Hello hello. Welcome to 2017 (it is 2017 when I am writing this. Your mileage may vary.)
Right then. Self cover. What is it, and why should you care?
What does self cover mean?
It’s one of those jargon things that we printers use. A bit like how we can’t just say “stapled” instead of “saddle stitched” or “full colour” instead of “4/4”. In this case it means that we’ll use the same paper for the cover as we do for the rest of your comic.
OK, why should I care?
Well. It’s usually a lot cheaper, for one thing. Depending on what you’re looking at getting opting for a self cover saves something in the range of 10-20% on your costs. If you’re on a tight budget that’s not too shabby, is it?
A significant part of the cost of printing is the collection of processes that turn an approved proof into something the press can read and print. Collectively we call these the setups (because they are super dull and you don’t need to know about the detail). For your purposes here all you need to know is that there’s one lot of setups for the cover and one lot for the main body of the book (this is a gross oversimplification, but roll with it). If your comic, as far as the press knows, doesn’t have a cover then you’ve just saved yourself one lot of setup costs. You’re also saving on collation costs and such like, although those are pretty minor in context.
It’s not all about the money, you know? Why else should I care?
You’re right. We’re too materialistic as a society. I applaud your principled stance. There is indeed another reason you might prefer a self cover: sometimes it looks better.
Do yourself a favour and head down to your local comic store. Say hi, get to know the people there (because they are probably nice and definitely a useful resource for an indie creator). Before you leave grab a couple of new one shots or monthlies and have a look at them. You’ll find that these are mostly printed in a fairly regimented way: they’ll be the same size, the same page count in most instances, and they’ll by and large be self cover on a relatively thin paper (most often 100GSM Gloss). They look, for want of a better word, like comics. In comparison to the other options on offer (like our CPUK standard and Small Press standard) they’ll be a lot more flimsy and… well… comic-y. This is partly a perception thing – the big companies like DC/Marvel/Image etc have opted for the most cost-effective printing they can, and because they’re the big companies that’s what we think of as comics. It’s not just perception though; on a relatively short comic having a whacking thick cover that’s totally out of balance with the internal pages does look and feel weird (and it pops open like nobody’s business). Part of the reason I set up CPUK was that the old small press standard (250/300GSM Cover, 130GSM interior) that was in standard use at the time was bothering me as a reader – even when the print job itself was solid the materials were distracting.
It’s a matter of personal taste, of course, but up to a page count of about 28pp there’s usually a good argument for at least considering a self cover option on purely aesthetic grounds. One distinct advantage of self cover, especially on digital jobs, is that you get less gapping on the fold (that annoying thing where the comic doesn’t lie flat right out of the box). Gapping happens because the paper is too thick and springy for the rollers to fully fold, so a self cover on a nice thin paper is going to mitigate against that.
When shouldn’t I consider self cover?
If you’re going for a perfect bound job this is obviously not going to be a suitable option. Well, it’s not going to be a possible option. So you can count that out. Other than that, though, you can pretty much always consider self cover for comic printing. Nobody’s going to force you to go that route, but we’ll usually offer it as an alternative spec if we think it might work for you.
You’ll need to bear in mind that a self cover is a little less robust than something with a thicker cover, and thus more liable to getting dinged up in transit – whether that’s from us to you or from your house to wherever the con is. We pack everything as securely as possible, naturally, but there’s no getting around the fact that a more robust cover generally makes for a more robust comic. If you’re planning on going self cover be aware that you’re going to want to invest in rigid envelopes for postage, and a bunch of styrofoam peanuts for getting to and from cons. You should still come out ahead on cost, but make sure to do your maths!