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How to make an ebook out of your webcomic, using Adobe InDesign

How to make an ebook out of your webcomic, using Adobe InDesign published on No Comments on How to make an ebook out of your webcomic, using Adobe InDesign

Had to work out a ton of stuff to make the ebook for Leif & Thorn Volume 1…so I figured it was worth writing it up and sharing.

This is part of the “how do I webcomic?” series, with useful information on all kinds of comicking-related topics.

Related: there is an ebook for Leif & Thorn Volume 1!

Volume 1 PDF

Not only that: now through Christmas, buy it using this link, or enter the code “roses” at checkout, for 20% off!

So, about the bookification. For a lot of webcomic artists, this part is easy. Just drop all your pages in a folder, then click the “make this a PDF” button in the program of your choice.

That’s what I do (with a little extra finagling) for But I’m A Cat Person. All the comic files are the same size, and there’s 1 comic per printed page, so you can automate the whole thing. Easy!

With Leif & Thorn…it’s not easy.

strip sizes

Strips come in three basic sizes.

  • Dailies are drawn on half a sketchbook page, landscape orientation
  • Mid-storyline Sundays get a whole page, same orientation
  • Separate bonus Sundays get a whole page in portrait orientation, just to make it clear they’re different

And since in the book they’re all turned right-side-up, I can’t even make ’em all the same resolution, or they won’t fit nicely on same-size pages.

Here’s a final 2-page spread:

The minimum for good-looking printing is 300 dpi. The vertical strip on the left is 400 dpi; the horizontal strips on the right are 475 dpi.

(There’s a risk here that readers might think “hang on, why did the text change sizes from one strip to the next?” Which is why, in most of the book, these aren’t on facing pages…)

Messing with the resolution still doesn’t make the margins quite match up. So the strategically-placed border graphic evens things out.

Now let’s talk about all the specific InDesign features that make this happen.

1. Masters

aka, “are you sure we aren’t talking about BICP again?”

Master Spreads, or just Masters, are design templates that you can apply to the actual pages of your project. Here’s the relevant tool panel, at the top right:

At the top, the list of masters. Each one is a full spread (right and left facing pages), but you can apply different masters to a pair of facing pages — as seen in 118-119 here.

The important thing is that, whatever page you pick, it’ll automatically apply the correct side of the master. That way you can’t accidentally stick a right-facing template (page numbers on the outer corner and everything!) on a left-facing page.

So the strategic border graphics are on the master spreads, where they can be edited and rearranged. With every page the master is applied to, they show up in exactly the same place and can’t be moved, like an untouchable background layer.

The strips, on the other hand, have to be manually placed on every page.

Which brings us to…

2. Guides

Here’s one of Volume 1’s actual master spreads, for pages with horizontal strips:

horizontal master

And here’s the one for pages with vertical strips:

vertical master

All those bright lines are guides. You can switch them off when you want, and they don’t get printed or exported to PDF at all.

The magenta/purple boxes are the “safe to print within this area” guide. Those show up by default on all pages, with the same settings for the whole document, and can be adjusted based on what you expect from your printer.

And the cyan lines — those are manually-created guides. You click-and-drag from the rulers at the top/left of the document to pull them out, and you can set their exact positions with the same tool panel that positions anything else in InDesign.

When you drag any other object around on the page, it’ll automatically snap to the guides.

(…unless you switch that option off. Everything is switch-offable in InDesign.)

Here’s a result!

The guides were precisely-positioned, with Actual Math rather than eyeballing it, so the strips will be evenly-spaced down the page. (The images get snapped to the lines at the top of the strips — the ones at the bottom are just to help me visualize.)

Double-height Sunday strips (left) can be snapped to whichever guide is at the top of their spot, ignoring the guides in the middle. They’ll line up nicely.

On the other hand, bonus art (right) is supposed to have a sketchier, more-informal feel. So you’ll see it isn’t in perfect alignment with the strip it faces.

You can also see that none of the images are perfectly-centered on the page. That’s a hedge against anything getting printed too close to the center. (Wouldn’t want anyone to have to break the book’s spine just to read it all…) The border graphics, then, are centered above where the strips are, not above the center of the paper.

Now, there’s only one element left on the masters that I haven’t gotten into:

3. Page numbers!

On the master, there’s a text box with “Insert Auto Page Number” slipped in.

It adjusts to whatever page it’s applied to. Make a last-minute decision to add 2 more pages of intro content at the beginning? All the numbers afterward will shift by 2. Nice and easy.

Make a decision to add more intro content, but you want it to be the kind of foreward/prologue that doesn’t add to numbers before the book “really” starts? Decide where that Real Start is, right-click that page, and choose “Numbering & Section Options.”

If you’ve ordered the ebook already, and you open the PDF, you’ll find Acrobat Reader counts this as page 7 — preceded by the cover, the map, the table of contents, and so on.

But in the numbers, it’s page 3. Because I said so.

These bits of text aren’t just styled by the master spread, though. Which makes for a handy segue into….

4. Text Styles

A whole other part of InDesign where you create templates and apply them to elements. (It’s a long list.)

Paragraph style can affect everything about the text — font, size, hyphenation, indents, you name it. Then if (to take a totally hypothetical example) you print a test page and decide most of the text looks ridiculously large, you just tweak that style, and it’ll fix every paragraph in the whole document that uses it.

Character style is a subset of paragraph style…and I don’t know how to explain this one without a practical demonstration.

Here’s a screenshot with tool panels, showing the styles I’ve defined in Volume 1:

A couple of the paragraph styles use the standard Sønska-language font (it’s Ale and Wenches BB, if you want your own copy). The black text in this screencap is “basic text small,” and the italic blue is “italic blue.”

…look, it’s important to keep these things self-explanatory.

Trouble is, this font doesn’t have a lot of accented characters. Which is tough when you’re writing a language full of ø’s.

So for those letters, I apply a character style that changes the font. You can see it in Astrid Rødlund’s name toward the top left, and the mention of Sønheim toward the bottom right.

Same character style! Different font sizes, different colors, different levels of italicization (a word I did not expect spellcheck to recognize, huh). All those settings are fixed by the different underlying paragraph styles. The character style doesn’t override anything except the specific features it defines.

Now, InDesign has other tools and functions that I leaned on while producing the print-ready file. But I think that’s about everything that went into the ebook. Which brings us to:

5. Export Settings

First thing I tried was InDesign’s default ebook-quality export preset. A test, pages 1-10 only, just to get a feel for it.

…it was not a good feel.

The other screencaps in this post are kinda jaggy because it’s a quick-n-dirty rendering. Enough detail that you can see what you’re doing to work on the file; not so detailed that it sucks up your computer’s entire memory card.

The PDF, though, was just…like this.

Soft transparent gradients flattened into weird black borders. Nice hi-res art compressed into a blotchy mess of JPG artifacts. Yikes.

Took a few tries and retries, but I finally came out with this:

…and then I could breathe easy again.

That’s a preset where the images get downsampled with maximum quality preservation, and never to less than 200 dpi. (The versions you see here on the website are 72 dpi — but they’re PNGs, which are a lot crisper even at smaller sizes.)

Apparently you have to switch the compatibility settings to Acrobat 4 to get the transparencies to come out nice. Not sure why that is, but hey, at least it worked.

And now there’s an ebook!

One more time: pick up Volume 1 on Gumroad here.

I know it’s not Cyber Monday anymore, but don’t worry, the discount is staying until December 25.

You can also preorder the paperback on Gumroad — but there’s no coupon code for that yet, and there will be some kind of Launch Week Special once it’s actually printed. Keep an eye on the website for that announcement! Or sign up for the mailing list. Or follow the artist on Patreon. Word will get around.

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