Re: Print on Demand

Subject: Re: Print on Demand
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 15 Nov 1995 21:21:53 PST

>The publications I provide are revised several times a year and are
>not printed in large volume (maybe 500 at a time). I've been thinking
>about using Print On Demand (POD).

Five hundred copies is an awfully big run for a laser printer,
regardless of how big and expensive it is. While it's small for
metal-plate offset printing, it's a good upper bound for paper-plate
offset printing, done on a "duplicating press." This process gives
much higher quality than photocopying, and also doesn't have the
rotational misfeeding that makes photocopies look so bad.

One can toss in a few metal plates for pages with photos or other
fancy graphics.

I'm a big fan of duplicating presses as a way to get something that
looks professional in press runs of a few hundred units. You have
to work with a good printer, though -- much of the paper-plate printing
falls into the El Sleazo category, and some printers won't understand
that you want all the quality that can be squeezed from the technology
(which involves more expensive plates).

>1. Any opinions: is the 7 x 9 size a de facto standard for these
> data books? If so, how important is it to provide my documents
> in this size? (Will my customers form a negative opinion of the
> product because the documentation is "non-standard" size?)

Not really. In the Bad Old Days, people like TI put out their
data sheets in 8.5x11" at first, then shrank them to half-size and
printed them on newsprint, which made them very difficult to read.
Some segments of the industry still follow this odious practice.

Other companies, such as Intel and AMD, use this format, and have
been reducing the graphics content of their data books over time,
possibly spurred by the fact that it's difficult to do complex
illustrations on a small page, especially when you're using laser printer
originals, rather than paying for phototypesetting.

Personally, I have always recommended 8.5x11" formats, for two reasons:

1. Smaller pages do not copy easily, which inevitably leads you to
ship zillions of copies of early editions copied onto full-sized
sheets AND waste lots of time making cut-down copies by hand.

2. The pages are too small for illustrations. How do you put a 17-cycle
timing diagram into a tiny page? Half-sized pages are not suitable
for schematics, program listings, complex tables, timing diagrams,
assembly drawings, or much of anything except running text. Small
pages are okay for PC board or software installation manuals, but
they pose too much of a challenge for engineer-oriented hardware
documentation. Remember, it's not just that all the readers over
40 will have to use a magnifying glass; it's that the printing
technology makes it likely that the necessary detail simply doesn't

>2. If it is important to have the smaller size, does this preclude
> POD? Are there POD vendors who can handle different sizes?

Beats me. I have all the POD I care to pay for if I have access to
a duplexing laser printer that can feed cover stock. While this
doesn't get the covers slapped on or the binding done, I really like
to be able to whip out a dozen or two laser originals of a document
in a crisis.

>I know there is a desire for soft copy, CD-ROM, web file, etc. versions
>of data books. But as near as I can tell engineers don't want to
>give up paper versions. So I'd like to restrict the discussion just
>to the paper document size. This is my first posting to TECHWR-L;
>I hope it's appropriate. Also, I think I missed a thread this year
>on optimum document size. So if the questions have already been
>answered I'd appreciate a pointer to this thread/archive.

Monitors have much less resolution than even a bad laser printer --
on-line documentation can be truly nightmarish in a lot of fields.
If you've ever watched a mask designer at work, they're always zoomed
in to see about a zillionth of the chip at once -- but if they want
context, they have to plot out a forty-foot long plot from the 48"-wide
color raster plotter. While most other fields aren't that extreme,
even ordinary schematic drafting involves having printed schematics
to refer to, since the limitations of the monitor require that you
spend your time zoomed 'way in.

Thus, on-line documentation should be designed to make it easy to get
a printed copy. (I'm particularly annoyed by Intuit, which makes it
very difficult to print more than a page or two of their on-line
documentation -- even copyright-free IRS publications. This contrasts
strangely with Interleaf, which has a spiffy set of hyperlinked on-line
manuals, which, if printed out, become "real" manuals, laid out in
8.5x11" pages, with numbered chapters, a table of contents, an index,
and eveything. You can get the whole thing printed out with a single
command and about two reams of paper.)

-- Robert

Robert Plamondon * President/Managing Editor, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139

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