Bleeds—where the image runs off the page—are a powerful dramatic tool in comics. In some traditions—manga in particular—bleeds are so essential as to be part of the basic storytelling vocabulary. However, you can only “see” bleeds in the final printed book and you need to plan ahead if you have decided to use them. This makes your layout task more complicated.
(bleeds shown in Lydia Roberts’ Fake Robot)
First of all, and this is essential, you must know how the work is going to be printed. That is, you must know the book’s final trim size (the size it will be cut to after printing and binding). Why? Because the nature of the bleed is that the ink runs off the edges of the paper. If you don’t know how big and what shape the paper will be, you can’t plan for a bleed.
When you draw a bleed, you have three edges to be aware of: the live area, the trim size, and the bleed.
• The safety zone, aka the live area is at least 1/4″ inside the trim size, and often more. The idea with live area in a full-bleed page is that, even though you can’t literally see it, it forms the margin of safety. You put all your main action, characters, and dialogue within that box, and you know it won’t get trimmed off by an overzealous or sloppy printer. Note that if you were to put panel borders on this line, they’d sit only 1/2″ from the final edge of the book, which, often, doesn’t look very good. Instead, you may want to lay out another, smaller box to bound your actual panels and dialogue.
• The trim size is just that: the line where the page will eventually be cut.
• The bleed line is at least 1/4″ and often more outside the trim line, for the same reason that the live area is at least 1/4″ inside: to make sure that the art is trimmed off within the drawn area, so that it runs off the page completely.
Often, if you know trim size, that means you know where the book will be printed. You can always ask a printer what their standard bleed size and safe margins are. Even if you don’t know their official measurements, though, you can make an educated guess. The only measurement you must know is trim size.
Let’s say your work will be printed at standard American comic book size. Standard trim size for American comic books is 6.625″ X 10.25″. To be on the safe side, you should leave at least 1/2″ of safety zone inside the trim, and 1/2″ of material bleeding over the edge. Most printers will need only 1/4″ to 3/8″, but if you’re guessing, guess on the safe side. Make a diagram of how the page will lay out—at print size.
Now, the trick is, you have to size up all of the measurements by 150 percent. This includes the 1/2” bleed and live area measurements. Use your proportion wheel for this: 1/2″ sized up at 150 percent is 3/4″. Your trim line is 150 percent of the trim size of the comic book. Find the safe margin and the bleed line from that measurement zone.
Once you have your final measurements, lay out the three boundaries, your live area, trim size, and bleed. You might want to use different colored pencils to keep track of which is which. Label them to remind yourself.
Once you have the page laid out, lay out your panels and do rough pencils.
If you want to make pages with bleeds that will work in many situations (i.e. you don’t know the destination of the work), try laying out with a live area at 2:3 ratio, and then adding a couple of inches of extra drawing all around. It’s a lot more work, but you’re likely to be ready for most situations if you’ve got a lot of extra to work with. Just make sure you don’t accidentally put anything important outside the live area.
If you want your minicomic to include bleeds you should do the advance planning before you start drawing. Remember: even if you plan to use bleeds in only some of your work for the mini, you still need to lay out all pages to fit your new, trimmed size. Use the same live area whether the pages bleed or not. Also, remember that you’re going to have to actually trim all those minis yourself!
Make a mockup, and copy some sample full-bleed pages to see how close to the edge of the page the photocopier you’ll use will print. Your trim size will have to be smaller than that dimension.
Once you have your trim size figured out, calculate a live area for 3/8″ to ½” inside the trim size, put your bleed line at about the same distance outside, and then size up 150 percent to 200 percent for your original art.
Confused? Here’s an example using a standard digest-sized mini.
Remember that everything that’s important on the page must go within the live area/safety zone. That means character’s faces and bodies, at least the parts that are important for a given action, and especially word balloons. However, you’ve got to draw your backgrounds all the way out to the bleed line. Some of this will get cut off, but that’s the idea; that’s why it’s called a “bleed.”
Usually, it’s a good idea to try bleeds only when you’re going to be working with a professional printer who can help walk you through what you’ll need to know to lay out your pages properly.
Here are more layout related quickguides: