Sunday, March 6, 2011

How To Make Comics: Industry Standard Comic Book Paper Size!

How to make comics:

Paper Size, and the annoyance of store-bought selections

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2017 UPDATE! Hello fellow comic artists!

Not a whole lot has changed since this article was written. I still go into Michaels, or AC Moore, or Hobby Lobby and they sell the same types of paper with the same inconsistent borders. So I got fed up with it all and used made my own. I researched every comic book art board I could find, Marvel, DC, Image, everything from the Silver Age to now, and created some good comic book art board templates that work great.

These boards are available for two bucks ($2.00) at this link - everything digital on my website it sold through Payhip - and come as files that are ready to either load into your favorite drawing, art or page layout program, or print out and commence drawing.

I use these comic art templates every day, and I hope anyone who stops by this article and is as frustrated as I am, and was, at the inconsistencies of buying art boards at the store, will find them useful.

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If you go to the local art supply store, such as Michael's (the only one around me) you can now, for the first time in aspiring-comic-book-creating history, buy pre-lined comic art boards! But, from my extensive research on that topic that spans decades, the choices might not be as professional as presented.

Over on the Image Comics message boards, Erik Larsen has posted this as the standard image size:

Image Comics Paper

From everything I've ever read, this look about right. It's an 11x17 tabloid-sized page with a 10x15 image area and a roughly 8.875x13.5 image area. Seems pretty cut and dry, right? Sure.


I spent my whole young life trying to figure out how comics were made. I had no idea how big to make the paper, or how small. It was a huge revelation when I found out they were drawn on bristol board and I could get that at the local art store. BUT, all the paper was 14x17, and pretty darn hard to find. I would always buy it and run to Kinkos and cut it down to 11x17.

Cut to the future, which is the present:  The local Michael's has started selling comic paper, which is pretty cool. Nice pre-lined boards that should (SHOULD) be awesome. It's amazing that they have a couple varieties with competitive prices. The problem is the art size.

All of the paper they sell is 11x17 and they all have a 10x15-ish image area in 'em. This is good. They sell Canson Artist Series, which I'd never heard of, and a new line by Strathmore. Awesome! The Strathmore is way cheaper than the Canson Artist Series. WIN? Nope.

The safe area on the Strathmore is something like 9x16. Huh? Yeah. I measured it in the store.

Strathmore Comics Paper

The Canson Artist Series is the has the 9x13.5 image area. Definite WIN there, it matches up with what Larsen said in his post. Awesome.

The Elusive Canson Artist Series Boards

This is also, like the other Canson paper I'm about to confuse you with, very nice to draw on with any kind of pencil, markers (Which I've been using lately) or brush and ink. Hopefully they're going to be around for a while because I fully endorse them.

Canson Artist Series paper and tools

So that should be it. Done. This is the right one and you can find it in the store. Brush your hands off and call it a day. BUT, the only place in all existence I can find the Canson Artist Series Paper so far is Michael's. I might have seen it at A.C. Moore, but it's been a while since I've been there so I can't remember. This elusive paper can't even be found on the internet. It's almost like Michael's has made some kind of pirate paper and illegally put Canson's name on it. It's really strange. How can a Google search, of all things, not find "Canson Artist Series?" It's not even available on the Michael's website.

And this brings us to another problem: Canson Fanboy Comic Book Art Boards.

Canson Fanboy Art Boards

Keep in mind Larsen's advice and example and you'll find this paper just about everywhere online. And it's good paper, very easy to use and won't give you a hard time about anything.

The image area is 9x13.75. A whole quarter inch bigger. Who made this? Why do the Artist Series and this one have to be different? Here's another problem, the center vertical guides on this paper seem to match the 9x13.5 paper. So, vertically, the center tier is the same size on each, but the top and bottom tiers are at 1/8 taller.

(I confirmed this, by the way. Stupendo-Dog #3 was started on Canson Fanboy Comic Book Art Boards, and finished on Canson Artist Series. Luckily I was the inker and I had my 9x13.5 template in Illustrator, so it didn't slow me down. I just drew the pencils outside the top and bottom guides and pretended it never happened.)

It's possible that this paper is set to more of a Manga size, and I'll accept that, but I really don't understand why they'd have this, and also have the mystery Artist Series paper. My whole life I've wanted comic paper, then I spent a good long time getting the 14x17 Strathmore Bristol and cutting it down, and ruling out my own guides.

Now the market seems to be flooded, but I feel like the problem is worse. Blueline Pro seems to have it down, and from the example that's what Larsen and Image use, but it's more expensive. You don't seem to get the deal you get with the Canson, or even the Strathmore papers. But there's still that professional problem.

The bottom line is this: There seems to be a set standard for comic book pages, but for some reason it is very elusive and hard to find. No one in the real world seems to know what that size is, and no one in the paper-making industry can seem to decide which way the want to go.

Professionally, I would say that if you're going to create a gold ol' standard American comic, the Canson Artist Series is the way to go (If you can find it). Everything seems right, and if you get published you'll be everyone's favorite artist. The Canson Fanboy Comic Book Art boards are the only other logical choice, and they're a little cheaper than the artist series. The only problem is that they're a little off, but the discrepancy is well within the cut area of any book, and unless you're like me and has a little bit of OCD about getting this stuff right, you won't have any problems at all.

The Strathmore paper just boggles my mind. I'm not sure they did any research into it at all. I think they just took the standard knowledge that there's a 10x15 box inside an 11x17 page and worked the image area down from there. They took it from more of a print graphic design perspective, rather than the comic book world reality. Or it's sized to Manga, which it doesn't seem to point out.

So go out and make comics! Just make sure that if you're at the end of a pad of paper, and you still have pages to go, the next pad you pick up is the same. Otherwise, you'll have a nicely illustrated story that is noticeably different.

(Naturally, everything here but the measurements are my own dumb opinion.)


  1. The cool thing about the growing upsurgence in the popularity of graphic novels is the variety of shapes & sizes an artist has to work with. Yes, I know you're talking about standard American comics 6 5/8 x 10 1/4, but there's room for so much more. I say draw any size you like; when it comes to print (paper, internet, iphone, whatever) you can format your page size to your art.

    Keep in mind that Larsen's 10x15 image area (which gets trimmed so the art bleeds off the paper's edge) and a roughly 9x13.5 'action area' (meaning it's guaranteed to not be trimmed off) is a relatively new thing. Before page bleeds became the superhero standard, 10x15 was the entire image area, & the trim area was outside it.


  3. I believe that the reason the paper companies haven't come to a consensus on standard comic book size is that there really isn't one. Every publisher has their own specifications for live area, bleed, and trim. They vary by small fractions of an inch between the American publishers, and then there are entirely different specs that European and Japanese artists work with. The art store comic paper with printed blue lines is marketed towards students and aspiring artists, not professional working comic artists.

    If you start working for a comic publisher, the company will inform you of their printing specs and chances are that it won't line up with the blue lines from any of the art store brands. The publishers often have their own company specific blue line paper printed up for their artists. Many artists have a preferred paper which they mark themselves with a pencil and ruler, using the publisher's specs.

    For an aspiring artist, I'd recommend finding a really great paper that you like penciling/inking on and marking it yourself. If you want to gear your work towards a specific publisher, get out a ruler and carefully measure the live area size and trim size of one of their comics. Add a quarter inch to each side of the trim for the bleed. This should give you three progressively larger boxes: live, trim, and bleed. Multiply the dimensions of each box by 1.5 and that probably the size most of the artists for that company are drawing at.

    In the Golden Age of comics, the original art was drawn at twice printing size. It was standardized down to a smaller size when it was discovered that photographing the art was cheaper that way. They could fit more pages of art onto a single piece of film. In today's world, it doesn't matter so much exactly how much you have your work reduced down, as long as you stick to the right aspect ratios.

    The most important thing about choosing a paper is how much you enjoy the feel, weight, and texture when working on it.

  4. Exactly right. But this gives any aspiring artist a pretty good place to start. That first step, at least for me all those years ago, was the hardest. I'm glad there are nice pre-lined papers out there. And there seem to be more and more every time I get to the store.

  5. This size is standard for companies such as Marvel and DC, but not all comics adhere to those sizes. Some are small and squarish, while others are in a more horizontal view. Dark Horse comics come in varying sizes and this is MOST DEFINITELY NOT MANGA standard size. Manga standard already has their own comic paper which is usually sold in B4 and A5 size. Manga doesn't need to have paper that large all the time.
    It depends if they want to be atypical or want a more graphic novel personal unqiue feel to it. Also some of those papers are indeed the same papers used in DC and Marvel. I'm pretty sure they stick to Blue Line most of the time though.
    If you ever have been to a comic convention, you may see in the artist's alley someone selling an original blue pencil sketch of a comic book page on such comic book paper that is indeed store bought.
    I have seen the same thing in my comic book store, but at a much smaller size, almost no larger than the comic itself. This tells me different studios and different preferences set the standards, but since most people make it in a typical size, it is easier to make the basic paper and have varying differences for those students, non-professionals, or personal projects.