All us webcomic folks, at some point, generally get faced with the prospect of printing our comics. Because of our small print runs and almost non-existent budgets, we tend to opt for print-on demand provides. There are a handful that actually specialze in small run, on-demand comics.
As a graphic designer who works almost exclusively in print, I’ve worked for about a decade with a number of different printers (large and small). This gives me a lot of expertise and expectation when getting anything printed as to what kind of quality I should get from a printer. So I’ve recently printed my first set of comics, and as such I’m exploring the world of on-demand comic printing. In an effort to help the community, I will bring my findings to you all so when you come to the time when you want to print some comics, you’ll have some perspective.
My first stop on this Road is one of the more well known On-demand services: Ka-blam.
My Experience with Ka-blam
On my first visit, I wanted to get a sense of Ka-blam’s prices, quantity breaks, and formats. Ka-blam’s website has a nifty little instant quote wiget, that tells you all that information pretty instantly. Ka-blam has an option to include and ad for them to help lower the price of your cost per issue, which is also nice. The cost, over all, for a standard 32pg full color book is about 3$ an issue or there about. Sounds extremely reasonable, yes?
They also offer to add it to their online catalog, Indyplanet, for free, where they will pay you commission of markup minus printing fee if you sell copies off their website. They also offer a service to offer it to Brick-and-Mortar comic book shops called “Comic Monkey”. They’ve recently also begun offering a digital marketplace option.
My book is the first ‘prequel’ chapter for my webcomic Brymstone. Fortunately, having intended for it one day to be in print, I had high resolution files. A high resolution file is 300 DPI or better, for those of you who don’t know. My first task however, was to make them fit into Ka-blam’s standard comic template. I was actually quite grateful for the template, although as a designer who’s delt with PDFs forever, I was a little dismayed to have to send my print job as 32 individual TIFF files… in RGB. *shudders*
But this is their show and in all fairness, most of their clients are NOT designers who know of color space and proper discipline when making a PDF. So they are trying to make their process as easy as they can for clients who have no design experience whatsoever.
It took me several weeks to re-format, re-letter, and then have the work proof read. I did plan ahead however, as if you read the fine print regarding their print policies, you need to have your files ready 28 days before you need your order delivered. Not just 28 days, but 28 BUSINESS days, or about a month and a half, or the price of the quote goes up. Significantly.
Unfortunately I had planned to submit my files a month in advance, rather than a month and a half in advance. That bit me on the ass somewhat, since I got dinged with the rush surcharge.
You see, with Ka-blam, the faster you want it, the more you have to pay. This gets a bit difficult for small comic books, as the price per unit can end up not worth the cost. They also have a deeper discount if you want to wait 42 days or more for your books, but, lets face it, most people aren’t ordering like two months in advance. While other printers have rush charges, you are usually paying that when you want it in less than 10 days, not less than a month.
I find this a bit ridiculous as a turn around time as every other printer I’ve worked with in my professional life has an average turn around of 10 business days (or two weeks). Ka-blam charges a 175% surcharge for what I see as a standard turn around time. Many printers have a turn around time of 5-7 days. This extreme turn around is limited to comics. Their other products are standard 10 day turn around. I’m not sure why comics pose such a problem (binding issues perhaps?), but if you do plan to order from Ka-blam, make sure you are working MONTHS ahead of your delivery date.
The price break points are also few and far between. You have a choice of 25 books for a price break or 100. Most printers, the more you order the more you save. It seems a bit odd there’s only two points for the price break. I guess they don’t get many orders over 100? It makes some sense since most people who can afford to have those kind of numbers probably shop other offset options.
The other issue with Ka-blam is that they don’t do proofs. You send your files, and then hope and pray. Most printers have at least a digital proofing process, if not a physical proof. It’s extremely unnerving to simply send files, pay a lot of money and then hope that your book turns out okay.
That being said, however, I *DID* get my books by the time they promised, in time for my con and they were GORGEOUS. I have no issues at all with the colors or stock. It was a fantastic job, and came reasonably well packed in recycled shreds. I could recycle most of the packing material and box.
Their print quality is fantastic. The colors are brillant, the pages crisp, the cuts crisp, the binding was solid. The books I received were things of beauty, which had definitely made me proud to sell them, and I think the sheer quality of the books has made a difference to buyers and convincing comic stores to carry them. I can honestly say my books look as good or better than anything made by Marvel or DC.
Overall Ka-blam rates the following from me in terms of a printer choice:
Ease of submission:****
The upload area is easy to use, although having to reformat everything to RGB tifs is a bit cumbersome. Although likely non-designer types will find it easier and more intuitive
No proofs at all (unless you want to order 1 copy, wait 10 days, get it, and then place your proper order), prepress is handled by you, verified by them. Make sure you follow their instructions carefully. Although if you follow the guidelines to the letter, you can get a great product.
The value is VERY competitive and cheap enough you can actually make a profit on your book at a low price UNLESS you need a rush job. Which can get very expensive, very quickly.
Turn Around: *
28 BUSINESS days are required to get the low, website generated quote. So about a month and a half in advance. VERY slow. If you want a faster turn around, be prepared to pay for it for a comic book. If you need your comics within 6 weeks, you might want to consider another printing option, or you may end up paying too much for your books.
Product Quality: *****
The product was EXCELLENT. Great colors, no smudging, kisses, buckling, smooth gradients, clean edges, cut properly, stapled properly, and doesn’t take fingerprints. I honestly could NOT be more pleased with the quality. On par with any pro job. I cannot gush enough about how good the books I received look.
Delivery was ontime, as promised, with tracking, and was well packed so nothing got mushed.
Would I print with them again?
Yes, I would, IF I didn’t have an urgent need for comics (such as reprinting between conventions that are less than a month apart for example ) and had the luxury of ordering 6 weeks in advance. I was quite satisfied with the product, just the turnaround time seems excessive, considering everything else they sell they can turn around in 10 days. I have no qualms with the product, and they offer many great services, but 6 weeks is a LONG turnaround, and 175% surcharge for what should be a standard turn around time seems ridiculous.