Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Clever Printing Tricks

What a past week it has been.

Been sick for the past week.  Coughing up a few lungs and small animals. 

Over the past Friday/Saturday, the Houston area was treated to an rainstorm of near biblical proportions again.

Our particular homestead area saw cumulative 24-hour total rainfall amounts of almost 8”.

I made it home from work Friday night safely. But barely.

I had to make a number of detours due to street flooding, and while I am hyper-conservative about putting the Saturn Ion in water more than two to three inches deep at one point I had (truly) no choice but to make a quick dive into a parking-lot to safely avoid rising water in a city street.

I was able to turn around and after assessing the situation for about fifteen minutes was able to get back out to high-ground/streets.

However at one point on my short and hairy-exit I recalled a quote from Risky Business:

“Who’s the U-Boat commander?”

The Saturn and I got home safely (yet again) with no harm done and we all stayed sequestered in the house listening to the rain pour down and (unfortunately) my hacking cough.

Sunday brought clear and cool skies (but no relief to my chest) and hope that things would turn better soon.

To the Post

At the shop, we are getting ready to open up a brand-new office for our customers.

One of my duties is handling the network cabling orders.

I’ve been getting CAD layouts from the design team, re-marking them to the icons we use for our cabling system, and sharing them with the various members of our IT project team.

We don’t have easy access to a large-scale “sheet” printer and while I have no trouble converting the CAD files into Visio, then into PDF for distribution, a full-sized (say 3’ x 3’) printout on the wall goes a long way to helping with various planning activities.

I’ve used some commercial products before to “posterize” a printout, but I needed a solution that was fast and free.

By posterize, I mean I will use the program to expand/enlarge the printed page across multiple letter-sized sheets, which then can be trimmed down and pasted together to make an oversized printout when down.

Here’s what I did.

Capture It

All of the programs I will mention in a bit require the file to be in an “image” type file format.  While I suppose you could always just use a screen-capture tool to capture your output, this may result in blocky image quality when expanded.

Instead, it works better if you can directly convert your original printed output directly into an image-file format.

First I downloaded and installed (on XP Pro system) the Virtual Image Printer driver from Sourceforge.

What this package does is to create a virtual printer driver (XP only supported for now) that you can print to.  It takes your printed output and converts it into an image file (say BMP, JPEG, TIFF, etc.).

It is free and worked great.

Installation was a pain for a while on my system until I worked out the issue.

It kept failing.  First it seemed to fail partway through until I ran it as “administrator”.  Then it got further along but kept failing when it tried to run some command-line installation steps.

I had almost given up but then when looking through the project comments found the issue:

Turns out there is an installation issue if the faxsvc.exe process was conflicting with it.  I keep it running on my laptop so I can do poor-man’s scanning by faxing material inside our office to my laptop via the second analog line connected to the modem.

Anyway, I disabled it with Autoruns, rebooted, and this time Virtual Image Printer installed with no issues.  I then re-enabled the fax service process and all is well.

For a fantastic commercial product ($) I trialed before finding this freeware solution, check out Zan Image Printer it is reasonably priced and supports a wide variety of Windows systems including Vista.  I didn’t have any installation issues and it comes with a lot of more advanced options.

Print It

Next I turned to my particular freeware favorite for “posterizing” images on the grand scale.

Posteriza - (freeware) – Is very easy to use.  It comes in both “installable” and “portable” versions.  Select your image file to multi-page print, add text (if desired), select how many pages you want the sheet to cover, adjust your margins/cut-lines, and print-away!  It is tiny, fast and very dependable.

In no time I had printed a thee-sheet by three-sheet poster of the site floor plan with cabling markups, trimmed it, rubber-cemented the sheets together, and had it tacked to the project board.

Output was very crisp and much of the CAD detail came through just fine for this “big-picture” planning work.

Here are some “alternatives” to Posteriza I found.

PosteRazor - (freeware) – Very similar to Posteriza in operation but has one neat difference.  Instead of directly outputting the image to the printer, you save the output as a multi-page PDF file.  This can then be printed, cut, assembled and mounted.  However the benefit of this particular utility is that you can send the PDF to others so they also can assemble their own.  Really handy when your team is sharing a plan but are not all centrally located.  Also small and distributed in both “install” or “portable” program formats.

The Rasterbator - (freeware) – Aside from the double-entendre’ish name, this is a neat tool as well.  It differs from the above mentioned products in that it creates a rastorized multi-paged version of an image.  This is an important distinction.  It functions in either a local (portable/download) mode or you can use it “on-line” in the cloud. In my work, the output is very similar to the images seen close-up in newspaper print images; varying sizes of dots/colors that from a distance blend together by the eye into a single detailed image.  Not really what you want for CAD technical drawings, perhaps, but good for more traditional image-display. It also outputs the results into a PDF file for followup printing and assembly.

Certainly, none of these methods can compare to the single-page output of a good-quality, single-page large-format printer.

However, where resources are limited, and you need a fast, quick, and utilitarian solution to poster-sized print generation, this might be an acceptable workaround.


--Claus V.


Anonymous said...

You live in Houston and drive a Saturn? Here's my shoulder, cry away.

Claus said...

@ Anonymous - ;) - Thanks for the offer.

I'm not sure if I'd be crying more for the (possible/likely) demise of the Saturn line, period, or the fact that having a dependable, fun, and decent mileage vehicle doesn't seem to have much place on Houston roads.

My commute/job has demanded churning out the miles and the Saturn is now over 123,000 miles in just over five years. Running like a top as long as I don't put it under water.

I've had pickups in the past and loved 'em. And if I could justify the cost of ownership, while not practical, a Jeep would seem to be a slightly wiser purchase.

However, a few buddies with high-rise pickups got drowned out over last weekend as well and a neighbor was bailing water out of the floorboards of his high-rise Jeep.

So I guess the best advise is to slow down, park it, and wait for the flood-waters to recede.

I'm building a "survival kit" to keep handy; magazines, music, snacks, drinks. Stuff to make the time pass next time I have to wait it out...

Mark Levi said...

Thank you
Really usefull post,
Really opened my eyes on poster-production.
Thanks a bunch!