An Unanticipated Challenge – and a Solution

A key element to the process of making an Xtra-Dimensions piece is setting the posts in the desired pattern and then mounting the components so that they align to recreate the complete image. How I do this is pretty straightforward: I tape a template image with the pattern and the grid location codes to the back of the transparent acrylic sheet to show me where everything goes. Here’s a segment of one template and a picture of the acrylic sheet with the posts in place, ready to glue on the individual components:

Pattern & posts.jpg

The template is temporary, so I don’t want it to be a complicated (read: expensive) printing job. I just want to print parts of it on a laser printer, then tape them together to get the complete template. (For a 24” x 36” piece, I need 8 sheets from my desk top printer; for a big Xtra-Dimensions piece like the 50” x 75” version of Paul Kozal’s Aspen Forest, it takes 30 sheets printed on 11” x 17” paper.) When I have the sheets, I trim off some of the margins so that I can line each sheet up with the adjacent one, then tape them together:

Fig 1.jpg

All very simple, right? Wrong… The problem is that neither my laser printer, nor the larger and fancier one at the photoshop, prints a rectangular image exactly rectangularly. For example, an image that I want to be an 8.0” x 10.0” rectangle will print as a trapezoid that may be 10.00” along one side and 10.06” (1/16” longer) on the other side. That’s not much of a difference, but with four of them in a row, the top and bottom are off by 1/4” and one row won’t line up with the next:

Fig 2.jpg

Fortunately, because the distortion is same for each sheet, there’s a simple solution: print them so that every other section of the template goes to the printer “upside down”. Then, the error of one sheet cancels out when it lines up with the adjacent sheet – and everything works out OK!

Fig 3.jpg

The little 1/16”-inch distortions are still there, of course, but now they are localized and within the accuracy that I can line up my posts and Xtra-Dimensions component pieces anyway.

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