Beyond Photocopies: cost-effective color enhancements for your comics

Here’s another little gem from my old website that is deserving of a new home here. Back in 2005 I was fortunate enough to attend the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo in Columbus, Ohio. I had a great time there networking with other cartoonists, hanging out with my APA-5 peers, sampling new comic creations … and even hosting a panel discussion on different ways to add color to handcrafted publications. While color photocopies have become more affordable (even in my neck of the woods) since then, there are still some creative ways to add color to be found here. Hope you enjoy!

Beyond Photocopies: cost-effective color enhancements for your comics
A panel at the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo, April 17, 2005

Hosted by Dale Martin with Sean Bieri, John M (Mejias), and Nate Higley, this Sunday morning workshop was designed to let creators who add color to their comics through a variety of means– stencil, silkscreen, woodblock prints, gocco, tip-ins, stamps– share some of their methods. It was a chance for these artists to show samples of comics & equipment, do demos of some of the creative ways they have added color to their comics, as well as answer questions from the audience of about 40 (Dale neglected to get an actual head count, though).

Dale started off with a brief introduction, showing off some samples ranging from simple highlighter coloring, to woodblock prints and silkscreened comics. He then shared his stenciling technique (using Apple Barrel Plaid craft paints (it covers smoothly, though some colors are less transparent than others), a Speedball foam roller, and unbaked Aleen’s shrink film material for stencils (it’s fairly flexible, clear enough to see through, but sturdy enough it doesn’t need a frame)), which allows for a nice “pop” of color without the expense of full-color copying, and doesn’t bleed through even 20# bond. Dale’s practical tip: Be sure to give yourself plenty of space to lay out your freshly-stenciled copies. While they dry pretty fast, you can’t just stack them as you go. [December 2015 UPDATE: a fuller, illustrated demo of this method can be found here!]

He then shared Justin Madson’s technique and testimonial for color tip-in plates: “The color part of the book is a sticker I printed out on my HP inkjet printer. I buy full-sheet sticker paper and print out as many as I can fit on one page. Then it’s just a matter of careful cutting and placing it on the Xeroxed cover. It’s an inexpensive and simple way to give my covers the pop of color. And, since I started using color on my covers, my sales have increased dramatically.”

Sean Bieri then talked about the wonderful world of Print Gocco! After showing off some amazing samples of his own comics and the new Brunetti/Onsmith-edited Gocco portfolio, he gave a hands-on demo of his Print Gocco machine. This device can take any laser print, photocopy or drawing (anything with graphite, including India ink) and turn it into a self-contained silkscreen-like master, even allowing for multiple colors with the same impression! In the space of just a few minutes, Sean took a laser print, used it to burn a screen, inked it up, and pulled a couple of prints.

Sadly, not long after this presentation, Print Gocco’s  parent company Riso discontinued the product. You can find info about this amazing print method at

Next up was John M, who showed off some of his fully-silkscreend comics, and talked about ways to silkscreen at home – even without a darkroom! He gave a rundown of supplies, an explanation of how to burn a screen, mocked the printing process, and even gave vital pointers such as “use a friend” (since it works best as a 2-person operation) and “shut the cats in another room while printing”! He provided a step-by step handout of the procedure, too!

Rounding out the session was Nate Higley, who shared a different stenciling method – using spray paint! In addition to comics and patches, Nate showed off banners and t-shirts that his stenciling method could be applied to! Again, he shared some practical tips: it works best in a wind-free area (such as an empty garage), album jackets make good stencils, cheap spray paint works really well, and use masking tape (not duct tape) when taping large stencils together. We then adjourned outside where Nate sprayed a quick demo of a 2-color stencil! He also provided a handout of techniques, tips, and references.

A big thank you to all the panel participants for their lively and fun – and informative – presentations, to SPACE impresario Bob Corby for letting us give this workshop (and the second day of panels) a try, and to all those who attended and asked questions during the presentations.

One of the down sides of hosting this session six years ago was that I couldn’t easily document my own method. Next time I do a stenciled cover I’ll try to get some pictures of the process in action!

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