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Topic Archive: Print On Demand
The new phone-friendly redesign of Retropolis: the Art of the Future That Never Was

Filed under Print On Demand, Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Web Development, Works in Progress

Retropolis: the Art of the Future That Never Was

I’ve spent the last two weeks on two projects: rebuilding part of my front porch (which you probably don’t care about unless you’re knocking on my door), and creating a phone-friendly redesign of my Retropolis web site.

I’m not crazy about the ways that phones have affected web page design – and I really miss my old page layouts – but because I am also not actually crazy I finally caved in to peer pressure and converted the site into something that works well on phones. Mostly.

The big exception is the Business Card Construction Kit. You still need a much wider browser window to do much with that one.

But in every other respect you can now shop quite comfortably even on one of those tiny, ridiculous devices that you all use.

Retropolis: the Art of Retro Future

So go do that, please, while I dart outdoors between the rainstorms and try to get my deck boards nailed down in time for Winter.

As always, you can find the Retropolis Transit Authority T-shirts, along with posters, greeting cards, postcards, business cards, and other things that are not cards. Like, uh, coffee mugs. And books. And other stuff. Go get ’em!

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It’s alive: the Business Card Construction Kit at Retropolis

Filed under Print On Demand, Web Development, Works in Progress

The Business Card Construction Kit

I’ve been selling customizable business cards for several years now at Retropolis and The Celtic Art Works. Customers would click on a sample image and be carried over to the Zazzle site, where they could edit the text on that card design to their own specification. The system worked pretty well, and a lot of people bought their business cards that way; but I’ve always thought it could work better.

After I built the Pulp-O-Mizer I could even see how it might be better: if all the possible background images were available in menus, and the whole user interface worked a bit more like the Pulp-O-Mizer, I figured that the process would not only be more fun, but more engaging. Customers would be able to try out all sorts of possibilities… so they would. They’d be more likely to buy their cards once they’d invested their time in them. It could work out better for all of us.

But it wouldn’t be a small job, and I’d need a fair-sized block of time to work on it.

As it turns out, the job took about a month.

The (front) card preview in the Business Card Construction Kit

It’s alive! Alive, I tell you!

So today I’ve unveiled the Business Card Construction Kit at Retropolis. (It’ll show up soon at The Celtic Art Works, too; but I’ve included all the Celtic art backgrounds already.)

The Business Card Construction Kit includes much of what the Pulp-O-Mizer does, but it also does more. You can design a business card in either horizontal/landscape or vertical/portrait shapes; you can have images and text on both the front and the back of the business cards; you can select any colors you like for your text; you have over 250 background images from which to choose, along with a wide variety of typefaces; and I’ve made innumerable little improvements to the user interface and user feedback.

It’s a pretty nice system!

Select from over 250 business card images

Over 250 background images

The background images are divided by subject and style; in addition there are separate menus of images for the front and back of the cards. (That’s because the card stocks are usually coated on just one side, so an image that works well on the front may not look as good on the back of the card.)

There are a lot of Retropolis images, of course, but I’ve included all the old Celtic card backgrounds from The Celtic Art Works, and then added a lot of new border designs and images in that style. And I can continue to add more designs and styles as time goes on.

Edit six different areas of text on the front or back of your business card

Many text controls, typefaces, and selectable text colors

Both the front and back of your business card can have up to six different areas of text, each with their own controls.

The color selector is something that I decided to leave out of the Pulp-O-Mizer, but it makes a lot of sense here.

And because there are so many typefaces available in the Business Card Construction Kit I’ve given you a second menu, which you can use to filter the typeface list by font type: Serif, Sans Serif, Hand Lettered, or All.

Save, load, import and export your business card design to share it

Save, export, and share your card designs

In order to save, move, or share your card designs, you get the same options as you do in the Pulp-O-Mizer. You can save and load locally, or you can export your card data as a block of text that can be imported into the Construction Kit on another device or browser.

There’s also a menu of example designs that you can load, and learn from, and even use as the basis for your own business card.

So that’s what I’ve been working on. I think it’s a much improved system for buying your customized business cards, and it’s designed to grow, as well. Give it a spin!

Big Changes at both Retropolis and the Celtic Art Works, including some lower prices

Filed under Print On Demand, Works in Progress

New merchandise from the Retropolis Rocket WorksLast week I started some major rework at both Retropolis and The Celtic Art Works. Up to today the changes have been fairly subtle, dealing mainly with what merchandise is available from which vendors. But today I’ve started a facelift at Retropolis, starting out with the home page.

The facelift is going to continue, with new home page content and a new header across the entire site. In fact I may even rework the underlying HTML so that it’ll be more compatible with some things I may want to add in the future – things that build on the methods I used when I built the Pulp-O-Mizer.

But what you’re likely to notice first is the new splash image at the Retropolis home page. If you delve a little deeper you may realize that a lot of merchandise that used to come from the Retropolis Travel Bureau (at Zazzle) is now being sold through the Retropolis Rocket Works (at CafePress). Something similar is going on at my Celtic Art Works site.

That’s because recent changes to Zazzle’s policies mean that two things have happened: you’re being charged more for their merchandise, while simultaneously, I make less. It’s a lose-lose situation. Unless your name is "Zazzle", I mean. So I’m taking these steps to get us both a better deal.

The new Retropolis Rocket Works merchandise includes coffee mugs, magnets, buttons, mouse pads, and other things that formerly came from Zazzle… at far more attractive prices. I’ve even started by giving those items a pretty low markup, which may or may not continue, depending on what effect that has on sales. (An unfortunate truth about print on demand merchandise is that even with a minimal markup the goods will always be more expensive than mass produced merchandise. So in practice, since one can’t compete on price, it usually works out better to increase the markup.We’ll see how this experiment with lower prices works out. It may be for a limited time only, like they say.)

The holdout is posters. The Zazzle price increase, combined with how difficult they make it to change one’s markup, mean that poster prices are much higher right now than I like; and there isn’t an immediate solution.

CafePress made fine posters for me for about a decade. A year ago, though, they stopped trimming their posters to size. That means that if you buy an 18×24" poster from them what you get is an 18×24" print in the middle of a much larger sheet. You have to trim it down to size yourself. I don’t think that’s attractive to most buyers, who want to unroll the thing and pin it up, or tape it up, or frame it without having to finish the work themselves.

In addition CafePress has a bug at the moment that’s preventing them even from printing the pictures at the correct size. So my posters are still being sold through Zazzle in spite of their draconian price hike. I’m just not sure when or how that’s going to change. But be sure that I’m working on it: I’m looking into other vendors. Since one of my requirements is that I can easily include the merchandise into my own web sites, though, I have a pretty narrow pool to choose from.

I’m just glad that when I built these sites I made it relatively simple to swap the merchandise from one vendor to another. I did it once before, and now I’m doing it again. So yay for me, and yay for disaster preparedness!

In the meantime, enjoy everything… though maybe not the posters. Coffee mugs, on the other hand, are now priced at one-third off their Zazzle equivalents. Therefore, I suggest that The Answer is Coffee.

In progress: CreateSpace Shop Manager Plugin for WordPress

Filed under Print On Demand, Works in Progress

A few days ago I put up a working online bookshop for Matthew Hughes’ Archonate web site – actually it’s the second book shop there, since I’ve been feeding his site with eBooks all year long.

This one’s different because it’s stocked with print-on-demand paperback books, printed and shipped by CreateSpace. CreateSpace allows self-publishers to sell through several sales channels; the author gets a different cut of the sales price at each one. You can buy these paperback books at Amazon – in several countries – or direct from CreateSpace. It’s not surprising that an author gets a much better percentage of the sale if it’s made through the CreateSpace “store”.

But the CreateSpace stores are primitive objects. Each one offers just a single book and there’s no way for an author to tie all those individual book pages into one single, unified storefront, which is sort of necessary if you hope to sell your books online without a middleman like Amazon.

The Archonate‘s CreateSpace store is a proof of concept for what I’m working on now – a WordPress plugin that lets you combine any number of books into any number of category pages and host them – all together, all with a single shopping cart – within your WordPress blog. All an author needs to do is to set up the shop and go back to writing promote it.

You can see a screenshot of the admin screen for the plugin below.

CreateSpace Bookshop Manager plugin for WordPress

It’s going to take me awhile; this is my first WordPress plugin, and the past few days have been made livelier by my creative use of language while I discovered new and exciting things to yell about.

At the moment I’ve managed to create a plugin that WordPress recognizes, set up its configuration screen, and add and retrieve the plugin’s options from the WordPress database. That’s been a heck of a lot of work for a plugin that doesn’t do anything yet, but I have the working proof of concept to look at while I’m, um, swearing.

I like the way the content is pulled in from CreateSpace and modified in ways that the user can extend. So long as the WordPress blog is cached, this adds very little work for the blog’s server or for the CreateSpace server. All in all, I think it’s pretty neat.

Once it’s done I might even do a very similar thing for Amazon affiliate sales, which, of course, aren’t limited to books. I’ve used Amazon’s own AStore system (you can see an implementation right here in my blog) but having used it, I know how cumbersome and unwieldy a thing it is. Surprisingly, it looks like I can do better. So maybe I will.

New Improved Pulp-O-Mizer: Now, with T-shirts!

Filed under Print On Demand, Web Development

New, Improved PULP-O-MIZER: Now with T-shirts!

I’ve just updated the Astonishing PULP-O-MIZER: I’ve given it unnatural powers of T-Shirt and Hoodie Creation that I’m pretty sure Man Was Not Meant to Wot Of. I barely wotted of them myself, if the truth be told. It was a near thing.

I’ll need to keep an eye on the server’s status. Creating the shirts – and then displaying, deleting, hiding and showing them – eats up more resources than we’ve seen with the other products. There’s the chance that shirts will go in and out of service, all depending on the server’s load and my own demented whims.

If I say so myself – which I do, you notice – it’s a pretty neat system, though. Each user gets his or her own private folder of shirts (so they can’t prowl through the shirts that other people have made); one can delete all the shirts in one grand gesture of destruction (that part was easy) or one can select a single shirt or hoodie and doom it to be fed, alone and shrieking, into the mouth of the Destructinator* (that part was hard).

It’s all brand new, so here’s your chance to break it. I’ve tested it in every browser and OS I have and I’m pretty sure it won’t explode. But you should wear those rubber gloves and goggles, just in case.

*… a name that I wish I’d invented, even though I didn’t.

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