Self-Publishing: Color

Adam Swan, February 12, 1996

How Much Does It Cost to Print X Pages?

Comic books, particularly colour ones, are printed in ‘signatures’ of 16 pages. This means that a comic, for economy should be either 16 pages long, or 32. This is because a standard printing plate is 2 comic pages tall, by 4 across (2x4=8 known as a ‘flat’) and comic pages are printed on both sides (8x2=16, 16 pages in the signature.)

Most comics are 32 pages long with 4 covers. It isn’t economical to print anything below 10,000 units in colour. Last year, before the latest round of paper price hikes, printing a standard comic in full colour cost:

32 page + 4 covers
Full Colour
40 lb Mandoprime (interior)
60 lb Miraweb (exterior)
With final negative film provided.

10,000$6,763or.6764/unitand.3046/unit for extras
15,000$7,205or.4804/unitand.2648/unit for extras
50,000$16,473or.3294/unitand.2648/unit for extras

Since then the price of paper has nearly doubled so expect at least a 15-20% increase in these prices. Special effects like chromium ink will increase these prices.

Additionally, this as you see above, is only the printing, without the pre-press colour separations, stripping, trapping, and film output. The prices above are based on the publisher (you) providing final negative films for all the pages in the comic.

If you have a computer with lots (and lots) of RAM, and some of the excellent page layout programs such as Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator, CorelDraw, and Quark Express, you can do the pre-press work yourself, and have the pages ready to be output to film (or run on a Hidleburgh [sp.?]) For optimum quality in a colour comic, you want to be able to scan at 2008 dpi.

If you do not have this equipment, you should expect to pay around $100 per page for the pre-press work. Generally speaking, any printing company that does colour printing will either have a pre-press lab in-house, or have a company to whom they contract out their colour separation and film output work. Scanning of full colour pages at 2008 dpi will cost you about $60 (+-) per page, and the rest of the work can cost anywhere from $50 to $75/page.

You should budget another $3,000 for the pre-press work, meaning that the total cost of printing a full-colour comic will be easily over $10,000 (Canadian) or more than $1 per book. Since distributors work on a 60% discount and charge 2% S&H, you will have to set the cover price of your comic higher than $2.65 to make any profit on a print run in the 10 000 copy range. You will be paid 38% of whatever the cover price is, by the distributor, and so obviously, 38% of the cover price has to be more than a dollar for you to make any money. Also, these figures are outdated, because of the paper price increases, so you will probably be looking more around the $1.10 or $1.15 area for a break even on a 10,000 unit print run.

How is Diamond in terms of responsiveness?

Diamond has been great to us. They’ve answered questions, made marketing suggestions, and just generally been a lot more helpful than I would have thought a company that size would be to a small publisher like myself. Actually, when I say ‘Diamond’, I’m really talking about Glenn Folland, my primary contact at Diamond, I very rarely deal with anyone else there. If you would like to get information on ad rates, schedules, or other information about solicitation, directly from Diamond Comic Distributors you can do so by e-mailing your name and street address to Other inquiries should be directed to

That’s my opinion, as a publisher, what do some of you retailers think? Leaving aside any animosity over all the recent changes in the industry, how has Diamond’s service been at your end? Write to me directly with your feelings at:

What kind of response do you expect we’ll get from…

We’ve budgetted for five forms of advertising: an ad in Diamond Previews, an ad in Wizard, direct mail flyers to the retailers, a Web page, and a 1-800-based, multi-line BBS.

Your budget includes all these forms of advertising and you want my advice? =) Okay, my advice is that you should invest some of those surplus bags of cash you apparently have lying around in an existing company… like Legacy for example. =)

Seriously though, have you researched each of these advertising techniques?

Wizard, last time I checked, only sold advertising in 6 time contracts. Big $$

No offense to the web-lovers out there, but web pages are a fun ego-toy, and about as useful a marketing tool as a catalogue that never leaves the store. They’re good for showing people your stuff, but they do zip as a form of advertising, since you actually have to advertise the existence of the page, and get people to come and look at your ads. Once the novelty wears off, no one I know goes anywhere but the pages that have stuff they already know they want to see (the Playboy page, the Dilbert Zone etc.).

I personally removed the web-browser program from my computer, because I found it a big waste of time. I noticed that it took at least half an hour to give even a cursory look to an established web site, and I just don’t have that kind of time. This problem is why you see those annoying “Come visit my wep-page…” posts everywhere: You have to find a way to get the people to come see it, before it does anything for you as a marketing tool. In order to make this technique effective, you would need a ‘hook’ to draw people to your web-site, and I really don’t know what you could offer that would get a lot of comic readers to check it out. I would think it would probably be illlegal to use binaries of big name artists’ work as a draw to get people to look at your comic, but perhaps you can check this question with a legal-aid clinic (every city has one).

Previews ads are quite economical, for the circulation (100,000+). My only hesitation about them is that there are so many pull-out high-dollar, glossy ads in the catalogue now that I’m not sure how visible any ad placed in Previews will be. If your ad has some kind of real visual ‘hook’, Previews might be the best venue for it, but if you are trying to get more information (text) and your comic isn’t image (no pun intended) based, it might be better to consider such venues as Indy magazine in Florida, CBG, or Fantagraphics Comics Journal. Each of these have much lower circulation, but also don’t have the same level of ad competition in them.

Direct mail is good, and it’s economical. If you would like a list of retailers that are friendly to independent products, email me a request, and I’ll send it along. Same goes for anyone else reading this post.

If you like, I can ask my father, Al Swan, to drop you a line to discuss the pros and cons of 800 numbers, WATS lines and all that telecommunication stuff. He’s a retired rep from Phone Power, AGT, Bell etc. and was responsible for a lot of the 800 development in Eastern Ontario. If you are serious about getting that kind of stuff, I’d strongly recommend talking to someone outside the major phone companies, before setting up anything. The consultants that worked for Phone Power were quite good (a lot of them, anyway) since they didn’t answer to Bell, but you should always keep in mind that your average rep will sell you anything you ask for, whether you need it or not.

Do you have any advice for a Canadian comic book company?

Go get as much money as you can, and make arrangements to be able to get ahold of even more if you need it later on. The money will be the single biggest hurdle you will have to overcome when starting your comic. You will find that the deadlines and other problems weigh twice as heavy if you have pressing financial concerns.

The best asset you have on your side is enthusiasm. Don’t ever lose it, because it will allow you to do the work of three people, but temper it with knowledge.

Adam Swan