Where are your products printed?
The bike atlas is printed-on-demand (PoD) at Lulu.com. The quality of the book is excellent, with bright, glossy color covers and sharp black and white innards.
The posters and cards are printed-on-demand at Zazzle.com. Again the quality is excellent and fairly sharp (see “Image quality” below). The cards are on heavy stock and have a semi-gloss finish outside. The posters and photos are also on heavy stock with a slightly pebbly semi-gloss finish.
How soon will they arrive?
It all depends on the shipping options you pick for Lulu and Zazzle. So far, the printing time seems to be fast. It would make sense that before the year-end holidays that production may get delayed.
What if I’m not happy with my order?
Most importantly, contact whichever PoD outfit did the job, and work through their quality assurance system.
For Lulu, go to this page: http://connect.lulu.com/t5/Ordering/Return-Policy/ta-p/33211.
For Zazzle, go to this page: http://www.zazzle.com/mk/welcome/first/safetyguarantee.
In any event, we want to know about your experience regardless. If your issue is more about a lack of quality in the original image (us) than the printing quality, we definitely want to hear about it.
What is Lulu.com?
Lulu is a print-on-demand (PoD) publisher, which means each book (or product) is printed specifically for each order, rather than printing a large quantity beforehand in the traditional manner. This exists due to new machines which can print, bind and trim all at once. Lulu apparently also uses third-party vendors to do some of the actual production, and those products are shipped directly from those vendors to you.
Lulu was founded in 2002 and based in Raleigh, NC, with operations in Europe as well. Lulu’s focus is on books. Lulu claims 1.1 million “creators” (authors) for hardcover and paperback books, eBooks, mini books, photo books, calendars, cookbooks and travel books.
What is Zazzle.com?
Zazzle is also a PoD “publisher”, but focuses on putting images on pretty much everything but books, including T-shirts, bags, buttons, hats, greeting cards, postage, calendars, coasters, magnets, mouse pads, posters, photo prints, iPhone cases, skateboards an a lot more. Upon ordering, each product can be customized visually to some degree (see below), and is then made on-demand and shipped to you.
Zazzle is based in Redwood City, CA and began in 2005. Zazzle claims to be “the world’s leading platform for quality custom products.”
What are the Customization Options for Zazzle cards?
When you are on the Stanton Studio Zazzle Store page for the card you want, you can choose either the larger Greeting Card size or the smaller Note Card size.
If you want to add text or images to any part of the card, inside or out, you may do so by clicking on the orange “Customize It!” button below the images. Then, on the left side, you can pick which page of the card you want to alter: Front, Inside Left, Inside Right, or Back. On the right, under “1-Customize It” (click on it) you can add images and text to the chosen page. You can even delete the map and the back page info and logo, but Stanton Studio would rather that you leave those alone! We’ve permitted customization so you can add text and images to the inside pages. The controls for text formatting are quite good and allow for a lot of control.
The “2-Choose your size” option repeats the abovementioned Greeting vs Note card choice.
Finally, there is “3-Templates” option, but seriously, if you want to change the overall look of the card, please go to the main menu choice “Create>Greeting Cards” and create your own from scratch.
How do I navigate the Zazzle interface to order a poster?
If you just want to order a straight 16” x 20” poster (the default size we’ve set, but please read the “What is the image quality…” below) you can just click on “Add to cart”, unless you want to add a frame. If you hover your mouse over the left-side image you’ll get a popup window showing a closeup view. This may take a while to fully load. Also, the actual prints are a lot sharper than the popup shows. And the popup view has a watermark which won’t be on the print.
What are the Customization Options for Zazzle posters and photos?
When you are on the Stanton Studio Zazzle Store page for a poster or photo, you will see a box on the upper right with a couple of customization options. The first option is “Size”; clicking on the dimensions reveals a popup menu showing many sizes.
If you want to change the poster size but keep the same proportions as we have designed the poster for (16 x 20) then use the dimensions near the bottom of the list which have prefixes of “Extra Small”, “Medium”, etc. If you use the numeric-only dimensions then you may be cropping the image somewhat – be sure to carefully check the left window to make sure you’re not cropping out something you want. Also, in the lower right corner of every Stanton Studio image is a “cut” or signature, “SS”; of course we would like that preserved!
The second option is the Paper Type, and again a popup list will appear with choices. Since we haven’t tried all the options but the most basic we have no recommendations, except that the basic paper seems substantial.
The last option is the Framing Option, which we have not yet used (so let us know your experience!)
What is the image quality of the Maps-au-Naturel™, Maps-Un-Natural™, and Maps-al Fresco™ images?
The image resolution is set for 16″ x 20″ (or close to that proportion) at 300 ppi. So the images hold up well up to about 24″ x 30″ as far as we can tell from our samples. Zazzle will put up a warning dialog about resolution if their computer feels that the print desired is too large for the resolution. Remember that the viewing distance increases with the size (like with a big-screen TV) so from the proper distance, the image looks fairly sharp.
Where do you get the data for the Maps-au-Naturel™, Maps-Un-Natural™, and Maps-al-Fresco™ images?
The data for the terrain and hydrography (water) is available freely from the US Geological Survey (USGS) at http://www.usgs.gov/pubprod/data.html#data and is part of the National Elevation Dataset (NED) and the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD). Sometimes we use the Land Use and Land Cover Data sets if there is enough detail.
What is the process of making the images?
The workflow for Maps-au-Naturel™ (and the other) images is entirely in the digital domain until the printed copy exists.
Before computers, cartographic terrain representation was created by accomplished artists using pencil, charcoal, ink and airbrush techniques to create a map type known as shaded relief topography, or hill-shading. It required the cartographer to read a topographic map (and sometimes aerial photographs) and translate them into a drawing showing the landforms as if they were lit by the sun. The trick was to bring out the shape of the landscape without confusion. It took many hours concentrated work just to generate one image at one scale with one lighting, but the results could be incredibly beautiful. I learned and practiced these techniques “back in the day”, and it was indeed a labor of love.
An academic and governmental effort was begun in the later 20th century to use the computer to do the shaded relief work. Digital elevation models (DEM’s) were conceived and produced, mostly by the US Geologic Survey (USGS) and NASA, and software was developed to generate images with them. Work was done in other countries as well. It was a massive undertaking over several decades. Ultimately, forms of this software came to the desktop computer.
The basic terrain information is contained in a DEM with it’s X, Y and Z coordinate information (longitude, latitude and height). Specialized software is used to extract, scale and make basic colorations to it to create the basic shaded relief image. Things like sun azimuth and elevation, brightness, contrast and ambient lighting are considered for optimum reveal of the landscape. The coloration is determined by elevation – bands of color are set to specific elevations to achieve a particular look. The map image is then generated to a file compatible with an image editing program. Variations of the DEM image are exported to allow a maximum artistic flexibility later in the process – such as different approaches with the vertical relief or coloration.
Sometimes other data is needed on the map, such as land cover and hydrography. These datasets are manipulated using geographic information systems (GIS) software, and the results are exported into illustration software. Within the illustration software the map is scaled to match the DEM image, and often colored. It is then exported for pasting into an image editing program.
Once the image editing program, the various DEM images, variations, and any other datasets are stacked into layers perfectly aligned with each other. New images derived from the existing layers are generated – such as highlight and shadow areas, a subtle darkening of the low areas to bring out the elevated areas, or adding a gentle grainy texture to flat areas. Often there are flaws in the DEM data which create unwanted lines or gaps, and these must be repaired. Alterations in color and tonality to the basic generated DEM can be applied here.
For a black and white image, the color image is modified to bring out landscape details as clearly as possible using translations of specific color ranges.
When everything is right, an image is saved and the layers are flattened to fix the pixels. Finally, the map is sent to Zazzle, where it is printed out on the chosen media.