What is a digital comic file? (DRM, CBZ, CBR, etc)

Re-Updated on 2014-09-10

Comic books served digitally come in many different forms. These can be broken down into two categories of digital comics, those protected with digital rights management (DRM) and those without. The former can come in many shapes and sizes, where the most popular is those delivered by Comixology. These are typically not ‘files,’ but a proprietary viewer that allows the user to read the comics. The user does not ‘own’ the comics and the service is ‘allowing’ the user to read the comics they purchase. It works and it can work well, but you are at the mercy of the company you buy from since you do not ‘own’ them.

This is where comic files that are not DRM protected come in play. You can think of these types of files as any other you may have on your computer, such as a picture, word document, or PDF file. The files have no built-in protection and can be viewed by a variety of readers. There is no standard file format for comic files, but there is a de-facto standard.

You may see a variety of formats for DRM-unprotected comic files:

  • CBZ
  • CBR
  • CB7
  • CBT
  • CBA
  • CB and some other letter


What this represents in the file’s extension. For instance, you may see a comic file named “XMen 013.cbz”. This is X-Men issue #13 in the CBZ format. The good thing is that you don’t need to care. The ones that are bold are the ones you typically encounter and the vast majority of comic reader applications support both.

A comic file is merely a ‘zipping’ of a set of images. In this case, the ‘Z’ in CBZ indicates this uses zip compression, the most common method for file compression. If you want to learn how to create a comic file, read the earlier post.

Now, you say, how do I get DRM-free comic files? As of very recently, there are now several publishers that distribute their comics in CBZ format, such as Image Comics. You can also get an increasing number from digital publishers, such as Comixology (although they are not all available in CBZ!). Unfortunately, this does not include the top 2 publishers: DC and Marvel. This means that if you want to read comics not available in this format, you will need to create your own files (eg: scan the pages) or download them “some-how.”

Once you have located a comic file you want to read, you can grab a variety of readers, but I would suggest the reader linked to this blog, the Comic Seer readers.


Comic Seer for Windows 8.1 and Windows RT tablets

Comic Seer for Windows 8.1 and Windows RT tablets

Comic Seer for the Windows desktop and Linux

Comic Seer for the Windows desktop and Linux



You can use one of these reading applications to open the files directly. You can also synchronize your files between devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone) using typical cloud storage solutions, such as Dropbox or Microsoft’s OneDrive.

If you combine a comic reader with a cloud solution, you can can have a great experience across all of your devices without having to worry about where your files are. This can give you all of the benefits of a DRM-protected digital comic service with the freedom to use your files as you prefer.


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How to create a comic book archive (CBZ or CBR)


A comic book file, or archive, comes in a number of different file formats where the most common is CBZ and CBR [Wikipedia]. Both CBZ and CBR are created in the same manner, the only difference being the mechanism used for file compression (CBZ – ZIP, CBR – RAR). This article will take you step-by-step through the process of creating a comic book archive in the CBZ format with additional notes on how to create a CBR. This example will be shown on Windows 7, but the process for both Linux and Mac is near identical.

Image Gathering

A comic book archive is a collection of images that represent the pages a comic book (typically JPG or PNG). There are a number of different places these images may come from, including a scanner (if you scan your own comics), from the web, from your own collection, or from your own hand. This assumes you have the images you want to build into a comic book archive.



Building the file

Once you have the set of images you would like to combine into a comic, you will need to rename each file alphabetically in the order which you would like them to appear. It does not matter whether you use letters or numbers, although I always number sequentially. (Note: remember to use zero padding with numbers since “11” will come before “2”, but after “02”)



When ordered, select all of the images (ie: Ctrl+A) and right-click on any one of the images. Then select “Send To” and “Compressed Folders.” This will put all of the images into a zip file and put it in the same directory.



Creating a CBZ

You will need to change the extension on the file from “.zip” to “.cbz.” If you can’t see the “.zip” on the end of the file extension, you will need to turn off hiding of file extensions via the options in Windows Explorer.



Go to the view tab and turn off “Hide file extensions for known file types.”



You can then rename the “<file>.zip” file to “<comic>.cbz”



The icon representing the file will change to that of Comic Seer (or whatever other application you might be using to read comics).



The file can then be moved to your library or opened directly!



Extra: Creating a CBR file

A CBR file is exactly the same process except you will use WinRAR to combine the files. You will need to install WinRAR and it will add extensions to the right-click menu in Windows Explorer. When right-clicking on the images, you can select “Add to archive..” which will allow you to create either a ZIP file or RAR file. You will then rename the extension of the archive to CBZ or CBR respectively.

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