Converting Letter paper into A4 ratio

For 20 years I have made zines using A4 paper. Upon moving to Canada I was dismayed by the availability of only the Letter paper size. After all the photocopiers here have the setting for A4. At first I tried to adjust and work with Letter sized paper. But now matter how much I tried, it felt too frustrating. One of the main problems I had that when you fold a Letter paper in half it creates a strange tall rectangle, that fits a comic page into itself oddly.

I then tried to find an online retailer for A4 paper. I managed to find some but even with that I ran into some issues. You have to order in bulk without any idea of the quality and texture of the paper. It was wildly expensive or the webpage showed the paper but was listed as out of stock or not available online etc.

I eventually hit on the idea that if it was the ratio of A4 that i liked then perhaps I could trim Letter size paper to meet that ratio. That way I could continue drawing in the same ration I always had and produce books that had a much moire pleasing rectangle shape that I was accustomed to.

Below is the sketch that I came up with.

instructions on how to convert Letter sized paper to A4 dimensions

The sketch shows the dimensions of both sizes of paper. It then shows how you take a piece of Letter size paper in portrait orientation and trim 19mm from the width of the paper. You now have a piece of paper (smaller than A4) but the same dimension as A4.

As crazy as this might sound, I eventually tried this out for the first issue of my comic Spare Parts and it worked! Maybe down the track I can get my hands on some good A4 paper here in North America but for now this works really well and create a unique zine size.

Comics calculator for print

Paying to print up comics and then selling them can be messy. It can sometimes be hard to know how much you can afford to print, if you can use the fancy paper, how much should you then sell it for. Are you even able to break even?

I developed this comics calculator to quickly run some numbers to see what is possible. I like to give away a lot of my print run, so for me it’s important to know how many I have to sell and for how much to at least break even.

Comics Calculator Spreadsheet

Ship It!

I was listening to the fantastic Seth Godin podcast Akimbo the other week (first comes carriage) when this line struck a cord.

You need to do an unreasonable amount of shipping the work. Create the habit of shipping work you are not yet proud of. Because you know it will lead to doing work you are proud of.

-Seth Godin, Akimbo Podcast: ‘first comes carriage’.

I love Seth Godin’s work and I was excited to draw him with his quote. I don’t always feel confident capturing people’s likeness. This was my fourth or fifth attempt at drawing Seth. What helped with this one is I tried to make it unique not caring if it was accurate or technically good. That loosened me up and I was much happier with the final result.

Review of Sanford Prismacolour Non-photo blue pencils

WARNING: Comic talk ahead!

I wanted to write a short review of the ‘non-photo’ blue pencils I have been using lately. I’m doing this so that if you have to order these things through the mail or don’t want to waste money trying and buying these things then hopefully this review will point you in the right direction.

There are three pencils that I have come across. There are other types and brands, but these are the ones I have had experience with and I think may be the most commonly used in comics.

1-Sanford col-erase non-photo blue. (pictured)

This pencil’s lead is quite hard and hardly shows up on the paper. This is good if you only want faint marks as guidelines and not so much an actual finished drawing. There is an eraser on the end that actually works to a certain degree. Although it’s really only for peace of mind as you don’t need to erase the pencil after inking anyway. I found this pencil too light to do actual finished or rough outlined drawings with. But if you were wanting a pencil to use in conjunction with a photocopier this may be a better option.

2-Sanford Verithin non-photo blue. (pictured)

A lot softer than the col-erase non-photo blue and would be better for a more finished drawing approach. Although I find this lays down too much of a waxy coat and makes inking with my tech pen difficult and clogs the pen. I imagine it would work better with brush or dip pen but I haven’t tried this as yet.

3-Sanford Col-erase light blue (not pictured but looks the same as the col-erase non photo)

Although not officially non-photo it does the same as the non-photo (the blue’s light enough not to show up in copies) this one puts down a slightly darker line than the col-erase non-photo and it’s softness lands in between the Col-erase and verithin non-photo pencils.

I was initially pointed to the possibility of using this pens from Jessica Abels and Matt Maddens great book on comics ‘Writing pictures and drawing words’. I find that you can get a much more finished drawing out of the light blue as opposed to the non-photo, and would definitely recommend it as the best one to draw with for inking.

Conclusion.

I ended up settling on the light blue col-erase pencil. I enjoy the darker line it lays down and it’s not too hard not too soft lead. From the tests I’ve done the line seems to disappear as easily as the non photo blue in Photoshop.

I usually just use the ‘threshold’ option in ‘Image>Adjustments’ in photoshop. I have seen that you can take out the blue by going into ‘Image>Adjustments>hue&Saturation’ then from the drop down list (default is ‘master’) choose either blue or cyan and increase the brightness. The blue will then disappear. But from my tests I have not found this to be any be any better than the threshold option.

I have also found that a gentle erasing helps, especially if using the light blue instead of the non photo. You don’t have to get rid of all the blue, just knock the blue back a little.

My advice: Buy one of each and try them out, they’re $1 each. Go crazy and blow $3 on your art.

Update: I later went on to discover Pilot Eno colour mechanical pencils, I still use and enjoy the light blue col-erase, and sometimes I even use a H pencil for similar light effect when penciling. I have found the soft blue and green Eno pencil leads to be good for comic work, especially if you like the fine point of a mechanical pencil.

Why use non-photo blue pencils?

  • The light blue colour does not show up when scanned and edited correctly in Photoshop. It also shouldn’t show up in a photocopy but a more sensitive copier may pick it up
  • If the blue doesn’t show up then there is no need for erasing…
  • Ever ripped a page erasing lines, ever gotten sick of the pile of eraser dust at your feet, ever dirtied a page from excessive overdrawing?
  • The blue pencil doesn’t smudge as much as regular grey lead pencils.

-It looks nifty 😉 This is the reason I’m leaving the blue in for the web versions of my latest comics, I’m hoping this also helps differentiate them from the B&W versions that will be collected in book format.

Example of my drawing process. Click on comic to read more.

Creating Screen tone effect in Photoshop

Also known as zipatone, Ben-Day dots, halftones etc

For this tutorial a basic knowledge of Photoshop, colour modes, resolution, history and layers pallete, copy and paste functions will help.

It is often desirable to achieve screen tones for artwork for either practicality or for effect. What ever you need it for I am going to show you the most effective way to achieve this using Photoshop. If you can master this, then there is no need to track down real zipatone and fiddle around with cutting it up. The middle section on ‘creating dot patterns’ is fixed although how you create your grey areas and how you use the dot pattern is up to you.

Firstly this tutorial has nothing to do with the halftone pattern in the Filter menu. In my mind this filter gives a poor, hard to control, and fuzzy result. Which is not suitable when you need real screen tones for something like screen printing.

Creating greys

  • First open the artwork you want to add screen tones to; Be sure that this artwork is exact physical the size that you will be printing at, which I will explain more later
  • Either duplicate the file (Image>Duplicate) or create another layer from your artwork (Layer>New>Layer via copy)
  • You could just create a new blank layer and paint grey areas onto this, it is up to you
  • Add grey tones to this layer or the new document using any tool of your choice, eg, paint brush or paintbucket; The percentage of black (Grey) you choose will create differing dot sizes, experiment with 20-30% black to start and change later as you see fit

Notice how I have painted greys loosely in the image above, I have first used the paint bucket and got into some of the hidden areas with the brush tool.

Creating dot patterns

  • Once you have added the grey areas, you may want to get rid of your black lines (just paint bucket them white or select them with the magic wand and hit the delete key)

At this stage I could paintbrush grey over those blank white areas in the face where the eyes eyebrows and nose shadow are, but as both files are exactly the same size they should line up perfectly.

  • Go to Image>Mode>Bitmap (this will be greyed out if you are in RGB mode, you will need to convert to Greyscale mode first)
  • Go ahead and flatten
  • Your resolution should be at least 800 DPI, although using 1200 DPI is usually standard practice; Any smaller and your dots will turn out chunky/clunky
  • Just retype/change number to be between 800-1200
  • You also need to have ‘Half tone screen…’ selected from the drop down menu
  • Once you hit ok, another dialogue box will appear which is where you can choose the frequency, angle and shape of the pattern; In this case we want ‘Round’, experiment with other shapes later if you like
  • The numbers I am using above, are only an example and are not meant to be represent the only ideal numbers you can use; Experiment with different ranges to find what you like
  • Your image will now be converted to bitmap mode using a half tone screen

The dot pattern will look much better than the image above, which looks awful as it has been shrunk to web resolution for the purpose of this blog post

Using the dot pattern

Hold on tight this next part could be confusing at first, 

Depending on which option you chose at the beginning, ie, to duplicate the layer or duplicate the file there are two options

For duplicate file

  • You will need to ‘copy’ the flattened layer and then ‘paste’ it into your original art file; The one you made a copy from
  • Be sure the image resolution of your dot pattern matches your original art file before you paste the dot layer in

For duplicate layer

  • ‘Select all’ (Apple/Control ‘A’), ‘Copy’ (Apple ‘C’)
  • Go back in your history (using the history palette) to the state of your file where layers were possible, ie, before you deleted your line art and flattened the image
  • ‘Paste’ (Apple/Control ‘V’) the dots
  • Set the new pasted layer to ‘Multiply’ using blending modes in the layers palette, or what ever layer is on top should be set to multiply
  • Flatten image and save; WARNING, save this final file with a different name to original file line art as you do not want to save over the original line art file!

Here’s the final flattened and saved image. Notice how my dots line up perfectly as my file dimension stayed consistent throughout the process

Conclusion

  • You will need to play around with differing percentages of black (ie, Grey) and differing degrees of lines per inch to achieve the dot size that suits what you want.
  • Also do not reduce the size of an image after using this process or you risk creating a moiré pattern in you screen tones, which looks ugly and is distracting to the eye; This may also happen if you dot pattern is to small
  • Try this out on a photograph and see what effect you get; remember to increase the resolution to at least 800 DPI when converting to bitmap mode or before.
  • The angle of the dot pattern is helpful to play around with if you a making multiple layers of dot patterns, so they do not overlap.

In the beginning…

It was around 2010 that I first published a small little B&W zine called Spare Parts. It was a collection of sketchbooks drawings and other bits and pieces, hence the name. In the ensuing years my comics work came in fits and starts. For some reason it was hard to stick to a particular direction. I ended up with a loose collection of comics and thinking back to that old zine of collected drawings, I had an idea.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr.

The idea was to resurrect the name Spare Parts, and use it to collect the comics that I make. The comics could be single pages that may or may not tie together, or a combination of short and longer stories. The zine would give me a place to be experimental and try out different things.

In addition to this. I was also dissatisfied with how you could present and share comics on the web. I’m a big believer in digital and think it’s fantastic for many things. But after many attempt and various social media platforms, I didn’t feel like there was an appropriate way to share the comics I wanted to make; Or to develop the relationship I wanted with the reader.

This website bridges those two things, the print and the digital. The website will be a place to showcase and make available the physical books and other artistic items that I would like to share.