A Complete Beginner's Guide to Comic Book Pressing and Cleaning
Updated: Nov 2, 2022
Should I press my comic books? This is a question we get all the time from customers who want to submit their comics for grading. While it's not always easy to answer, generally speaking, many comic books can benefit from a press. Please note, that while a lot of comics can see improvement from a pressing, there are also plenty of books we don't think should be pressed. From background information to techniques, to which professionals to use, our comprehensive guide will give you deep insight into pressing comics, along with how it affects the grade of your book(s).
NOTE THAT THIS ARTICLE IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. DO NOT USE OUR WEBSITE WHEN MAKING ANY FINANCIAL DECISIONS OR PRESSING/GRADING YOUR COMICS.
We want to remind anyone reading that this article is for entertainment purposes only and we shouldn't be your only resource for information. Always do thorough research before pressing and grading your comic books. If you need any personal opinions (for entertainment purposes only), be sure to call or email and we can provide any opinions you might need (sorry, we aren't pro pressers, so we won't give any technical advice on pressing or grading). We are an authorized CGC and CBCS dealer and have been grading comics for years, and can provide any general advice/our opinion free of charge. If you want to cut out the hassle of pressing and grading your comics, then note that we also buy comic book collections. We travel to you and pay cash for comic collections of all sizes and ages, whether they are graded or ungraded. Give us a call, text, or email if you're ready to sell your comics.
Comic Book Pressing: A Quick History
To understand comic pressing, we need to first look at the history. Comic book pressing is a relatively new supplement to the hobby that has formally been around for nearly 20 years now. While there were a handful of restoration experts who had already discovered the benefits of using a heat press to improve the grade of their comics, most collectors didn't know about pressing until the mid-2000s. If you find comics that are graded by CGC in the early 2000s (which have the original labels that were discontinued in 2004), then chances are that the book inside that holder was not pressed or cleaned.
When comic book pressing first made its way into the community, there were many conflicting opinions. Some considered pressing to be restoration since you were altering the book. Others looked at it as an evolution of the hobby (much like grading). With some searching, you can find some early online forum debates on the subject, some of which got very heated.
Some debates also talked about the long-term effects pressing had on a comic book. It makes sense, as you're introducing humidity and heat to a sometimes old comic book, which on paper sounds like a bad idea (this is why we recommend using someone experienced in pressing).
Other debates would bring up the idea that if pressed badly, a comic could have the defects return. This would mean a comic would be in a CGC case that doesn't match the grade (ex: a book that's a 9.0 in a 9.6 case after some spine ticks returned from a bad press job). Again, this is why we stress using a good pressing service.
Regardless of someone's stance on pressing comics, the real issue was detection. There was no sure-fire way for CGC to determine that a comic book had been pressed, which is one of the reasons why they never considered it to be restoration. That, along with the fact that pressing didn't use any kind of chemicals, colors, extra pieces, or glue to add to the book (all of which are considered restoration).
While many collectors knew about pressing comics, a lot of the general public hadn't heard of it. This would change when CGC teamed up with Matt Nelson (a well-known comic presser/restoration expert) to form CCS in the early 2010s. With this partnership, pressing became much more mainstream as you can find information on the subject on CGC's website. Companies such as CGC and CBCS, would also actively promote the benefits of pressing since it was now their business as well.
Today, pressing comic books is very common, and it can be tougher to find a graded comic that hasn't been pressed and cleaned (quite the opposite of how things were 20 years ago). All this talk of pressing might have you asking, what exactly is comic book pressing and how does it work? That leads us to our next subject.
Comic Book Pressing and Cleaning: How it Works
Next, we need to explain how pressing works. Essentially, pressing a comic book requires a dry mount press and humidification. First, the presser needs to make sure the press and book are completely clean (after the comic has been dry cleaned), so they don't get any indents/pebbling. They then apply moisture (using a self-made humidity tank) to the comic book and then heat the issue inside the press to fix any kinds of creases, rolls, indents, or spine ticks that don't break color. They will finally end by putting the comic under a cold press (ex: a stack of books) for about 24 hrs to prevent any of the flaws from returning. A comic might need to go through a few press cycles before being considered finished.
You might be wondering what a self-made humidity tank is. You essentially take any 40-quart tub that you can find at your local Walmart or Target and fill it with a gallon of distilled water. You then create an elevated stand (pipe fittings work well) to lay your comic horizontal in the tank about 4-5" above the water on a cooking grill. Then you close the lid of the tank and take a stack of heavy books and put them on the lid. The comic can stay in this tank for a few hours, but the actual time varies, based on the book. Note that comics that are brittle or have other issues are not good to use humidity tanks on. Once you're done with humidity, it will be time to take it to the heat press.
The type of press most pressers use varies based on settings. We find that a lot of professionals prefer a jumbo seal dry mount press (prices vary). If the press they have doesn't have any kind of temperature gauge, then most will buy a meat thermometer to check when the press is ready to use. As we mentioned, the temperature depends on the book you're pressing, but we find 140-170 degrees F to be standard (depending on the age of the book). The pressure used by the press also requires some testing to see what works. A standard modern comic book with 2 staples has different temperature and pressure requirements than an older square-bound comic held by glue.
The pressing process generally involves a good deal of trial and error to see what works and what doesn't. Some pressers will use silicone release paper (you can find it online) to sandwich the book and prevent it from touching the press itself. They will also put a comic board (one-time use only) in the center of the book, and also use 2 boards to sandwich the book that is already sandwiched by the silicone release paper. Some will line the press with steel or aluminum for better results. In the end, it depends on what method works and shows long-term results. It's generally a good idea for someone to practice on some low-end comics until they get the hang of it (you don't want to ruin any expensive books while practicing). Please note that this is a VERY simple explanation and comic book pressing is very complicated. It's possible to damage the book(s) if the presser doesn't know what they're doing. Don't go out and start pressing your comics based on what you read here. Do thorough research using other more veteran/expert sources (we don't press or clean our books, so we aren't experts on the technical process of cleaning/pressing).
While pressing requires a dry mount press, cleaning a comic is relatively inexpensive (cleaning should be done before the pressing process). Dry cleaning is simply taking a couple of specific types of erasers and cleaning off parts of the comic that might have areas that look slightly dirty. You can also buy some more tools such as dental picks (to remove debris), Swiffer sheets, and cotton balls to further clean the book. Note that dry cleaning can't remove most stains and dirt and has its limitations (don't think of it as a cure-all). Usually, comics that benefit most from cleaning are white covers that have minor darkening/spotting from long-term storage. We don't recommend cleaning a darker comic book cover, because you'll most likely remove the color from the page. We've provided an example of a comic book that can benefit from a cleaning below.
Now you might be thinking that you can look up how to press on YouTube, buy a cheap t-shirt press, and a drafting eraser. Then you can start pressing and cleaning your uncle's collection of 80s comics and submit them to CGC to make big bucks. Your comics are your own and we can only give advice based on our personal experience. That being said, we highly recommend thinking this through before going forward with it. Pressing comics takes a lot of trial and error and even if you're experienced, you'll find that it still takes time to press a single book. You also don't want to risk ruining any comic books (we've seen some very expensive comics ruined by bad presses). Add that to the fact that you need a good press (a cheap t-shirt press won't cut it) that will run you a lot of money, and you're probably better off using a professional. Trust us, we've submitted thousands of comics to CGC and CBCS over the years and found that it was safer to have a professional do the work for us.
Who Should You Use When Pressing Your Comics?
So we've convinced you to use a professional service to press your comic collection. Now comes our suggestions for who you should use. Note that who you decide to use when pressing your comics will depend on your situation. Do you have expensive comics and are willing to wait? Do you have some low-dollar books that you want to flip quickly? This will all determine which presser is best for you.
Your first option is to go straight to the source. CCS is owned by CGC. They will press your comics and the books will go straight to CGC for grading. This sounds convenient, but most comic dealers know better than to use CCS for pressing. They can be good for restoration removal, but we feel like there are better options out there.
CCS has poor customer service and very long turnaround times with their pressing services. There are times (like currently), in which it will take up to 8 months for your comic to be pressed and turned over to CGC. Sometimes, if you need money or if you have a hot comic, then waiting almost a year for your comic to be pressed and graded just isn't an option. Generally speaking, no one likes to have their books/money tied up for long periods.
You can also use CBCS to press your comics, and while they're cheaper (see prices below), they are very backed up and will take just as long as CCS to press any comics, unless you're willing to pay extra.
The next option to consider is CFP Comics. We like CFP as a pressing option. They're based in Sarasota, Florida, and will hand-deliver your comics to CGC once they're done. While they're cheaper than CCS and CBCS, they're also backed up, which means you still need to wait months for your books to be pressed (add that to the months of waiting for grading).
That brings us to our final option when looking for a professional presser. That is to look for someone local. That might sound like a bit of a task, but here's a tip; ask your local comic store(s) who they use to press books. If the comic store is happy with the presser they use, then they'll most likely recommend them. Why wouldn't they bring more business to someone who has helped them make money? You might find that a lot of local comic stores in your area use a couple of local pressers. That will probably be a good sign because it shows that there is a long-term, loyal customer base, which means the presser can be trusted. You should do more research on the presser as well.
If you don't have any comic stores in your area that you can ask, then just take to the internet/social media. You can also go to local conventions to see who the comic dealers in your area are using. Also, note that some good pressers will submit/mail your comics directly to CGC or CBCS for grading if you provide them with the paperwork needed. Be sure to ask them before you give them any books to press.
How Much Does Comic Book Pressing Cost?
In regards to cost, CCS/CGC charges $15 to press a modern comic book and $30 to press anything older (pre-1975). These prices only apply to comics of lower value ($400 or less). If you're pressing anything of higher value, then it will cost $70 (up to $1000 value) or $100 (up to $3000 value). You also need to add another $15 if you want to cut down on wait time, as CCS turnaround times can be extremely long.
CBCS pressing is generally more expensive than CCS if you want to press older books. They charge $15 for a modern comic book (same as CCS) and $40 for anything published before 1975. They also have an express modern pressing service ($40), which can be useful if you're in a hurry to sell something. You can combine that with their express modern grading service as well (another $40). This would allow you to get a comic back in your hands within a few weeks. Their regular service turnaround times can be comparable to CGC.
At the moment, CFP Comics has about the same wait times as CGC and CBCS, but they're cheaper and offer better customer service (their work is also top-notch). They charge a flat $10 to press a modern comic book, $15 for books from 1969 to 1974, and $20 for anything published before that. All 3 companies include a dry cleaning with the cost of pressing, which can be pretty useful (most pressers include dry cleaning in their pressing price).
A lot of good pressers will be backed up these days, but most at least have competitive pricing, so be sure to ask around. Just be careful as you don't want to use someone who doesn't know what they're doing. This brings us to our next point.
Comics You Shouldn't Press
CCS and CBCS both offer a screening process on pressing, which we sometimes recommend using, however, CCS will charge a minimum of $15 for screening (which is the same price as getting a modern book pressed). Also note, that if you screened a book through CCS, then the comic will have a longer turnaround time than a book that was pressed (currently they are taking +30 business days for screening). Note that CBCS is cheaper with screening and only charges $5. While it can be nice to have CCS and CBCS screen books for pressing, you might be able to save yourself some time and money if you're able to look at them yourself and make that determination.
This leads us to our next topic: which comics shouldn't be pressed? This is arguably the most important subject to read up on because it could save you from damaging very expensive comics.
First, let's look at comics that have weak spines. Some older comics can develop weak areas around the spine due to years of reading and abuse (this is more common with older books). You might notice that the book has some splitting along with wear and tear near the staples, which can be pretty evident. You'll also see a good amount of creasing and color loss, which can mean that the spine is weak. If you have a comic with a weak spine and you're thinking of pressing it, then you need to think about whether it will be worth the risk to press. Will the press help enough? If your comic currently sitting at a 2.5 and you think that a press might make it a 3.0, but you risk splitting the spine completely, then it might not be worth the gamble.
This next one is similar to our previous example, but if you have a comic book that has the cover holding on by a thread, then you need to be careful when pressing. Some older books were constantly read and handled, which lead to their covers nearly becoming detached. There are also some older comics from the World War II era that were only printed with 1 staple. Needless to say, it can be a risk to press some of these comics. If you're in this boat, then think to yourself; will the cover hold when pressing?
In the next example, we need to look at books with tape or glue. If a comic has tape in a bad spot, it can get caught in the press and rip the book. We've seen this happen in the past, so please be careful if you're thinking of submitting a book that has been taped up. In regards to glue, be careful as it can melt when introduced to heat, which can cause a complete mess with the comic. If you're using a pro presser, then they might be able to get around this, but if you're having doubts, then be sure to ask the presser about their opinion before submitting the comic (this is where a CCS or CBCS screening comes in handy). They might be able to press a book with glue if they use a lower temperature than normal.
Finally, we need to consider some comic books that just wouldn't benefit from a pressing, as it would be a waste of time and money. This might include a book that has spine ticks that break color, heavy creasing, or tears. Those aren't going to come out with a press and you'd be better off submitting the book to CGC without a press (or not submitting it at all). Please refer to our examples below for references on what should and shouldn't be pressed.
Comic Pressing Examples
Here we have an example of the back cover of a comic book that can improve from cleaning and pressing. You will see small spine ticks and wrinkling on the sides of the book, which can come out with a press. You will also see some black areas that can be addressed with proper cleaning. Be careful with white covers, as they can be deceiving. Not every spine tick on a white cover can come out with a press. You need to make sure to take a good look and make sure that they aren't too deep in the book. Also, the browning in the center of the book can't be fixed with a press or cleaning.
Here we have a cleaner comic that can see some improvements from a pressing. The top corner doesn't quite lay flat, but a press can fix that. There is also some darkening next to the staples that should come out with a good cleaning.
This comic book is an example of an issue that we DON'T RECOMMEND PRESSING. You will see that the cover is barely holding on. You'll also see that the defects are too substantial for a press to do much help. If you have an older book that has tons of defects, then pressing won't do much good anyway. This is because the non-color-breaking creases are the least of your worries in regards to that comic. You'll most likely get the same grade whether the book is pressed or not.
Here's another example of a comic book that we don't recommend pressing. The spine is almost completely split and you'll most likely do more harm to the book than good. There are also areas of the book that could easily get caught in the press. A pressing probably wouldn't improve the grade of the book anyway.
This is a good example of a modern comic book that has a couple of slight indents that can come out with a press. The indents aren't deep and a pressing/cleaning can fix this issue and give it a solid grade boost.
Conclusion: Which of Your Comics Should You Press?
Now comes the hundred (or thousand) dollar question: which of your comics should you press. We stand by our comment at the beginning of this article and say that many comics are worth pressing, but not all. That being said, take some of the examples we have provided above and look at your books. If you feel like they have pressable defects, then send them to a local presser. If you have a comic book that you feel might be somewhat brittle, have a weak spine, or have parts that can become damaged, then we suggest asking your presser for an honest opinion. We speak from experience. If you press a comic with a weak spine, then there's a chance that the spine will completely split which will take a book that is a G/VG (3.0) and turn it into an FR (1.0). This can be heartbreaking, especially if you've spent a lot on the comic.
We also can't stress this enough, but don't think of pressing as a magic fix that will boost your low-grade comic from a 3.0 to an 8.0. While we have seen books make big jumps in grade from pressing and cleaning (ex: 7.5 becoming a 9.0) we know that it is not a fix-all. If a comic book has dirt, stains, heavy creasing, tears, or any other major defects, then a press and cleaning won't make a difference. It will only help if you have non-color-breaking defects. We've said this in our previous blog posts, but remember to always keep your expectations low. If you have a comic that's a 9.0 and feel like a press can help it, then don't expect a 9.8, because you'll likely be disappointed. Sometimes disappointment will lead the submitter to shift blame to CGC or their presser, which isn't always fair.
That being said, you might be wondering who we use to press our comics. We use a local, reliable presser in the NYC area that presses for several comic book dealers. If you would like information on this comic presser, be sure to give us a call, text, or email. Please note that our presser does not press small quantities, so if you only have 1-2 books, then you will most likely be rejected.
If you need any kind of personal opinion (for entertainment purposes only) on your comic book collection, be sure to call, text, or email us for a free opinion. Please note that we highly recommend doing thorough research before pressing, grading, selling, or buying comic books. If you ever want to cut out the hassle that comes with selling your comic book collection online, then be sure to give us a call, text, or email and we can buy your comic collection for a fair price.
NOTE THAT THIS ARTICLE IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. DO NOT USE OUR WEBSITE WHEN MAKING ANY FINANCIAL DECISIONS.