Can you tell what it is yet?

I used to work in an IT department for a small company in Cambridge. In common with most IT departments we had some big heavy metal grey lockable cupboards for keeping parts out of sight. As it was we had four of these stacked side by side against a wall. Unsightly, mundane, and crying out for something... but just what?

Also at the time I had an old HP 990 colour inkjet sitting under my desk which hadn't be used for at least a year or so. And thus a plan started to form. In theory, it should be possible to print an image across multiple sheets of paper, which could then be joined together to form one huge poster and cover the cupboards entirely! There may have been some discussion about what image we should use, or then again I may have just taken it upon myself to choose Nighthawks. I don't actually remember how this came about.

My first problem was finding something that would print an image across multiple pages. There are probably no end of Windows/Unix programs that do this these days, but my choices at the time were slightly limited to say the least. In the end I settled for MS Publisher, because I had an unused license for it.

Other software

More recently I've discovered 'poster' which is a command line program designed to do the job. I didn't have much luck when I played with it, but you might have more luck.

Poster homepage

Publisher let me specify how wide and how high I wanted my output to be. So using a sheet of A4 as a guide I worked out the dimensions I needed. I don't recall whether this was measured in A4 pages or whether I had to give it physical measurements. In either case it was very easy and in about 10 minutes the printer was churning out the individual sheets.

If I were to do this again, I'd...
  • just have the whole damn thing professionally printed on A1 sheets. No, really! OK so it's less fun, but more fun than spending 60 quid on two complete sets of printer cartridges, not to mention how much of your sanity it's going to save you, but profit isn't why we do things like this. It's because they need to be done.

  • there is nothing 'cool' or 'glamorous' in an 'industrial' sort of way about listening to an inkjet printer running all day long. It'll get on your nerves, or in the case like me you've got your headphones in all day, on the nerves of your work colleagues. The obvious answer here is to leave it printing overnight you might think. Think again. Printing this volume of pages you're bound to get at least one paperjam. I very much didn't enjoy this part. Not only do you have to print the jammed sheet again, but somewhere after you've cleared the jam and you've picked up the pile of sheets that finished printing you realise you've no idea what order they should be in...

  • not use A4 sheets. Really. It's a pain. Each page isn't of course printed edge to edge, so you have to manually cut off the white edges. Trust me. This gets boring very quickly. As does sellotaping everything carefully together. With something this size it's very difficult to keep the whole thing straight and level all the way across so you have to get creative slightly when you get to each end to avoid gaps between sheets.

  • print the whole thing in two print runs. Middle to top and Middle to bottom. I worked out that I'd use 2 complete sets of ink cartridges to get the full image printed. This presents two immediate problems if you're printing top to bottom. The print quality will slowly degrade as it gets the end of the cartridge. So halfway down the image will start to fade, and then when you print the other half with your new cartridges it'll suddenly get brighter. The best way to avoid a sudden change in brightness seems to be to print the whole thing from the middle to the top, and middle to bottom. Ths colours will then fade out the way, leaving the areas at the top and the bottom that you're less likely to notice as being slightly lighter.

If anyone else has tried to do a similar thing, I'd be interested to hear from you. Particulary about what software you used, what kind of printer, any tips or tricks you'd like to share. I can't see myself doing this again, but never say never... Please do drop me an email.

. graham boyd . grahamb @ darkwave . org . uk . 5th december 2005 .