I’ve printed many versions of the book before using print on demand, but what arrived last week feels so much more important. It’s the first test from the actual printer in Maine I’m going to employ.
Okay, this is really a test’s test. I wanted to print a sample chapter first to check out various tricky situations – dark backgrounds, small details, saturated colours – and pick between two almost-identical types of paper. There will be a few more “real” tests, and very likely a visit to the printer itself.
But even already these samples came with a charmingly old-fashioned approval process two generations older than online tools like Paper or Figma.
And this is also the best my book has looked so far. Some images are just unbearably sharp, all the black and white photos are tinted just the right amount of violet – which is actually hard, but this printing technology allows for it – and the text (Mercury Text at 9.75 over 13.4, natch) feels like it’ll be a pleasure to read.
If the end result looks like this, I think this will be a lot of fun… and the whole point of this exercise it to make sure it does.
I am still learning what it means to review a test print, too. In my notes, I have things like “the orange for accents ended up a bit dirty” and “the smell is… okay?” (apparently, when it comes to smell, it’s more the ink and less the paper?) So far, the only big showstopper I found was that using a variable font in one specific tiny place caused some trouble.
This is a fantastic font by David Ross called Output Sans… but it’s not supposed to be so spindly here.
In another corner of my strange universe, I am trying to build a nice 3D viewer of the book I could put on the upcoming book site. But Three.js is very hard, and I am – turns out – not very smart. So, occasionally, things go horribly wrong.
(I am still angry at my math teachers who never told me I should’ve paid attention to geometry because it’ll forever be useful in UI design, game engine design, and all sorts of other prototypes I would be building in the future.)
The following photos are the most hilarious failures of my code, here for your viewing pleasure:
An accidental wet book
Trying to change a curl of paper to be tighter (I ultimately failed)
No idea what’s happening here
Adding a rigid cover to a floppy set of pages
Yeah. This is possibly the worst my book has looked so far.
I know I often strike a tone in these newsletters of a certain romantic wonderment that can be annoying, sometimes even to myself.
The last part feels true now. To be honest, I hate a lot of this. The strange, unexpected limitations of the printer and the paper forced me to slightly change the size of the book, and that means weeks of just ever so slightly moving everything, by hand – and worrying about making some fundamental mistake. (The original size was 7×10 inches, the current… you can find it here in this newsletter if you look closely enough.) This wasn’t something I anticipated, and rejiggering things so late in the process and after putting so much prior effort is really unnerving. The test print was one chapter repositioned. I have to go through 40 more. Again.
I thought I was done – that’s the checkmarks on the left – but a bunch of new work needs to happen
And Three.js making me feel like an idiot? It’s really not fun. I’m spending hours doing basic things I thought would take minutes – and I am not even sure I have these hours to spend.
The fact that everything seems to be changing makes things feel harder, too. Changes take time and attention. I am now on Mastodon, I spent a few days trying to move the newsletter to a different provider only to see it fail at the last minute (yes, both of these things are related) – and the reason you see two different backgrounds in the above photos is that, after 16 years of living in San Francisco, I recently moved to Chicago.
So I’m trying to remind myself of two things. One, outside of feeling stressed out, this is all good to learn – creative process is strange and fickle and it is useful to know, for the future, what to me is energizing, and what frustrating.
Second? “How did you go bankrupt? Slowly at first, then all at once,” goes a famous saying, and I already know that some version of this notion applies to finishing creative projects, too. It always all feels like a mess that’s on the verge of falling apart. It will appear like that until the last minute. And then it won’t.
I wanted to share these artifacts of progress to calm down and remind myself of all this. If I pause and breathe, I can realize that the test print looking good is huge, and that there is something nice about establishing first steps in a relationship with people who will make my book real next year. (And the fact that my printer has “Lithographers” in the name? Come on. That’s pretty bad ass.)
There is also, even if it doesn’t feel that way, a big difference between the screenshot at the top, and the one at the bottom. I’m excited to – very soon, I hope! – show you the cool site for the book I’ve been working on for a while. The domain already exists (shifthappens.site) but nothing very exciting is there at the moment.
This is the last lesson, maybe: that the length of the progress bar will be obvious only in hindsight, but progress is happening even without knowing it. Wish me luck on this final stretch – and I’m wishing you all happy holidays.
This was newsletter №33 for Shift happens, an upcoming book about keyboards. Read previous issues · Check out all the secret documents