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Making the Physical from the Digital

July 30, 2010

This was an amazing talk I was at, during the 2010 OKCon – about turning all this digital stuff into real world things.  Great fun:

“I had been dabbling with book-binding and making for a little while up to that point and I wanted to attempt to make my blog into a hardback book, using a what is know as a Smythe sewn binding.”

“If you look a typical book, it has blank pages at the beginning and end. If you look at a typical document, like a PDF, then these blank pages are generally never in there! I need to add some blanks before I print it out, but how?”

“There is a toolset psutils that has been included in linux distributions for a long while now and with very good reason – the tools make reformatting, ordering, sizing and otherwise manipulating postscript documents a real breeze. One of these tools is ‘psselect’. The magic incantation I used was:

psselect -p_,_,-,_,_ infile.ps outfile.ps

The -p option tells it to create the outfile.ps “with the following pages”. A _ stands in for a blank page. The use of the - requires a little more explanation: it means “from the first page to the last” and the dash is really a page range, like ’1-20′ or ’40-64′, but if you don’t put in ranges, psselect understands it to mean the beginning and end respectively.

I then hit another issue: to make a sewn binding, you need to fold together numbers of pages to make what are called signatures. What is tricky is that you want the pages to run in their correct order once the pages have been folded and sewn together… so the order you print them is a little special.

I’ll admit that I spent a hour working through some code to calculate the right print order until I used google and found another useful tool in the psutils package – psbook – that does this reordering for you.”

Ordering of the signatures

psbook -s16 infile.ps outfile.ps

“This command will reorder it into 16 page signatures, as illustrated. I printed it out and set to work, creating the signatures and then sewning them through the fold together, using a book awl to punch holes and a blunt bookbinding needle to lead the thread through the holes.”

“Having sewn the signatures together, I constructed a hardback cover for them. At the time, I had no cloth strips with which to bind the card together, so I used gaffer tape which actually worked really well in the end.”

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