 300 = 5100
and thus the pixels of the image will be 3300 x 5100.

More about Scanning and Image Manipulation
Some scanners scan everything in at the same DPI and increase the number of pixel at higher settings. With these scanners, for a 1 x 1 square you may get 75 x 75 at low setting. 150 x 150 at medium. 300 x 300 at high. If you look at those files in Photoshop, you will note that the DPI is all the same (usually 72 or 75), but the physical size (in inches) is different ( about 1 inch, 2 inches, 3 inches, respectively). In cases like this, when you change the DPI, you also need to change the physical document size (in inches) to match what you desire for the final result. The key thing to remember is that you never want the final number of pixels to be more than what you started with.

14 July 2008

Print on Demand: What I Look For

After my experiences with Digital Webbing Presents (17, 18, 26) and Warmageddon Illustrated #1, my desire was never to print more comics than I absolutely needed. I still have close to 700 copies of Warmageddon Illustrated #1 that I continue to store to this day (several years later). With a growing family, my storage space gets smaller and smaller, so Print on Demand is the right solution for me. Only you can decide if it's right for you.

Here's what I look for in a POD service.

I try to respond to every one as soon as possible, so I like to get a response as soon as possible. Whether it be via phone or email, I expect any business that I'm working with to respond to my needs within a reasonable amount of time. Usually that means I expect a response within one business day. If a company can not provide that, then they will have to make up the difference via pricing in order for me to stay with them.

I like the process from receipt of my files until receipt of the final product to take 10-14 days. Once the turnaround time has been established it should not vary by more than 2-3 days. My goal is to keep as little inventory as necessary, so that means I need to be able to depend on my printing partner to deliver within a reasonable amount of time. If they can not, this means that I have to carry more inventory and thus have more storage space.

The entire point behind POD is the ability to print as little or as many as you need without incurring significant differences in cost (other than shipping). I like to keep my print runs o 25-100 depending on the book and it's expected turnaround. First issues tend to sell faster so I keep more of them in stock, but otherwise, I like to keep about 2 months worth on hand. A POD printer that forces me to stock more than 2 months worth is tying up my cash and storage resources.

I set the prices on my products based upon my costs. For comics I try to keep that cost down to about 3 -4 cent a page. That means a 32-page comic should in around $1-$1.25. This is why I very rarely venture into the realm of color POD. Most POD provide some type of discount for increased quantities, so be sure to ask about where the first price break occurs.

If the best price comes only as a result of inserting ads for the POD, then I try to use that POD only as a last resort. I consider ads as endorsements of the product. If you see an ad for something in any one of my products, generally that means I support that product. That's not always true for PODs, so I avoid placing ads when possible. The first books, I printed using ComixPress and Ka-Blam both had their ads on the back cover. If I had it to do over again, I would not have done so. With the savings, I received from that, I would have been better off contacting my local comic book shop and asking them to buy the ad space.

All printers use a different combination of shippers. My choices should be the United States Postal Service (USPS), UPS and/or FedEx. There should be the ability to decide which service I want (Priority, Express, Ground, etc) and I should not have to pay a premium above the shipping costs for the faster shipping method.

I don't expect my comics to be collectible. I have no desire for my comics to be treated as collectibles, but I do expect them to arrive from the printer in salable condition. Any printer worth using as printing partner should be able to deliver product to your door with less than 5% of the product damaged in shipping. This means that package would be:
1) protected against shifting during transit
2) minimally protected against water damage
3) protected against damage caused by dropping
Even if the package is insured, the shipper should provide this minimal amount of protection for you because it can take weeks to be reimbursed.

What the minimum quality you are willing to accept is ultimately up to you. I look for:

1) trim quality - I expect the cuts to be clean with no extra debris left behind. I expect the product to be square. I expect the book to have uniform page length when in a closed position.

2) print quality - I expect the cover colors to be evenly distributed. I expect the blacks to be uniform. The final product should not be pixelated (unless that's the desired effect).

3) uniformity of product - I expect each individual unit to be an exact duplicate (within reason). This means the size should not drastically change and there should not be drastic shifts in color.

And that's what I look for.