There are many who would argue you should use Adobe Illustrator or InDesign to make the final pages. Their arguments are perfectly valid, but I just like Photoshop better. And I known I'm not the only one. Like cat versus dog people or Elvis versus the Beatles or Physics versus Chemistry some things are just one or the other depending on the type of person. So for all the die hard Photoshop people...
You will need Illustrator (briefly) and I am going to assume CS4 or greater. Open Photoshop. Create a new doc with the dimensions of your comic (including bleed). In my case that's [dimensions]. I choose 600 dpi in case I need the extra resolution some day. You don't need it that big. The more pixels you have, the more RAM and processing power you will need for good performance. Each page will have lots of layers and smart objects so i recommend going as high as you, but be judicious and don't go below 300 dpi.
With your new File open Save and call it "template.psd". In layers, create a folder called "Assets". In that folder create 3 more called "Balloons", "Tails", and "Connectors". Next, open Illustrator. Draw an ellipse with a white fill and no stroke; we'll add the stroke in photoshop. Grab the Bazier handle bars and fatten your ellipse so that it's almost a square with rounded corners. Copy this shape and stretch that into something long and skinny. Remember, the point is to make it easy to fit blocks of text in these.
Repeat until you've made a the speech balloon for every case you think you might need. Not every conceivable shape, just the generic types that can be sized to fit. I find 3 is fine, but it depends on how you write and compose frames... Your style. I'm a bit verbose, so my balloons need to contain lengthy bits of text in the minimal amount of space so I still have room for the illustration. Now, copy/paste these from Illustrator into Photoshop. When it asks you you how to import, choose Smart Object. This is important because you can size at will without lowering quality and edit later in Illustrator if needed. Put your Smart Object layers into the Balloons folder. Go back to Illustrator and draw a triangle. Grab the handle bars and make the triangle look like a speech balloon's tail. Like before copy and change until you have every shape of tail you will need. Long ones, sharp curves, straighter curves, and so on. Lastly make a series of bows for linking balloons together. All of these can then be placed into those folders you created. One final task with Illustrator: make a few rectangles to bring into photoshop too. These will be for the borders of your frames.
Next, we'll add strokes to the smart objects so that the are ready to go when you need them. You'll need to choose the thickness of the stroke that surrounds your balloons and frames. I like a heavier border so I use 20px stroke for boxes and 10 for balloons. Select a balloon layer, click the function layer, check Stroke and set to 10. Setting the stroke to "inside" will allow you to keep the sharp edges of your shape. Holding Alt while click dragging the effects icon, will let you duplicate those in another layer. Do the same for you the boxes.
Create 7 more folders called "Frame 1, 2, etc". Duplicate those assets you think you will use most often. Here you are setting up a generic folder for all the assets that will make up each frame: speech balloons with their parts, lettering, backgrounds, color fills, ink, highlights and other effects, and the frame border. You'll still be customizing balloons and borders as needed, but the more you have set up ahead of time the faster this will be. It's easier to delete than to create a new; easier to make multiples if you already have one to duplicate. Exactly what you should do depends again on your style and workflow, but the more generic stuff you can pre-create, the faster each page's setup will go. Assuming 24 pages per issue, saving 1 min each frame, saves an average of 6 mins a page and 2 and a quarter hours per issue. 2 min per frame doubles that to 4 and a half hours. Anything that saves you even a tiny bit of time will add up over the course of your project.
For the borders, add another stroke effect at the width you want to use and duplicate the effect for each box. Put the 7 boxes in the 7 folders. Adjust the layer's fill to 0% and now only the border should be visible. Below those folders, add a layer and fill with black. Then, cmd+click that layer to select the whole canvas and go ->Select->Contract... and contract the selection by a few pixels. Cmd+i to inverse the selection and then click the mask icon at the bottom of layers. This will give you a thin line around edge of your page. If you want page numbers, add a text field where your want that to go with "xx" so it's easy to click on to change later. Import the grid you made or the one I used and set up grid lines matching that pattern.
I suggest using the Photoshop plugin called Guide Guide for a quick and easy way to set lots of grid lines in one shot. Add anything else you might want to have started for each project and you're done.
Save this project and you'll have your template. For each page you will just duplicate this file, name it "issue001page1.psd", or what-have-you and you'll be ready to start that page. In the next post I'll show how I import a rough page layout into this template and get a page ready for creating the final panel illustrations.
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