Comic book pages here in the United States are traditionally drawn on 11″ x 17″ boards. There are usually blue lines printed on these boards to help the artist determine where the live area, trim area, and bleed area lines are on a given comic book page which are super important things to keep in mind when going to print. (Read up on page sizes and live, trim, and bleed. I swear you’ll thank me.) Now, if you’re creating your own webcomic, you don’t have to adhere to any industry standard. There are plenty of creators out there who draw on US Letter sized paper (8.5″ x 11″, most often because it’s cheap and common), manga sized boards (A4, 8.3″ x 11.7″), comic strip art boards (5.5″ x 17″), and so on. You can draw your comics on bar napkins for all I care, but however you create your artwork, it must be digitized if you want to make it a webcomic.
Who is this Tutorial For?
The topic of this tutorial is Scanning Your Inked (or Pencilled) Pages. Now, it is possible to invest in a large format scanner and be done with all this silly process I’m about to get into. If you are in the position to be able to afford a large format scanner, talk to Brock Beauchamp of Self-Centered Entertainment. He recently shared some of his thoughts on his large format scanner on Twitter. A cursory Google search of A3 scanners show them in the $160 – $300 range. This is doable for some folks. I wholeheartedly believe in investing in your passions and if you can afford to invest in something like a large format scanner, that may be the best option for you.
However, not everyone may be in the position to invest that kind of money into a large format scanner. This tutorial assumes you are in a more frugal position, but you want to get the most out of your resources. Maybe you have a regular US letter-sized A4 scanner to work with or can acquire one for cheap. This demonstration is done on a Canon LiDE 70 A4-size scanner. No frills here, folks. I got it for $20 off some dude on Craig’s List. That’s not hyperbole. That’s literally what happened.
UPDATE (1.29.14): That $20 scanner died recently. I had to replace it with another scanner with comparable specs, but otherwise still cheap.
Also, This tutorial assumes you’re using inked pages with blue pencils. If your pages have different colors of pencils (i.e. gray graphite or red or something), then we can discuss a path forward in the comments.
So, this is your current position. You’ve got too much comic board and not enough scanner. We’ve all been here. It may seem impossible, but sometimes, addressing your problems just takes a little creativity and technical know-how. I’ve got a plan for you to be able to scan your larger-sized comic book boards so that they’ll look seamless and perfect for final digital processing.
Valkyrie Squadron My other comic’s pages are drawn on 11″ x 17″ boards and after years of bashing my head against the wall in comics, I’ve developed a 3-step scanning process to capture all parts of the page on a regular, Joe-schmo 8.5″ x 11″ size scanner without the final scanned image looking like butt. The key is to turn your page sideways and scan it as a landscape format page in segments. Now, it’s highly important and worth noting that your scanner lid folds on the short side . If your scanner lid folds on the long side, this isn’t going to work. If it’s one of those 3-in-1 scanner/copier/printer jobs, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve never gotten this process to work on one of those. Maybe you can. The law of the jungle states that no matter where you go, there’s always a cat bigger and badder than you. I always assume someone on the internet is bigger and badder than me.
Step 1. Scanning the Top
We’re going to start by putting the large format board on its side and scanning much of the top half. You can see in the demonstration that one edge of the board meets the edge of the scanning area. This shouldn’t be hard to find since most scanners’ glass aren’t flush with the plastic casing. Just put the page right to the edge of the inset glass scan area.
So we run a pass on our scanner using our scanning software. Obviously, my software package isn’t what everyone else is going to have. Different scanners use different software, but most scanning software packages have a few basic things in common: scan area, dpi (dots per inch), and where on the scanner bed you want to scan.
(click to enlarge)
What you’re seeing up there is the default Image Capture that comes with iMacs these days. Again, no frills. In this case, I’m highlighting what the important numbers are for this method to work.
- Color – Okay, I didn’t highlight this in the picture, but it’s important to note that when we scan blue-lined pages, we scan in color. We want those blue lines to go away, so they have to be preserved as blue in the scan. I’ll show you how to kill them towards the end of this article.
- DPI – Stands for “Dots per inch”, or how many pixels go into defining your image. In the graphic above, I set it to 300 dpi because that’s the absolute bare minimum you should be working with, especially if you plan on going to print. In Valkyrie pages, I actually use 600 dpi, but many of you may not have computers that can handle that many pixels without bursting into flames (I assume most comic artists are not trust fund babies with NASA supercomputers). Therefore, we’ll stick to 300 dpi for the purposes of this demonstration.
- Size – For size, I recommend doing 8″ x 11″. Yes, I know the full width of the flat bed is 8.5″ I don’t want the half inch of paper that’s falling off the scanner bed. That part of the scan has a shadow and a blur on it as the result of falling off the scanner bed. It’s crap. We don’t want it. We move the scanning window to the left most edge of the scan because that’s where the top of the page is.
- Name – My naming convention is usually the page number plus the letter a, b, or c depending which segment of the page I’m scanning. “A” is for top segment. You can name your segments whatever you want as long as you can find them later. Make sure your scans go to a directory you’ll remember later.
- Image Format – Notice I have mine set to TIFF. This is a high quality, uncompressed file format. It’s great for what I want, but it’s also going to produce a huge file. You can set this to JPG if you want (in fact, this may be the default on your scanner), but I warn you that JPGs are compressed. The image quality will not be very good and you want the best image quality you can get from your scan, provided the size of the file doesn’t cause your PC to burst into flames.
Once we’re done with our top segment scan, we move onto…
Step 2 – Scanning the Middle
To scan the middle of our page, the page is laid horizontally across the scanner bed like so and we want the narrow strip in the middle. Remember how I said the right edge of the top page scan has this shadowy, blurry, crusty area we don’t want? Both top and bottom halves are going to have that, so there’s going to be a gap between the two because we crop that garbage out. Scanning the middle is how we fill in the gap between top and bottom.
When we run the pass on the scanner, not much changes, but we do want to pay attention to the scanning area. In this case, we’re only scanning 6″ x 11″ instead of the 8″ width we did last time. In the case of this scan, both sides have the shadowy blurry junk we don’t need. Crop them out of your scan and run your pass. Otherwise, hold your color mode as full color, your file format as something not JPG, and your dpi as 300 dpi or higher.
And moving on…
Step 3 – Scanning the Bottom
Hold all “scanning bottom” jokes until the end of the presentation, you cheeky, little monkeys. Keep your serious face on. We’re still at work. We move the final half of the board so that the edge of the bottom is touching the edge of the glass inset (which should be opposite to where your top edge touched the inset). Let’s scan that puppy…
This is pretty much the mirror image of Step 1. The blurry, crusty, shadow part is now on the left side of the scan so we keep our scan box of 8″ x 11″ (just like step 1) off to the right side of the scan window (opposite step 1).
Once we’re done, we’re ready for digital processing.
Stitching the Image Together
Photoshop has the magically wonderful ability to take a series of images with similar characteristics and stitch them together into one, long continuous image. This was originally developed for photography and panoramic shots, but it works wonders for us comic artists with huge comic boards and not so huge scanning budgets. So let’s get started!
When you open up Photoshop, you have the option to not open a document. Open it up, but don’t open a document. We want to initiate a Photomerge. Diagram below.
Many versions of Photoshop have this feature. I’ve tested this on both Mac and Windows machines (All of Marsh Rocket’s Briefcase arc was done on a windows machine). You should be able to go to File > Automate > Photomerge to get to this feature.
Now, once you initiate Photomerge, Photoshop is going to ask you which files you want to stitch together. Well, that’s easy. You just go find your three files you just scanned (pgXX_a, pgXX_b, and pgXX_c or whatever) through the Browse command and put them on the list.
Once we’ve located our three files in our directories, we hit OK to get to this screen. This is just Photoshop taking down your order of which three files to merge. Hit OK and go take a bathroom break. Depending on the strength of your machine and what size files you’re working with, the program may take a minute to do its thing.
Now, rotate your image (Image > Rotate Canvas, NOT Edit > Transform > Rotate) 90 degrees so it’s upright. Also, crop your image to what your final page size to be. I ALWAYS crop a Valkyrie page to be 10.375″ x 15.75″ @ 600 dpi. This way, every single image is the exact same size. If you do not make your comic pages or strips all the same size, it really should only be to do a double page spread or one of those double/triple size comic strips. If you’re just being sloppy and saying to yourself “Eh, good enough” when you’re cropping your pages, punch yourself in the face. You can type your final page measurements into the top fields when you initiate your crop to ensure exactitude. There is no excuse for eyeballing or laziness. Stop that.
Notice your black inks will not be totally black. This goes double for pencilled pages. And inked pages that were drawn over graphite pencils? That’s a whole other kettle of fish. Either way, we’ve got black and white art that needs some polishing.
More pressingly, we’ve (probably) got blue lines that don’t have any business being in our image anymore. They’ve served their purpose, but now they’ve gotta go.
Step 5-ish – Killing your Blue Lines Using Channels
This step is a little subjective because it assumes you are working on a blue-lined comic book board of some sort. I understand this may not always be the case. For years, when I was working on my previous comic, I didn’t use blue line boards. (Technically, I still don’t. I print my own.) I got a ream of 200 pages of 11″ x 17″ cardstock for $30 and traced my live/trim/bleed lines from a template. Sometimes I’d use a blue pencil to trace those template lines. Sometimes I wouldn’t. It all depends. If you don’t have any blue lines on your comic book board to worry about, go ahead and trot along to Step 6.
There are actually a couple of ways to eliminate blue lines from an otherwise black and white image, but I like to use Channels, mainly because this method is impossible to bork up.
If you look to the layers tab, you’ll see a tab that says channels. Since you scanned your image in full color, you should be seeing three channels: Red, Green, and Blue (If you don’t see these three channels, check your Image Mode; You might be in CMYK or something).
Cliff’s Notes explanation on channels: Photoshop is color blind. Every PS color image is defined by values 0-255 in three respective channels: Red, Green, and Blue (Don’t talk to me about CMYK, I only work with that when I’m about to export an image to print). The more white showing in each channel, the more red, green or blue value is in that particular pixel.
If we look at our image through only the blue channel…
…It seems like the blue lines went away. This is because the blue is so strong in those areas, that they’re represented as white in the image.
Change your Image Mode to Grayscale. (Image > Mode > Grayscale). That eliminates the other channels (which we don’t need or care about) and we can get down to working with our inks/pencils left over.
Step 6 – Refining Line Art
We’re almost done. What you should have left now is a black and white image with (nearly) all the blue lines removed. Now, the process for removing the blue lines isn’t perfect. You still might see some residual “ghosts” of your blue lines hanging around. That’s okay. Photoshop can kick those gray lines in the nads so you can take inks to color, toning, lettering or whatever’s the next step in your rendering process.
I like to use Curves (Image > Adjustment > Curves) to polish up my inks and eliminate any weird ghosty gray lines the channels elimination didn’t correct. Mainly because, again, there isn’t a lot of guess work, and it seems to me a little more precise than Levels (Image > Adjustment > Levels). If you want to use Levels, go nuts, but here’s what I do…
When we pull up the Curves menu, pay attention to the ghost graph in the background of that little window that comes up (provided you get a graph, older versions of PS don’t have it). You see how it peaks and valleys in certain areas? That’s Photoshop telling you where the white and blacks are strongest. Use that graph to your advantage. The lower end of our “S” line should be on the left hand side and correspond to the black color area. The higher end of our “S” line should be on the left side of that graph. That’s a mostly fool proof way I use to eliminate excess grays on a page (although I end up doing one last pass with the Levels just to be certain).
And that’s that! Your inks should be ready for coloring or toning.