Good software is necessary to make a professional product

So to delve into the subject of software a little bit further, I want to talk about three key processes or ingredients that are needed in order to create any type of book, especially your world-smashing graphic novel.

Word processing

There are many players in the arena of word processing, the term for writing down your ideas, including a script. While there are many software developers vying for your attention and think their next great algorithm will write your script for you, there are really only a couple of serious players that I’m going to focus on. You can do some research yourself and see what else works for you, but I can only speak from my experience and I know what works for me.

Microsoft Word: The largest and oldest player in the word processing realm. Still my preferred method of writing scripts or prose or anything really. Word just has that familiarity and ease-of-use that I find convenient and comfortable with what I’m doing. They also really embraced the mobile technology end of the industry, which is a big plus. This means they have free apps for many of their popular Office software that I can install on my iPad and my iPhone. I also subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 service. This gives you permanent lifelong access to all the Microsoft Office software and lifelong updates for about $10 per month. If you’re just an individual user, you can actually get the service for $7 a month. I use the family option so that my loved ones can also use the service on their devices and all of my files sync across my Mac, Windows laptop, iPad and iPhone. This means that I can work on my scripts no matter where I’m at and they’re always saved and up-to-date when I go to another device. So if I’m grocery shopping and I get a great idea for a scene in one of my stories, I can wait until I get in the car (because I look too crazy talking to my phone in public) and simply turn on the Word app on my phone and type up the idea (or talk it out) in my existing script. When I save it, that new updated version will be the version that I can open and continue to work on when I get home and work on any of my devices. That new scene I just wrote in the parking lot of the grocery store will be there when I get home and open that part of the script on my laptop or my iPad. The other advantage is that Apple’s mobile devices have a function where you can press the microphone button and speak into the device instead of having to type it. I’m actually writing this book by talking into my iPad right now while I’m on the treadmill. This is one of the reasons why mobile technology is revolutionizing creativity. (And it why it will be the subject of one of my upcoming books.) More info can be found at Microsoft.com

Scrivener: Another player in the word processing market, Scrivener is marketed directly to writers and geared towards people writing screenplays, comic book scripts and novels. Scrivener works a little differently than Word. You can organize your thoughts and ideas on digital cue cards and move them around and play with the arrangement of your story. You can then type individual scenes and see all of your scenes on a book tree or chart. You can even play around with the placement of chapters and scenes by moving them around and seeing if you like the flow of a scene replacement better. So if you’re the kind of writer that focuses more on scenes and puts them together for a complete story later, then Scrivener may be an option for you. I’ve always personally been the kind of person who creates in a linear fashion—I think of what happens and then the results and I tend to move from beginning to end. Not everybody thinks that way, so things like Scrivener help make life easier for those kinds of writers. Myself, I am only recently beginning to experiment with Scrivener and see how I may prefer its use for my non-fiction books, such as this one, because I feel like Scrivener fits a little bit nicer into my outlining and planning formula, which I’ll explain later in this book. Scrivener also has the feature of being able to output your finished files in different formats such as Microsoft Word, so that you can open it and continue to edit it in Word. You can also export the document as a MOBI or EPUB files, which are good for digital download versions of your books. Scrivener is developed by literatureandlatte.com.

Free options: Aside from the competitive market of script writing software for a fee, there are a few word processing applications out there that are compatible with the well-known big-name word processing software, but they do it at a much more budget-conscious price point. Libre Office and Open Office are both prime examples. Take a moment to web search those. They are both free-to-download word processing programs and offer the ability to save files in Word format and open and read MS Word format files. Very handy function to have when you want to type professionally formatted scripts, but you don’t want to spend the money on higher priced software. Visit libreoffice.com or OpenOffice.org for more info.

Illustration

There are many options in the illustration field for digital computing. The industry has been dominated for a long time by graphics heavy-hitter Adobe, in many cases for a good reason. Adobe has really blown away the competition to be the progressive, cutting edge and adaptable technology in the computing environment. Not to be dismissed, there are a number of really great pieces of software being developed by smaller companies. I would not want to write off other software developers, SmithMicro for example, from the digital art scene. They produce a lot of great stuff, so we’re going to look at both of them and I’m going mention a couple others as well.

Photoshop and Illustrator: These are the two most common and dominant graphics software programs made by Adobe that have pretty much ruled the landscape of digital art for a couple of decades. This is because they were front-runners in the industry and were quickly adopted by digital artists and designers, becoming standard software through every step of the creation process and right up to the actual act of publishing. Photoshop is a great program for editing photos, as that was its original purpose, but people soon figured out that it is a great option whether you want to draw traditionally or do it all digitally. You can sketch in layers and digitally ink on top and color, or you can do your work traditionally, scan it in, and use Photoshop to digitally color your artwork. I have personally not hand-colored a piece of art in 20 years. Photoshop is often my go-to piece of software for digital comic and art coloring. The filters and layers make it ideal for creating art on different levels and being able to tweak or manipulate without having to erase and re-draw. Photoshop generates rasterized images. Rasterizing means that the image is made of a whole bunch of very tiny square pixels of color. That’s why if you zoom in on an image, it’s really blurry and pixelated. So in order to create good images in Photoshop you have to remember to stay at 300 dpi or higher. A good image ranges in quality from 300 to 600 dpi. You can find the DPI settings of your image in the image menu in Photoshop. Original artwork or colors should be done at this high of a resolution. If you’re only self-publishing on the web or digitally, you can save a second version of each file at a lower resolution between 72 to 96 dpi. This ensures that you always have a good version for screen viewing and a separate version of higher quality in case you ever want to print it in the future. If you print the screen quality version that is 72 dpi, it will look very pixelated and blurry in print, even though it looks great on your screen. This is because printing and monitor viewing are two different technologies based on different principles and are always doing their best to simulate each other but simply do not work the same. Illustrator, on the other hand, is a vector program. Illustrator is really the one that was meant for illustration, but Photoshop has been so popular and has taken such a hold of the entire industry that by the time Illustrator came out, Photoshop still remained the standard. With vector images, the placement of lines and shapes are all based on mathematical formulas that places them in relation to each other. The formulas ensure that the image always looks good whether you shrink it down to microscopic size or you blow it up to the size of a billboard. Your image will always be sharp and crisp with clear edges and legible writing and never pixelated. This is why we always use Illustrator for digital lettering and word balloons. The reason the sound effects are so awesome looking in comic books you buy at your local hobby shop is because those letterists used Illustrator. Of course there are some great and very talented hand letterists as well, and if you’re working in the traditional format and love drawing really dynamic sound effects and dialogue, that’s great; I admire you for that skill. It’s not one that I have. My handwriting is generally illegible at best. So as a professional, I know the best thing I can do is create my lettering digitally. When it comes to price range, the full version of the software is a little bit pricey, if you can even still get it. Adobe has moved to a Creative Cloud system, where you pay a subscription for the software you want to be permanently up-to-date. Prices range from $10 per month for one piece of software to $50 per month for the entire Adobe suite. If either one of those options don’t thrill you or fit your budget then don’t fret, there’s another option. In recent years, Adobe has developed powerful mobile app versions of all of their famous and popular software at much lower prices. You can get a touchscreen version of Photoshop for your phone for $5 or your tablet for $10. They have also come out with a number of very handy art creation apps for mobile devices and even mobile app versions of Adobe Illustrator, many of which are free, in the hopes that you will sign up for their free cloud storage service and become a premium paid member in the future. Visit Adobe.com for more details.

Manga Studio: Not to be outdone, SmithMicro has developed some very powerful and cutting-edge software that totally compete in Adobe’s realm. Manga Studio has become very popular with a lot of artists that work digitally, whether they be professionals in the comic industry or art students. With Manga Studio you get the best of both worlds from Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as the fact that it was specifically tailored to make comic books, meaning that it has more useful comic themed features than Adobe’s software. In the case of Manga Studio, you are able to create images and artwork that are rasterized and use the same layering system as Photoshop, however without leaving the software, saving, or opening a new file, you can create new vector layers on top of your images and do all of your lettering and image work right there in the same spot on the same file with the same software. It’s just a matter of ease and convenience. Manga Studio also has a number of comic book specific tools such as panel layout, some page designs, word balloons, as well as the ability to create a book file where you can assemble your pages into one file like a digital book without having to leave the software or use a layout program. They also offer a special software specifically for making motion comics and another program that allows you to create 3D model characters and environments that you can turn into animations or illustrations. On top of that, SmithMicro’s software is much more affordable, with Manga Studio ranging from $50 for the basic version to $200 for the full-featured Professional Edition. I have not yet heard of any mobile app version of Manga Studio, but who knows what the future holds, right? More details and software can be found at smithmicro.com.

ArtRage: I mention ArtRage as well because it is something that I’ve really been enjoying to use. ArtRage is a software that allows you to create digital paintings as naturally as you would on canvas that also mimics the look of real paintings on canvas. I even use a brush stylus when I’m working in ArtRage, so it feels authentic, like I’m painting on the screen of my tablet. There’s a wide variety of tools and media, from watercolor, to oils and acrylic, colored pencils, fine point pens, and art markers are all simulated to realistic perfection. The brushstrokes look like real brushstrokes in real paint. You can even take an imaginary tube of paint, squeeze it on your canvas, and flatten it with a palette knife. You will see all the ridges, air bubbles, shapes and edges that you would in real life. This is a great tool for any art enthusiast or someone who wants to paint a comic book or their own cover. ArtRage ranges at around $50. This lower price point makes it so much more affordable than other software. Also they have released a mobile app version of ArtRage at the very affordable price point of $2 for mobile phone platforms, $5 on tablets such as the iPad or Android devices, and $10 for the Windows touchscreen operating system. ArtRage is developed by Ambient Designs Inc. More details can be found at artrage.com.

There are a number of other digital painting software, such as Corel Painter, PaintTool SAI, Sketches, Fresh Paint and even Photoshop. For more details do a simple Google search for any of these software names and keep an eye out for a future installment in this series dedicated to digital painting.

Gimp and Inkscape: Never heard of these pieces of software? That’s okay, not everyone is on the inside track. Now you are and that’s a good thing. You might have a strong preference for using a desktop with Mac software. Maybe you really want to use Photoshop and Illustrator, but you just don’t have the budget to get the software. That’s where Gimp and Inkscape come in. Gimp is a freeware imitation of Photoshop. Yes, free. Do a simple web search for Gimp and somewhere in the search results, aside from some fetish sites, you will find the website where you can download this free image software that is the public domain answer to Photoshop. What is Inkscape? Well it is the freeware version of Illustrator. For budget conscious digital artists these are two options that you will want to look into. Visit gimp.org and Inkscape.org for more info.

Layout

Again when it comes to the function of laying out your book for publishing as a PDF for print or web, Adobe dominates the market, but there are a few other affordable options.

InDesign: The industry-standard page and print layout software that replaced its predecessor known as QuarkXPress. In less than a decade, InDesign took over the print layout market. A very handy tool from the people at Adobe, you can take all that beautiful artwork you created in Photoshop and Illustrator and lay it out as a book in page by page format, carefully making sure that all of your pages fit within the trim and print borders for publication or are ideally formatted for web. InDesign lets you not only place your pages in order and within your trim guides, but also lets you add and superimpose images or text if you so desire. I would recommend getting your text finished before you bring your artwork into InDesign, but it can be good for things like adding header and footer information or page numbers. It’s also great for laying out a credits page, if that’s what you want to use your interior cover for or creating an editorial fan mail page if your comic is doing really well. In either event, you can create your book just the way you want it and then export it as a PDF for print or web, or even export it as an EPUB, the type of file that is used by some digital book distributors. If you are developing digital versions of your book as a PDF for web, you can also create interactive PDFs that have things like video and sound files embedded that people can view or listen to as they progress through your book. This is a unique feature that is not supported by all types of software and file readers, so do your research. Think about how adding video and audio would enhance the reader experience and if it is worth your extra time investment in producing that additional content. Adobe even has a new app called Adobe Comp, short for composition, available on mobile devices. It is billed as being very similar to InDesign for creating page layouts, but in a touchscreen drag-and-drop mobile platform style. InDesign will again, cost you a few hundred bucks to purchase the full version to install on your desktop or you can get it from the Creative Cloud for approximately $10 USD per month. If you did decide to go with the full Adobe Creative Cloud system using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, it would cost you at least $30 per month. If that doesn’t fit your budget, consider looking at the Adobe Comp app, which is free for iPad and Android tablets. More info at Adobe.com.

Manga Studio: Yep we mentioned that not only did they figure out a way to combine Photoshop and Illustrator, but did we mention that SmithMicro also added some very useful functions that would normally be found in InDesign to their Manga Studio software? Well they did. In Manga Studio, you can create book files which are collections of your comic pages. The basic version of the software allows you to create books up to 100 pages and the full pro version lets you create book files of any number, great for epic manga omnibuses of more than 100 pages. So depending on the length of your comics and graphic novels, you may be able to replace all three of the Adobe software that are most useful for creating comics with one affordable software option. As mentioned earlier, Manga Studio ranges from $50–$200 depending on which version of the software you want and number of features you need to produce your work. It does not have a mobile counterpart thus far. Visit smithmicro.com for all the details.

Mobile Options: Currently one of my favorite pieces of layout software is an app called Strip Designer. Strip Designer can be installed for just a few dollars on your mobile tablet or smartphone and allows you to take existing images, photographs, drawings or whatever and lay them out into panelled templates for comic pages. If a template isn’t your thing, you are also able to import fully finished pages that you have panelled out yourself. The extra useful feature with Strip Designer is that it allows you to create beautiful, crisp, professional looking word balloons and sound effects. You can assemble many pages together into one book file or create individual pages to assemble later. There are a few other very similar apps that I would also suggest you check out. Strip Designer is my preference simply because I feel it gives me more options for creating professional quality lettering, but several other apps out there offer similar features such as ComicBook!, Halftone 2 and Comic Touch. When it comes to Strip Designer, you’re looking at spending roughly $3. It’s a great investment and it’s always up-to-date.

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