What do I need if I want to put out a newsletter but I don't have any infrastructure?
June 6, 2009 11:34 PM   Subscribe

What would it take to print a few thousand sheets of paper every other day while completely off the grid?

I will have no access to any electricity or supplies, except those that I bring with me. I've got a laptop and a camera. I need a printer.

Will a consumer-grade laser printer with a new toner cartridge be sufficient? Is there a better choice for making lots of copies? How do I power the printer and laptop for a few hours each day, and keep the camera charged? Do I need a full-fledged generator for this? Is a battery a better choice? How much is this sort of thing going to cost? Anything else I should consider?
posted by croutonsupafreak to Technology (20 answers total)
Something to factor into whatever you do is that laser printers, if I recall, draw a lot of power as they first warm up. I don't know anything about the relative wattage between laser and inkjet printers during actual printing, but that warm-up might mean that the current you'd have to draw would cause you to have to make a lot of other concessions.
posted by adipocere at 11:41 PM on June 6, 2009

Where will you get all that paper?
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:41 PM on June 6, 2009

You should consider having a car during your stay at burning man, decorate it - and it then it would be simple with a power inverter. Not to mention that while your car is running - you escape the heat in your cool car with the AC running - that's the way to work on a newsletter at burning man.
posted by bigmusic at 11:42 PM on June 6, 2009

Response by poster: Where will you get all that paper?

I will buy the paper at a store before I go.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:00 AM on June 7, 2009

Best answer: I've had to do this a few times over the years, helping run various sports events in remote locations.

Laser printers draw a LOT of power when warming up and printing. Almost 1000 W for some printers. You will fry your car's circuitry if you use an inverter -- believe me I have tried. In fact, I fried 5 different cars -- my own and those of 4 friends.

Inkjet or dot matrix printers will work ok for low-volume printing, but that is not the kind of need you're describing.

You will just have to rent a generator. They're actually quite cheap -- $30 / day from Home Depot.

Unless the generator you get supplies clean power designed for sensitive electronics (unlikely unless you spend a lot more money, and they're not easy to source), do NOT hook up your laptop or camera charger to it. DO bring an inverter for that purpose.
posted by randomstriker at 12:07 AM on June 7, 2009

Inkjets don't have the same power draw as xerographic-type printers, and they might also be less susceptible to playa dust. Dunno whether this outweighs the usual advantages of a laser printer for high volumes.
posted by hattifattener at 12:20 AM on June 7, 2009

Oh and make sure the car is running when your laptop is hooked up to the inverter, or at least turn the engine over for a few minutes every 1/2 hour to top up the charge on the car battery.

Lead-acid car batteries will not tolerate a deep discharge. They are meant only for very brief, high current discharges (i.e. starting the engine).
posted by randomstriker at 12:23 AM on June 7, 2009

Do you have to do this with a laser printer? They are fairly inefficient as far as energy goes; their design is sort of predicated on a basically-unlimited supply of electricity.

If you are making multiple copies of the same thing you might be better with some sort of lower-tech solution. A letterpress would be the most elegant in terms of output, but might be impractical; although there might be such a thing as a lightweight letterpress, most of the ones I've seen require a hand truck and a friend to move around, at least.

Maybe a mimeograph and a typewriter? I've no clue if they sell mimeo stencil blanks in stationery stores anymore, but if you had a few of those, a manual typewriter, and an old crank mimeograph machine, you could run off as many copies as you want without using any electricity at all. That seems like the ideal solution, provided you don't need a ton of graphics.

You can get graphics, IIRC, in a mimeo'd document by scraping away at the stencil with a sharp pencil. Actually I suppose maybe you could hand-write the whole thing and dispense with the typewriter this way if you wanted to.

I don't know what your lead time is but I used to see old mimeo machines out by office dumpsters all the time. Ideally you'd want one that used a hand crank instead of an electric motor, but even if you had a motorized one and had to run it off a battery and an inverter (or convert it to use a DC motor) it would take a lot less power than a big laser, especially during warmup of the latter.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:23 AM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

If this is for playa usage, please consider the amount of moop a few thousand sheets of paper/day produces. Even if it isn't for that purpose, it might be pretty wise to consider a way to get all of that paper back out of wherever you're going. You don't want it to end up scattered about.
posted by nat at 12:29 AM on June 7, 2009

Anything else I should consider?

How to get them read carefully (for effectiveness) and then returned to you (for recycling).

How about making each newsletter double as an entry coupon for a prize? All anyone has to do is read the newsletter, find the answer to a question you pose at the end of the newsletter, write the answer and some contact information on the newsletter, and drop the newsletter in a collection box at a central point. At the end of the event, you'll select one or more at random and give away one or more prizes. Even if someone thinks he's scamming the thing by collecting masses of your discarded newsletters and returning them all with his name on them so he can get the prize, he'll really just be doing exactly what you want him to do: a thorough cleanup job. Associating prizes with the newsletter would also create a little bit of excitement about them. Who is funding the newsletter and can they also fund a few cleanup/excitement prizes?

(Just make sure you are putting newsletters into people's hands and not leaving them where one person can steal the whole pile just to win the prizes.)
posted by pracowity at 2:25 AM on June 7, 2009

Why don't you ask Adrian who published "Piss Clear" for suggestions?

I think a photocopier might be lower power but possibly less robust. For printing that much, hitting a print shop off-playa might be easier.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:49 AM on June 7, 2009

Buy a real printing press.
posted by delmoi at 3:39 AM on June 7, 2009

Mimeograph would be perfect for this, really. It's a bit inky, but easy to use.

You just draw and write on your stencil, wrap it around the barrel, place a pile of paper in the tray area behind the barrel, and start rolling away. (It's been a while since I mimeographed, so this isn't a how-to as much as it is reassurance that mimeograph is a really simple way of doing what you're looking for.).
posted by redsparkler at 10:52 AM on June 7, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the ideas, folks. Buying a printing press or a photocopier are not in my budget. Neither is the "Piss Clear" approach, which involved an RV and a bunch of computers manned by a half-dozen person staff, and depended on equipment from a professional printer (I believe). I don't have an infinite budget, I don't have a staff, I'm not renting an RV, and I don't have any professional printer friends to turn to.

Hitting a print shop off-playa isn't an option, either, because I'm planning on creating original work while at the event itself.

I think I'm probably going to rent a generator, which is way cheaper than I realized, and bring a laser printer. But I'll look into the mimeograph idea in a little more detail first, to see what might be available that I can afford.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:54 PM on June 7, 2009

Photocopiers and Laser printers use the same imaging technology, so thats not going to be any lower power.
posted by Good Brain at 4:14 PM on June 7, 2009

Printing really is pretty demanding. The off-playa copyshop approach sounds much more sensible (and green). Can you make some arrangement like you email the content to the shop in the local town, they load the output onto a truck bringing out grocery supplies? I strongly suggest you locate the nearest copyshop and ask them how to fix it. They will be able to find out who will be coming and going to the site.
posted by Idcoytco at 4:27 PM on June 7, 2009

There's a daily shuttle to Gerlach & back, & you can get back in with a ticket stub.
posted by Pronoiac at 4:34 PM on June 7, 2009

A better link for the bus service. Note that Gerlach is a pretty small town, almost certainly lacking a print shop, but perhaps deliveries are possible to somewhere in Gerlach?

The playa environment is really not electronics-friendly. As in, your printer will probably die. Say it prints 10 sheets a minute: printing 2000 sheets would be over three hours non-stop. Don't forget toner.
posted by Pronoiac at 4:48 PM on June 7, 2009

Yeah, you want a mimeograph machine. Low-tech, more resistant to environment, uses only muscle power. When I was a kid, my dad's would kick out a little better than a page a second; that's what, 3000 or more pages an hour? That's way faster than any transportable laser printer will be.
posted by chazlarson at 10:26 AM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: I ran a full size PC every night at Burning Man last year and it worked fine the whole time at the event and afterwards. We put it in a box during the day so it didn't get too dusty but otherwise didn't take any special precautions. Another friend had a PC at her sculpture in deep playa and just put it in a plywood box with ventilation holes. It also worked fine the whole event. I think if you take sensible dust precautions (box up your equipment when not using it, don't work in whiteouts, build a hexayurt if you're really serious) you'll be fine.

For generators, I really like the little Honda generators - we've used a number of Eu2000i's in the past and had no trouble running electronics directly off them. You can probably rent one in Sparks or Reno on your way up.
posted by pombe at 12:15 PM on June 8, 2009

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