Underdogs

DO-IT-YOURSELF PRINT-MAKING: IT’S CHEAPER THAN YOU THINK

One of the first problems I encountered during my pre-convention preparation was that of print-making. Comics themselves, well, there’s only one real choice for those of us getting started: digital offset offered by the likes of Ka-Blam or Createspace.

printing

Alongside my comic book offerings (and the meager profit margins allowed by using these digital printers), I wanted to complement my table with prints of drawings that I have drawn or painted over the past few years. This decision started me down a two month long trek of researching nearly every printer, method of printing, and option I had available using my relatively limited budget.

two-up-print-comparison

The first thing I realized was that if I did find a printing source, what prints should I, you know, print? That in itself can be a daunting decision. What if I order 50 prints that no one wants to buy? Which prints should I start with and how many should I order? Most professional printers give bulk discounts in printing; the more you buy, the cheaper it is per piece. That meant right off the bat, I was going to be paying more than I’d like per print and most of the time, I’d still be forced to order more prints than I was comfortable as a starting point (I found 50 prints was a standard number for short-run digital printers). I started pricing out various online printing sources. Some I had dealt with in the past, others were recommended to me by fellow comickers. In an attempt to keep things short and get to the meat of the article, I left the experience unimpressed. In most cases, a run of 50 8.5×11” prints were going to run me about $1.25 apiece if I wanted them printed on even the cheapest cardstock that rated poorly on the brightness scale (the measuring system used to rate a paper’s white level, the higher the better). Scale that to larger prints (say, 11×17” ) and the price shot into the $3+ range with, at best, middling print quality.

This made me rethink what I was doing and why I was doing it. Why did my prints have to be run “professionally”? About ten years ago when I was fresh out of college, I spent 18 months working in a print shop as a pre-press technician. Digital print-making was just coming to prominence and I remember seeing impressive work out of top-of-the-line inkjet printers. Since then, I’ve only heard good things about the improvements made in the “home printing” sector of the market, culminating in my stumbling into a Canon demonstration at San Diego Comic Con last summer where the quality of the prints was jaw-dropping. I started doing research into modern inkjets and found that while professional calibre printers still run in the thousands of dollars, a new, cheaper subset of printers had arrived for the “prosumer” (professional consumer) market. Resolutions were higher, paper was better and cheaper, and six-to-eight color inkjet printers could be had without breaking the bank.

To avoid option paralysis, I narrowed down my choices to two printer companies with which I’ve had experience over the past decade, Canon and Epson. Both companies made a printer with the options and price I was looking for: large format (no smaller than 11×17”), borderless printing, and more than four ink colors.In professional offset printing, halftones are used to scale colors from light to dark and given the semi-transparent nature of ink, nearly every color in the spectrum (barring a few bright colors) can be accurately represented in a print. Inkjet printers are different in that the hardware either drops a bit of colored ink on the page or it doesn’t. Halftones aren’t used to gradually gradate colors from light to dark. It’s really technical and I admit I only understand part of how thedifferent styles (piezoelectric, thermal bubble, etc.) of inkjet printers work and why they work that way. In the end, what a six color inkjet does is attempt to bridge this problem with light colors by adding more ink cartridges, going all the way to the eight or nine color printers you’ll see at the top end of the market. Both printers I was investigating, the Canon Pixma iX6520 and Epson Artisan 1430, offered more than four ink colors and 13×19” borderless printing while retailing in the $300 range.

printer-ciss

The Canon Pixma iX6520 was a more straight forward printer. It offers the typical Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (black) colors while adding an additional black for printing text. It also prints at a quite impressive resolution of 9600×2400 dpi. If you’re looking to print primarily in grayscale or black, this may be the printer for you but I ended up choosing the Epson Artisan 1430, which offered two additional colors over CMYK, a light cyan and a light magenta. As I mentioned earlier, because inkjets fail to use a halftone screen, printing light colors consistently without looking “spotty” can be a challenge. The separate, lighter colors to handle this chore shore up this deficiency with the hardware. If you’re wondering why there isn’t a light yellow, it’s because the human eye isn’t as receptive to the color yellow as it is other colors. It simply isn’t needed. In the upper end printers, you’ll also see a green cartridge added to avoid the difficulty of mixing yellow and blue to achieve a “true” green.

Now on the to the fun part. You have a $300 printer. I’m sure some of you are aware how inkjet printers consume ink and you know that ink is where the real expense hides in home printing. Here’s how I got around the problem and ended up with a printer and nearly a limitless supply of ink for $130. To start, I found the $300 Artisan 1430 on Amazon for $260. I also partially chose the Epson because, for a limited time, Epson was offering an $80 rebate on the hardware. While this offer has since expired, printer companies are constantly running similar offers. With some patience and diligent checking on a site such as SlickDeals, you should find a similar offer in no time. The printer also came bundled with Photoshop Elements 9 and I eBayed that for another $45. After the dust had settled, I was into the printer for only about $130, give or take a few dollars.

But I still had to deal with the ink situation. I had heard of CISS (continuous ink supply systems) but had never used one and due to the Epson’s high quality archival pigment inks, I was skeptical of finding anything of equal quality in the aftermarket. I was wrong. After a bit of research, I found SohoJet.com, a company that makes CISS on the cheap. To boot, they were one of the only companies offering archival inks in their CISS, a sticking point for me. Their inks are dye-based compared to the pigment inks that come with the Artisan. Dye-based inks, while brighter than pigment inks, have a notoriously short lifespan before fading into the paper. A nice way around this problem is the relatively new market of archival dye-based inks. Still want to use a pigment ink? Well, another company calledInkXPro has you covered there and the price is still reasonable, about $120 for their pigment CISS. Anyway, back to the Artisan. I ordered a CISS that contained the equivalent of eight to nine complete sets of Artisan 1430 ink cartridges for $80, a mere pittance compared to the $130+ it requires to buy one new set of cartridges from Epson. I yanked my still-sealed ink cartridges out of the printer box and tossed them on eBay for $80, or the same price I paid for the CISS.

For those keeping track at home, that means for about $130, I now owned a 13×19” borderless six-color inkjet printer that will print me hundreds, if not thousands, of prints before I need to add one more drop of ink to the system.

But what about the quality? This was the final moment where I knew I had made the right decision by making my own prints. I expected the Epson to hold its own against most other prints I’ve seen in the past. What I didn’t expect was for it to absolutely annihilate every digital print job I’ve ever seen from an online printer. Before I get into comparison, I should quickly comment on paper choices. Paper will make or break your print. Matte papers don’t play well with high quality inkjets for the kind of work we’re doing with comics and art. The ink soaks into the paper. The linework isn’t crisp. The colors are dull. Glossy paper is too, well, glossy. It gives prints a “photography” feel, which cheapens the art slightly in my opinion. You may disagree and hey, that’s your prerogative. The colors on glossy paper are outstanding. For my dollar, the best print paper for artwork is found in the luster category, which is a kind of semi-matte paper that may initially seem a lot like semi-gloss (also a good choice for prints) but adds a nice satin look to the artwork that screams “high quality art”. After reading various paper-related photography forums and blogs, I settled on Inkpress paper. Moab is also a good choice, as are several other premium brands. Epson brand paper, while a decent choice, doesn’t review favorably compared to Inkpress and Moab and since they’re all in the same price range, I didn’t see any reason to go with it for my own prints. For 8.5×11” prints, I found paper in the $.50 per sheet price range. For 13×19” paper, it’s in the $1.25 price range per sheet. Very reasonable when you consider that these papers are MUCH higher quality than standard cardstock. This paper is in a different class and shouldn’t even be compared to 12 or 14 pt. cardstock commonly offered by online printers.

Back to the print quality. To show the difference in print quality, I scanned four pieces of printed material for comparison: the cover to an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man by Marvel Comics, a large-run offset job I printed last year (representative of the typical cardstock-based job you’d get by ordering prints online), the cover to a comic I had printed through the digital online printer Ka-Blam, and finally, the first print to come out of my Epson Artisan 1430. None of these images have been altered in the slightest bit and all four were scanned on the same scanner at 1200 dpi.

four-prints-closeup

You’ll notice that even under extreme magnification, the Epson print holds up on a level that the others can’t compare to visually.

Now let’s pull back a little. The Epson is showing virtually no ink dot grain while all the other prints show either a halftone (the Ultimate Spider-Man cover) or, even worse, a very prominent rosette on the other two jobs.

four-prints-medium

Let’s pull back even further. Now, the other prints are starting to look respectable but you see that not only has the Epson held up better under extreme magnification, its color palette is also outstanding and jumps off the page. Part of this is due to the printer; the other is due to the vastly superior paper you are able to use by making your own prints, an option that isn’t available from most online printers (or in my experience, at all from online printers, who specialize in using the same sizes, papers, and quantities to provide the cheapest rates possible).

four-prints-wide

What does this all cost me in the end? Well, my ink is going to cost pennies per page. I can order sheets of 8.5×11” Inkpress luster paper for $.50 per sheet. That puts each letter-sized print at no more than $.55 apiece. For my 13×19” prints, paper is about $1.25 a sheet so each print will cost me no more than $1.35. I will never have to order 50 prints and risk not selling a single one of them. Every one of my drawings can be turned into a print in mere minutes. I can print any quality, any art, in any size up to 13×19” whenever I choose. I’ll be able to plaster my booth with high-quality prints, signs, and whatever I please for very little cost. All I have to do is sell about 20 prints to earn back the $130 the printer cost me at the outset and I’m free and clear until I run out of ink, which can be repurchased in bulk for about $50. To sweeten the pot even more, I can advertise all my prints as “archival quality”, which guarantees the print will last between 20 and 100 years, depending on whom you ask. Good luck getting that guarantee from an online printer.

Initially, I thought I was crazy for researching this path to making my own prints. After testing out the hardware, paper, and seeing the low cost of entry, I think it’s crazy that so few others have taken this path to print-making. As artists, we should follow the path laid out by our photographic brethren, who learned several years ago that paying someone else to print short-run or one-off jobs is a waste of our time, effort, and most importantly, our money. You can do it all yourself for less money and most of the time, with better results.

____________

See more articles and comics from Brock at http://selfcentent.com

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41 Responses to “DO-IT-YOURSELF PRINT-MAKING: IT’S CHEAPER THAN YOU THINK”

  1. Myf

    Thank you so much for this, it’s really useful. Now I just have to try to translate everything to UK suppliers and prices!

    Reply
  2. Tom

    Bless you, bless you, bless you for doing all this work! I had no idea about those ink systems, and that has always been a big factor in me avoiding looking into this. Thank you for putting together such a well written review, and doing all the legwork. This is on my list of things to do now.

    Reply
  3. Grace

    Phenomonal article! I am very interested in self printing, but I haven’t seen anything as informational on the subject as this article is. Thanks for the great advice!

    Reply
  4. Nick

    Great article Brock. Thank you for all the info you gave us. It is true printing yourself is much cheaper and with better quality than hiring someone else to do it. That is why I am taking that route now.

    I have a question you may or may not be able to answer. Or maybe someone else can?

    For making t-shirts via heat transfer, are the archival dye based inks suggested? Know any good sources for it?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • vicki moon spiegel

      Shane, did you install and run the kiss with no problems..?
      I have the1430 worked with cartridges but have takeout and reinstalled
      the sohojet ciss numerous times and only orange lights… suggestions?
      vicki

      Reply
      • Brock

        I know this is an old question but getting the cartridges to register the first time was a real PITA.

        Ultimately, I slammed them into place with vigor and they registered. Now, they occasionally register as out of ink but one quick “slide out, slide back in” and they reregister.

        Reply
      • Shane W Smith

        Hi Vicki,

        Sohojet screwed me over actually. I still haven’t received anything from them, and I left it too late to file a Paypal dispute or file a credit card chargeback, so I’m out the money.

        In the end, I went with a Rihac system, which I just installed yesterday and am getting the hang of. Seems okay so far.

        Good luck with yours.

        Reply
  5. Rob

    This is great thanks for this. I have a question though, on the Sohojet website I don’t see an option for the PIXMA IX6520, just the 4200 do you know if there is CIS for the ix6520? Also does anyone have any experience with refillable cartridges?

    Reply
  6. Hadiza

    This is amazing! I’ve been trying to figure out the most economical way to make prints for the better part of this year and have completely avoided looking into investing in an actual printer, but now I’m realizing how ignorant I was not to even consider this route.

    One question, what is your suggestion for printmaking with cardstock originals? I’m wondering how that will affect the quality of the prints from this method…I’d love you to shed some light!

    Reply
  7. Shantell Bancroft

    Dude. I think this has to be the first time I am leaving a comment on blog post on the net before reading past the first 13 lines. That is all I have read thus far and honestly I’m excited. I have been trawling the internet for weeks searching for an artist or illustrator covering the subject of why why I need to get me prints done at a professional printers. Thanks so much for this post. I’m finally reassured, know I’m not alone in this thinking about doing this. Now that I have left you my gratitude. I will finish reading. lol. seriously. THANK YOU for not making me feel guilty for contemplating doing my prints from home.:)

    Reply
  8. D Osorio

    Many thanks for your most helpful post. Definitely interested in Inkpress paper, especially since I own an Epson Artisan 1430. Unfortunately, Inkpress Luster papers don’t seem to have ICC profiles for the Artisan 1430. Any advice? — D

    Reply
  9. Leohma

    Thanks so much! this is really helpful as I’m just starting out my own illustrations and prints. I like the ability to be able to work with the print itself and also have complete control over it. I’m going to save up the money and get it 😀

    Love the article’s in depth review! I think you got a new follower, btw ;]

    Reply
  10. Wendy

    I bought an Epson 1430 about a month ago for my graphic design portfolio, and I am so happy to read this! I definitely learned the hard way that not all papers print well with this printer–just because it is a nice paper does not meant it plays well with the Epson ink (I didn’t know about the CISS option.) I can’t wait to try out your recommended papers and ink.

    Reply
  11. Jon

    great article! thank you for helping inspire me to start in house prints! one thing that might be handy to mention, especially to those learning like myself. even if you invest in this great printer, (i also purchased the Epson V37 scanner to scan/print my artwork along with the Epson Artisan 1430, and sohojet CIS) one thing that can cause quite the headache is color calibration. for around 80-200$ you can make sure your monitors (even on laptops) are perfectly color calibrated to insure your prints will look as close as possible to the image on your monitor. most monitors (especially lap tops) have varied display settings. most (laptops) are too bright and do not resemble how prints will actually appear in ambient lighting. to insure you get the best color print of your work i recommend investing into a monitor calibrator. after some research there is a decent one on amazon for 79$ im about to purchase.” X-Rite ColorMunki Smile ” hope this may help others who have had similar headaches in achieving the best print possible.

    Reply
  12. Luke

    It says for the final prices, $1.35 *per sheet*.
    For a comic book with an average of 20 pages, thats $27 to print off one comic book. I do hope this is just a typing error or hat I’m misunderstanding something. Because there’s no way a comic book will sell for more than $27 to make a profit.

    Reply
    • Jon

      That price is for a 13×19″ print. Not a double-sided, folded comic page. A single sheet of printed, stapled paper in a comic is four of the story pages. A page is only like 6.55″x10.25″.

      Reply
    • Marcel Mercado

      I made the calculations that a 28 page comic, including cover, would use 7 11″x14″ pages. At almost a dollar per page, that’s still about 7 dollars per comic.

      Reply
  13. kiter

    Thank you very much for sharing such useful information! I print some of the graphic art and digitally-manipulated photograph-based images I make. Paper and process are important, and there’s no substitute for details of someone’s direct, hands-on experience with specific tools.

    I can’t resist mentioning that “printmaking” usually refers to something hand-pulled from a plate or silkscreen that’s a unique and original creation–and therefore usually considered to be an original work of art; “printing” is the mass generation of reproductions of a work of original art, be it a painting, cartoon, illustration, etc.. I was a printmaking major in art school, back before personal computers and printers were commonplace in homes and studios, and this was a point my instructors emphasized…being, of course, printmakers themselves. 🙂 But it’s a new world – I’ll acquiesce to new definitions. Best wishes and again, thank you!

    Reply
  14. noah

    I was wondering if you had links for the paper you print your comic on.

    If my comic was about 7×10.5, wouldn’t i want to print it on a 14X10.5 sheet?

    I’m trying to get all my prices together so i know how much it’s all going to cost.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  15. Rob O'Twin

    Noah, this article is about print-making of single page art and posters, not printing multi-page comics. You’re still better off selecting an on-demand printer if you want to print comic books because the collating, folding, binding, and trimming hundreds of copies are a nightmare without expertise and dedicated machinery for those purposes.

    Reply
  16. Daryl Gray

    I just read your entire blog entry and I am inspired. Last week I just purchased a Canon ix6820 and was having regrets but now I feel confident that I can start my home business producing my own comics and art prints. Thank you for the informative story.

    Reply
  17. Sandra Tsai

    THANK YOU! This is such a helpful review and has inspired like others in the comments, to purchase an EPSON Artisan 1430 and doing DIY prints from home. I am wondering how artists are scanning their work? My biggest size is 16×20″ and I am lost and do not know where to start. Any suggestions to scan work would be highly appreciated!

    Reply
  18. Kim

    Thank you so much for this information! I just got mine in based on your recommendation! I do have a couple of questions about troubleshooting and I hope you can help me.

    1. It seems like borderless is only available for the specified sizes that the driver allows. So does that mean this printer isn’t capable of printing borderless for any custom size?

    2. I’ve been having incondistent results with the printing quality. I used illustrator and printed it at the default color setting (SRGB 1996, med reso, relative colormetric). Printed it at 5.625 x 8.5 size just fine. But when I went to change the size, the printer all of a sudden was printing quickly and the print came out very grainy. I had to turn on/off my printer and revert back to a the original size for it to print normally again.

    Do you have the issue of the printer all of a sudden printing fast and grainy even though you haven’t changed any color settings?

    3. Also, what colors settings are you printing at for the best quality?

    Thank you so SO much again! You are a lifesaver!!!

    Reply
  19. Keren Duchan

    This article is SO AWESOME. I’m glad I stumbled upon it. In addition to professional print shops being expensive, and the inability to print on demand, I would probably need to order from abroad which would make it complicated and even less cost effective. Lisa Congdon uses an Epson 3880 which costs around 1500 USD and each cartridge for it costs 60 USD. That’s too much for me at this point in time. I hadn’t considered looking into lower range home printers. I was even thinking of just getting a good B&W home printer and sticking to black and white. This article opened up my mind to a mind blowing option! Thanks for sharing your investigation and findings!

    Reply
  20. Marc Brunet

    I was just invited to come to LA ComicCon 2016 a week before the event and it didn’t take long to realize I was in trouble when I started to look at getting my art printed on time.

    Can’t thank you enough for this article, instead I got myself a similar setup and I’ll be rocking some dope prints for the convention. The whole thing also cost me much less than I would’ve spent on prints. I like.

    Reply
  21. Rawrb

    So I’m about to re-engage myself with selling prints (previous attempts were um… lacking), and holy crap this article helped. I ended up buying the Artisian 1430 along with the CISS ink system, and Brock hit the nail on the head. These prints are the best I’ve ever seen. EVER.

    The only challenge I faced was getting the CISS set up. I wasn’t comfortable having the lid of the printer pinching the ink tubes, so I busted out the ol’ Dremel and made a little notch for it. Sits pretty now.

    The CISS is the key thing here too. I avoided inkjet printers due to expensive cartridges (see this comic to understand my fury), but with the CISS I can afford to go crazy with the prints.

    Thank you so much for this article. If any of you are wanting to sell digital art in print form, this is a great way to start and possibly stick to.

    Reply
  22. Katja

    Hi, my problem is – I live in Germany- and they don’t sell this here! aaa! anybody know s of an equivalent, I’m at the moment chatting with espon store, but frankly…not much help from there. Thanks, it’s a great article!

    Reply
  23. Scott Jones

    Do not buy through SohoJet. They’re extremely slow and their support is non-existent. Just buy through a reliable website like Amazon.

    Reply
  24. KG

    I used this guide to set up a press at home. Thank you SO much for this invaluable information! Now I’m saving tons of money and can print comics on demand. Your research is going to help a lot of people.

    Reply
  25. Gary Düfner

    Great information on DIY printing at home Brock!

    Can you make a article about printing a comic book and how to…
    – Fold the prints to make it a comic?
    – Stapling it?
    – Cutting the sides?

    Reply
  26. s

    I know this is an old thread. But if anyone sees it am wondering:
    Are you sure the ink is archival? I’m reading conflicting information. Some discussion pages say the Epson is designed for dye ink, but you can get other pigment based inks that are more archival. In any case, what is the archival quality, if anyone knows or can find an actual Epson site or literature that actually tells this important bit of info. Also, mention has been made of printing on archival paper (100% cotton,acid free) and wonder if coated watercolor paper might help with the ink absorption/dullness factor on that type of absorbent paper. (Or maybe someone has success with another type of paper.) Thanks for any help.

    Reply

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