Stationery review – Le Yogi writing slope

I’ve been intending to post this for the last two months… Never mind.

I have neck problems and instructions from the physiotherapist to remember to use a good posture, so went in search of a writing slope to use at home. It needed to be relatively light, big enough to hold an A4 page in both portrait and landscape orientation, sturdy enough for an adult to use, not require me to lean hard on the paper with my non-writing hand to pin it down, and have a lip to catch any escaping paper sliding down. This ticks almost all the boxes, for a reasonable price as such things go. The one thing it misses is “portrait A4”. The surface is big enough, but there is a pen rest groove cut into the slope 2 to 3 cm below the top, and the top edge of an A4 sheet resting on the bottom lip will lie over this — something to note if you want to write/colour to the very edge of the page.

It’s made of a sturdy sheet of acrylic folded into shape, with a nonslip silicon strip on both surfaces in contact with the table, and another along the bottom edge of the writing service as a lip, thick enough to hold a colouring book in place but thin enough not to press too hard into my arm. I’m mostly using it to write on A5 paper, and finding it much better for my neck than writing with the paper flat on the table. It will also take the weight of an iPad 2, which is handy when I’m playing with electronic jigsaws. The only fault I found is that the gloss surface reflects overhead lights. Mine’s black but it’s also available in white, which may or may not be better for the glare problem. For me it’s worth every penny of the 20 pounds I paid. Oh, and you get an email with a link to a downloadable colouring book. :-)

Amazon UK

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Review: moo.com business cards

I do very little by way of printed promo material, and most of it I print at home as and when required. But I could do with having some business cards to hand out my contact details at cons, and the business cards might as well double as promo material. However, I need so few that I can’t justify doing a batch for each book.

Enter moo.com and their Printfinity system. You can put a different image on the reverse of every card in the batch, if you so desire. Which means that I can order a box of 50, and get a mix of all of my book covers. And they do a completely free sample box of 10, not even a charge for postage. The price is in the form of their own logo on the image side of the card, but it’s small and discreet. So I thought I might as well have a play with the system and see what the quality is like.

The process of designing the cards is a little bit fiddly, but not to the point of being impossible to use, and a lot of the fiddliness is a direct result of the flexibility it offers. I think that once I’m used to it, it will be fairly easy to use. The system includes the useful feature of a QR code generator, so that you can create QR codes and use them as a logo on the details side or a full image on the image side. The one thing that could be an issue for novices is that they are very, very serious about bleeds and safe zones, to the point of the software not always allowing you to use an image without setting up the zones. (And if you don’t know what bleeds and safe zones are, there’s a helpful guide, with templates you can download.)

Standard delivery is listed as several days, but my pack reached me well within the deadline. The cards were packed in a small card holder inside a waterproof padded envelope, giving good protection.

The quality? *Really* nice. It’s a very heavy paper stock that resists bending and crumpling, with a matt laminate finish that gives it a nice feel. The images are clear, and the colour reproduction is good. I’m short-sighted, so if I take my glasses off I can easily see the dots in the printing pattern, but at normal reading distance it looks smooth. They’re printed in full colour on both sides, and while the personal details side has to be the same on every card, there’s scope to do things in the layout, including using a logo. I used one of my book covers in the logo area, and that’s come out well even in miniature size.

I like these a lot. They’re not cheap (and the prices are quoted VAT-free so people in the UK will be paying an additional 20% on top), but you don’t have to keep adding surcharges for this, that and the other before you get to the finished product. For the sort of thing I want them for, they’re perfect, and I will be ordering some for the next convention I go to.

The other thing moo do, and in fact their signature item, is minicards. These are about half the size of standard business cards, as if you were to cut a card down the middle in the long direction — just the right proportions to make small bookmarks with. :-) I’d signed up for the newsletter, and the offer a couple of weeks later was a sample box of 100 minicards for P&P only. That still means paying four quid, for a box of cards with the moo logo added to your design, but it was a good opportunity to try out some ideas cheaply.

And this was where I got to find out how good their complaints procedure is…

The minicards were of the same high physical quality, and they were delivered in moo’s standard unit packaging, which is a sturdy and attractive card box designed to be used as a dispenser you can take out in public. But there was a printing error affecting 11 of the 100 cards in the box — the image side and details side on one sheet hadn’t been aligned properly, so that although the image side was cut correctly, the details side had been cut through the safe zone. I used the contact form on the website to report the problem. I got an email a few hours later (on a Saturday), asking me to provide a picture so they could see what the problem was. This was a very polite way of asking me to prove that the problem was real, and a very helpful way, because it meant that as long as I had a scanner or camera I could get the complaint turned around the same day. I sent in a scan, and got an email a few minutes later apologising for the problem and confirming that they would reprint the order. The replacement arrived on Tuesday, two working days later. Not bad at all.

You can have multiple projects on the go, and it will save unfinished projects so that you can work on them at a later date. You can pull up previous orders easily, and re-order as is, or edit the batch first.

Overall — I’m a very satisfied customer. The quality was excellent, and while there was a problem with one order, it was fixed quickly and politely. The only niggle I’ve got is that there doesn’t seem to be a way of storing your images on their system other than as part of a design project. You have to re-upload each time you start a new project. But since they don’t charge a fee for uploading images (unlike many card printers), and you can save and edit projects, this is not much of an issue. They also do postcards, greeting cards and stickers, although I haven’t seen physical samples of those yet. On my experience so far, I’d be happy to recommend them to other authors looking for small print run options on promo materials. The one problem they have from a promo material perspective is that the laminate makes it difficult to write on them, so you’ll need to take along something like a marker pen or photo pen to sign them or add details by hand.

And since they have a “refer a friend” bribery and corruption scheme… If you go through the link below, you’ll get 10% off your first order (and I will get a discount off my next order:-> ).

http://www.moo.com/share/qqjdqc

Webcomic mini-review: Yaoi 911

I wandered into Alex Woolfson’s sf webcomic site Yaoi 911 while he was still posting Artifice, and was hooked. The ad I clicked said “smart guy-on-guy sci-fi”, and that’s exactly what I got.

Artifice, now complete, is a solid story about an android soldier who didn’t obey orders, and is now being interrogated by the company’s top robopsychologist to find out why. There follows a battle of wits as Doctor Maven tries to uncover why Deacon, last survivor of an assassination squad, not only failed to kill the last survivor of the colony his unit was sent to dispose of, but attacked the retrieval team sent in to fetch him. Excellent writing by Woolfson teamed with nice art by Winona Nelson, and it skilfully blends a thoughtful look at the use and abuse of androids with a delightful gay romance.

The Young Protectors, currently in progress, is a superheroes comic. Although some of the superheroes we run into aren’t so heroic… In the prologue, young superhero Kyle has just finished a quick visit to a place he doesn’t really want to be found by the rest of the team, when he encounters supervillain The Annihilator. The Annihilator’s price for not telling the world that he just saw Kyle go into a gay bar for the first time is… a kiss. :-) Kyle goes back to ordinary after-class superheroing in the first chapter, but life rapidly gets more complicated for him. At forty-something pages in, there’s a lot of intriguing backstory and long-term plot being hinted at, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Also, some acidly entertaining commentary about the amount of collateral damage around superheroes. Woolfson’s excellent script is pencilled by Adam DeKraker and coloured by Veronica Gandini. I have no idea where Woolfson’s planning to take this, but if you like your superhero comics with some May/December superhero/supervillain in the mix, take a look at this.

There are more pieces available to mailing list subscribers, but these are the ones which are currently available without registering.

Review: Cult Pens webshop

I stumbled over the Cult Pens website a couple of years ago when I was looking for a mail order source for my beloved Pentel R56 rollerballs. I promptly bookmarked it for future use, but hadn’t got around to ordering anything from them until a couple of weeks ago.

They stock a *lot* of different pens and pencils. More to the point, they stock the refills and accessories for them as well. You can buy both singly and by the box. The site has plenty of information on each line stocked, usually with their own commentary and not just the blurb from the manufacturer. It is obvious from the commentary that this place is run by pen geeks.

The sheer number of product lines makes navigating the site a slightly daunting task, but it’s well laid out into sections by manufacturer, and there is a useful interactive selection guide where you can put in the features you want and what you intend to use it for, and get back recommendations. There are also very good articles on mechanical pencils and technical pens, with an in-depth look at the different types and features, and recommendations for different uses at price brackets ranging from budget to extravagant.

The prices are shown both with and without VAT. UK shipping is simple — if your order is under 10 pounds, it’s 1.50, over that it’s free. They also ship internationally, with VAT deducted where appropriate.

The prices are reasonable, but generally not hugely cheap. I’m fairly sure I could have got most of the things I ordered a little bit cheaper by shopping around. But the advantage of using this site was that I could get everything at one site, all at a reasonable price, with clear information that let me decide whether it would do the job I wanted it for. I ordered 8 individual items and one box of a dozen black R50 rollerballs (which were in the Office Essentials, a small selection of nice office pens on heavy discount).

The shopping basket is reasonably easy to use. One thing I particularly liked was that I could leave it for a couple of hours, come back, and find the basket still there. I find it annoying when a basket times out after ten minutes or so — this is a security precaution which is useful when you have to sign into an account before you start shopping, but is simply a nuisance when the site doesn’t have any of your personal information until you actually check out. The main payment method is debit or credit card, but you can also generate an order from the basket and then select “cheque” as payment method if you want to pay by post using UK cheque or postal order.

I ordered on Sunday evening, received a clear and detailed delivery note with full UK VAT receipt by email immediately, and my parcel was with me on Tuesday morning via first class post. The items were packed loose in an appropriately sized bubble mailer, without any padding inside the envelope, along with a paper copy of the delivery note. I’d hope that more expensive items would have a bit more protection, but for the items I’d ordered this was fine.

I like this site, and will be ordering from them again. The only problem is the sheer amount of temptation one has to resist. :-)